The HFT ’67 Firebird Restoration Project: Part 1

How good is Harbor Freight Tools, really? To find out, Jeff Tann– car enthusiast and former Rod & Custom editor–will fully restore a 1967 Pontiac Firebird using only tools sold at Harbor Freight. Starting today, we’ll follow his progress.

In the first installment of this 12-part series, let’s look at the muscle car as it was originally presented to Jeff. As you can see, the Firebird– all original– isn’t in terrible shape, but definitely has seen the wear of time and use. Even so, we’re looking at an American classic, and wouldn’t it be awesome to see it return to its 100% perfection?


Each week we’ll cover another phase of the project, until we see it through to its completion. Starting next week, we’ll start with removing the engine.

Follow with us and witness firsthand how the affordable, quality tools at Harbor Freight perform in this most challenging exercise.

Rod & Custom “Kustomizers” Employ the HF Cut-Off Tool

Cutting 2 inches from the door’s edge with the Central Pneumatic cutoff tool.

Ardent car customizers are extreme when it comes to modifying their rods– and there’s no custom work more complicated and drastic than sectioning.

In the November 2012 issue of Rod & Custom, the “kustomizers” at Star Kustom Shop go all-guns with sectioning a ’51 Chevy hardtop-turned-roadster.

“The owner of the car is after a section that doesn’t just downsize the car and keep factory proportions, Instead, he’s after something that will downplay the bulkiness of the body while accentuating other features. What we came up with is a section that will do just that.”

Without giving anything away, let me just say this baby took a LOT of amazing work– and one of the “stars” in the sectioning process was the Central Pneumatic 3″ High Speed Cut-Off Tool.

The little, mighty cut-off tool reaches a max speed of 18,000 RPM and, besides car bodies, can rip through heavy straps, exhaust systems and sheet metal. One customer told us:

“I bought this to remove rusted bolts on my boat trailer from launching in salt water. This thing is ARE YOU KIDDING PERFECT!! I had 6 bolts cut off in mins. I used 80 pounds of air, with a 20-gallon tank, and it worked perfect. VERY IMPRESSED!” (caps included)

Another added:

“I bought this a few years ago to work on getting an exhaust system apart. Like a hot knife through butter.”

Pick yourself up a copy of the November Rod & Custom and check out the article, entitled, “Weight Watchers.” It’s filled with great detail and multiple photos to follow the sectioning process. And while you’re at it, get your cutoff tool at Harbor Freight– at only $9.99 it’ll be one of the best investments in your garage!

A Gun Gal’s Review of the Dual Rock Tumbler

Last month I compared different methods for cleaning used gun cartridges (“Cleaning Brass: Tumbler, Ultrasonic, or… Cement Mixer?” Jul 25, 2012)  that are practiced out there, and pretty much left it up to the reader to decide which one would be best for them. Well, I recently came across this video made by “GalsnGuns” that she admits is a “novice review of the Harbor Freight Dual Drum Rotary Rock Tumbler.”

I was really impressed by how she took us with her on her journey, experimenting with media, cleaner, different caliber shells and other things to get the best performance out of her tumbler. Her video– which is almost 8-1/2 minutes long– made a believer out of me that the Chicago Electric dual rock tumbler is a solid contender for cleaning gun brass.

A DIY reloader of .38, .357, 9 mm, .223, .556, .45 ACP, .44 magnum, 7.62 x 39 and 7.62 x 54, GalsnGuns has her work cut out for her, so– as she puts it, “first things first”– making sure she uses ready-clean shells is of the utmost imporatance.

Check out her video, and while you’re at it, take a look at the incredibly low-priced single and dual drum rock tumblers on HarborFreight.com, read the reviews and see if this sounds like just the ticket for you.

 

Harbor Freight does not endorse any other business or organization or any technique in any customer video or blog post. Always follow all of the instructions and warnings included with our products. Harbor Freight makes no representation or warranty of any kind by including the information on this website.

JP Magazine: Axle Upgrade with Harbor Freight Tools

If you like to play hard in your Jeep, you’ll definitely want to soup up your front axle– not exactly a light-duty job. Nevertheless, JP magazine shows us how to do just that– affordably and professionally– using tools from Harbor Freight! In an article entitled “Straight and Narrow,” in the Sep 2012 issue, JP editor Cole Quinnell takes us through the steps of getting it done in a weekend and be ready for work Monday morning. To do the job, however, Cole advises that you first need to collect a few special tools:

“In addition to the normal selection of hand tools, you’ll also need a Pickle Fork, a Ball Joint Press and a 35mm Socket to fit a spindle nut, all of which we picked up at Harbor Freight.” (capitalization added)

He added that you’ll need a decent MIG welder capable of welding 1/4″ steel. The Chicago Electric 170 Amp MIG/Flux Wire Welder would be a quality, affordable tool for the job. Of course, gearheads across the country already know, when you’re looking to do a  heavy project, Harbor Freight’s your tool headquarters.

This is a great article for prepping your Jeep to “handle all but the most abusive off-roading on 35-inch tires”– and no one knows their stuff like JP.  So get yourself a copy of their September issue and check it out!

Sol Train

Great Caesar’s ghost– what IS that?!

It all started when Michael Jordan a.k.a. “Big Moe” decided to power his barn. He’d been using it as a workshop for his cars and other projects, and he wanted to get juice over there without having it tied to the grid. The barn did, in fact, have its own meter, but Big Moe opted to keep it turned off. Instead, he started clipping Harbor Freight coupons and bought 45 Watt Solar Panel Kits. After a year, he had purchased 45 kits– that’s 135 solar panels!

“I could have purchased larger panels from other sources, but I felt that the affordability and flexibility of buying from HF was better for my budget.”

Big Moe then created an on-roof rack system and installed all of the solar panels to it. Once the system was built and all the bugs were worked out of the inverters and battery banks, he found he had a lot more power than he needed in the barn. But, he made sure none of it went to waste.

“At that point I decided to also power my house. I now power my home and my barn from the HF panels. To be fair, I do not power the home 100%. I still run all of the 220v appliances from the grid, but all other aspects are run from my solar arrays.”

 

How Big Moe Did It

  • The solar system consists of two arrays with a total of 135 HF 15w panels (75 panels on array #1, 60 panels on array #2).
  • 2 @ 80 amp solar charge controllers
  • 12 @ 2v batteries in a single battery bank that holds 2220 AH of power.
  • 1 @ 5000w pure sine inverter for the barn.
  • 2 @ 3000w pure sine inverters for the house.
  • 1 @ Chicago Electric 400W Continuous Power Inverter for an outside security light
  • The panels are wired in series/parallel in sets of 3. This allows for a 43v input at load and 62v open circuit voltage. The controllers drop the voltage and up the amperage for the 12v battery bank.
  • 2/0 welding cable for wiring and the battery bank is connected to each other using copper bus bars.
  • 2 @ wind generators to help diversify for wind and solar. They are a 600w and a 800w wind & solar unit.
  • The wind generators are connected to one wind and solar charge controller.
  • The power to the home is fed through service wire to a breaker box that is located in the home, but is seperate from the standard breaker box.

He can feed any circuit in the home with either grid power or his own alternative power. So if the battery bank is running lower he is able to selectively change circuits from alternative to grid power.

Been thinking about adding a power source to your property, campsite or other location? Consider Harbor Freight’s solar panel kits, individual 15 Watt Solar Panels and other Chicago Electric solar power equipment for your project!

You can visit Big Moe’s page on the DIY Solar Energy Forum for more information, or if you have questions.

 

The Solar Toolman

I found Larry “The Solar Toolman” Taylor’s video recently on the Do-It-Yourself Solar Energy Forum site. In a quiet, confident tone—no script, no teleprompter– Larry gives “workshops,” demonstrating how someone can run multiple power tools, juiced by a solar panel kit and a cleverly assembled solar system, using hardware from Harbor Freight.

Click on the video’s YouTube link on the lower right, and it will take you to three more Solar Toolman videos, explaining how, with some low-cost modifications, a modest home solar system can power a swamp cooler, a refrigerator-freezer, a 5000 BTU air conditioner, TV, DVD, VCR, and more. For those who are looking to live more “green,” prepare for emergencies or just want to “get off the grid,” there are a lot of valuable tips to be gleaned from these few instructional videos.

When I showed this first video to a friend who’s really into DIY projects, he said, “If I decided to use solar power on my pool filter, these are the videos I’d watch to help me figure out what I needed to do it.”

While you’re at it, browse the rest of the Do-It-Yourself Solar Energy Forum and check out other interesting solar panel project videos and articles– contributed by innovative alternative-energy users! You’ll find a lot of them using the Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit, 15 Watt Solar Panels, as well as the 100 Watt Solar Charge Regulator, the 30 Amp Charge Controller, power inverters and other Thunderbolt and Chicago Electric solar system hardware.

Great job, Larry! Keep those solar panel videos coming!

Mega Cool Tool Cabinet Project

When I was a kid, around the holidays, I always got excited for the Sears “Wish List” catalog. When it finally came, I would carry it off into my room and go over each page carefully, like a monk poring over the scriptures, carefully marking each treasure I really, really wanted (the BB gun and mini bike got circled every year… finally got the BB gun). That magic feeling’s faded over the years, and now that I’m an adult, I tend to harbor a more pragmatic view of what I can and can’t have. The tummy just doesn’t twitter anymore… until I saw a post last week in The Garage Journal:

A forum member with the moniker “blasto9000″ submitted pictures of a project he recently completed, bolting three US General 44″ 13-Drawer Roller Cabinets together– essentially building a 39-drawer supermax workbench!

I Want!

Since the uneven floor in his garage was an unsuitable spot for the rolling cabinets, he first removed the casters, cut various-lengthed legs and capped them with leveling feet to match the floor’s contour. To bring the tool cabinets together, he left the side handles off and bolted the cabinets together with cut lengths of T-slot.

The original idea was to build the rack out of hot-roll steel, but as 80/20 is around the same price, and a lot easier to work with (plus, if you make a mistake, you can just unbolt it and re-do), he chose that instead.All the cuts were done with a cutoff saw, much like the Chicago Electric 3-1/2 HP 14″ Cut-Off Saw.

Here’s a list of the materials used:

1010 extrusion, 96″, 8 pcs.
1030 extrusion, 36″, 1 pc.
6-hole joining plate p/n 4166, 6 pcs.
End fastener p/n 3681, 12 pcs.
Leveling foot p/n 2192, 12 pcs.
1/4-20 x 0.5″ BHSCP, (a lot)
Economy tee nuts (a lot)
M6x1.0 cap screw, 12 pcs.
M6 nuts and washers, 12 pcs.
1/4-20 plug tap (2 flute), 1 ea.

It’s impressive how this guy kept the parts at a minimum– clean and efficient!

The construction is basically three 42×18″ rectangular hoops that the tool cabs sit on, held together using end fasteners. The hoops sit on the legs, which are 1030 extrusion (1×3″ cross section), and then the hoops have screws going through them radially, and attach to axially drilled/tapped holes in the legs. The hoops are 1″ extrusion– two of them each– sitting on 3″ extrusion, which leaves 1″ in the middle. This is where the vertical members are joined and covered by the 6-hole joining plate.

Here is the suggested order of assembly:

Build 42×18″ hoops, cut legs, drill/tap legs, and assemble into the base frame.
Install rear (wall facing) uprights with M6 studs protruding.
Level rack to the floor.
Take a leak, so you don’t piss your pants during the next maneuver.
Empty tool cab and lay on the frame using armstrong method.
Slide tool cab onto the M6 studs.
Install front vertical member.
Rinse, repeat.

“The HF tool cabs are very well-made and easily the best value in tool storage,” he said. “When I built the 80/20 framing I cut all members to precise length.  I was afraid there would be some variance in the size of the tool cabs, but they are all EXACTLY the same size, and the hole locations (for the handles) are in the exact same place. That made the job go a lot easier.”

The remarkably talented Blasto9000 came up with the original design while sitting in his car, stuck in Los Angeles traffic.

 

Cleaning Brass: Tumbler, Ultrasonic, or… Concrete Mixer?

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I like going to the shooting range whenever I have the time. Unfortunately, two of my favorite guns—a .custom 358 Win. rifle and a .327 Ruger single-action revolver—use hard-to-find ammo, and I spend hours online looking for new sources when the others dry up. This usually results in a lot of special ordering, backordering and premium prices. So I’ve recently decided to take up another hobby– reloading.

I knew I’d be going this direction for some time, and have been saving all my spent brass. Now, as I go about assembling my little ammo-making factory, I have to decide how I want to clean it. After initially looking around, I soon realized there are 1,005 different mickey-mouse ways people clean their brass, all of them involving washing and drying (warning: don’t dry your brass in the oven), nasty chemicals, labor-intensive manual putzing, or a combination of these. One approach I found interesting was putting bullet casings in old socks and tossing them in the washer with a little soap. If you and your wife aren’t concerned about getting toxic primer residue in your underwear, then have at it. Also, the idea of feeling “accomplished” by hand-cleaning your own brass gets old real fast. The time, vapors, cleaning up after the chemicals… forget it.

In the end, I narrowed my options down to three of the more endorsed methods: tumbler, ultrasonic washer and cement mixer.

The tumbler actually falls into two categories: rotary & vibrating. Both work well and have strong followings, although there are distinct differences. The rotary tumbler, originally created for polishing rocks, turns a barrel in which the cleaning media (such as walnut shell or corn cob) clean and polish the brass as they tumble together. Because the drum is water-tight, a cleaning solution or polish can also be added. A favorite method of cleaning in a rotary tumbler is throwing the brass in a tumbler with stainless steel media and some dish soap, liquid detergent or a specially-made cleaner. More so than some other methods, with stainless steel the cartridges turn “like-new” bright & shiny, inside and out. Reloaders who have tried this method claim that they’ll never go back to walnut or corn cob media again. The downside is that stainless steel is a lot more expensive, about $50 for 5 lbs. compared to $23 for 25 lbs. It should be noted, though. the stainless steel does last longer, too.

Two examples of rotary tumblers are:

 

 

 

…the Chicago Electric 3 lb. Rotary Rock Tumbler

 

 

 

 

…and the Chicago Electric Dual Drum Rotary Rock Tumbler.

 

Rotary tumblers are generally less expensive and run quieter than the vibrating models. Also, FWIW, they create less dust than the vibrating models. However, they’re vastly slower and there’s also extra time invested in separating the brass from the media.

The vibrating tumbler, as was already mentioned, is a lot faster—even by several hours—so you can get through a lot more brass in the same amount of time Also, it’s a dry-cleaning process, so you don’t have to worry that the brass is thoroughly dry. A downside to consider, though, is the vibratory tumbler doesn’t get the inside of the casings as clean as the rotary. This isn’t really considered a problem; it doesn’t affect the performance of the ammo, or have any adverse affect on the gun, if the inside of the shell isn’t as clean and bright as the outside. Just be aware, that will be the result. Two tumblers you can find at great prices are:

 

 

 

 

the 5 lb. Metal Vibrator/Tumbler and…

 

 

 

 

the 18 lb. Vibratory Bowl with Liquid Drain Hose.

 

The foremost praise given to the ultrasonic cleaner is how fast it works. Plus, it will clean the entire case, inside and out, including the primer pocket, without getting media stuck in the flash holes (as with other methods, when they need to be picked out). You also don’t get the dust all over the casings like with the other methods, and you’re spared having to breathe the lead dust when separating the brass from the cob or walnut media. The downsides are, it cleans but doesn’t polish the brass, you have to dry the cases after you clean them, and the hardware is slightly more expensive. That being said, Harbor Freight has one at a great price.

 

 

 

Chicago Electric 2.5 Liter Ultrasonic Cleaner

 

Which leads me to most out-there, but surprisingly popular method of cleaning brass: the cement mixer. This is the go-to device when you’ve got a lot of brass to clean– like thousands of casings. Indeed, a number of reloaders point to Harbor Freight’s cement mixers as the “ultimate wet or dry tumblers,” not only for their effectiveness, but also their cheap prices and reliability. In order to make their cement mixer work as a “tumbler,” they leave out the paddles when assembling it, leaving the round tub empty. To keep the brass from banging against the steel tub, some spray the interior with a rubber coating, but that’s more for the noise than any concern for the brass getting dinged. All sorts of media can be used in them, but crushed walnut seems to be a favorite, with possibly a brass polish additive. Harbor Freight carries two models made by Central Machinery, both of them used by reloaders:

 

 

 

1-1/4 Cubic Ft. Cement Mixer

 

 

 

 

 

 

3-1/2 Cubic Ft. Cement Mixer

By sharing all these methods, it’s not my intent to try to sway you in any direction. Everyone’s needs and preferences are different. Before you do make a decision, though, google terms like “tumbler vs. ultrasonic cleaner” and “cleaning brass cement mixer,” and see what they’re saying in the blogs and forums– and ask questions! I think you’ll find the methods I’ve listed here are the best.

See you at the range!

 

 

 

Solar-Powered Kiddie Car Mod


I keep stumbling on wicked mods created with something from the wide-ranging Harbor Freight catalog– everything from the outrageous to the sublime. This time I’m just going to call it “cool!”

Ben Nelson’s little girl is just about old enough to start driving her tyke-sized electric jeep. There’s only two problems: there’s no battery and no charger. A lesser man would have hauled the carcass to the curb, but not Ben. With a couple of spare 15 Watt 12 Volt Solar Panels and a 30 Amp Solar Charge Controller that he happened to have– along with some conduit and a 12-volt battery– the kid’s now free-wheelin’ it with clean, free energy.

Check it out!

 

That’s the Gift That Keeps on Giving the Whole Year, Clark

Once again, we see how Harbor Freight is a favorite toy store for tool heads.

Recently on The Garage Journal forum, a member wrote how his boss gave him a $200 Harbor Freight gift card for his birthday, and asked what he should get with it. The replies, of course, were all over the place: 44” rolling cabinet, swivel-head ratchet, composite ratchet, and other Pittsburgh PRO ratchets, 1” belt & 5″ disc combination sander, 2-ton engine hoist, 20-ton shop press, 4”x6” horizontal/vertical metal-cutting band saw, blast cabinet3/8″ Central Pneumatic Earthquake air ratchet, cutoff discs, grinding wheels, welding gloves, dead blow hammers, cable ties, sandpaper, rip and claw hammers, magnetic LED palm-sized light, shrink tubing

It reminded me of when my Aunt Anita sent me $5 and the guys were all telling me how to blow it (“Hot Wheels!” “GI Joe!” “Silly Putty!”).

The lucky birthday boy ended up getting the US General 700 Lbs. Capacity Five Drawer Tool Cart–which has a 4.5-star rating with 112 reviews and, by the way, costs exactly $199.99! Then he created a dead-serious custom welder cart with it (and did a damn fine job)!

How would you spend YOUR $200 Harbor Freight gift card?