The Harbor Freight way of jump starting your clamp collection

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Review by paxorion posted 12-11-2013 03:17 AM 24156 views 1 time favorited 46 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Harbor Freight way of jump starting your clamp collection The Harbor Freight way of jump starting your clamp collection No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

When I first began dabbling in woodworking, I had zero clamps and high aspirations. Stocking up on the well F-style Harbor Freight clamps seemed like a good idea. For months, I impulsively made trips to HF and picked up one HF F-style bar clamp (using a 20% off coupon) and 1 freebie per trip. Fast forward 2 years, and I now have 10×6”, 6×12”, 2×18” and 2×24”. Overall impression is that the HF F-style clamp was the most inexpensive way of jump starting my clamp collection. There are a few observations:

The good:
  1. The clamps do the job as a F-style clamp, and apply decent pressure. If there is a difference compared to the Besseys and Jorgensens, it isn’t noticeable to me.
  2. This may be a bias of mine, but I find wooden handles more slippery, requiring more effort on my part to grip them. In side by side use with Jorgensens in my guild shop, I preferred these handles. Some reviews note that you can over-torque the handle and break the grip, but that has yet to happen to me.
  3. The price is amazingly low, and enables someone that is just starting out to quickly build up a collection.
The bad/ugly
  1. HF Quality control is terrible. Each time I was there, I had to look at at least 5 different clamps to find one that didn’t have bad/belt bar, bubbling in the plastic pads, or any other noticeable defect.
  2. The plastic pads without fail will leave a greasy-looking mark on the material clamped. I’ve had to use cauls or plan to plane/sand off the surface to get rid of the marks
  3. After ~1 year of use, I’ve noticed that many of the clamp heads seem to be shifting to one side (see photo 1, where the lower part of the clamp is shifting to the right). While this doesn’t seem to affect clamping pressure, it does tell me that the choice of material for the clamps has more give than my Jorgensen F-style clamps. If I were to add/replace any F-style clamps, they will likely be Bessey Tradesmans or Jorgensen HD.
  4. The F-style of clamps really are only worth having up to 12”. I had a pair of 30” and 36” clamps, and found that the bars flex way too much. I exchanged those for the smaller 6” and 12” clamps. The 18” and 24” also exhibit the same bar flex and I only kept them because I couldn’t find the receipt.

Find an acceptable one and it is certainly a HF gem worthy of at least a 4-5 star rating (for the price). Don’t expect a $3-7 clamp to be on par with a Jorgensen or Bessey. However the sheer inconsistency of all the clamps in store mean you can’t just walk in the store and clean them out of F-style clamps without expecting a good number of “duds”. As a result, I think a 3 star rating is a fair assessment, since you have to sift through the stack.

UPDATE (3/5/2014): I pulled the trigger and picked up a small set of 8x Jorgensen 6” clamps when it was on sale at Ace Hardware and have had a chance to do a side by side usage. My rating remains the same, but I revised the review verbiage.

-- paxorion

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1107 posts in 3504 days

46 comments so far

View Tedstor's profile


1691 posts in 4092 days

#1 posted 12-11-2013 12:36 PM

I used to think these clamps were the cat’s meow, and that anyone that paid extra for brand name clamps was crazy. BUT, after 2-3 years of use, I realize that the brand name clamps are noticably better.
-Many brand name clamps use a stainless steel/rust resistant bar. HF uses a thinly powder-coated bar. In a climate controlled setting, this might not matter. But in my garage, the powder-coated bars have quickly rusted.
-The bar on the brand name clamps is more ridgis and less likely to flex.
- As you mentioned, the rubber pads on the brand name clamps perform better and last longer.
To be clear, my HF are still 100% usable, and for the price paid they were a good value. Definitely a great way to quickly accumulate clamps. But I don’t see myself buying anymore moving forward.
Just my observation.

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

598 posts in 4776 days

#2 posted 12-11-2013 01:10 PM

These have performed well for me. As Tedstor said, at the price they represent good value HF’s Pittsburg ratcheting clamps – the better ones – also represent good value.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View Oldtool's profile


3509 posts in 3650 days

#3 posted 12-11-2013 02:00 PM

While I can’t argue against your “the bad / ugly” list, because I am a firm believer the you get what you pay for, I also believe in not over paying for something when taking into account it’s intended use. By that I’m referring to the hobby or recreational wood worker versus the professional. If I made my living from woodworking, and the clamps were to receive very frequent use, then the more expensive brand name clamps would be my choice. However since I only do woodworking for family & friends, in my spare time, and a need for clamps can be weeks or even months apart, the HF Pittsburgh clamps are the absolute best bang for my buck.

Actually, now that I write this and re-read your review, I guess we are in agreement, and I’m wondering why I’m responding.

Maybe this review needs two ratings, Professional at 3 Stars, Hobby Guy at 5 Stars.

You know what, don’t pay any attention to me, I’m just rambling.

-- "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

View Planeman40's profile


1561 posts in 4220 days

#4 posted 12-11-2013 02:02 PM

I have a bunch of these HF clamps too and I find they work fine. I bought a bunch of the 36” clamps as my big Jorgenson bar clamps are too heavy for many applications and are very cumbersome to use. The HF 36” clamps do a nice job of light duty clamping. They are not made for squeezing a laminated 2” thick table top together!

And . . . always retract the screw all the way back to the cast iron head before clamping. Then slide the cast iron head snug up to the work before screwing down to apply pressure. You never want to have the screw extending very far from the head when clamping. To do so will cause “racking” of the clamp and that’s not good. This applies to ALL screw clamps! Not just Harbor Freight clamps.


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

View Randy Sharp's profile

Randy Sharp

363 posts in 5131 days

#5 posted 12-11-2013 03:34 PM


If I were to write a review of these HF clamps, I would copy and paste your review verbatim. You are spot on in every detail.

I have about 40 of these clamps and use them primarily for gluing up leg blanks, or clamping small jigs to workstations.

Anyone starting out in woodworking can invest in these inexpensive clamps and use the savings for the purchase of quality machining tools.

Thanks for sharing an insightful and thorough review of these clamps. Great job!

-- Randy, Tupelo, MS ~ A man who honors his wife will have children who honor their father.

View paxorion's profile


1107 posts in 3504 days

#6 posted 12-11-2013 03:37 PM

I think everyone is in agreement that the clamps will do a great job for a hobbyist (like me). For now, I have enough HF F-style clamps to suit my project needs, and these clamps have made their way into every project of mine.

Planeman40 – Great point there. I do make it a habit to follow those procedures, but can’t say the same for anyone else who has been using my clamps.

Oldtool – We certainly are in agreement that for a hobbyist, this is a fantastic find (5-star worthy IF you get a good one). I’ll summarize my rationale for 3 stars down to 2 reasons:
  1. Don’t buy them sight unseen. For a hobbyist looking to maximize their money’s worth, if you get a pre-bent bar or serious bubbling on the clamp pads. In short, don’t just jam an online order full of all the clamps you think you’d need to maximize the $6.99 flat shopping.
  2. Long-term heavy use will likely wear out the clamp, requiring multiple replacements that offsets the savings. For a professional, this would certainly be the case.

-- paxorion

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1107 posts in 3504 days

#7 posted 12-11-2013 03:42 PM

Randy – Thanks, I’ve been meaning to write this review for over a year now, as I found the reviews that guided me to these clamps very optimistic and promising, but generally low on the cautionary points. To piggyback off of your comment, I’d also add – get some to start with, and if you need more clamps, spend the money on more task-appropriate clamps. I stopped buying these HF F-style clamps about a year ago and filled my inventory with 8 pipe clamp fixtures (4 HF, and 4 Jorgensens). They worked great to fill the 24”+ range in the past year, but the Jet sale over Black Friday kicked off my transitioned to (gradually) acquiring parallel clamps

-- paxorion

View whitebeast88's profile


4128 posts in 3649 days

#8 posted 12-12-2013 01:37 AM

great review.i’ve got 6 of the 12” clamps that work fine,i tend to use them more as holding something down and tend to use my jorgensens for bigger jobs.for $3 each you can’t beat it.

-- Marty.Athens,AL

View Dusty56's profile


11868 posts in 5147 days

#9 posted 12-12-2013 02:31 AM

Definitely not able to buy these online…must go to store and cherry pick each one, but, for the price and my intended use for these, worth the time spent if I’m in the area and they are on sale. Used mostly for holding things down or to fences, but I have real clamps for doing real work with; ie: Besseys and Jorgensen brand.
Honest and fair review by you : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View cabmaker's profile


1745 posts in 4268 days

#10 posted 12-12-2013 02:46 AM

I paid about the same price for my jorgensons, oh wait,that was 35 yrs ago! Nevermind.

View b2rtch's profile


4922 posts in 4507 days

#11 posted 12-12-2013 01:22 PM

I agree with everything said above but I would like to add that I also like very much their larger size spring clamps that I use a lot. I have probably 20 of them.
I probably have more than 20 of the F clamps in various sizes and I also have the bar clamps that I also like.
I do not yet have any of the ratchet clamp

-- Bert

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

598 posts in 4776 days

#12 posted 12-12-2013 01:45 PM

If you buy a ratchet clamp from them, b2rtch, be careful – they have two different versions and I understand that some stores might not keep the better ones in inventory.

The cheaper ones I can break by overclamping. The better ones I cannot, and they perform very well.

The better ones:

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View paxorion's profile


1107 posts in 3504 days

#13 posted 12-12-2013 02:45 PM

Mark – I think the store(s) close to me have the heavy duty ratchet bar clamps, but the may have the new blue and grey scheme similar to the F-style clamps.

-- paxorion

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

598 posts in 4776 days

#14 posted 12-12-2013 02:54 PM

paxorion, probably a good idea since it’s easy to confuse the lower-quality clamps with the higher-quality clamps. They are (used to be?) both orange and black.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View dbhost's profile


5906 posts in 4691 days

#15 posted 12-12-2013 03:03 PM

I have a mess of the older models with the wooden handles, and a couple of the first gen plastic handled models with the blow molded blue / gray handles. They are fair to good clamps. No serious problems yet aside from one failed clamp out of 48. I have several big name clamps as well. These are better than some, worse than others…

I would avoid the HF ratcheting bar clamps unless you are wanting to drill out / replace the pin that breaks on them when you look at them…

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