Plans, projects and how-to's for home machinists

My Opinion About Harbor Freight’s Inside Track Club

I no longer have a positive opinion of Harbor Freight Inside Track Club.  Read the comments below to find out why.

I waited a long time before joining the Harbor Freight Inside Track Club because I couldn’t find out if it was worth $30 a year.  Now I think I can answer that question and my short answer is that it is — IF you regularly buy a variety of tools from them.  And even if you spend a modest amount you’ll probably save enough to at least pay for the cost of your membership.  And if you fall short it probably won’t be by much.  So, I don’t think there’s much risk in giving it a try.  Especially if join now, while they’re still giving away a $10 gift card with each new membership or renewal.  They had the same offer at this time last year and it’s why I joined.  [Shipping is free if you purchase your membership on their web site.]

What You Get With Your Membership

  • You’ll get at least 150 Inside Track Club coupons in the monthly retail flyer they mail to your house.  You can also view and print them from the Harbor Freight web site.
  • More ITC coupons will be emailed to you at least once a week.  I think there’s also a daily coupon that you have to get from the Harbor Freight web site.
  • You’ll get access to private member-only sales in the stores that are held every 2 or 3 months.  They’re for 2 hours and the ones at my nearby store have been on Sunday nights from 6-8 PM, which is right after it normally closes.  Although, the last one was from 4-6 PM.  I’ve been to at least 3 of them and I the only customer in the store except for one.  And that one only had a couple of other customers.  You’ll get additional coupons for the private sales and they even put out free snacks and soft drinks.  Sometimes you’ll get an additional 10% off your entire purchase.

Some Examples

Here are some examples from the February 2012 retail flyer

12-speed Bench Top Drill Press #44836
Normally $170 and on sale for $150.  ITC member price is $100.

1×30-inch Belt Sander #2485
Normally $50 and on sale for $45.  ITC member price is $30.

36 pc SAE/Metric Hex Key Set #94725
Normally $15 and on sale for $10.  ITC member price is $5

18-volt Magnesium Drill/Hammer Drill #65949
Normally $60 and on sale for $55.  ITC member price is $40

29 pc Split Point Cobalt Drill Bit Set #36891
Normally $55 and it’s NOT on sale in the retail flyer.  ITC member price is $45

The Deals Aren’t Always Great

I included the last two examples to show that you don’t always save much by being an Inside Track Club member.  Anyone could have used one of Harbor’s Freight’s easy-to-find 20%-off almost anything coupons to buy the Cobalt Drill Bit Set for about a dollar less than the ITC price.  And they could have used a coupon to buy the drill for only about $4 more.

I keep an envelope full of the coupons in my car.  I get at least one new one every week from our Sunday newspaper and they’re in all kinds of magazines that I either subscribe to or can get from our library’s free magazine exchange.  I’ve seen them in Family Handyman, Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, Boat US, Flying, Popular Science, Digital Machinist and many more.  You can only use one coupon per trip and you can’t use them to buy air compressors, tool chests, welders and one or two other things.  They also can‘t be used with other coupons, including the Inside Track Club coupons.

By the way, there’s always a coupon for a free item next to the 20%-off coupon.  So now I have a large assortment of flashlights, tape measures, screwdriver sets, voltmeters and work gloves.  I don’t spend that much at Harbor Freight anymore because I have nearly everything I want and I’m running out of storage room in my workshop.  But I get to their store fairly frequently because I’m often very near it.

And Finally

As I said before, I don’t think you have much to lose by joining the club unless you just don’t spend very much money at Harbor Freight, or you buy just some very specific things.  I’ve saved quite a bit, although I also probably spent more than I might have by making some impulsive purchases because the savings were too good to pass up.

Made by Hand No 2 – The Knife Maker

This well made video is about Joel Bukiewicz, the owner of Cut Brooklyn, who started out wanting to be a writer but found he loves making things and being part of a community that makes things by hand.  Joel explains why, how he came to make knives for home and professional cooks and what it takes to get really good at something.

I enjoy videos like this and I’ve posted similar ones.  But for reasons I’m not sure I understand this one resonates with me much more than the others.  It might be because I also enjoy making things, but I make my living with computers so I don’t have anything tangible that I can see and hold at the end of my workday.

Wayne Grenning

When the Daimler Chrysler Corporation decided to make a reproduction of its first engine, one that was a pioneer in automobiles and the model for the modern engine, it commissioned three copies.  One was kept at the company’s headquarters, the other went to a collector in Michigan and the third to a museum.  Ironically, there was a problem with all three—Chrysler couldn’t get any of them to work.

That’s where Wayne Grenning came in.  He is a historic gas engine reproduction expert, having built a museum’s worth of them that he keeps at his Lockport, N.Y., home.  One of the Daimler models found its way to Pennsylvania, where it was displayed at the Coolspring Power Museum.  The museum’s director already knew Wayne well from the many reproductions he sent the museum, so he turned to Wayne  again to help fix the missing components and get the engine up and running.

The Daimler engine represented the culmination of the experimentation with internal combustion, but the original engine was lost in a factory fire in 1903, with only the blueprints surviving.  From those drawings two prototypes were made for advertising purposes, but the designers didn’t like the look of where the carburetor was so they moved it to look “more presentable.”  After spending months on the project with the help of two others, he had the engine up and running again

Between his website [Grenning Models and his YouTube page,] and his activity on forums, Grenning has provided extensive details for just about every major project he’s ever done in the past decade or so.

For readers who want a more in-depth look at how Wayne restored the engine, complete with photos of just about every step, he maintained a thread on the SmokStak Forum as he worked on the project.

History in Engine-making

It was a trip to the county fair at age 11 that first turned Wayne on to making model engines.  His friends wanted to sample the food and go on the carnival rides, but Wayne was more concerned with the impressive display of tractors and other equipment beyond the rides and games.  He started working on engines from there, building his first hit-or-miss engine in 9th grade.

“That was the beginning of my bug for machining, and I kept working on other projects after that,” he says.

It wasn’t until after he graduated college that Wayne decided to make it something more than a hobby.  He began actively making engines, and by the end of his 20s he was making his own casting kits to sell.  Today Wayne is a fixture on the model show circuit and bulletin boards like SmokStak.

When he started, machining was mostly a solitary endeavor, with little communication between participants.  He recalls that when someone had a question about a certain technique or project, their options were limited—they could ask the one or two other people they might know, usually a mentor, or if that person didn’t have an answer they could write to one of the few specialty magazines and hope for an answer in the forum within a few months.

Today, with the advent of the internet and the prevalence of forums dedicated to just about every type of machining, the world of machinists has grown more connected and knowledge shared much easier, Wayne says.

“If you’re John Q. Collector and you want to learn something but have never done it before, you could type a few sentences on a message board and get a whole bunch of replies,” he says.   “Before, when magazines were the only real way to connect with large groups of people, it took a lot longer and knowledge and tricks were slower to spread.”

The Internet has also brought about a large increase in the type of projects hobbyists can do and made it easier to buy materials, Wayne says.  Casting kits and projects in particularly have grown by “leaps and bounds” in the past 10 or 15 years, he adds.  Before the rise of the internet, most machining hobbyists read or earned about new projects from magazines, so they could see anywhere from 12 to 18 new projects over a year.  Today, with internet forums and web sites dedicated to all different aspects of machining, they have a trove of information available at just a click.

Favorite Projects Continue reading Wayne Grenning

We were down for about 16 hours because of Dreamhost

Update: Dreamhost is still having problems, although not as bad as yesterday.  So I just signed up for CloudFlare.  Once the nameserver changes get propagated it will help keep us online by displaying cached pages if Dreamhost goes down again.  It should also make our web pages load quicker and provide some additional protection against hackers.  

MachinistBlog is hosted on Dreamhost and they had problems, which they still haven’t explained, which caused us to be unreachable for about 16 hours today (Sunday).  I’ve been buying web hosting services since 1995 and they’ve been by far the most unreliable one I’ve ever done business with.  On the other hand, their support’s been good and they provide unlimited bandwidth and disk space for about $9 per month.  However, we get so much traffic that I’ve had to upgrade to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) to get more memory and computing power.  The VPS is currently costs an additional $35-$40 per month and that amount will continue to increase along with our readership.

I’ve already been looking at alternatives but I’m not close to making any changes.  If I had the time to be my own system administrator I’d switch to Linode as my host.  I’ve also been looking at CloudFlare and wondering if I can use Amazon’s “cloud” to carry some of the load.  If you have any suggestions I’d like to hear them.

Random Quote

To combat a sour attitude, use kind words.

— Fortune Cookie