Should I buy a Harbor Freight Blast Cabinet? Answer these 6 Questions to Make the Best Decision!

Last Updated:

Some links on this page are affiliate links. We may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet? It’s a common question. People frequently ask us whether they should purchase one of the economical abrasive blast cabinets from our favorite import tool store or pony up for a more expensive option. The answer is: it depends.

Should I buy a Harbor Freight Blast Cabinet? A red blast cabinet with large yellow question mark.

That seems like a cop-out but it is the truth. There is no definitive or easy answer to this question. The answer to this query will vary from reader to reader. No worries. We aren’t taking the easy way out. We’re going to walk you through all the reasons why an affordable imported blast cabinet might, or might not, be the right choice for you. By the end of this article you’ll know what the right decision is for you and your unique situation. So let’s get started with the ultimate guide to answering the question: Should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet?

For the record, when we mention a Harbor Freight blast cabinet, we’re referring to their cheapest variants commonly available in store. They usually have two choices in store: a 40 pound capacity floor standing model (seen in the image above) and a smaller benchtop blast cabinet. A larger, more expensive, industrial blast cabinet used to be available as a special order item. It isn’t as widely known. These cabinets, or ones very similar, are also sold on sites like Amazon.com.

Is a Harbor Freight blast cabinet right for me? Should I spend a lot more for a better product? These questions are probably best answered by asking you some questions in return.

1. What is your blast cabinet budget?

As with many things, budget is probably going to be the biggest determining factor. Price plays a huge role in deciding what is right for you. If you’re looking for a base sandblaster in the sub $300 range, an economical sandblast cabinet from China can be a fantastic choice. Keep in mind, the cost of the blast cabinet doesn’t include any upgrades you’ll want, or better stated, need.

How much of a modification budget do you need to plan for? You can obviously go nuts and spend hundreds. Realistically you should plan to put another $50 to $80 in your cabinet on day one to get up and running comfortably.

Overall you may need to put $100 to $300 in your cheap blast cabinet for things like dust collection, sealing, better lighting and other upgrades. You may have things sitting around your garage or workshop that you can repurpose. . . but more on that later. Why do you need to modify anything? The Harbor Freight blast cabinets have plenty of issues that need correcting and ironing out. There is plenty of need for improvement right out of the box.

Even with their flaws, you’ll still have a hard time finding more bang for your buck. Yes. There are much better quality blast cabinets out there but they cost many times more. Think thousands of dollars. That’s out of the budget of many hobbyists, small businesses and normal folks. If you don’t have the needs for a commercial quality cabinet priced at thousands of dollars, an economical cabinet may be the idea choice.

2. How often will you blast?

The cheap economy cabinets are perfectly fine for light to moderate use. They’re a great low cost solution for people who blast occasionally for shorter periods of time. That makes sense because they’re intended for just that.

When asking yourself, “should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet?” you should carefully assess your durability needs. If you plan on blasting 8 hours a day in a commercial setting you may want to spend more. If you have heavy use demands, a higher quality blast cabinet is going to be much more durable, more efficient and more enjoyable to use out of the box. That’s not to say you can’t modify and improve the HF cabinets. It just takes some additional work and money.

3. Do you have the time, skills and interest needed to modify a blast cabinet?

Are you handy with tools? Do you like to tinker, repair and modify things? If so you’ll likely do fine with an economical Chinese blast cabinet. No sandblaster is perfect, but a Harbor Freight blast cabinet is going to require much more modification and work to function at its full potential. The basic framework and potential is there, but they leave a lot to be desired out of the box.

The good news is you can upgrade in stages if you’re on a budget. The best news is, this site is dedicated to helping make it easier every step of the way. When you’re done, you’ll have a blast cabinet that functions just as good, if not better, than those that are priced at thousands of dollars. You’ll have comparable performance at a fraction of the price. If you aren’t afraid to invest a lot time and a little more money, an economy blaster might be the perfect solution for you.

On the other hand, maybe you’re a “set it and forget it” type person. Maybe you don’t have the time to constantly be messing with a cabinet over the course of days, weeks or months. If you want to simply place an order and get up and running at peak performance with as little time and effort as possible, a Harbor Freight cabinet is probably not for you. You’ll need to get out your wallet or reach for that credit card. Convenience and industrial quality come with a costly price tag.

4. How much blasting room do you need?

The cheaper blasting cabinets typically have less space than the larger commercial style cabinets. If you’re blasting mostly small to medium sized parts, an economy style cabinet is probably an adequate choice.

As of the date of this post, the 40 lb. capacity floor cabinet at Harbor Freight features exterior dimensions of approximately 54-1/2″ tall x 36-1/2″ wide by 24″ deep. The door opening is approximately 22″ wide by 19″ high.

If you plan on blasting large parts, you’ll need to be creative or step up to a more expensive commercial style cabinet.

5. How clean does your blast area need to be?

I’ll be honest. The cheap imported blast cabinets typically leak. If you use them without modifications they’ll leak a lot. We’ll show you how to seal your blast cabinet up nearly air tight, but they all seem to leak. (Especially if you don’t seal them right at initial setup.)

The main problem is the cheap lightweight steel and the manner of construction. To keep things compact, these cheaper Harbor Freight style sandblast cabinets are shipped boxed. They arrive in pieces that require assembly. They bolt together with many small machine screws or bolts and nuts.

As a result, there are dozens of holes and seams that leak dust if you don’t take proper precautions during assembly and use. We’ve got a whole article dedicated to helping you keep the dust down and the leaks to a minimum. Just know these cheaper units will leak dust like a sieve if you just assemble them as instructed. They’ll continue to leak until you get them sealed up and squared away.

If you’re in a dirty garage or a warehouse some dust may not be an issue. If you’re planning on blasting in a basement, or somewhere that needs to stay clean, you may want to reconsider. One quick solution is to do your blasting outdoors. Putting your blast cabinet on wheels can help.

Larger, much more expensive blast cabinets tend to feature heavier steel and welded seam construction. This results in less flexing, fewer open seams and much less opportunity for leaking. This is also one of the reasons these better cabinets cost much, much more. They’re usually shipped nearly fully assembled requiring expensive style freight shipping because of this.

6. How well do you want to blast “out of the box?”

The economical blast cabinets have two major limitations to blasting performance: a siphon tube and a bad blast gun. To keep costs low, the cheap abrasive sand blast cabinet pretty much always feature a terrible siphon tube design. It works but just barely.

Basically, there’s a short metal tube connected to the blast gun via a piece of rubber hose. The siphon tube sticks down into the blast media and sucks sand up like a drinking straw. On paper, in a perfect world and under perfect conditions it works. Sort of. In the real world the whole setup is just awful. You’ll struggle with surging, inconsistent flow, clogs and countless issues. Typically, you’re lucky to get a few minutes of trouble free blasting. One of our metering valves solves this problem, even with the triggered siphon blast gun.

Speaking of a triggered siphon blast gun, that’s what the HF and similar economical cabinets come with. They’re low quality and will limit how well you can blast. With a metering valve setup, these cheap guns will work fine for most light to moderate duty hobby or small business use with a smaller compressor. If you have a big air compressor and are looking for the best performance, you’ll need a metering valve setup, a suction style blast gun and orifice sizes matched to your air compressor and setup.

Obviously, we can help you with upgrades to dramatically improve the blasting performance of your economy cabinet. That’s the main reason this site exists, after all. However, we’re talking out of the box blasting performance here. Most of the expensive commercial or industrial style cabinets will have at least a metering valve and suction gun from the factory. There’s a reason for that. With a decent air compressor a more expensive blast cabinet with a metering valve and siphon gun is going to dramatically outperform a cheap trigger controlled siphon tube gun.

I just want to start blasting with no problems, should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet? Maybe not. If you want the best performance out of the box on an adequately sized air-compressor, a better quality cabinet is probably the right choice. Getting comparable performance out of a cheap cabinet is definitely possible. It just takes some time and a little money.

 A red question mark

Still wondering, should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet? Let’s check out some pros and cons.

Advantages of a Harbor Freight/Economy Blast Cabinet

  • Affordable – Cost is typically under $300
  • Lightweight when empty
  • Can be modified and dramatically improved
  • Readily available
  • Can probably be obtained locally
  • Affordable replacement blast guns and parts are readily available
  • Don’t take up much floor space and can easily be put on wheels.
  • With the right upgrades they can offer blasting performance comparable to industrial cabinets costing thousands of dollars.

Disadvantages:

  • Cheap steel lacks stiffness and durability
  • Often feature plastic parts like a plastic door and plastic window and window retainer
  • Stock siphon tube blasting gun design is inefficient and offers poor performance
  • Requires extensive modification and upgrades to unlock full potential
  • May require a few hundred dollars in upgrades and hours of time to upgrade.
  • Seams leak terribly without being sealed and without dust collection
  • Will require time to assemble and improve
  • Not suitable for commercial blasting of large, heavy parts

Advantages of a High Quality Industrial Blast Cabinet

  • Typically feature high quality steel and welded seam construction
  • Metering valve and suction gun offer better out of the box performance
  • Require less time and effort to get good blasting results
  • Fewer modifications required
  • Generally more ergonomic, efficient and more durable for heavy use
  • Usually offer more blasting room
  • Typically come with a better blast gun and better blasting performance.

Disadvantages of Industrial Cabinets

  • Expensive. This is the big disadvantage. Pricing for good quality cabinets will start at $1,000 to several thousand dollars.
  • Heavy. High quality construction means these cabinets are heavy when empty.
  • Not typically available locally. You may need to order and wait for delivery.
  • Replacement parts more expensive and more difficult to obtain.
  • Require more floor space in your shop or garage
  • Less portable
  • Often feature fully welded construction. They’re big, heavy and often require freight shipping.

Should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet? What’s the right choice for you?

If you aren’t afraid of spending some time and money making upgrades, the economical cabinets are an awesome choice. You can upgrade them to offer an amazing middle ground between the stock cabinet and higher end blast cabinets costing $1,500 to $3,500 or more. If a higher end cabinet costing thousands isn’t within your budget, upgrading an economy cabinet is a great alternative.

Many people ask why you’d waste time and money buying and upgrading a cheap cabinet when you can spend more for something better. The answer is money. You can spend $50 to $80 and immediately make a $200 to $230 Harbor Freight cabinet blast like a cabinet costing thousands. Even if you sink another few hundred in upgrades you’re thousands of dollars ahead. With some upgrades, they’re all a hobby or light business user might ever need.

Saving money upfront is great, but it isn’t always the best decision. You’re probably curious, when is spending more for a professional quality cabinet the right choice? If you need durability, they’re the way to go. In a business setting, blast cabinets can take an absolute beating. Employees in a high production environment are usually in a hurry. If they’re rushed and blasting big, heavy parts they’re seldom gentle. Things get bumped, beaten and can wear out.

One big drawback to the economical cabinets is cheap, lightweight steel and some plastic parts. The grated cabinet floor is pretty pathetic and flimsy. The walls are thin. Yes. There are some improvements that can be made. You can reinforce the existing floor or make a new one. You can also put up a barrier to protect the cabinet walls from blast damage.

In the end, the main box just isn’t as strong as a better quality cabinet and it is never going to be. That’s one of the reasons it costs a fraction of the price of a commercial quality unit. Do you really need the added durability to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars more? For many people, the answer is no.

What’s another reason to choose a better quality industrial style cabinet? Time. If you don’t have time to mess with modifications a cheap solution probably isn’t the best one here. One of our metering valve solutions installs in 15 to 30 minutes. For little time and money you can greatly improve performance. While improved blasting can happen quickly, there are still many other minor issues and improvements that need to be made to these low cost solutions.

Sealing, upgrading lighting, adding dust collection, reinforcement and more will take time. There is plenty of planning, cutting, drilling and fiddling. It’s an ongoing process that takes much more time, and money, then you might think. That’s not a deal breaker if you enjoy doing things like this in your free time. Time is money when it comes to a business. Hours spent messing with a blast cabinet could mean lost revenue, at least in the short term. If you’re strapped for time, need less potential for leaking and you’ve got a big budget. . . a better quality industrial product is probably a better option.

There you have it. Our detailed guide to help you decide. Hopefully we’ve helped you answer the age old question: should I buy a Harbor Freight blast cabinet or a better quality one?

No matter which decision you make, we’re here to help. Our site is packed with resources and products to help you get the most out of your blast cabinet purchase. If you’re on the fence, we hope we helped you make the best decision for your situation.

Leave a Comment

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00