Is Harbor Freight a good deal?

Hi. I found myself at a forge without my favorite tools. I needed to punch a hole, and ended up having to make a punch out of mild steel.
Those books are sure right when they say that such punches do not last long even when they are cooled frequently. I really missed my alloy steel punches (made out of salvaged 8 pt bolts). It would be nice to have some junk punches that I could just carry with me in case I get stuck without any.
So, there don't seem to be any more bolts available since there have been no large car crashes recently in my neighborhood. Guess I have to buy something :-). Someone referred me to the Poor-Boy-Blacksmith-Tools store on E-bay, and there are old GM coil springs for sale for $2.49 for 10" of 1/2" round or 8" of 5/8" round, with a $1.00 handling fee, plus USPS postage. It states that these pieces might be 5160, but the seller did not really know except that they seemed to work well for punches or chisels. Then, I noticed that Harbor Freight has a 12 punch and chisel set for $8.99 with their standard low postage (HF shipping), but with sales tax. These are assorted sizes in the correct size range. Obviously, I can reshape some of them to square or slitting punches. Again, HF is unknown or lower quality, but is their steel as (more?) reliable than the old car coil spring? Is it safe (safer?) to reforge and reharden them? Somebody in this group mentioned that it might be dangerous to use old car springs for hand tools, since they may have residual cracking. Might the Harbor Freight cheap chisel and punch set be a better deal, despite the unknown steel pedigree? I am fairly certain that they are better than mild steel, since my experience shows that to be marginal, and only suitable for emergencies. Anyone tried those HF tools?
Thanks, Eric
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Eric Chang wrote:

[deletia]
If there's a hock shop handy, they might have some star drills out of pawn. I dunno what kind of steel they're made from, but they are a dirt cheap source of tool steel: I treat them like they are W-1 and they work okay for stamps, pritchels, and bob punches.
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Tom Stovall, CJF
Farrier & Blacksmith
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There are lots of ways to aquire cheap metal for punches and chisels, etc. These are simple tools to make if you have forging capability. There is a permanent flea market near where I live and there are at least a couple of old tool dealers there. Boxes and boxes of worn out files and you name it all else for dirt cheap. Another easy metal is railroad spikes lying next to the tracks. The HC spikes are low carbon but a lot tougher than mild steel. Other oddments they leave lying around are also good sources of material and are often medium to high/medium carbon stock. Found some stuff that I'm pretty sure is 5160 as well. Depends on whether you want to work for your tools or buy them. My own opinion on complaints of the dangerousness of using scap metal is that if you know what you're doing in the forging and heat treatment then it's as good a metal as new. I'm nobodys expert but if you got the heat and the hammer then you are in charge and history don't count for squat.
GA

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I have recently gone through my collection of workshop files. I have a box of maybe 40 files, many large, which are now surplus to my needs. Due to the weight, they would be expensive to ship, but if anyone in the Seattle/W. Washington area can use them send me back an email.
Lots of people make things from old files. I don't seem to have the patience, or maybe I've just never had the need.
These files are unlikely to work very well anymore for filing. Many have some or more rust, or have tangs that are severely deformed or broken.
Grant Erwin (posting from Karen's account due to PC problems) To contact me correctly by email, see http://www.tinyisland.com/email.html
Greyangel wrote:

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Sometimes you can find brand new ones laying around, ones with the wedge shape turned 90 degrees or no wedge/point at all or missing the head...

It's the same as driving down the highway, it can maim or kill you. The steel could have been exposed to acid and gotten hydrogen embrittlement and who know what else. ;) But it's a crap shoot that the new steel is what its supposed to be too. ;)
Alvin in AZ
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snipped-for-privacy@XX.com wrote:

I got an order of 1085 in about a month ago. The whole thing is crap - full of impurities. I've broken more blades in heat treat with this one load than I have the rest of my time making knives.
mark h
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Where from? (I'm hoping it wasn't Admiral or Lapjam-Hickey ;)
Alvin in AZ
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LOL. :) I meant Lapham-Hickey.
Alvin
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I bought some of HF's punches and chisel sets when they had them on sale, and I must say the chisels work fine for hot work, but the punches......as long as you don't try and punch at higher temps they're ok, but at higher temps the get too hot and bend. I've several that I've thrown over in a scrap pile for making something else from them later on.

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Paid alot for these Punches Did You?????

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There are lots of good steel in an old car besides the springs. Sway bars and connectors, shock rods... pretty much everything on a vehicle is something better than plain mild steel.
Spark test it yourself, you'll see. ;)
Alvin in AZ
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Hi Tom. Thanks for the tip. I don't use too many hot chisels, but I do use square punches, slitting punches, round punches, drifts, and I was planning to modify the chisels. Seemed less expensive than the pieces of auto coil spring on Ebay, and those were not even straightened. Guess it was inexpensive enough to be fishy.
The suggestion from Tom S. sounds great. I have seen some star drills at yard sales, but it has been a while. I will keep my eyes open. Also, sometimes broken tools are good, but they have to be a decent brand. I found a broken Proto punch at a flea market, but it was still pricey. That sucker was HARD and made an excellent hot punch after I fixed the end. Next time I see a star drill at a garage sale, I'll pick it up. That old saw about cheap old tools being better than cheap new tools must also apply to tool stock. That broken Proto punch was definitely more expensive than those Harbor Freight cheapy specials, but I have no complaints about it, unlike that waste of time mild steel punch that picked up an unfixable bend after punching only two holes. To be fair, the job only required those two holes, and it did do a great job, but I now have a greater appreciation for higher carbon steel.
Thanks again for all the helpful tips, fellas!
Eric
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You know Eric, files make good slot punches too, the blacksmith journal has an issue that shows you how to make it. I'd recommend the blacksmith journal to anyone thats just starting out or looking on ways to make their own tools or projects. And no SAC I didn't pay much at all for the punches or chisels...why spend a lot of money on tools when you're just learning how to blacksmith.....makes better sense to ruin a punch that cost me a few cents verses one that cost me several dollars....don't ya think?
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