A few days ago I ordered a new US General 44″ rolling tool cabinet from Harbor Freight. The question is: out of all the different varieties of tool cabinets out there, why did I buy the US General? Read on and find out.
First off, since my local stores don’t stock large tool storage items, the only way to purchase them is to “presale” them and have them delivered to the store. This means I have to wait several weeks before I can pick it up, but I wanted to discuss my reasoning behind this purchase in the meantime.
I’ve tested a few large tool storage solutions for Toolguyd over the past few years and have owned a few more Craftsman and Masterforce cabinets. For the items I’ve reviewed, I’ve had some good experiences — take the Husky Workbench and the Milwaukee tool chest and cabinet for example. I also had one series of nightmare experiences with the Sears Craftsman tool storage combo, although the actual tool cabinet and chest weren’t that bad.
Now I’m finally getting around to donating the last of the workbench and tool chests to a local robotics team, and I want a permanent home for all my hand tools.
I know exactly what I want:
- Large top drawer and lots and lots of shallow drawers
- No wasted storage behind a door
- Around 40″ wide
- No purchasing sight-unseen
- Decent construction at an affordable price
- Smooth drawer slides
- No gimmicky power outlets, USB Chargers, or pegboard
- Good reputation
Type of Storage
For the space allocated in my garage and how I plan to use the tool cabinet, all the “consumer” tool cabinets, chests, and workbenches at the local stores waste valuable space with large drawers and cabinet doors. I want to store hand tools and I want to store a lot of them in a small space.
Now, I understand the tool storage at hardware stores are designed for the homeowner that has a small garage workshop and is looking for ONE place to store all of their tools, but that isn’t my use case. I don’t store my power tools in the garage because batteries don’t respond well to the subzero and 100+ degree temperatures that I get in my Minnesota garage for what seems like 6 months out of the year.
One thing I think many cabinets and workbenches do right, is the wide upper drawer that spans the entire width of the cabinet. It is really nice to have one drawer that can handle storing all your ratchets, sockets, and accessories. This is my most-opened drawer.
The US General 44″ cabinet at Harbor Freight meets all of my above requirements. It has a full-width upper drawer, 10 shallow drawers for hand tool storage, and two deeper, but not too deep drawers on the bottom for storing taller tools.
Construction vs Affordability
My second set of criteria was that I wanted something well-built at an affordable price. A corollary of these criteria is that I won’t purchase something sight-unseen. I have to be able to see and touch the same (or very similar) model to make sure of the quality. This limited my search to stores in my area that sell tool cabinets and workbenches.
Each store I visited had their share of lower-quality and entry-price options, as well as well-built and higher-price options. Home Depot sells Milwaukee and Husky tool storage products.
Not surprising to me, all of the Milwaukee options I saw were were solidly built, but also more expensive. Husky was a split between lower-quality and entry-priced models, and higher-quality more premium-priced models.
The only higher-quality option that really seemed to fit my criteria at Home Depot was the stainless steel-topped, 40″ wide Milwaukee mobile workbench. It has an affordable price and is well built, but it just didn’t have the type of drawer configuration I was looking for.
At my local Lowes stores, the only options they had were Craftsman and Kobalt. Frankly, all of the Craftsman models were overpriced for their construction. They were made with thinner steel and all but the most expensive models used cheap drawer slides.
Kobalt had few models available, and the only one in several stores that came close to my criteria was this Kobalt 41″ stainless steel cabinet. While it had a more useful-to-me drawer layout than the Milwaukee workbench I was looking at, it was $250 more expensive.
That pretty much left Harbor Freight. To be honest, I’ve heard good things about US General tool boxes, but I never saw myself buying expensive tool storage cabinets from Harbor Freight. Harbor Freight actually has three different lines of tool cabinets: Yukon, US General, and Icon.
The Yukon branded cabinets and workbenches really weren’t any better than the low-cost Husky ones. The US General tool storage seems to be a half-step below the higher-priced Husky, Kobalt and Milwaukee models. The Icon tool boxes and cabinets, while very nice, are out of my price range.
What I mean by half-step below is that the US General boxes don’t have soft-close drawers, or any of the gimmicks that I’ll talk about in the next section. Also, the the wide top drawer of the floor model is not as smooth and has a little sloppiness or shake when empty. Other than that, the construction seemed on par with the higher priced options discussed above.
I’m not mentioning Menards, Fleet Farm, or Northern Tool, because they just don’t have any selection near me right now.
Having lived with a workbench with pegboard backing for three years, I can tell you it’s not for me. I’d rather have pegboard on the wall, because there just isn’t enough space to hang much here. Second, for the few occasions that I actually moved the workbench to a different location, the pegboard restricted access to one whole side of the workbench.
I can definitely see the pegboard being useful if you have a few pieces of PPE and a few chargers that you want to keep at the ready, but to me it just was a hinderance. Sure, you could remove it, but if buying new why put money into a feature I already know I don’t like.
If I want a power strip on a bench, I can mount my own. I also never used the USB charging ports, instead preferring to use my own chargers that have fast charging capabilities. The few times I did move the bench, I always forgot to unplug it.
I can definitely see that if you have a bunch of things plugged in on the bench, having them plugged into an integral power strip saves you from unplugging everything, though.
US General Information
The last criterion is reputation. If you read the Garage Journal forums or look at online reviews, people are generally happy with their US General tool box purchases. Generally, the complaints I found all relate to the service at Harbor Freight, damage to the cabinet, or not getting what they ordered.
I found the purchasing experience to be great, and the woman who helped me with questions and ordering was very knowledgeable. Since it’s going to the store, I can refuse pickup if it’s damaged or not exactly what I ordered, so that takes care of those potential issues.
Stuart wrote about the new series 2 US General cabinets when they came out, so I’m not going to go into detail. You can refer to that post for details and specs.
Available: Now, but have to order.
Of course, I found out after I paid that there was a $50 off coupon I could have used. They said I could find it online and return with it to get the discount on my purchase.
You can also order online for home delivery, but you’ll have to pay shipping fees. At the time of this posting, we see a quote of $97 for freight.
One feature that I really liked about the US General cabinet that no other cabinet or workbench had was a convenient way to label the drawers. The drawer pulls are extruded with a channel that holds a label strip and a clear plastic cover. Each drawer has a black endcap that you can pull off to remove the label strip.
I can see two potential issues right away though. First, the labels are perpendicular to the ground, so they aren’t as easy to read if you are standing up and trying to read the bottom drawer. Second Several of the end caps were missing on the display models, so either customers are destructive or they don’t stay well. But, my 3D printer might have something to say about both these issues.
To fit the 60″ Husky workbench, I rid my garage of the all the base cabinets I used for a worksurface, but I have found the Husky 60″ workbench is not a replacement. While the massive size and weight of the workbench helped keep it in place, when I really needed to apply some leverage to something in the vise, the workbench would rock back and forth. Even though the wheels are locked, the casters can still spin back and forth, allowing more movement that I would like.
To fix this issue I am going back to a fixed hardwood bench and putting the rolling tool cabinet (as well as my air compressor) under a bench with fixed legs that is further reinforced by fastening it to the wall. I haven’t decided yet whether I am going to remove the castors on the US General tool cabinet or just find a taller workbench to place it under.
For the money, like you mentioned, these toolboxes are pretty decently built compared to others you see at HD/Lowe’s. As someone who doesn’t turn wrenches for a living, they’re more than fine for my uses.
My only wish is that they expanded their Arctic White line to the rest of their toolboxes instead of only the cart.
I got one of the smaller US General toolboxes for the outside tools – I like it for the price but the thing I don’t like is the drawer latch. It’s on one side only compared to some that have it under the entire handle – so they pull open easier.
I also got the Milwaukee workbench as a changing table – my wife and I are taller so the height is just right. 48-22-8553 – with a 10% coupon from the HD credit card this wasn’t surprisingly more expensive than actual changing tables and it’ll have a second life when the children are potty trained. And it can store an inordinate amount of stuff.
I’ve have the older US General 26″ cabinet (smooth red paint, not the crinkle finish one) that I got years ago for $269. Not only was it a lot cheaper than the Craftsman , Kobalt and Husky models in that class, it was much better built. It’s still as good today as it was when I bought it.
Had all the same needs in mind you did. No gimmicks, no power strips, just a decent cabinet with lot of shallow drawers to pack to the gills with hand tools. It sits in the corner next to my workbench and I bet I’ll have it for the rest of my life. If I had spent anymore money than I did, it would have been wasted.
I’ve had that exact same box for about a year now. I’m really happy with it. Like you said it’s a long way from the best box you can buy but it’s a long way from the worst. If I was going to spend any more money on a box for my garage though I’d probably end up buying a second hand tool truck brand box. Lots of 44″ and 56″ wide Snap On and Mac boxes posted on Facebook around here for about $1500.
I didn’t know Harbor Freight did “Available … for In-Store Special Order”. Do you have to physically go into the store to order something? It looks like you can’t do it on their web page. I think it is a great idea, and about time too.
I agree with you in that I have no use for a tool cabinet with a door on it. I want mine to be all drawers. I have two US general cabinets at a second home – think they have around 10 or 12 drawers on them, and they’ve been good but they only get occasional use. My shop at my business has old craftsman, and newer husky and master forced roll around cabinets, and I would put them all in about the same general category. I have a friend who is a heavy equipment mechanic and he has the largest Snap-On box I’ve ever seen and he claims to have given $26,000 for it (empty) and if that’s the case, they saw him coming, I don’t care how big it is or how good it is.
Youtube has a review of this toolbox and a very similar Snap-On box. The Snap-On is around $900 and has several small differences (but nowhere $500 improvements!) I have the US General one and I love it. I was able to get it at my local stores Parking Lot sale for $399 & tax. All in all, the differences I saw in the video (have not seen one up close & personal) I prefer my US General. I received a 30 in. 5 Drawer Mechanics Cart for my birthday and quickly overfilled it. It has the large shelf on the bottom and it was just a junk catch-all. I removed the top and put it on the large one and when I get time I am going to make a wood top for the old bottom and have a nice rolling bench.
I’ve had the same HF/US General rolling chest, top box, side extension drawer base, and side locker for 6 years now (through 2 interstate moves). I still love it.
I have the 44″ cabinet plus side drawers unit. It
I love my US general 26” tool box! I bought it one night to keep all my tools in at school. I felt much safer having a lockable box rather than leaving my snap on tools in the tool bag on a shelf in the back room. Plus, it let me keep a lot more tools than would fit in the bag.
I’ve generally been really happy with it. Even on the most over-loaded drawers, the drawer slides extend and collapse really smooth. The top has a nice rubber work mat, drawer lines are of acceptable quality and seem to revert back to shape after a while (no permanent imprints where tools were stored). The castor wheels maybe could be a bit heavier duty, but they work fine enough if you don’t plan to move your cart around a shop all the time.
My only complaints about it (specific to the 26” model) are they aren’t compatible with the side mount drawers (although I have seen people do it, but someone from HF advised me against it as it’s not stable, fair enough) so don’t expect to expand it with storage accessories other than the top chest, which seems really high, and I’m really short…
An extra deep top drawer would have been nice, sockets drawers are the most common drawer for most people, so why not put it on top?
The biggest complaint, and this has nothing to do with the quality of the box, is that I wish I got the 44” box! Or I just need to buy less tools. No, bigger box is always the answer!
I’m extremely pleased with my US General Purchase. It’s been in the garage a couple months. I bought about twice as much tool storage as I thought I needed and I’ve got it about 2/3rds full.
With the 52 inch base and the 44 inch top. I’ve got a nice small area for other members of the household to set tools that they’ve borrowed and can’t remember what drawer they got it out of.
I like the single deep drawer on the bottom cabinet for my mobile tool box. It sits in there nicely and holds my on-the-go tools that I take when a friend calls needing a repair.
The single sided drawer latch made me pause, but I’ve found that even fully loaded, the drawers aren’t binding so I’m please with the latch.
Enjoy your new tool box!
I’ve been really happy with my HF 44” box. I made a few improvements before loading it up. I replaced the casters with low profile appliance wheels from Amazon to get it lower to slide under my bench. I riveted the back of the drawer slides to get it quieter and smoother, cleaned all the grease out of the slides and replaced it with dry-film lube, and greased and adjusted the rear catch so the drawers pull out easier. Also, I had an electronic cam-lock with code and rfid card that I used in place of the tubular lock. The tops of the drawers leave enough of a lip for labeling. I bought some white on clear tape for my label-maker to do it.
Can you share where you bought the electronic cam lock? That sounds really handy for keeping young children out of the tool cart while not being cumbersome for regular use.
This is the lock I used. It was not a direct fit. I had to drill a small hole in the face of the toolbox and make a u-shaped bracket to interface the lock with the locking bar of the toolbox. I hope to do a post on garagejournal with my modifications at some point.
I have one of the tool carts and have been happy with it. These are well built and one of the better buys at HF.
On the Kobalt my boss has one in the shop and the soft close drawer slides have been binding and not closing right after a few years. While it looks great and I have good luck with Kobalt in general it would give me pause in getting one of their boxes.
Your complaints about the cabinet doors and really deep drawers are the same issues I’ve had with them. Like I told you and Stuart on Instagram, these are great tool boxes. I love that they build them with just drawers and you can add onto the box with end cabinets or an end locker.
I hope they add middle chests for the 44″, right now they only have one for the 56″.
I’ve looked at all the toolboxes and the US Generals are the best boxes for less than “stupidly expensive” money.
Husky boxes are thinner and weaker.
Milwaukee boxes are pretty nice but kind of expensive
Kobalt seems similar to Husky
Best thing I did was take the castors off my box and just put 3/4″ plywood down there so it is JUST lower than the height of my tablesaw.
Nice Benjamen, interesting to read your thoughts en weighing of functions on something you buy that has a lot of use over a lot of time afterwards. This kind of content is very nice in between alle the tool deals!
I’ve got two 44″ cabinets mated together with the 14″ cabinet. Perfect fit into my 100″ nook in the garage. Built a worktop across the top and Wall Control panels on all three walls. Perfectly adequate tool/storage for a home garage since I don’t need them to roll anywhere
Ben, I’m in Minnesota as well. I would love to check out the box with you when you pick it up so I can see what you look for. Any chance that’s possible?
Sorry I already picked it up Saturday.
What you look for is that the box is intact. If there are ripped parts of the box, you have to take a closer look underneath to make sure it didn’t telegraph to the toolbox itself.
There was actually some damage on the bottom of the cardboard box, but it turns out that the damage was down where the castors were. I was able to look and see that the damage to the box was well below where the toolbox started and in fact it didn’t even damage the foam underneath. I’ll show it when I write about the box.
I’m a little late to the party. I’m about to pull the trigger on a us general box, 72″ with upper cab. I have a craftsman 41″ with that deep drawer at the bottom right. It just collects crap. And any time I need some crap out of that drawer it takes way too long to find. The us general boxes seem like you could swap out the large lower drawers for shallower drawers. I’ll be trying this out when I get mine. There are holes on the inner chassis that are unused that are the same shape and size as those that have slides installed. My criteria for selecting a box are identical to yours. I hope I am as happy with mine as you are with yours.
I don’t know about the 72″, but on mine all the slides are equally spaced and the bottom drawer uses two slides per side. This means that you can place the larger drawer anywhere, or if you could find more shallow drawers, just replace the larger drawer with two shallow drawers.
It’s actually really well thought out.
I bought the 56″ General tool box bottom. After 5 years of usage the ball bearings have popped out on 3… The Casters have Melted! Completely unwrapped ??? It has not moved since setting down. I may Jack up and place on blocks…
The drawer locks… All broke or I took off. I don’t drive my garage around and Florida Earthquakes are……. I don’t like needing a tool and having to put something down to open a drawer..
I’m looking to get the Top box now.. Just wish the top was deeper to store Power tools and charging stations… So the issues above have not swayed my decision. I do like the deep Full extending drawers.
Changing their colors and textures!
I did email them about the above issues within warranty period… No Answer….
To be expected…
Weird about the casters. I wonder if they were exposed to oil or some other solvent at some point either in your garage or in the manufacturing or shipping process.
I’m not liking that you’ve have issues with the locks and ball bearing slides, hopefully that was a issue they have fixed since then…it seems like they are decent quality in my drawers. I have noticed that the drawers need a little bit extra shove to get them all the way back into the locking position sometimes.
I wonder as well. When I still had a machine shop business I three General roll cabs in the shop. One for lathe tooling & accessories, another for milling tooling, and the third for general purpose mechanic’s type tools. They got used all day long and saw frequent exposure to shop chemicals: oil of various kinds, machine tool cutting fluids, etc. The 3d one saw contact with motor oil, trans fluid, and transmission fluid as we rolled it around the auto service bay in the shop. They lasted over a decade of my use, and I know the guy who bought them from me is still using them. The soluble oils used in cutting fluid is infamous for damaging rubber parts. I had it swell up several drawer liners and rubber mats around the shop but the casters on the General tool carts were unaffected.
I wonder if something about the casters changed? Perhaps the type of rubber used? Mine were purchased around 2004-2005 or so.
Nice writeup. I don’t think Husky soft close is a step up as they can fail and have in some reviews. Agree on more shallow drawers. I have a cheap cabinet with 7″ drawers and stuff is just piled in. Would rather have more shallow drawers and I have other storage options for big stuff.
I bought the 56″ US General toolbox 15 years ago. At the time, I was working on an island in the Gulf of Mexico and I couldn’t bring myself to spend tool-truck prices on a box that I expected to rust away in the salt-air. I opted for the cheaper option (at the time, I think it was $800) with the idea that, if it rusted away, it wouldn’t hurt as badly as watching a $15000 Snap-on box rust away. 15 years later, I’m still working out of the same box. I outgrew it and had to go buy the matching top-cabinet, the side locker, and the side chest (an additional $1100). I never intended to be working out of a HF box in a professional setting (and I catch a lot of flak for it) but I can’t justify shelling out to upgrade to a more expensive box when this one is still functioning just fine. Sure, there are features that the name-brand boxes have that I’m a little jealous of. (I would love to have a lighted/powered hutch that I can lock up and keep my laptop, battery chargers, extra monitor, etc in). Still, I can’t complain about the quality for the price. For less than $2k, I have a box that rivals some of my coworker’s boxes that they had to spend upwards of $20k on. It’s not flashy and it doesn’t have a lot of the bells and whistles but, if I’m being honest, all I really need is ample storage with locks and wheels. US General offers that, so I’m happy. If anything ever happens to this box, I’ll probably upgrade to their Icon line which rivals Snap-on, Mac, Cornwell, and the other big-name boxes. For now (and for the foreseeable future) I’m happy with the setup.