First let me say that other than as a customer I have no relationship with Harbor Freight, fiscal or otherwise. I am just a satisfied, cost conscious, customer. That said I have always been more than satisfied with the products, pricing, and customer service at Harbor Freight — both the local store and on-line. I doubt that Harbor Freight will even know that I have written this post. So on with the show:
I have been asked how I pick out the center punches I use in my window breakers. There is also the “Where Do You Buy Them” question.
I, as you could guess by now, get my center punches from “Harbor Freight”. They sell what appears to be a mixture of surplus, overruns, some mill ends, and some things that were just bought in bulk, to lower their price. They then pass some of that savings along to you, the customer. Like all places that follow this plan it is up to you to make sure you are getting what you really want, at a good price. They have always been easy to deal with, and prompt to ship. The items I have bought have always been as described in the blurb. When there has been a slight problem they have always moved quickly to fix it without asking silly questions.
In order for the center punch to perform as I would like it to if I were trapped under water in my truck, it must work the first time, and every time. The impact on the point must be enough to shatter the tempered glass, without requiring undue pressure to activate the punch. I usually buy the brass body punches because the are less likely to corrode when subjected to hot, humid environments. Like in a car, in the summer, in the South.
The ones that I have been buying fulfill all the requirements. They are labeled self-actuating center punches .. they used to be called hammerless center punches, but I guess things change. In addition by watching the price you can get them for about $2.50 U.S.D. — the highest I have ever seen them is about $5.00 U.S.D. — I usually wait till it bottoms out and then lay in a supply. Before I cover them in knots that will never come off in their normal life, I spray the inside works with a water displacing lubricant. I then screw the cap on — very tightly — and test them for function. These little demons deliver so much force on the hardened point that they commonly punch a hole through your average glass bottle leaving a clean hole surrounded by a cone shaped spalled area. You can sometimes hit the same bottle several times before it breaks apart. Tempered glass, as in a car window, will not do this. The smallest break in tempered glass causes it to shatter into small regularly shaped pieces. Most of the time they clear the window frame except for a few in the corners. If you are under water the pressure will make this into a very dramatic event. The glass shatters and a moment later the water sweeps the frame clear of almost all the shards of glass.
The punch I normally use is sold on Harbor Freight as a “Pittsburgh” brand center punch. It is about 5 inches long and roughly 1/2 inch in diameter. The hardened steel point is the only rust-able material on the outside of the tool. The rest is brass — this means it won’t rust from skin contact. I do not know if they will get water in them if used in a real underwater rescue. I personally would retire them as having done their duty after one underwater rescue. If all you had to do was break a window out to save an infant locked in a car in a parking lot some hot summer day there would be no problem trusting it again. Do make sure you get the one with the pointed tip, not the one with the flat tip which is made to drive another tool, in place of a hammer.
By covering these tools with knots you achieve several ends. You make them decorative enough that people might leave them out — handy and visible in their car, where people can see them. You thus prevent people hiding them to avoid comments .. an emergency tool that you can not find in an emergency is worse than useless. The knots give a good grip on the tool, and allow you to know which end is hot when you are upside-down, underwater, in the dark, and holding you kid with the other hand.
You would be doing the people you know and care about a fantastic favor if you made one and tied it to a handy place in their car. ( I use 100 pound test twine to keep the kids from taking it down and drilling each other in the head ) For that matter if you made some and sold them for profit at the next craft fair you would be making the world a better place.
I hope this has answered all the questions about the window breakers. If there is something that I missed let me know and I will be happy to post a response. See you next time at the parade of knots, wave if you see me: