Harbor Freight Tools -The Good and Bad Choices for Tools

Harbor Freight tools have long been a discussion among friends about whether or not they are quality tools.   As with any company that manufacture products there will be higher quality and lower quality available.   Harbor Freight is known to sell very affordable,  low cost products.

Many times this means that these products will be of cheap quality.   I know first hand from buying products at Harbor Freight that you have to be careful about which products you buy.  Don’t expect to walk into any Harbor Freight store and ask an employee about specific information about any of the products,  especially what the quality is.

I go to Harbor Freight pretty frequently but only to buy certain products that I will discuss later.   Every couple of months,  give or take,  the employees come and go.   It seems the stores have a pretty high turnover rate of employment.   This is only my opinion and what I’ve experienced.   That being said,  their employees are not hired to be knowledgeable about the products,  their purpose is to run a cash register and stock the shelves.  Please don’t take this as a slam against the employees,  I’m sure they are hard workers but the franchise has not put a lot of stock into their employees.

In my younger years I worked at an auto parts store and this was exactly the case.  The only thing that mattered is that I could learn to use the part lookup program and run the cash register, at minimum wage.  My knowledge of tools did not matter but my knowledge as a mechanic helped.  This auto parts employment for me was a part time gig to earn some extra cash as I was about to be a new, first time father.

OK, enough about that, lets talk about the quality of some of Harbor Freight’s tools.  If you’ve ever been in a Harbor Freight store you know they have a vast amount of products that range from a wire brush, welding equipment,  mechanic equipment and even woodworking equipment,  which is what I buy from them.  If you see any blue text, then it is connected to a link that will take you to Harbor Freight for the tool in the text.  It will open a new window so you won’t lose your place.

This is a list, in order of the tools I am going to talk about.  Quickly review the list as some tools you may not care about and wont buy anyways.

  • Air Tools – Impact Wrenches, Air Ratchets, Air Sanders, ect.
  • Electric Power Tools – Sawsall, Drills, Sanders, ect.
  • Shop Equipment – Drill Presses, Band saw, Chop Saw, Welders, ect.
  • Hand tools – Wrenches, Sockets, ect.

Tools that are a good buy

The air tools at Harbor Freight really surprised me.   When I was younger and money was harder to come by I bought the Earthquake brand of air impact tools.  The Earthquake impact wrench was only $100 back then and still is today.  I would put this air tool up against the well known, higher end brands any day of the week.

I have had this air impact for over ten years and it’s still hitting hard and working great.  I can’t speak for the Earthquake Extreme, which is $50 more but I would image it to be even better.  For your general purpose work taking off lugnuts and such at home, this tool is an awesome buy.  Combine the $100 price with a 20% off coupon and it is only $80.

The $100 Earthquake Impact wrench promotes 800 ft. lbs. of torque, and 8000 rpms, which is a ton, more than you would need to snap a lug bolt.

I would not hesitate to buy any other automotive air tool from Harbor Freight, these seem to be really good quality.

On the Woodworking side of the air tools I bought the 18 Gauge 2-in-1 Air Nailer/Stapler.  This has been a great tool but occasionally when I plug air into it the very top where the exhaust is will leak air.  Most of the time when I shoot a staple the air leak stops so it hasn’t been a big deal.  My only complaint is the hammer that drives the staple is pretty wide and leaves a large dimple in the wood that has to be filled with wood filler.

Tools that are OK to buy

The Harbor Freight tools I suggest that are OK to buy include the electric power tools category.  I have bought and still use the Sawsall, the palm sander (well I dropped the palm sander and bent the rotating shaft so that was my fault) and the Variable Speed Oscillating Multi-Tool for $36.   I haven’t had any problems with the Oscillating Multi tool except for the velcro sanding pads that go along with it.  They do not stick to the tool hardly at all, making it unusable as a sanding device.

I had an initial problem with the Sawsall but it was still in the warranty period and they replaced it no problem.  The second one that I got is still running strong.

Tool that you need to be careful about

The shop equipment category can be a little tricky.  I bought the 10 in. Sliding Compound Miter Saw by Chicago Electric and really have regretted it.  The motor on the saw has done well and cuts through any material that can find under the blade.

The complaint I have is in the structural integrity of the saw itself.  There seems to be a lot of play such as wiggle left and right as you bring the saw blade down on the material.  This makes it very inaccurate and does not allow for a nice clean straight cut.  I also found the the angle/degree stops for cutting 15, 30 and 45 degree cuts are not accurate.  If I set the saw to cut a 45 degree angle it comes out more like 42 or 43 degrees.  I have to use a triangle square with a 45 degree angle to set the angle and lock it down.  When it is locked down it is not in the 45 degree stop/lock.

I also own a pretty descent mig welder that I bought from Harbor Freight and did a ton of metal restoration on a 1966 Mustang with it.  I built a metal trolley for the Mustang to roll on and built my wood CNC machine with it.  I have not come across anything I could not weld with it and it has performed wonderfully.  At the time it cost $350 which was the biggest welder I could buy in store.

I say these tools you need to be careful about because they are still useful, even if not high quality.  If you just need a rough cut chop saw and aren’t looking for something exactly accurate then this would be a great cheap tool for you to use.  Although I have had great luck and use with my welder I have heard from others they did not work good at all and are not worth the headache.

Tool that you do NOT want to buy, UNLESS

So, this is category is pretty much the real reason I wanted to write this article.  I used to be a mechanic back in the day and when I switched careers I had to sell my Snap-On tools to get rent money until the paychecks started coming in on my next career.  I wanted to replace my wrenches and sockets with something cheap to get something to work with.

I absolutely do not ever recommend sockets and wrenches from Harbor Freight.  I bought the stronger impact sockets and routinely broke them the first time I used them.  The good thing is that they are lifetime warranty so I got a replacement, which I quickly broke the first time again.

I have found the wrenches to be such low quality that they will strip a bolt as the metal does not seem hard enough to keep the tool from rotating on a hex head bolt and quickly rounding the bolt head, making it harder to remove.  Using the open end of the wrench is even worse.

Another piece of equipment I bought is the 4 in. x 36 in. Belt/6 in. Disc Sander.  It is only $69 and should be priced closer to $45.  I say this is cheap because the sander won’t even start turning the belt without me having to give it a boost with my hand.  It doesn’t have enough power to turn the belt by itself.  Also, when I get it spinning and put a piece of wood on it to sand, the belt will stop because the motor is not strong enough to power through it.

The 6 inch disc sander will not spin without the belt spinning as well, so once you get it spinning and want to use the disc sander you will be disappointed with the table that is used for it.  It is very weak and flimsy, making me fear for safety while using it.

A buddy of mine also has this sander and has the same complaint, meaning does not appear to be a fluke with my sander but with all of them.

Conclusion

I wanted to talk about some woodworking tools in this article and my intention was to do that.  Then I got to thinking that I should mention the other tools and equipment available so potential buyers are aware of the risks of throwing your money away.

Most of the tools you can buy are going to very cheap quality.  You cannot go wrong with the sand paper and palm sanding discs, rubber gloves, basically all your shop/garage stationary.

Harbor Freight’s slogan, “Quality Tools at Ridiculously Low Prices”, is pretty much a lie.  There is not much quality in most of their tools, except the automotive air tools and the welders, as long as they take gas.  Please check out my CNC machine I made with my welder <DIY CNC Machine>.

Remember, you get what you pay for.  If Harbor Freight was even a close competitor to the biggest name brands then that would force the bigger players to lower their prices, and they have not had to do that.

Basically, if my kids wanted a set of tools this is what I would buy them.  They look like real tools but do not perform like they are.

 

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One Reply to “Harbor Freight Tools -The Good and Bad Choices for Tools”

  1. Dear Jeffrey
    Thank you very much for your fantastic article that shows the best and most cost effective approach to buying tools and knowing what to watch for..
    Kind regards,
    Andrey

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