¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UberDork
4/15/19 7:53 a.m.

I've been making stuff with a drill, sawzall, and angle grinder for a pretty long time- I think I'm probably overdue for getting some real fabrication tools instead of continuing to, for an example from this weekend, trying to cut perfect exhaust or sheet metal pieces with the sawzall while holding them down on a piece of lumber with my boot.  I have plenty of space.  What I don't have is any experience purchasing this stuff.  So can anyone give me a recommendation on Harbor Freight/Amazon/Used/etc. for the following?

-Band saw (thinking used is best here)
-Bench grinder (HF acceptable?)
-Bench sander (HF acceptable?)
-Drill press (HF?  Skip straight to finding a used mill?)

Those tools alone would open up a whole world of capability that I had previously considered not worth the time/money/space.  My goal here is cheap but not perpetually broken.  Anything I'm missing?  Any specific recommendations?

The0retical UberDork
4/15/19 8:15 a.m.

These will get you half way there pretty cheap and look to be in ok condition: https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/394006324718814/

dclafleur Reader
4/15/19 8:20 a.m.

I'm in the same boat, only one I do have is a drill press and while I'm not sure about skipping straight to a mill don't start with a small one, I have an ok bench top one and I wish I had a better free-standing one.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
4/15/19 8:46 a.m.

For where you live - go to estate auctions. My ex's father built two well equipped shops that way. My ex- has a like-new Jet 14" bandsaw in her garage that he found for $25.  He had no need for it, but couldn't pass up the deal when no one else bid on it. So it ended up in her garage one day. 

Show up with Chief, and empty trailer and a wad of cash.  Just being able to get something home can make you an only bidder on some items - typically sold items must leave immediately after the end of the sale.

egnorant SuperDork
4/15/19 9:20 a.m.

Estate sales and auctions seem to be best. Unless you have buckets of cash to buy the best new.


RevRico PowerDork
4/15/19 9:52 a.m.

Ryobi drill press, 10"with laser and spotlight is usually around $120 new at home depot, and works pretty damn great.

Harbor freight combination belt/disc bemchtop sander has glowing reviews from everyone I know. 

Estate sales and auctions can be better deals, but at least on my side of the state, I've seen a lot of these tools go for more than they do on Craigslist or Facebook, let alone not quite as solid newly built. 

Papabear New Reader
4/15/19 10:04 a.m.

Band Saw - If this is for metal work keep in mind a wood bandsaw is a no go for Steel. You can get away with thin aluminum but it's to fast a blade speed for steel. I have a Milwaukee port-a-band mounted to a Swag Off Road table. You can't do really big panels but it will surprise you with all it can do. Plus you can do it cheap with a pawn shop or even a Harbor Freight bandsaw. 


Bench Grinder- Harbor Freight seems to work ok but a buddy had a really bad one where the shafts were bent slightly and it made the stones wobble. It seems to be a mixed bag with them. Keep a eye on pawn shops of craigslist/yardsales/auctions for a good used one.


Bench Sander - Harbor Fright works ok. I had one for awhile and it was fine. Not super easy to swap belts etc.. I saved up and bought this combo from Trick Tools https://www.trick-tools.com/Multitool-2-x-36-inch-1-hp-Belt-Grinder-MT362-8-8223 The belts are easy to swap grits and if you buy the good belts they last a long time. I use it all the time as the shape of the contact wheel lets you use it in more ways than a normal belt sander. I use it all the time and think it's one of the better tools I've added to the shop.


Drill Press - Harbor Freight is ok but used will normally be your best bet. You can get a new one from Lowes that seems to be well reviewed on metal working forums as a good deal https://www.lowes.com/pd/PORTER-CABLE-8-Amp-12-Speed-Floor-Drill-Press/1000132463 goes down to 300 RPM and has good power for the price. 


Your good deals are going to be finding someone selling used equipment. Keep a eye on Bidspotter and look for industrial shops selling equipment off. I have for some nice equipment this way as 110v or single phase 220 is light duty stuff people are not looking for when all the other equipment is 3 phase.

Jumper K Balls (Trent)
Jumper K Balls (Trent) PowerDork
4/15/19 10:53 a.m.

I kind of hate bench grinders. In my shop it's purpose is to sharpen drills and carve high speed steel blanks for the lathe. Problem is everyone else in the shop uses it for everything which ruins the wheel for my uses.  Also they all seem to be tragically underpowered any more. The 6" Delta I paid over $100 for is useless. Touching a 3/16" bit to the wheel slows it down. Want to use a wire wheel on it? Be prepared to wait a good 30 seconds for it to get up to speed. We got a $250 Jet 6" grinder last year which is orders of magnitude more powerful but at that price????

I pretty much use a 6X48 belt sander with a 10" disc in the side for everything I would use a bench grinder for. Deburring steel, sharpening tungsten TIG electrodes, dressing down welds... It is superior in every way and also allows you to flatten manifolds and clean up mating surfaces. It will take up more room in the shop though. I used to get 3 years of hard daily use out of the HF unit. I ended up buying a vintage Wells that after 6 years finally needed a few bearings replaced. I LOVE it. So smooth running.


It is amazing what you can accomplish with a portaband with a table.

Robbie UltimaDork
4/15/19 11:18 a.m.

I do not recommend the cheap table top drill press from hf. Mine has ridiculous run-out wobble.

I'm interested in this question too. My problem buying used (sorta carries over to buying new as well)? I have no idea what I'm looking at or for. So when I see regular crackpipe listings on CL for cars, I assume the tools are much the same. 

If there are some tips for weeding out the junk I'd love to hear it.

Also, are any of these portaband tables commercialy available? I've seen lots of homemade ones but I'd be interested in seeing other options too.

Jumper K Balls (Trent)
Jumper K Balls (Trent) PowerDork
4/15/19 11:30 a.m.

SWAG off-road is the main source of portaband tables. I saw quite a few other vendors at the Portland swap meet but didn't take note of their names.

Jumper K Balls (Trent)
Jumper K Balls (Trent) PowerDork
4/15/19 11:37 a.m.

When it comes to small single phase mills they will always be in demand. As bad as I think the round column Rong-Fu mill is they are often the only option for folks with limited space and only 110v . Any Rong Fu or rebadged variant will always be worth what you buy it for.  You can't lose money on them if you get one in good shape for under 1200. 

If you can find a small Clausing mill for under 2 grand snap it up. 

It's a tough market for single phase machinist gear that doesn't require heavy machinery to move. You can often buy a nice old J head compatible mill for less money than than a POS 110v machine.  Then you'd need a 3 phase converter and then to rent a forklift to get it in the garage.

Dusterbd13-michael MegaDork
4/15/19 11:43 a.m.

Older craftsman or delta drill press. Floor standing if you have room.

My harbour freight portaband (baur) has been a fantastic tool.

RacetruckRon Reader
4/15/19 11:58 a.m.
RevRico said:

Ryobi drill press, 10"with laser and spotlight is usually around $120 new at home depot, and works pretty damn great.

Harbor freight combination belt/disc bemchtop sander has glowing reviews from everyone I know. 

+1 on both of these. The Swag Offroad Portaband tables are pretty decent. I have the Trick Tools Portaband Pro, not cheap but it's a lot of functionailty in a small package.

ShawnG PowerDork
4/15/19 12:09 p.m.

In reply to Jumper K Balls (Trent) :

My guys are the same way.

Buy a Baldor grinder if you're sharpening and grinding lathe tools.

It's just a conventional bench grinder but I've never had one that runs this smooth. We have three now and our old General grinder is relegated to wire wheel duty.

Patrick MegaDork
4/15/19 12:32 p.m.

Hf bandsaw is perfectly acceptable for the price and i am still somehow on the original blade.  I use it vertically almost exclusively.  I bought a black bull floor model drill press from tractor supply probably 10 years ago and would do it again.  I coupled it with the largest harbor freight drill press machinists vise.  


Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
4/19/19 9:19 a.m.

Since this thread was started, I've looked at a few machine tool ads on FB.  Now I'm seeing them regularly in my Marketplace feed.  A "Bridgeport type" mill project just popped up for $1000 OBO located in Bernville, PA.  I've seen similar ads for lathes. 

AWSX1686 SuperDork
4/19/19 9:51 a.m.

This thread is relevant to my interests. 

paranoid_android UberDork
4/19/19 2:20 p.m.
Dusterbd13-michael said:

Older craftsman or delta drill press. Floor standing if you have room.

My harbour freight portaband (baur) has been a fantastic tool.

I would second this idea of finding old school machinery on the cheap.  Atlas is another name to search for.

They are built like battleships and have serviceable parts.

Sergeant82d New Reader
11/21/19 10:12 a.m.

I know it's an old post, but I would like to add some comments on my recent experiences. 

I have done some significant upgrades to my shop in the past couple of years, going through this process. Here's what I ended up with:

HF 20 inch drill press. I built a coolant and nozzle system, and added some lights. I'm going to build a swing out drill index arm (soon...) to encourage good habits of putting bits away properly. 

HF 6x48 belt grinder/sander. Buy good belts (I recommend 3M Ceramic). It's a little under-powered, but like someone else said, it's very useful. 

I use a Grizzly 14 inch wood bandsaw for metal, just use a good metal cutting blade. I like Timberwolf, but there are many good ones. 

I also love my HF portaband and SWAG table. I use it all the time. Again, get good blades. I use 10/14 variable pitch for about everything up to 1/4 inch, and it just chugs away. Get a foot switch - crazy useful. 

If you can't afford a good 2x72 belt grinder (I can't), then build one. There are plans online. I used the motor (and controls) from a free treadmill. 2+ hp, and it works AWESOME. You will not believe how awesome it is, until you use it. Highly recommend. 

I'm pretty happy with the HF 36 inch metal brake, as modified. Again, just do a quick search - there are a few things that really need to be done to make it far more usable, but are cheap and easy to do. 

However: if I was to do it again, I would splurge for the 48 inch finger brake. Yeah, it's twice as much, but as soon as you start using it, you realize how much more you can do with it... 

Get a bunch of HF angle grinders; like 6-8 of the $10 ones (be sure to get the side switch, not the top mount one). Put a different disc on each one. For the price of one good one, you will save an enormous amount of time and energy in switching wheels. As a hobbyist, you can do an awful lot of grinding before you wear one out. 

Same thing with pneumatic die grinders. Burr wheels, smoothing discs, etc. Just get a bottle of oil (I use ATF), and squirt a little in the air connector before using it the first time each day. 

Get the biggest, best air compressor you can afford. Plumb hard-line all around your shop. Don't buy rubber hose, it breaks down in the sunlight. 

I splurged last year and bought the biggest new Esab welder they sell... Multi-process, Rebel 285. I love it. But I wouldn't do it again. Don't get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with it, and it will do everything you want, very well (except TIG aluminum...). But I should have gotten the smallest one! And if I wasn't so impatient, I should have waited a few months and bought the 205, it does ac/dc tig, as well as stick and mig. (the others are dc tig only). 

That said, I think I am going to get a cheap ac TIG machine (Primeweld 225). It has really good reviews, and comes with a top quality torch (CK flex).  I don't need it, but I would like to play around and learn how to do it..

I have a good O/A torch set, and think it's more versatile than a plasma, but I sure would like to have a good-sized plasma... That I could hook up to a CNC table... :D

Oh, and a good welding table. I love my weldtables dot com, 2x3 one... But I need something bigger. But I can't justify their big ones... But my local steel yard does fabrication too, and for very little money over the steel cost, they are going to make me a 4x8 or 4x10 fab table. I would do it, but I don't have a straight, flat, square surface in the shop, so it's a lot easier to start with a known base. 

If you notice a discrepancy between all the HF things and the Esab welder and Snap-on toolboxes, it's a matter of cost/benefit ratio. In my mind, I balance the relationship of price, perceived value, anticipated use, repair/replacement costs, and probably a bunch of other things I can't think of right now. Anyway - it's a trade-off most of us have to go through. 


Hope this helps someone! I know it's pretty long. Sorry/not sorry. 


Our Preferred Partners