This is the story about how I bought a couple of Harbor Freight US General roller cabinet tool boxes.
It all happened quite by accident, really, and turned out to be quite the adventure.
Just to prepare you – this is a long post, discussing everything about my Harbor Freight purchasing experience.
I have been organizing my workspace and storage spaces, and have been deliberating about what to buy. I need more storage for tools, parts, supplies, and misc. smaller things.
My tall Proto 540 has grown on me, and I am quite attached to my Beta rolling cabinet. The Proto 540 isn’t available anymore, and I’m not yet ready to buy its larger and pricier replacement.
Here’s an older photo of my Beta roller cabinet, in orange. Aside from a broken key I have yet to replace, it has been great for more than 12 years now.
Beta’s current line roller cabinets are end-of-life. New Beta cabinets came out in Europe in 2021, and their USA launch has been delayed. The new cabinets are supposedly launching next summer.
One of Beta’s few dealers have the older model I would buy, but their pre-sale customer service experience has been terrible.
Plus, even if they were easy to buy right now, the pricing is a bit high – more than $700 each. That might be worth it for a primary tool box I’m in and out of multiple times a day, but not for secondary tool and part storage and organization
I looked at garage storage products, but their pricing is quite steep too. New Age Pro’s 5-drawer unit – two of which I currently have in-use, are now $550 to $649 each, plus shipping.
I started thinking about deeper shelves.
I have industrial tote boxes on 12″ deep wire shelving racks, and also hinged-lid containers on dollies, These are no longer efficient for smaller tools, parts, and doodads, even if I only need them on occasion.
Containers now have mixed contents, things have been moved around… it’s an inefficient mess. Drawers could work, and I started planning out a long-term DIY project involving drawers on the bottom with shelves or cubbies on top.
Given the cost of materials and hardware today, store-bought solutions can be more economical, if I can find the right setup.
On Saturday, I searched for some inspiration online. I searched for woodworking tool cabinets, and voila, a Harbor Freight advertisement popped up, showing their yellow cabinet on sale for 10% off.
Everything over $50 was 10% off this weekend.
I… had not considered this at all. It could work.
I have always wanted a yellow tool box, ever since I saw Craftsman Griplatch cabinets in a Sears catalog maybe 15 years ago. I took the bait.
I have a Craftsman orange top chest – Sunburst Orange, if I recall correctly. I suppose I like bright tool box colors.
Hmm. The US General single bay tool cabinets have 8 drawers, are 26″ wide, 22″ deep, 40.5″ tall, and weigh 175 pounds.
There are 3 shallow drawers, 3 medium drawers, and 2 deep drawers.
While not perfect, that might do the trick for secondary tool and part storage!
I’m shopping for my basement, not my garage. Consumer-strength single bay tool boxes around 26″ to 30″ wide are at the limit of what I can safely get up or down the stairs.
I checked the website – it’s in stock!
Hmm. I figured I would check out the floor sample and maybe buy one. If it works out, I could always buy another.
I drove to my closest Harbor Freight store, checked out the US General floor sample, figuring the larger roller cabinet would indicate the quality level for the entire product line, and grabbed the purchase ticket from the display.
I went to the cashier.
They had one in stock, but it’s a “presale” item, meaning it was sold and waiting for its new owner to pick it up. Bummer.
They had a couple of other colors in stock, but I really wanted it in yellow. They gave me the number for another store in the area. I called them up, and they had one in stock!
I drove a half hour, picked it up, and took it home.
Here’s where I’m impressed with my Harbor Freight shopping experience. They brought the product to the front – it was in good shape – they rang me up, and then helped me load it up.
Sears never did that.
They said it would take 10 minutes to get from the back, as “there was stuff on top of it,” but I only had to wait maybe 5 minutes.
I was worried about damage, but everything was in great condition.
Once home, the top box lifted right off, and this is what it looks like underneath. There was styrofoam on the top and bottom, and the corners were covered with foam on the inside and stiff cardboard on the outside.
I feel I made a great choice with the color – I love it!
My basement is dark in places due to a huge HVAC soffit running down the middle, and bright colors work better than say blue or black. Renovating the basement will be a far-off future project. But, I do plan to add a lighter colored floating floor, which should help brighten things up a little.
Here’s what it looks like inside. It’s not perfect, but few brands spend time or effort on areas that aren’t visible during use. There’s just enough of a coating to hopefully help prevent rust and corrosion.
My idea was to remove all the drawers, carry the cabinet into the house and down the basement stairs.
I decided to install the casters first.
The casters are very cheap. But, this is a Harbor Freight US General product – corners are cut in some areas.
The instructions disappointed me.
The side handle is shown to install with a washer, bolt, and spring washer. But nope, there are no washers included, just two bolts. I guess a design change was made, but nobody bothered to update the user manual.
As for the caster installation instructions, take a close look at the diagram.
It shows a bolt, small washer, large washer, and caster plate. The image is correct. The labels are mismatched.
The label for the flat washer is pointing towards the spring washer, and the label for the “spring was” [sic] is pointing to the flat washer. At least the diagram is correct.
I got it down the stairs, although it wasn’t easy. After popping the drawers back in – carefully, I had to install the end caps for the handle pulls. They went in most of the way, and I used a small hammer to gently nudge the caps fully into place.
I was pretty pleased overall.
What’s the load capacity for the ball bearing drawer slides? *shrug* Harbor Freight doesn’t say. All they say is that the single bay cabinet can hold 1000 lbs when “evenly distributed from bottom up.”
Does that mean 100 lbs per drawer, plus 200 lbs for the top? There’s also a top chest with 6 rows of drawers and a top lid compartment. So… 75 lbs per drawer, plus 400 lbs for the top?
Not knowing bugs me a little.
For the money, $360 minus $36 = $324 plus tax, I’m pretty pleased.
I decided I wanted another one. I was off to Harbor Freight again on Sunday!
I called first – yes, that have an orange tool box in stock. They said they could hold it for me until the end of the day.
I went to Harbor Freight, and it was busier than yesterday. Apparently it gets “crazy crowded” on Sundays.
At one point, when I was still waiting in line to make my return, someone abandoned their purchase – a magnetic tool box power strip – due to the long checkout wait. Note to self: avoid Harbor Freight on Sunday afternoons.
I paid, and they brought out the cabinet. This was different from yesterday, where they brought it out first and then rung me up.
One of the corners was mashed in a little, but it didn’t seem like a big deal.
I gave myself a choice – was this worth my driving to the other Harbor Freight ~25-30 minutes away on a busy Sunday to get a more perfect one? No.
I brought it home, unloaded my shiny new orange US General tool box, and… the drawers started sliding out.
The locking mechanism was completely broken somehow. The box had a 2020 date code.
None of the drawers had detents either. With the yellow tool box I bought first, which has a 2022 date code, the drawers close maybe 98% of the way, with the final fraction of an inch requiring extra effort to engage a detent mechanism. This helps with drawer retention.
My brand new orange box apparently didn’t have drawer slide detents, and its lock was completely non-functional, even with all the drawers pushed inside. The lock turned and made some noise, but none of the drawers engaged.
Back to Harbor Freight!
I called first, and was told to come right in. They would help me unload the tool box, do the return, and then I can buy a new one. They have one orange in stock (maybe the one I just bought?) and two in blue.
I have a US General tool cart in blue, and know it to be a bright medium blue, and figured maybe it will work okay in the basement. Okay, I’ll get a replacement cabinet in blue.
I arrived at the store, waited in line, and when the cashier saw my hands were empty, they asked what they could help with.
I told them about the return, and an associate helped me bring the tool cabinet back in.
I was asked to stand to the side until the blue cabinet came out. The cashier said they prefer to have the product on a cart in-hand in front of me – or them – before I could be rung up. Okay, sounds fine. The tool box was brought out.
The associate who retrieved the tool box – maybe the manager? – was about to head outside and down the ramp when the cashier informed them I didn’t pay yet.
“Why not? When it’s this busy, ring them up without delay, we can always reverse it.”
Everyone had treated me well so far, and waiting for them to ring me up after the next customer didn’t take long. Then again, the people in front of me bought all kinds of equipment that took a while to scan. Earlier, when I was paying for the orange box, customers in front of me had carts filled to the brim.
Cashiers and associates looking out for the customer’s convenience? Where was I?
I’m guessing they like to have products on a cart and in front of the cashier just in case a customer wants to buy something that’s not actually in stock. When I asked about a replacement orange tool box, I was told the one they have in the system might be a floor sample. Or maybe the system didn’t update yet and was showing the one I bought and was returning.
One reason I didn’t mind waiting was because it gave me a chance to see what other customers were buying.
The defective orange roller cabinet was a huge waste of time, but everyone was friendly and helpful.
If you’ve read this far, I hope you’re not too disappointed or distracted by my digressions. I never purchased larger equipment from Harbor Freight before, which made this an adventure in several ways.
I paid for the blue cabinet, we loaded it up, and I brought it home.
I unloaded it, took the drawers out, plopped it on its side, and got to work getting the casters on.
With the first cabinet, I learned that I could only fit a 13mm combination wrench on the fixed casters, although a ratchet and socket worked well on the swivel casters. So, I positioned the cart on its side in a way that let me install the fixed casters on top and swivel casters on the bottom.
It was far easier for me to get the second cabinet down the stairs. If you do not have a way to do this in a safe manner, hire professionals.
The handle pull hardware isn’t flat and square. I didn’t have this issue with the first tool box. The side of the tool box appears to be flat, but the handle mounting brackets are rounded away from the tool box.
That’s kind of janky.
The handle brackets are installed in place with just two socket cap screws, with short pins helping with installation alignment. Needless to say, they’re not going to support a lot of weight.
When taking out the drawers, there was lint on two of the slides. One of the side handle mounting brackets has a hair or fiber of some kind underneath the chrome finish.
Some of the panels had gaps at the seams. This is true for both of my cabinets, but is not entirely unexpected for what seems to be spot-welded construction.
There are some metal splinters at the back of the drawers, but not in any areas most users will ever be expected to touch.
With yesterday’s yellow cabinet, there was scraped-off yellow powder coat on some of the handles, presumably from when the handle pulls were installed at the factory.
Overall though, these are 8-drawer steel tool boxes for under $400.
Let’s think about the price for a moment. Perhaps $120 of the price goes towards the sturdy-feeling main cabinet, $25 goes toward each drawer ($200 total) – including the drawer slides – and the remaining $40 goes towards the casters, lock, side handle, drawer mats, top mat, and labels for the handle pulls.
At this price, for what you get, I can forgive a lot.
I might call Harbor Freight to see if I can get a replacement handle, partly just to test out their customer service.
Oh, and I don’t know if this is typical for Harbor Freight or not, but they helped me load up with this Haul-Master hydraulic table cart. This is the one they sell, and I was told they have a larger one (that they don’t sell) for the bigger tool cabinets.
I didn’t see any of these carts at the other location I visited yesterday. I supposed they have to have something like this on-hand, how else could anyone load a larger tool box into a pickup truck or similar?
As an aside, I don’t have the space for an engine hoist, and definitely not a gantry. I considered getting a hydraulic lift table like this a while back, but didn’t even think about how it can be used to load or unload heavy cargo in and out of my SUV. Maybe this will be my next Harbor Freight purchase.
I might buy more cabinets, although I’m not 100% certain yet.
Maybe I will add a couple along the basement wall, with a long butcher block top added to create a workbench, although I’ll have to figure out how to build a strong-enough leveling base. As the bottom isn’t flat, it complicates the matter just a little.
Just the fact that I’m thinking about this should give you a sense of my satisfaction so far.
I loaded the tool boxes with tools, parts, and equipment previously stored in space-inefficient totes and containers, and I really like the volume of the roller cabinets.
Too bad there aren’t other drawer configuration options, although that’s probably one of the reasons the price can be as low as it is.
Some of the drawers are noticeably sluggish under heavy weight. The casters are usable.
Harbor Freight says this is a “professional quality roller cabinet,” but it most certainly does not feel like one. It’s reasonably well-made given its price tag, and with a little care, I’m sure it will last a very long time.
Even though there are some obvious shortcomings compared to some of the more premium tool storage products I have purchased or used in the past, I feel that I got a lot for the money spent.
Are these as refined as pricey tool cabinets? No. More premium tool storage products will deliver higher quality and a better user experience. But, these deliver more than I expected for under $400 each.
The two tool cabinets helped me empty more plastic tote bins and boxes than I’d like to admit. They’re not very organized right now, but they’re going to be.
What if I need more?
When looking at Harbor Freight’s website, store pickup isn’t an option if I want a couple in a specific color. I can order online for delivery, with freight fees tacked on for each roller cabinet, and presumably lift gate charges as well. I suppose I’d have to visit my local store to buy more via “presale.” I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
I’d be hesitant about delivery, though, as I have seen how severe freight handlers can damage or even demolish far sturdier and better-packaged tool boxes.
I visited Harbor Freight stores four times in two days, which is about the same number of visits I made in the previous five years combined.
This has turned out to be a very surprising weekend. I hadn’t anticipated buying a US General tool cabinet, let alone two. Well, technically I bought three, but returned one due to internal defects. There might be additional purchases in my future.