Harbor Freight 12 Inch Bar Clamp: Handle Failure

Harbor Freight’s 12 Inch Ratcheting Bar Clamps come with a clear description:

The 12 in. ratchet bar clamp/spreader is a light duty tool that’s perfect for delicate woodwork or scale modeling.

Yeah, right. (*)

It’s an awkward, clunky, heavy steel bar with chunky plastic fittings, not at all suitable for “delicate woodwork”. In my case, I attempted to clamp a 4×4 block against a bonded pair of of 2×4 studs before drilling a pair of bolt holes, whereupon one of the clamps failed. I deployed a spare clamp (always have a backup) and completed the mission.

An autopsy showed the problem:

Harbor Freight Bar Clamp - failed handle pivot
Harbor Freight Bar Clamp – failed handle pivot

The orange handle magnifies the applied force by the (more or less) 4:1 lever arm and applies it against two hollow plastic bosses on the side plates. The one just below the handle broke free, which is exactly what you’d expect to happen.

The through hole looks like it should pass a pivot, but that’s not the case:

Harbor Freight Bar Clamp - handle detail 1
Harbor Freight Bar Clamp – handle detail 1

I drilled out the hole just slightly to fit a snippet of brass tubing:

Harbor Freight Bar Clamp - brass bushing
Harbor Freight Bar Clamp – brass bushing

If the tubing looks slightly off-center, that’s because it is. The two halves of the injection mold weren’t aligned, as you can see along the top edge of the picture, putting the hole off-center. The broken boss took most of the reaction force from the handle: a poor bad design compounded by crappy production QC.

I filled the empty spaces with epoxy, topped it off with a pair of washers, match-drilled holes in the side plates, and ran a stainless 8-32 screw through the brass tubing:

Harbor Freight Bar Clamp - reinforced pivot
Harbor Freight Bar Clamp – reinforced pivot

The end-on view shows the misaligned handle halves:

Harbor Freight Bar Clamp - repaired - edge view
Harbor Freight Bar Clamp – repaired – edge view

It’s not nearly as stylish, but the handle pivot won’t fail again. I should preemptively repair the other clamps, but …

“Harbor Freight: The Home of Single-Use Tools” once again performs as expected.

(*) That’s a rare example of a double positive statement denoting a negative opinion, by the way.

10 thoughts on “Harbor Freight 12 Inch Bar Clamp: Handle Failure

  1. Whereas “a poor bad design” is an entirely apt double negative.

  2. “Yeah, right!” has been the catch phrase for a twenty year series of iconic ads for a beer company (Tui) in New Zealand, across all media. Usual web search will dredge up suitable examples. Fair warning: Not politically correct for those of a more sensitive nature.

  3. I’ve been able to resist Harbor Freight–it’s a 220 mile round trip, and the equivalent stuff from Costco usually lasts/works better. I have the Irwin set, and they’ve been soldiering on for years. They don’t do spreading, but I’ve needed that function maybe once in my lifetime. (Costco sells the occasional turkey; Coleman should not be considered a source for cordless drills…)

    At an engine club meeting several years ago, a member described the then-new-to-the-market 7 x 10 minilathe from HF.
    1) “Debur” evidently isn’t a word in Chinese.
    2) It’s a kit of parts, really.

    Once he did the work, it ran all right, though the series in HSM is instructive.

    1. That HSM series should serve as a warning to he who would be admonished: if you want a shop project, HF is your buddy, but when you just want to use a tool for its intended purpose without hassle, spending more would be a Good Idea.

      For low-end and limited-use tools, HF seems barely acceptable.

  4. Although your repair probably makes the tool better than new, it should be covered by HF’s lifetime hand tool warranty. If you don’t exercise the warranty, they have no motivation to ever fix the problem.

    1. Judging from the reviews, I’m not the first person to have trouble with that little plastic nubbin: if they haven’t gotten enough evidence by now, they never will!

      And the evidence definitely suggests they never will, no matter how much evidence they get.

      I bought about as much stuff as I can stand from HF shortly after they first opened in Poughkeepsie and haven’t been back for a long time.

  5. These days “heavy duty” means next to nothing. When Harbor Freight describes an item as “light duty” that means “don’t buy this!”

    1. I’m pretty sure that’s changed since the original description…

      Not that I ordered it online, of course. For a Harbor Freight tool, if I can’t touch it, I won’t touch it.

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