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Tedstor 07-13-2010 02:24 AM

Review: Harbor Freight Oscillating Tool
Have you ever tried removing 1/4" grout with hand tools? I spent 2 hours digging at the stuff with a utility knife and a screwdriver last weekend. I managed to remove about 6 linear feet of grout in that time before giving up. At that rate, I'd be digging at grout for days. I needed a power tool.

Most research indicated an oscillating tool was the best for the job. There are 6-7 differnt makes and models on the market, ranging in price from $300-$35 dollars. On the high end was the German-made Fein. Looks like an incredible tool and gets fantastic reviews. And at $300 it should. And most of the Fein's replacement blades look to be between $30-$50. Unfortunately, I cannot afford or justify buying that tool. I wouldn't use it enough to get my money's worth, and more importantly, I don't have the money :laughing:

So after looking at the lower end models, I decided on the Harbor Freight Multifunction tool. I figured the low price, low priced blades, and liberal return policy made it worth a try. Boy was it ever. At $35 it was an easily affordable solution to my grout problem. I also bought a $12 diamond blade. Here are my thoughts:

Looks/Fit/Finish/Packaging: So for $35, no reasonable person would expect a work of art. And thats a good thing, because this tool is fugly. Very generic looking, no streamlining, and marginal ergonomics. One look at the aluminum head casing indicates that its not a high end tool. The person that cast and trimmed the casing was apparently blind and had shaky hands. The tool itself is somewhat heavy and cumbersome. Anyone with (very) small hands would likely have trouble controlling it. Prolonged usage would likely lead to hand fatigue. Luckily, I have large hands and was using the tool in short bursts. The weight/shape never became an issue. And the finish issues seem to be asthetic and don't effect performance.
The tool came in a plain-jane cardboard box and included two scraping blades, one cutting blade, and one sanding attachment. Some complain about the lack of included storage bag, but the box is adequete for storage or a pouch can be bought or salvaged for a few bucks.

Performance: In short, it worked well.
Many of the reviews I read prior to purchase pointed out a serious design flaw. Apparently, previous models had a poor blade mounting system. The blade mounting surface was smooth, and the blade was held in place with a screw and washer. This would allow the blade to work loose. Evidently HF addressed this issue, because my tool's blade mount has four prongs that holds the blade firmly in place. I never had any trouble with loose blades.

Other complaints were about the tool being single speed. I didn't find it to be a problem, but variable speed woud be a nice feature. HF does sell a variable speed model. I probably should have ponied up the extra $30 for that model, but decided to stay cheap. The default speed was fine for removing grout and for cutting baseboard. Worked great.

All that said, the tool works as advertised. For $35, you get an oscillating tool that is capable of countless functions. And I've come to regret not buying an oscillating tool earlier. If I were a contractor and/or had deep pockets, I might go for a higher end make/model. but for my occasional needs, I'm fine with the Harbor Freight. It probably meets the needs of 75% of DIYrs.

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