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.