Chicago Electric Power Tools are only available from Harbor Freight. Harbor Freight has a reputation for supplying value-oriented tools at bargain basement prices. While primarily a mail order/catalogue company, Harbor Freight also has physical locations. One of them happens to be within 15 minutes of my home, which is why I decided to stop off and purchase their new Chicago Electric Power Tools Multi-Function Tool. Now that the Fein MultiMaster patent expired, there are lots of new oscillating tools. The Chicago Electric Multi tool is possibly the cheapest model. This oscillating multi-tool was on sale for just $39.99, making it the absolute cheapest multi-tool in existence. We wanted to give it a go and see if its low retail price translated into extreme value, or extreme bust. This was also one of the tools in our corded oscillating multi-tool shootout comparison.
Editor’s Note: Check out what we thought of the current cordless models in our best cordless oscillating multi-tools article.
Chicago Electric Multi tool Build Quality
It’s no secret that the Harbor Freight version of the oscillating tool was destined to be generic… but this may have taken the term to a new level. The reddish-orange body of the tool is very squared off and feels awkward in the hand. It’s almost too big in terms of its girth, but stops just short of me calling it cumbersome. The power cord that comes with the tool is about 6 feet in length, making it one of the shortest we’ve seen in these tools and all but certain to make you utilize an extension cord on every job. An oversized orange slide-switch controls the power for the tool and it felt good under our thumb.
As we surveyed the silver flake painted die-cast aluminum housing surrounding the motor structure, we spied something inside we hadn’t seen in the other tools – white plastic or nylon. Ugh. Put plastic motor parts with a 90 day warranty and we’re pretty sure that’s going to be a recipe for trouble. The tool itself runs at 11,000 opm (oscillations per minute) and there is no adjustment for speed. Having no adjustment isn’t such a big deal except that the tool operates at only half the speed where most other oscillating tools can go. Ordinarily that would mean slower cutting. Those looking for maximum speed may consider this to position this tool as a sanding device and make it less “useful” for serious cutting.
Chicago Electric Multi tool Accessories
The accessories that come with the tool are a 3″ triangular sanding pad, slitting “half-moon” blade, plunge cut blade and a flat scraper blade. They are fully compatible with the Bosch OIS oscillating tool interface system. The included blades with this kit all looked generic but certainly usable. Harbor Freight makes no advertisement that any of the blades can cut metal, and indeed we found them to be better suited for wood (especially given the limited oscillation speed). You can purchase a replacement blade that also comes with two additional scrapers (offset and flat) for just $5.99. A circular diamond blade is just $5.99 as well and will allow for cutting of smaller ceramic tile. Additional half-moon slitting blades are also just $5.99. An assortment pack of 6 sanding pads costs just $2.99. Suffice it to say, the accessories for this tool are as inexpensive as the tool itself. There is no option for a dust collection attachment.
Attaching accessories to the Chicago Electric Multi-Function Tool is, to put it bluntly, kind of a pain. The base plate for receiving the accessory has only the slightest of central lips to center the accessory, making every new attachment become more of an adventure in holding everything perfectly still than simply getting the darn tool set up. I kept reminding myself how inexpensive this tool was compared to the competition, but I’m not sure that’s a good excuse for poor design (as it most certainly wasn’t much of a cost issue to do the accessories right). In any case, a Ford Fiesta is a cheap car, but I’m not going to buy and drive one. About the only positive note is that since the accessory system uses compression instead of proprietary fittings, it can actually support most other manufacturer’s blades, scrapers, and sanding attachments.
The worse news is that the accessories tend to slip. In fact, on our first use, after cranking down the nut and washer with the included hex wrench, the wood blade still bent around during use. After we tightened it a second time it actually came completely loose. Turns out you have to really, REALLY crank down on it in order to secure the accessory.
We used the Multi-Function Tool on a number of projects, each with varying degrees of success. The end result is that the tool will get the job done, and get it done quickly. The accessory included with the tool, while cheap seemed to cut quickly (though we were scared it would fold over at any minute). The blade is cheap and will need more frequent replacement, but at the prices they are available for online ($5.99 ea), this isn’t a terribly bad thing. The tool, it turns out, is actually quite good for sanding and cutting into hardwood. Overall the tool simply feels a bit unrefined and is more cumbersome to use than many other multi-tools. The constant fear of losing the accessory during use remained on the top of our list.
Harbor Freight has presented a truly entry-level option with the Chicago Electric Tools Multi-Function Tool. As inexpensive as it is (we picked up ours for less than $40) anyone intending to use the tool on multiple projects might want to look into spending a little more on alternatives from Dremel Multi-Max ($99) or Craftsman Nextec Multi-Tool ($99). While we’ll stop short of telling you to run for your life before using this tool, it certainly doesn’t present itself as something we’d really enjoy using on a daily basis. We also don’t feel that it will hold up well over time given the quality of the visible components we observed. The accessory slippage is extremely frustrating and will leave you questioning the stability of the tool every time you use it, though when it cuts – it cuts fast. If you need something quick, want to spend as little as possible and don’t intend on using it often this might be your tool. For everyone else, check out the excellent options now available on the market.