El Cheapo Cement Mixer Review – DIY Bargain?

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We all know that there are a few purveyors of power tools (okay, more than a few) that fall into the category known affectionately as “CCC” (Cheap Chinese Crap). Of course, a great number of good power tools are also made in China. Unfortunately, though, so many of the “Harry Homeowner” models from off-brand companies are really just not a good investment, even if you only use them once a month. But what if you only need them once a year? Or just ONCE? Are disposable tools ever a good idea?

Harbor Freight is one of those companies that sells a myriad of equipment at seductively low prices. I get their catalogs in the mail because I go there to buy things like tarps, packing blankets and ratchet straps and the sale catalogs make good bathroom reading and cat box liners. I love to daydream about having my own milling machine for under $300, but I know that the reality would be a nightmare of ill-fitting parts, poorly translated directions and crusty pig-iron castings. However, once in a great while, I admit…I succumb to temptation.

The stand is a little low for a full-sized wheelbarrow. I way need to add taller wheels/
The stand is a little low for a full-sized wheelbarrow. I way need to add taller wheels.

Such is the case with the El Cheapo 3 ½ cubic foot cement mixer I just purchased. I have several summer projects around my old farm this year that are going to require small batches of concrete and mortar. New footings for an ancient front porch, repointing the limestone foundation, replacing some cracked sidewalks. In addition, I regularly pour footings for deck jobs and occasionally for ground-mounted solar arrays. Paying the minimum load fee from the ready mix plant always seems like a money-loser, and mixing by hand is just…a drag. Renting a beat-up mixer from the local hardware store looked like the best option. And then…

While doing some light reading, I ran across the “preferred customer” coupon. The $399 mixer from Harbor Freight was on sale for $209, but for me (and a select few thousands of other “preferred customers”) it was going for $189. “Holy crap” I thought. If it lasts one summer, it will cost me less than renting for a few weeks, or a couple loads from the ready-mix plant. So I went for it. NOTE: Almost identical models are available, branded as Tool Shop, Northern Industrial. Pro Series, Masalta and others…


The sheet metal out of the box: Thin, not so pretty, but it can be coaxed into fitting.
The sheet metal out of the box: Thin, not so pretty, but it can be coaxed into fitting.

Of course, as with any CCC tools, assembly is always interesting. The instructions, to put it mildly, SUCK. No big surprise, right? But who reads those things anyway? It went together pretty easily. I only had to ream out a few screw holes that were full of paint and re-bend the sheetmetal motor cover and mixing paddles a little bit. And I ended up with extra screws! Surprise! I went back over the instructions to make sure I didn’t miss anything…okay. I’m sure I’ll discover their use somewhere down the line, right? That’s what we call an “Oh $%^& moment.” All together, it took me about 1 1/2 hours of leisurely monkeying around to get it dialed in and ready to run. My best suggestion on assembly is to get on youtube and watch a few of the endless videos posted by guys who were frustrated with the instructions! Tons of good tips out there.

My first impression: the sheet metal it not thick, and the wheels are cheap, hard rubber, but all in all, it seems pretty sturdy.

Moment of Truth

I rolled it out of the shop to the sand pile to give it a test run. I flipped the switch and….It runs! It seems pretty well balanced. The mixer is belt drive, and the gear drive itself is a pretty pretty crude casting. It is noisy when it runs, and noisier the farther you tip it toward horizontal. I threw in a small 1-2-3 mix with shovels full of portland, sand and gravel. Mixed great, no problem. I doubled the batch…no problem. Tripling the batch, the mixer starts to load up a bit, and I had to stop and scrape the bottom a bit and tip it up farther. That seemed like a good sized load to me – equivalent to 2 80 lb. bags of gravel mix.

Down the Road

The spring loaded dump handle works well now, but it feels like it could wear out soon.
The spring loaded dump handle works well now, but it feels like it could wear out soon.

I have read a lot of reviews and watched a lot of videos of this machine online, and they are mostly positive. I anticipate it will last for a while, but I will update this article down the road if I manage to kill it.

I have acreage with plenty of room to stockpile junk (and a packrat wife who doesn’t bug me about it, thank god). When I’m done for the summer, this mixer can go in the barn until I need it again. For people with limited space for such things, it may become more of a hassle than it is worth. But even if you bought it, used it for a year and sold it on Craigslist, you would probably get your money’s worth out of it. In my case, I may consider other uses for it down the road. There are several videos out there on converting it into a compost mixer or trommel as seen here:

The Harbor freight cement mixer is available for around $210 without any coupons or promotions, and is currently rated at four stars with over 130 reviews:

Buy Now - via Harbor Freight

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About Rich

Rich Dana loves to build things, to tinker on things, and to grow things. After more than a decade as a historic building remodeler in Brooklyn, New York, he and his wife Ericka moved to their back-to-the-land dream home (and fixer-uper nightmare), an 1870s farmhouse on 15 acres in eastern Iowa that they call “Catnip Farm.” For the last 18 years, Rich has specialized in super-efficient historical renovations and solar PV installation. He is working to convert much of the farm into perennial food crops like nut trees and berries, and he helps Ericka out with her heirloom seed project. His latest passion is learning to sew.

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17 thoughts on “El Cheapo Cement Mixer Review – DIY Bargain?”

  1. Well I didn’t buy one from Harbor Freight I picked one up for free from a guy because it wouldn’t turn any more I went online and for ten bucks I bought the correct bearing they wanted 20 but about the correct bearing for it installed it now I got a nice motor. I put 180 lb bag plus half of an 80 lb bag of Quikrete cement and rocks and everything and it works fine done my wall even going to try making up real fine motor standing we’ll see what happens

  2. Only thing I ever bought from HF is a bag of fake bungee cords. I need a small mixer for some little projects around the pool but after reading these reviews Ill buy somewhere else.

  3. Bought the mixer worked great! Save me a lot of time and labor. For those out there that owns one, don’t overload the motor and it will last a long time. I hear some people complain about it not working for them. Here’s my comments to people who gives it a low rating. Do you know that you are buying a mixer for a few hundreds? If you want something stronger and more heavy duty. Why don’t you spend a few thousand dollars, so it meets your expectation.

  4. I recently purchased my mixer and yes I had a trip and a half to put it together but I finally was able to put it together. I’ve used it maybe 5 times and now the tub won’t turn. THe belt is on right and tensioned properly and the motor spins. My guess without dissembling is that its the gear. Has anybody else had this issue and how did you resolve it?

  5. Avoid this cheap model like the plague. OMG, was I disappointed. The belt drive can barely do 30 lbs. I had a project that required 16 bags (at 60 lbs a bag). The motor just can’t power this thing, and trust me, I tried everything including plugging it directly into a socket. It doesn’t do anything remotely over 30 lbs. If it can’t do one single bag of concrete/cement, why buy?
    I ended up doing the wheel barrow method for the remaining 15 bags. JUNK!

    • You had too much slack in the belt. Bought one of the orange ones last year and mixed 84 80 lb. bags of quickrete. It will do two 80 lb bags at a time with a little strain on the motor or one 80 lb. bag at a time all day.

  6. for those buying – make your decision on the instructions not the product – for the cost it is good – but dang – these instructions are nuts. Here is an idea – bag each and mark where they go – duh. Install should be a breeze instead they are getting more bad reviews on assembly than on the product. I think we could open a business doing assembly and kill some profit. I would pay someone $50 to just get it going – not now – it is half built but day one – in a heart beat.

  7. Would someone please help me out. I have build somethings but these instructions for the 1.25 cu ft. look like a monkey made them with a crayon. I have too many of one bolt, not enough of another and no connecting as to which one goes where – the bolts are not even marked to match the numbers in the manual. It’s so frustrating when someone could easily get hurt. youtube has a few but it is mostly guys rigging. bending and modifying. Has ANYONE done a clear step by step that would reduce the headaches? I would take it back but back in the box and taking it is hardly worth the half day it would take. I think it would work – but gees – the complaints on these instructions should make Harbor re-think buying them. They are so unclear and they leave stuff out where you have to go back and do it again.

  8. I bought one of these mixers off a guy on craigslist. I has a 30 bag pour to do. 5 bags into the project, the motor started smoking and it shit to bed on me. Since i was 5 bags into project, I was forced to mix the rest with a hoe. Never again.

  9. We have been debating on whether or not we should buy this, We go in with the mindset of “even if it only last a year” and when it only last a year, we get upset, “Cheap Chinese crap!!!” hahaha. Thanks for the review. I think we will get one

  10. Thanks for the review! I always like HF for the “once in a while” type of tools that you don’t expect to last forever. I may have to look at this for redoing a large conc. walk.


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