10 Best Tools You Can Buy At Harbor Freight


Going to Harbor Freight is like going to $1 beer night at a minor league baseball game. You know the beer is gonna be watered down and taste like crap, but it’s cheap enough that you can choke it down to get the job done and the experience will be mildly entertaining. We got our first Harbor Freight around here about 10 years ago and everyone went wild over it…..at first. After awhile everyone figured out that those prices that seemed to be “too good to be true” were in fact “too good to be true”.

When you’re walking through the isles at HF, you see certain items like hammers and sandpaper and you say to yourself “they can’t possibly screw that up”……but they can. If there’s a way to cheapen an item to the point of complete uselessness, HF probably holds a patent on the process. But amidst the crap that serves no logical purpose whatsoever and the striking tools with the tinsel strength of cheese, there are some real gems to be had.

This list is my version of the 10 best tools you can buy at HF. It is not based on any scientific or democratic process, but solely upon my own personal experience and opinion. Prices quoted are the sale prices because, come on, does anyone ever pay the full listed price at HF? If you have any of your own picks, or you just disagree with mine, feel free to come over to our forum and tell me about it.

 

10. Impact Sockets

HF list 1 (IS)

In my many, online, tool related, conversations, I’ve encountered many HF lovers and haters alike. One of the few HF products they almost always agree are pretty decent are the impact sockets. They hold up well, and at $25 for a 13 piece set, it’s hard to complain. We’re talking about outfitting yourself with every 1/2″ drive, deep and shallow, metric and SAE, impact socket that you’ll likely ever need, for $100. That’s a pretty damn good value.

 

9. Digital Calipers

HF list 2 (DC)

In Batavia, IL there is a lab called FermiLab. They shoot atoms and things at each other through a tube several miles long, to produce particle collisions at 70% the speed of light, to produce things I can’t pronounce, for purposes I don’t understand. This system was NOT built using HF meaning equipment. But if your needs are a little less about NASA level precision and a little more about really damn close, the HF digital calipers are a really great value. You take something measured on a $150+ Starrett with an accuracy rating of +/-.0001, and something measured with a $14.99 HF caliper (also with an accuracy rating of +/-.0001) and I bet you can’t tell the difference.

 

8. Grinding and Cut-Off Wheels

HF list 3 (GW)

Grinding and cut off wheels don’t last long. Even the good ones are gone way too fast. A couple weeks back I burnt up 3 cut-off wheels in no time cutting stakes out of rebar. At $2 or so apiece, it really doesn’t take long to get frustrating. At around $ .80 each the HF offerings are pretty hard to pass up. Do they last as long as the higher end ones? Not exactly, but they are really comparable and can really reduce the cost on a cutting project.

 

7. 21° Angle Framing Nailer

HF list 5 (FN)

I want to tell you this thing is terrible. I’d love to tell you the one we got probably 5 years ago for $79 is so terrible it isn’t worth it’s weight in scrap, but that just isn’t the case. Is it as nice as a $250+ Bostich or our $220 Porter Cable? No, but for $79 it’s a champ. It’s lightweight, seldom jams, and if I drop if from a 2nd story, I’m a lot less concerned about it.

 

6. 20 Ton Shop Press

HF list 6 (SP)

The 20 ton shop press is one of those items the really exemplifies HF’s biggest marketing appeal in my opinion. It puts normally very expensive equipment within the budget of virtually anyone. I’ve known lots of guys who really put this press through it’s paces, and hear very few complaints.

 

5. OBD II & CAN Professional Scan Tool

HF list 7 (ST)

I’m not a professional mechanic. I’m mechanically inclined, and I know a little about cars, but in the age of computers, sensors, and all the other “progress”, the real trick for the home mechanic is figuring out what to fix. It gets harder all the time to work on your own car and without a scan tool, it’s damn near impossible. Professional scan tools can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, way out of the range of affordability and justifiability for most of us. I’ve been using this tool for a couple years now and the only issue I had was reading the codes on my cousins Mitsubishi Lancer (but who drives Mitsubishi’s anyway). For $119 you can find out what that light that came on is trying to tell you, and even turn it off it you want. It does live data, has on-board memory, and comes with the software to not only download data to your PC, but to update the tool as well. There is a version that also covers ABS systems, but it typically runs and extra $20. Even if you don’t have any intention of fixing your own car, it’s nice to have an idea of what’s up before you head to the shop.

 

4. 60 Gal. 5 HP 165 PSI 2-Stage Air Compressor

HF list (AC)

I do some pretty extensive DIY work. I needed a bigger compressor I could sufficiently run air tools, paint, and lite sandblast with, but I really didn’t have $2500 to spend on one. I narrowed it down to this one, and a 60 gallon IR at Tractor Supply that was about $50 cheaper. While they spec’d out close, the IR was a single stage, had a Chinese motor, and an Indian made pump. This compressor was a 2 stage, had a Century motor made in Mexico (Hey, it’s better than China), and an Italian pump. After a month of comparison, I felt the HF was a better built compressor. A year later I am still satisfied with my choice. With an air delivery of 15.8 CFM @ 90 PSI, it’s done everything I’ve asked of it and ready for more. It’s a lot of compressor for $899.

 

3. Air Hose Reel

HF list (HR)

Rolling and unrolling an air hose is pretty much a pain in the ass. When I set up my shop I knew a retractable reel was a must, but when I priced them, I nearly had a stroke. HF came to the rescue. For $89 you can’t beat this thing. Works great, comes with the 50 ft. rubber hose, and doesn’t leak a drop. I’d recommend it any day.

2. Floor Jacks

HF list (FJ)

Like them or hate them, HF has some fantastic floor jacks. I’ve heard the argument 500 times “I wouldn’t trust my life to a HF jack”. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you trust your life to ANY jack, whether it’s a HF or a $600 Hein-Werner, you’re an idiot. ALWAYS USE JACK STANDS! Whether you like HF or hate them, their jacks are very nice, especially when you consider the price. Steel, aluminum, bottle, or ATV, doesn’t matter, they do jacks well and it’s the best value on the market.

 

1. Tool Chests

HF list (TB)

This list was compiled in no particular order, but the tool chests are right where they belong at #1. Whether it’s the 56″ 11 drawer for $799 (pictured), the 44″ 13 drawer for $389, the 26″ 16 drawer combo for $359, or even the 5 drawer cart for $199, it doesn’t matter. These are great boxes. I bought a 41″ Craftsman a couple years ago and it’s junk. The 44″ HF has more storage, thicker metal, better slides, comes with pre-installed liners, and costs almost half the price. It was a rare blunder in Conductor’s tool buying logic. Is the quality on par with a higher end Snap-On or other truck brand boxes? No, but it is a very, very, nice box and you can buy 5 or 6 of them for the same money as an entry level truck box. Even a nice used box off the truck can run you $3,000 or more, so that should really put the value into perspective. At a few thousand dollars the first scratch is like losing your favorite dog, but at these prices you can breath a little easier and treat it as a tool box was meant to be treated.


 

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Travis (Conductor562 on the Forums) is an Editor and Forum Administrator for Tools In Action. As a father of 4, he is an avid fixer off all things broken. He enjoys woodworking and restorations. While he enjoys all tools, he focuses primarily on hand tools. When he's not at work he can be found in his home shop working on something with lots of help from his 5 year apprentice Evan (aka Conductor Jr.).

28 COMMENTS

  1. You are absolutely right about the HF (US General) Tool Boxes being top quality at a reasonable price. I’ve also been real satisfied with the Windsor Design Hardwood Workbench.

    • Harbor Freight Tool Boxes are NOT top quality, they are cheap, and cheap is why people buy them, they are no where near the quality of high-end tool boxes.

      • Your right about them not being top quality like snap on and such. But for the price, they are much better than you would expect. Compared to other home brands like craftsman, husky, etc. HF boxes are far better

  2. Wow Travis….great list! I have to agree….the shop press, impact sockets, and tool chests are my top 3 pics. You missed out on the free magnetic tool trays 🙂

  3. Conductor great write up & I agree with you that some things are fool proof. How can a hammer handle bend 45 degrees? How can a drill bit not last one (yes one) wood screw? How can work gloves last a few hours before they break at the seams? I’ve learned to walk the aisles & look at these things & want things that I know are crap, but I still want them. Found a fix, when going to HF give wallet to wife. It works everytime.

    I’ve also gotten the air hose reel (love it) which has lasted a few years for me. Gotten a few tool chests & sold thru the years which were not bad. There are some good inexpensive tools which are better to buy an off brand to save a few dollar, but then there are some really rotten apples. That’s why I give the wallet to the wife to keep me safe. Laters Conductor & TIA

  4. Yeah HBT is not good for too many things that is for sure. I do get cheap paint brushes there on occasion to do some touch up work and then just throw the brush away saving me the time cleaning it up. I also got a 15 dollar 18 gauge pin nailer that has worked pretty good.

  5. Nice write up, Travis. I’ve never tried the grinder wheels… my slightly obsessive/compulsive nature means I’m pretty well stocked up with 4″/4.5″/5″ wheels already. Probably going to buy a tool box or two when I get settled somewhere (assuming I don’t lose my mind and drop the coin on a Snappy). Curious if you have any experience with the HF Earthquake impact guns. Supposed to be pretty good stuff. Not Proto good, but at roughly 1/3 the cost…

    • I don’t have any experience with the Earthquake personally, but I’ve heard a lot of guys on the forums with good things to say about them. My local tire & service center uses them exclusively. They claim the get a couple years out of them with all day, everyday, use from guys who didn’t buy them and don’t take any care of them at all.

      • Ive been using an earthquake half inch impact and a 3/8 in air ratchet for over three years on a daily basis. i almost never oil them, i drop them a lot (I’m a bit clumsy sometimes) and they just wont die. I have a matco half inch impact that I got less than a year ago and I’ve had it rebuilt twice now. some of harbor freights stuff is pure junk and some is really surprisingly great, it just depends what you’re looking for.

  6. believe the harbor freight scissor transmission jack a good value..used one on tranny change on
    truck.work perfect..goes high up and low profile when down.keeper for sure.

  7. Nice job Travis. I bought a HF nail gun about 10 years ago because you could change the angle of your nail guide. you could use Bosch, Paslode and a bunch of different brand of framing nails. My son has the gun now and it is still going strong with out any problems and you can not beat their tool boxes for the money.

  8. Nice write up. I’ll have to take a look at a few of these things when I’m in there next. I noticed that the torques wrenches did not make the list. I would say that a $10 torque wrench (when on sale) is a good buy for someone that does not use them everyday. The quality seems pretty good for how much your paying. Thoughts?

    • My dad has a rebranded one and he has built a lot of engines with it over the years and we haven’t had an issue with it. It is probably 10+ years old and works great.

    • I have a set of the HF torque wrenches. I checked them against one of my Proto wrenches that is known accurate and they were dead on.

      The only thing I would say is that I have enough doubts about HF quality control that I would test it against a known accurate wrench before using it on an engine.

  9. Gentlemen do as I do. Just borrow what u need. Travis is my son. Makes tool shopping easy. Sometimes I can talk him in to doing it for me. Lol

  10. The toolbox thing is one thing I wish I had known like Travis that they are great for the money. The only thing now its they have cheap WIFI or Bluetooth scanners now that you can pull diagnostic information off with a smartphone, laptop, or tablet.

    • My brother has one of these for his truck that goes right to his iPhone (via Bluetooth) and I guess it works pretty good for simple stuff. I’m but sure that you can turn off lights and manipulate stuff with it, but for simple diagnostics stuff, pretty nice.

  11. I’m curious to know if the earthquake series impacts are any good. The 56 inch tool box looks really good for the money. I could probably never see spending big money on a snap on box. Great write up bro!

  12. I have purchased two of the calipers and the first one i got was great, the second not so much, it kept jumping around. That is the thing with Harbor Freight, quality control. I do really want one of those 44″ tool chest though. Great list!

  13. Harbor fright sucks. It’s no mystery. But at least they KNOW they sell cheap made in china garbage for cheap prices. Unlike sears, who hides behind a thin veil of customer loyalty through brand recognition, but still charges made in USA prices for cheap made in china tools. (craftsman).

    The 1/2″ earthquake gun is good. Lugnuts, head bolts, main bearing caps, even the dreaded, “Honda crankshaft bolt”……all day. I bought one for my dad who is notoriously hard and abusive on tools……still going two years later.

    Good read….thank you.

  14. I’ve never been there.
    But they seem to have seriously cheap crap there.
    Maybe I’ll check it out some time.
    Good to know.
    Thanks for The report.

  15. I agree with the impact sockets. I have a set that’s at least 20 years old and I haven’t had a problem. My HF jack never really wanted to hold up the car or truck. I had to quickly slide jack stands into place since the jack would s l o w l y start dropping the vehicle as soon as I released the handle.

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