Tool snobs cover your eyes, another HF gem

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Review by lumberjoe posted 08-14-2012 01:17 AM 14229 views 3 times favorited 37 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Tool snobs cover your eyes, another HF gem Tool snobs cover your eyes, another HF gem No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I very recently got into turning. I have 2 nice Sorby’s gouges and an Easy Rougher. My wife LOVES the easy rougher, I’m not sure if it is my technique or if it is designed for righties (I am a lefty), but I find I have much more control and can turn much better with a traditional gouge. After putting some miles on the Sorbys, it came down to the feared sharpening time. I bought an 8” grinder and made a jig, but was still very nervous about putting that very expensive steel to the stone wheels. I have never sharpened anything with a grinder. While in Harbor Freight, I saw this set of 8 HSS lathe tools. It was on sale for 44$ and of course I had a coupon. I picked them up with the intention to ruin them on a grinder while I got my technique down and dialed in my jig.

First Impressions
For a cheap throw away box, it’s actually kind of nice. The wood is crappy, but the construction is great. It’s very solid. The felt lining was a big surprise too. I really don’t care about the boxes my tools come in, and I don’t keep these in a box anyway, but I figured I would include that detail for others. I was disappointed in the handles at first. The stock photo is different. These handles are of decent quality, but the finish (stain) is really blotchy. I have no idea what kind of “hardwood” it is, but it is definitely hard, and definitely wood. They are pretty comfortable and long. They are marked “HSS” and the quality of the steel looks pretty nice. The grinds are very even. I’m not sure what rockwell they are hardened to as it is not mentioned.

1” and 3/4” roughing gouges
1/8” parting tool
1/2” and 1” skew chisels
1/2” round nose scraper
1/2” beveled scraper
1/4” spindle gouge
The box

Before I even put these to wood, I practiced sharpening the 1” roughing gouge. I watched a lot of videos and did a lot of research on sharpening. I marked the entire bevel and below the bevel with a sharpie, lined up the jig about 100 times, crossed my fingers and turned on the grinder. 2 passes across the 60 grit wheel revealed all my sharpie marks gone on the bevel, and remaining everywhere else. SWEET!

I chucked up a piece of hard maple. I have never seen chips fly like that. For once I was glad I wear full face protection because I was showered in chips. I’ve turned down a good amount of scraps and never had anything cut like that before. I was impressed. I then took the 3/4” right out of the box and took it to a fresh piece of maple. No chip shower, but it wasn’t any sharper or duller than my sorbys. I sharpened that one up with the same method and again, chips galore.

I then turned 6 pens (hitting the bushings on each one) and about 15 more pieces of hard maple just playing with my technique. These still send chips flying over my head effortlessly. I haven’t needed to touch these up yet.

I bought these to ruin them with a grinder. That didn’t happen. What did happen is I am wondering why I paid almost 5 times this amount for 2 tools. If there is something wrong with these, I can’t find it. Good quality HSS that takes an edge well and so far has held an edge much longer than I expected. I am still new to turning, but hard maple is really rough on my other tools, especially chisels, and hasn’t slowed these down at all yet. Go out and grab a set. If for nothing else, change the grinds on some of them. At this price you really cannot lose. Now that I have a lathe, I will be making some nice handles for them. That sounds like a fun project. These are fully functional and quite comfortable, but as I mentioned the color is a little off, and I like to customize my stuff anyway.


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37 comments so far

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#1 posted 08-14-2012 01:46 AM

OK, I’ll say it!


I hope the guy with the small mind that espouses only buying high dollar tools and ignores what Einstein was actually saying doesn’t chime in! LOL.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

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2902 posts in 3095 days

#2 posted 08-14-2012 02:10 AM

Seriously, there has to be something wrong with these as they are extremely cheap, but I have no idea what. I’m not sure if it is these tools, I am getting better, or both, but the pencil I just turned came out great. Normally they are pretty rough and need a lot of sanding. I go through a pretty decent sized strip of 150 grit to get the gouge marks out. This time I actually started with 400 grit. No gouge marks at all.


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16 posts in 3005 days

#3 posted 08-14-2012 02:11 AM

Awesome, thanks a million! I’m new to turning and was wondering what the heck to buy as a starter set. This answers that question!

How did you grind them? Did the grindwheel leave a concavity on the bevel or did you jig it so the chisels were perpendicular to the rotation of the grindwheel?

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2902 posts in 3095 days

#4 posted 08-14-2012 02:14 AM

did you jig it so the chisels were perpendicular to the rotation of the grindwheel?

Yes. I made a “wolverine” style jig, sort of similar to this


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16 posts in 3005 days

#5 posted 08-14-2012 02:46 AM

Gotcha, thanks!

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4920 posts in 3895 days

#6 posted 08-14-2012 09:50 AM

I have the same set and of course I also like it

-- Bert

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3024 posts in 3037 days

#7 posted 08-14-2012 10:46 AM

I wanted to try turning out of curiously, but didn’t want to spend a fortune on equipment. I got a discount coupon in the mail from Harbor Freight, bought a lathe for $90, and this set of tools for about half that. Never having prior turning experience so as to be able to judge this setup against more expensive tools, my opinion may not be worth much. However, I too am quite impressed with them.

I used them out of the box, because to me they seemed sharp enough. My method for testing is what I’ve learned about other tool’s sharpness, like plane irons and chisels, by seeing if they slide on a finger nail, or catch. They catch, so full speed ahead. I’ve practiced on pine and maple, and still they seem sharp enough to me to keep going.

Again, my first experience, and I have never used a more expensive setup, so maybe I’m not a good reference, but I’m happy with this investment. I would give them 5 stars.

Thanks for posting. Happy turning

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

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2902 posts in 3095 days

#8 posted 08-14-2012 12:22 PM

Oldtool, sharpen them and you’ll absolutely want to give them 5 stars. They were ok out of the box, but really awesome once sharpened


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1516 posts in 3607 days

#9 posted 08-14-2012 01:45 PM

Maybe you would have felt more assured when buying them if you paid $90 for the chisels.

I say that as I too am a Harbor Freight fan for certain items. I have read that HF buys direct from the overseas manufacturers and not through USA middlemen. I believe this is true as just yesterday I was at HF and bought a solid brass water spigot 4-hose adapter for $7. My next stop was at Lowe’s for a hose repair kit. While looking for the hose repair kit I saw the EXACT same solid brass water spigot 4-hose adapter for $14. A 100% middleman markup would account for the additional price.

I am coming to the understanding that HF’s careful buying direct of its wares contributes mightily to its low prices. The same imported stuff is for sale at other places at double the price but their purchasing people just wait for a seller to approach them in their office cubical.

A couple of years ago I wanted a pair of binocular loupes like dentists and some surgeons use as I do a lot of highly detailed work. The prices were astronomical! I kept looking and looking, I searched eBay, and I still couldn’t find anything affordable. Than I decided to see if I could locate a Chinese manufacturer directly on the Internet. I found two and wrote each an e-mail asking if I could buy a pair direct. One replied – the one I preferred – that they would sell me a pair if I kept it quiet that they sold it direct as they didn’t want to upset their USA distributor. So I paid $70 direct for the binocular loupes that their distributor was selling for $550! Of course there was shipping and import duty so the total came to a shade over $100. But a 500% markup?



-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

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118134 posts in 4423 days

#10 posted 08-14-2012 03:00 PM

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5777 posts in 4078 days

#11 posted 08-14-2012 04:17 PM

I’ve seen those Windsor Design chisel sets at Harbor Freight… I had already bought my Benjamin’s Best from Penn State Industries. The differences I could see between the 2 sets were…

#1. The HF box was actually glued together. The Penn State box they expected to hold together with friction. #2. The HF box was felt lined, the Penn State box, not so much… #3. Slightly different selection of turning tools. I don’t recall which one, but one of the turning tools was different between the sets. #4. The name on the handle. #5. The color of the stain on the handle. #6. The price of the set. While the Benjamin’s Best aren’t terribly expensive, the Windsor Design were only about 2/3 the cost, even less with the coupon at Harbor Freight.

If I had to do it over again, I should have gone with the Windsor Design set as my starter set…

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2902 posts in 3095 days

#12 posted 08-14-2012 04:35 PM

A while back I looked into getting a starter set from PSI which included a lathe, pen blanks, madrrels, and turning tools. The turning tools offered were carbon steel (yuck). At 35$, the HF set is a steal. The tool selection seems pretty useful. The only one I have yet to use is the round nose scraper. I have no idea what that is for.

Jim, have you used that set? It gets awful reviews and I bet those are carbon steel also (not HSS).


View DannyJ's profile


23 posts in 2959 days

#13 posted 08-14-2012 04:52 PM

I’m on my third water pump with a Chinese made, Harbor Freight tile saw, and I’ve lost count of the successful tile/stone/masonry jobs completed. The saw is fantastic, I just keep wearing out water pumps.

Based on your good experience, I’m going to pick up a set of their wood chisels.

thank you for the information,

-- Danny, Houston, TX

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1145 posts in 2964 days

#14 posted 08-14-2012 07:09 PM

Even the best(most expensive??) blades are less than worthless when dull. Most blades are not properly sharpened when purchased as the grind and exact sharpness of a tool is actually a very personal thing.

Good call on purchasing less expensive tools to practice sharpening. I recommend mastering sharpening. Once you have it down, sharpen that Sorby for comparison.

-- - Terry

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2902 posts in 3095 days

#15 posted 08-14-2012 09:03 PM

I want to get 4 to 5 good grinds on the cheapo’s before I take the sorbys to the grinder. The problem is these aren’t getting dull very quickly!


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