Harbor Freight Roller Cabinet Mod, Part 1

I snagged a 26″, 16 drawer glossy red roller cabinet combo (good ol’ U.S. General) from Harbor Freight the other day. This usually goes “on sale” for around $370, but if you look hard enough, you can find coupons to knock off $50-$75. My buddy Ryan linked me to a sweet HF coupon database (the Google is strong with that guy). So I managed to snag the combo cabinet for about $317. With tax, I ended up picking it up for around $334, which wasn’t too bad, considering the reviews that this cabinet gets.

Now, before I get lambasted because I bought something from Harbor Freight, let’s be perfectly clear. Harbor Freight doesn’t always have quality products. The same day that I purchased the tool chest combo, an older gentleman was giving the cashier a little trouble when he returned a 12V defroster. He raged a bit about how he ended up freezing in his car, while waiting over an hour trying to defrost his windshield to no avail. Yes, Harbor Freight does have garbage. But every once in a while, you’ll find some gems that are an excellent bang for the buck, that will either work flawless out of the box, or you’ll have to tinker with it to make it work beautifully. This 26″ tool cabinet combo is the latter.

The comparison.

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As you can see above, the US General (HF) cabinet, side-by-side with the Craftsman tool cabinet. Not much of a fair comparison, considering one is a the 16 drawer cabinet (HF) and the other is a 6 drawer cabinet (Craftsman). The differences between the two (aside from the slight chroma of the red paint, logos, handles, and wheels) are very noticeable. The Craftsman cabinet drawer slides very effortlessly and feels very light when opening and shutting the drawers, even when they’re packed to the brim full of tools. Whereas the HF cabinets are chunkier and heavier, which I actually don’t mind. It’s like comparing the chiclet-style keyboards on laptops vs the chunky 90’s IBM-esque keyboards. I like the refinement of the new, but the tactile feel of the old is oddly satisfying.

Mobility.

Imagine both chests were filled to the brim, weighing about 500-600lbs total. Moving the Craftsman chest is an effortless task. The roller bearings feel like they can handle any surface. Unfortunately, this is where the HF cabinet struggles. Other owners have notice the same issue where the wheels are sub-par, and there’s a SIGNIFICANT racking issue, which is quite noticeable when you’re opening and shutting the drawers (see this Youtube video on the issue, and how it was tackled by ghostses). When you take the drawers out of both cabinet and perform a quick inspection on how the casters are attached the box, you would think that the Craftsman was a bit lacking in securing the bolts.

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Oddly enough, that wasn’t the case. The Craftsman drawer showed very little signs of racking/swaying when opening/closing the drawers. Without doing some thorough investigation by measuring the thickness of the sheet metal on the bottom of the cart, or inspecting the welds between the floor pan and the body of the cabinets, my best guess is that the sheet metal on the floor pan of the HF cabinet is thinner and isn’t reinforced as well. This assumption is further strengthened when you inspect the 44″ cabinets that HF offers (one can do a quick Google image search of the bottoms of the 44″ cabinets). It appears that they reinforced the front to back with a solid piece of rectangular tubing, right above where the casters would sit. I guess the 26″ cabinets were not so lucky!

The future solution?

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After seeing what the Youtuber ghostses did with a piece of angle iron that reinforced the inside of the floor pan of the cabinets, I decided to go with some wide channel 6061 aluminum. I went with 6061 aluminum, specifically for its structural-type applications where rigidity matters. As you can see above, I’ve also decided to go with an upgrade on the caster wheels. The cheap roller bearings on the OEM HF casters weren’t cutting it for me. I could potentially see the stock casters ending up dragging along over time, and potentially be harder to move around when I decide to move the tool chest around. Stay tuned for updates on this project!