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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.