Northern Tool


Capt. Mike

Moderator
Northern Tool is one of the general, discount tool companies. They have a large assortment, including a major section of automotive tools. They have stores in many locations, catalog sales and and Internet site.

Northern has a large selection of what I call minimum quality tools, mostly made in China junk. And that's the quandry. It's poor quality, of marginal durability, and typically minimal features. BUT . . . it's cheap! I'm not proud of the fact, but I do occassionally get tools there. Not tools that are going to be part of my high usage sets, but that once-in-a-great while item.

I've also bought some large-purchase items there like a log splitter and hydraulic press. With careful research, you can figure out quality. My splitter had a Honda engine, name brand hydraulics and was reasonably stout. I found the suspension mount a little marginal and the original work surface plate too light, but a HD replacement plate cost me $17 and I just remember the light suspension when I'm towing. That's not a problem for 90% of buyers as they use it only around their own property, but I do occassionally tow it to a friend's 40 miles away. I just have to dodge the pot-holes and keep the speed way down.

My press has done fine -- once they replaced the crummy original hydraulic jack. Still Chinese, but has served well for many years. On the other hand, I wouldn't get one of their parts washers -- I use mine extensively and the lack of quality begins to catch up with you. (I have an R&D Kamas and it's been superb.)

I've got their press-mounted metal brake (bending metal). It does fine at making rough brackets, etc., but would never do the fine fabrication of close tolerance items. But it is HD and I can bend heavy plate like the brackets for a set of trailer ramps.

I don't get many hand tools from them, but have bought some generics like a drilling hammer (small sledge) and a set of long needle nose pliers. I don't use the long very often -- not enough to justify Snap-On's $20-40 apiece. On the other hand, I'd never touch their fake Vice-Grips. I wouldn't buy my wrenches or screwdrivers there, but they might suffice for a 2nd emergency set for the car, cabin or boat. Also, the tolerances of things like sockets gets a little iffey. But on the other hand, a 3/4" socket set from them might be fine. Let's face it, you'll use it a couple of times a year and then mostly as a seal/bearing driver.

One complaint I've had is that they used to grossly overcharge in the stores compared to the catalog. Lots of places do that -- they think they should make a profit on transporting it to the store on top of the mark-up. I'm pleased to say, they told me recently they are abandoning that practice. Shipping costs of catalog items is also higher than actual cost, but not to the JC Whitney level.

A policy I DON'T like or agree with -- they will not extend any defect warranty beyond the 30 or 90 days in their policy. They aren't being dishonest -- the do so state -- but it means you have to consider this in what I call replacement or stock items. In my case, I keep a stock of air hose fittings. When I opened the sealed blister pack, this one was defective. They refused to replace it because it was "out of warranty" An obvious defect, out of a Northern sealed package, but bought more than the stated number of days ago. As are most items bought for stock or spares.

They do not have a toll-free customer service number except for catalog orders. When I had some phone problems with the local stores, I had to call corporate on my nickel and then escalate to the president's office to get a return call. Once I got the return call from the District Manager, he responded appropriately. It's just a shame when you have to go that high to get someone to solve a problem.

I guess what I'm trying to say is you pays your money and takes your choice. Northern is a remarkable store -- the guy version of Toys 'R' Us -- but use caution and KNOW your product and competative prices. Quality is the key -- and you have to understand and accept the sacrifices you make for the low prices. But they may be the only way you can afford some of the limited-use items in your shop. The other day I saw a sale for a battery load tester for less than $20. This is an essential for any shop, but I can understand a person's reluctance at the $70 up of the major lines. In the home shop, this becomes a viable option.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
I don't know how many of you are getting up in years and down in physical condition as I, but I'm always looking for some tool that will reduce the roughest of the physical tasks. I'm a compulsive tire rotater -- 5 tire rotation every 5 or 6k depending on vehicle. Amongst my fleet, that get to be a lot of tires on & off. And several are the bolt to smooth hub style instead of having hub studs. On jackstands to clear the ground, they're not high enough to see what I'm doing and I'm always one hand to short.

I bought Northern's wheel dolly. It's a wheeled devise with handle, SKU #14569 and sells for about $40. In theory, you just wheel the two lift arms under the tire, roll into position and lift via the handle. It has two rollers the tire rests on so you can rotate the wheel to align with the studs or holes, then finish rolling onto the hub.

:( Not worth diddly-squat! It's too big (between rollers) for Westy or car tires. The lift is only an couple of inches so the vehicle has to be just right off the floor, and the amount of tilt allowed is insufficient to get the tire in a verticle plane and high enough at the same time. It doesn't even work very well on Redneck Pickemup, with its 16" rims & 235/75R16E tires. Might work on a big truck, but not our Westies.
 
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Capt. Mike

Moderator
:confused: I've noticed a widening of the gap between Harbor Freight and Northern Tool. Harbor Frieght is almost exclusively made-in-China junk. Sometimes worth it, but . . .. Northern Tool is now carrying some respectable lines. They have Milwaukee, Makita & DeWalt power tools, a number of tools from the Irwin lines (Klein, Crescent, Vice-Grip) and Chicago Pneumatic & Ingersol air tools. However, with their premium lines, do KNOW your pricing; some are not competative. Also be aware that even premium lines often are manufactured in China or 3rd World countries. You have to have some knowledge and a little faith in the brands. I just saved 16% over their prices on a $1,000 generator with a little judicious shopping.
 
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Capt. Mike

Moderator
I ran into an interesting situation with Northern selling Warn winches. Warn is one of the big 3 in aftermarket winches for trucks, ATV's, trailers & boats. I wanted a winch for my antique car hauler so I could load a dead car if the need arose. I had narrowed down between a a Warn 3700 & 4700 so was looking at one, and the necessary ramp pull requirements when one of their salesmen asked what I was going to do with it. When I said it was for a car-carrier trailer, EXACTLY as it showed on the side of the box, he said they don't sell them for that and wouldn't honor any warranties. Needless to say, I walked. I asked the asst. manager what was going on and he showed me a home-made sign stating the winches could not be used for trailers.

I contacted Warn direct and he said bull-hockey, or words to that effect. The winch is fine, and they still honored the warranty. Northern's only role in warranty would have been to ship it back -- they don't have to warrant the winch itself anyway.

What has happened is that some have tried to mount the light-duty winches on roll-backs and burned them out. So for some idiot's abuse, Northern has, in effect, pulled itself out of the winch business.

After my discussion with Warn, I then went to Truck Addons where I bought the same winch at a lower price with no tax & shipping. I've since installed it in my trailer and have used it several times on the Club's 1917 Model T and a couple of my cars with excellent results.
 
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