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Type steel in Harbor Freight hand tools

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CowDoc

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#1
The local tool steel distributor happened to mention they now have a Niton analyzer. What the heck is a Niton analyzer, you might ask. Well it's a neat little gun that uses x-ray diffraction to analyze steel. Basically, you point it at a piece of steel and it tells you the percent composition (Fe, Cr, Mo, W, V, etc.). From that analysis, it determines the type of steel (M2, O1, D2, etc). Great little gadget.

Ah Ha! I have always wondered what those crappy hand tools from Harbor Freight were made from. If they're made from mild steel, there is no hope. They're crap. BUT, if they're made of some type of tool steel and just not heat treated right... well that opens possibilities. So, I took a hand full of HF tools for analysis.

Within a minute we knew the composition of several Pittsburgh Steel, Chicago Tool and Warrior brand tools. I'm sorry to say they are all cold rolled steel, probably a poorly controlled Chinese version of 1018. The analyzer simply said "cold rolled" and listed iron contents between 98.23 and 99.04%.

So, now you have the scientific proof you always needed. HF stamping tools, punches, pliers, etc should only be used on plastic and should only be hit (softly) with a wooden mallet. Forget using them on mild steel.

In fairness, I should point out several of their drill bits now specify they are made of M-2 steel. They might be OK. I didn't test those.
 

davidh

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#2
interesting how they can make all these nice looking products / tools but don't even consider real quality.

my local scrap yard has one of those machines to test product. the price of it was downright scarey. . . but, its a tool to help them make money. . . I had a bunch of "steels" as used in jack hammers. .. it was just that, steel, nothing fancy as I had hoped.
 

strantor

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#3
Thank you! I *KNEW* it. Now I have the proof. I will now carry on harboring my grudge.
 

Old Iron

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#4
I've got a set of there wrench's I got about 8 years ago. I got them to use at work cause know one would steel them.

They were used pretty ruff and I still have most of them the rest were left on jobs. So I can't really complain for what they cost.

Paul
 

pineyfolks

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#5
My Son works at a scrapyard and brought one of their guns home over the weekend, I got to mark all my material. It was great. Now I know what I have no more guessing. I never knew they made such a thing. I never thought of checking the quality of my hand tools.
 

Ray C

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#6
I was almost downright injured because of a HF pair of "channel-lock" pliers while lifting a 5lb (very hot) piece out of the heat treating oven. You know how there's a square carriage bolt at the fulcrum to adjust the jaws? Well, the soft metal rounded out, the pliers dropped the piece which bounced off my workboot and onto a board that the quench bucket was sitting on. No harm done but only because I had proper footwear. The part survived but every cheap pair of HF pliers in my shop did not -they were thrown in the trash.

This happened just a couple weeks ago.


Ray
 

jgedde

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The local tool steel distributor happened to mention they now have a Niton analyzer. What the heck is a Niton analyzer, you might ask. Well it's a neat little gun that uses x-ray diffraction to analyze steel. Basically, you point it at a piece of steel and it tells you the percent composition (Fe, Cr, Mo, W, V, etc.). From that analysis, it determines the type of steel (M2, O1, D2, etc). Great little gadget.

Ah Ha! I have always wondered what those crappy hand tools from Harbor Freight were made from. If they're made from mild steel, there is no hope. They're crap. BUT, if they're made of some type of tool steel and just not heat treated right... well that opens possibilities. So, I took a hand full of HF tools for analysis.

Within a minute we knew the composition of several Pittsburgh Steel, Chicago Tool and Warrior brand tools. I'm sorry to say they are all cold rolled steel, probably a poorly controlled Chinese version of 1018. The analyzer simply said "cold rolled" and listed iron contents between 98.23 and 99.04%.

So, now you have the scientific proof you always needed. HF stamping tools, punches, pliers, etc should only be used on plastic and should only be hit (softly) with a wooden mallet. Forget using them on mild steel.

In fairness, I should point out several of their drill bits now specify they are made of M-2 steel. They might be OK. I didn't test those.
I think you may be being mislead by the results of your test. The problem with XRF testing (we have one at work), is it only detects metallic elements. So, for steel, you don't get any information about one all important element: carbon... Granted, your XRF analysis shows that the tools aren't alloyed tool steel, but the percentage of Fe you see could very well be reflective of medium to high carbon steel.

That said, I have a Harbor Freight set of transfer punches. I had to resharpen a number of them after using them on steel. The point was gone after the first hit. So, I resharpend them, heated the newly shapened tip to cherry red and quenched them. They have now stayed sharp! So, I can definitively say the HF transfer punch set I have was poorly heat treated.

The point being, if they were 1018-like CRS or mild steel, this would not have worked.

So, am I saying Harbor Freight tools are great? Absolutely not. But they may be better than a for plastic only tool - especially if they've been heat treated properly.

John
 

Rbeckett

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#8
HF wrenches are a great one time use throw away tool. If you are depending on them to earn a living then you know better. I have owned and still own several of there large wrenches since they are large enough to have a lot of metal in them to avoid spreading when you apply torque. The smaller common size are definitely not a wrench you should rely on heavily for any type of continuous work. The occasional snug up and tighten around the home is a good use of those wrenches. They are a great kitchen drawer set of cheap home repair tools. I would use them as a wrench on a lathe or mills as an adjustment or Gib wrench, but I would also use a good quality wrench when it comes to tightening the tool or holding parts. I have a 14 MM on a piece of wire to snug up my tailstock, and another 13 MM on a piece of cable for tighteneing my gibs screws on my mill. I just leave them hanging safely on the tool to avoid misplacing them and having to waste time looking for a wrench to make those adjustments.

Bob
 

CowDoc

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#9
I think you may be being mislead by the results of your test. The problem with XRF testing (we have one at work), is it only detects metallic elements. So, for steel, you don't get any information about one all important element: carbon... Granted, your XRF analysis shows that the tools aren't alloyed tool steel, but the percentage of Fe you see could very well be reflective of medium to high carbon steel.
Alas, you are quite correct! Steel only needs 0.30–1.70% carbon to be hardened. The measurements I made don't rule that possibility out. One tool did have 0.81% Manganese, which is commonly added to increase hardenability. Also, if John's transfer punches hardened, then there you have it.

Well dang! That turned out to be a wasted two minutes testing. Hmm, wonder how I can accurately test carbon content... other than spark testing?

Actually, it was a set of HF transfer punches that irked me and started this whole testing idea. The punches aren't worth a plug nickel. I think I'll try hardening a few as John did and see what happens. Maybe there's hope yet.
 

Tony Wells

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#10
To say that XRF cannot detect carbon isn't quite accurate. The little toy hand-held guns that scrap yards use cannot, but nearly every element between oxygen and uranium is detectable with the method, or a modified method in the lab grade instruments. I have spent some quality time on a Jordan Valley XRF unit with the light element feature, and it was an amazing machine, once I learned how to read the spectrogram. Got to play with LN quite a bit with it too, as it used a cold X-Ray tube. We kept about 1,000 gallons on hand. Makes good ice cream.

In a lab, here's one way the carbon content is measured:

http://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=4225
 

4GSR

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#11
I don't like to admit to it, but the people I do consulting for pretty much outsource all there work to China. Talk about this some other time. Anyways, thru my consulting I have to deal with the guys over there almost on a daily basis by email.

One of the biggest issues is materials.

They outsource for materials from their local suppliers over there just like we do here. But the differences is, the grades of materials they have available to them. It is all based on the ISO system grading instead of our familiar AISI/ASTM/ASME system, which most of use are familiar with. They do not stock any heat treated materials, or very little, if few do.

So if you order AISI 1018/1026 steel as you would do here you will get something that the Chinese MTR will call 18Mn/C18D2 or 25Mn/C26D2, of course in Chinese! (Its a trip trying to cypher out one of their MTR's)
If you wanted AISI 4140/42 steel you order 42CrMo4. Again, it will not be heat treated, it will be "as rolled", not annealed or normalized. Heat treating is a operation you have to get done locally.

Same way with tool and die steels. If you want A1 or O1, it may come to you as 5Cr4W5Mo2V or if made to a German specification be something like 1.2345.

Bottom line to this madness is, Most anything you get from China that is made steel, is to an ISO specification, not ANSI specification. The issue is, was the steel and heat treat selected properly for the tool mentioned? I think most that have posted to this thread have answered that.

Ken
 

hman

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#12
Good info here ... a bit disappointing but overall not really too surprising :(

Now howzabout this ... I've occasionally seen cheapo machine parts (chucks come to mind) that are advertised as being made of "semi steel." Is that just a loose term some marketing weenie came up with for a slightly higher grade of cast iron, or is it actually well defined?

Thanks!
 

4GSR

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#13
(chucks come to mind) that are advertised as being made of "semi steel."

Thanks!
Semi-steel is a term used to hide the fact it's made of cast iron in general. It's not related to ductile iron as some get it confused by. And it not "cast steel".

It suppose to be a finer grain of cast iron or sometimes called "meehanite" which was a patented process of getting higher grain and strength out of regular cast iron by adding/controlling certain chemicals to the chemistry of cast iron follow by a cooling process that yields "semi steel".

I have a 10" Cushman 4-jaw chuck bought new many years ago made of semi-steel. You have to be carful tightening on to a chunk of iron. The chuck body actually deflects a few thousandths while indicating in..because of the thin walls of the chuck.

Ken
 

KBeitz

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#14
Most of Grizzlys tools is made of meehanite ...
 
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