The Madness They Call Harbor Freight

Harbor Freight 2
Never up this early

If you are reading this, you obviously love tools.  A Harbor Freight recently opened up here in my home town and it has been all the talk recently.  It is basically a dollar store for men, cheaply produced products at cheap prices.  They go there in droves and spend a lot of time in shopping and looking around.  My Dad recently has now become addicted and goes there at least twice a week.  Even if you only spend $20 there , you come out with a great sense of value.  You can get an entire impact socket set for $9.99, a reciprocating saw for $22.99, a pancake compressor for $59 and even a 3-D Empire State Building puzzle for $2.97.  The list goes on and on, even I am addicted and find myself leaving there with totally useless stuff like a big box of wing nuts or box of cotter pins.  I wouldn’t really go as far as getting a power tool from there, but we did get a multi-tool for review.

Chevy Chase spotted n Harbor Freight
Chevy Chase spotted n Harbor Freight

Recently I bought a Snap-On flashlight and gloves at Costco.  I spent $40, as I carefully inspected the Snap-On packaging.  I noticed it was just licensed by Snap-On and both of the products were just cheaply made Chinese junk, branded with Snap-On logos.  I could have got the exact same thing from Harbor Freight for under $5.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, Snap-On had sold out and I just paid $30 to have a Snap-On name slapped on some cheap Chinese products.  I had no sense of value from this purchase and I just felt like I got bent over.  That left a bad taste in my mouth and now will avoid the brand.

$3 Moving Blankets
$3 Moving Blankets

Harbor Freight however is not about fancy brand names, it is about good deals, you know up front that you are buying cheaply produced goods, but not overpaying for it.  I bought a few tow slings there the other day for $10 and felt like I got a great deal, leaving with a smile.  I might only use them once or twice, but for $10 are good to have.  Bottom line is Harbor Freight tells you how it is.  No fancy marketing smoke and mirror scheme.  Yes, the tools are cheap and the quality is cheap, but the value to the consumer is unmatched.  A $39 Harbor Freight drill is not going to compare to a high end $200+ modern brushless drill.  But for $39 it will usually get the job done and might even last a few more jobs.  For the person that uses a drill maybe once a month it is great deal.

Harbor Freight 6
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh or Pittsburgh

Anyone Remember Thorsen tools?  They were a good USA made tool back in the day.  For years now the name Thorsen, has been disgraced by selling Chinese junk.  Now you see their tools in a bargain bin for $1.99 at a local hardware store.  Todays economy is a tough place, especially for tool manufactuers.  Work is hard to find and people don’t have the extra cash to spend for a premium brand unless it really is a premium tool and their trade requires it.  The brands that are selling out will only lose consumer confidence and places like Harbor Freight will flourish.  Where else can you get new moving blankets for $3?  And for the record some of Harbor Freights products are made in the USA.


Harbor Freight Tools Clearance Sale: Up to 80% Off

Harbor Freight 4
Vast isles of tools

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24 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve bought quite a bit of stuff from harbor fright, but there are two things I will never buy. 1. Power tools that I depend on everyday. 2. Safety equipment.

  2. I go there when there’s a good sale. HF is great for tools that you don’t think you’ll be using every day. I picked up one of those Fein-inspired oscillating saw/sander tools and it works great for $20… Yep, it’s ridiculously loud and doesn’t have a speed control, but it paid for itself after one project. 🙂

  3. We also have Habor Freight in our neck of the woods & I love the place. Haven’t really gotten the nerves to buy anything expensive from there, nothing over 10 bucks. I really don’t trust cheaply made tools, but I sure love to look at them. I really liked your reference about a dollar store for men, because that is what it is. Eric also mentioned it’s like a Menards, which I do agree to a degree. I did buy a torq wrench a few months ago & I love it. It cost $10 compared to other more expensive brands I looked at. I have changed tires & loosened bolts on a small engine block. This thing is still turning & doing its merry little thing. I have tried to break it, but its still clicking. Give this place a try because it is addictive. Do you hide your face when you’re walking into HF? Or it just me? Thanks for listening & Happy Holidays!

  4. There’s a place in the food chain for many fits out there, and there are really some things that it’s just not appropriate to overspend on! I go to Harbor Freight for many of the things I need on a job that are just gonna get it done, and you aren’t trying to add them to the tool Hall of Fame, you’re trying to achieve something at the site that’s a “one-off”. By the way, even while the economy was tanked, there was always a line at the register.

  5. Well said Mike Foley. I also love their Blow Out sales where they put buckets & buckets of stuff dirt cheap, which I will never get an opportunity to use half the crap, I mean stuff that I got last time. I really don’t hide my face, but I do wear disguise. Kidding… Every guy should know about this place

  6. Wow this article is absolutely atrocious (just like my writing). You guys are losing your credibility. Harbor freight tools are a disgrace to the values of this country. Value should be attributed to the cost and quality of a tool. There is no quality in harbor freight tools, it is just cheap prices. The American way has always been to build and purchase great quality products while maintaining an affordable level of cost. Having an article like this further pushes the notion, how much can I get and how cheap can I get it. Selling cheap crap tools for cheap doesn’t mean you have a valuable product. You just have a cheap piece of crap and you can now afford to buy more crap.

    There are plenty of great quality tools designed and made by great companies from all over the world (including China). I am not going to rant on about how you should only buy US made and how China sucks, because that is not the case. Great tools can be manufactured in China. But (can I start a sentence with but?) what I hate is this continual justification to buy and sell crap here in the US and the excuse that I here over and over is, why would I buy 1 when I can buy 10 for the same price. We need to stop accepting crap products as ok; we need to demand higher quality with fair prices.

    You stated “Recently I bought a Snap-On flashlight and gloves at Costco. I spent $40, as I carefully inspected the Snap-On packaging. I noticed it was just licensed by Snap-On and both of the products were just cheaply made Chinese junk, branded with Snap-On logos.”

    You are without a doubt correct on this. A lot of this is attributed to these cheap tools stealing market share from the quality branded companies. They see their sales plummeting and sell out to get high margins on what many people like to call “throw away” tools ( “throw away” tools, we seem to have lost the value in taking care of things we own). This is a terrible business strategy and I completely despise companies for doing this but in the end it’s partially our own doing.

    Another bold statement: “Bottom line is Harbor Freight tells you how it is. No fancy marketing smoke and mirror scheme.”

    You can’t be serious, tools named Pittsburgh and Chicago are 100% smoke and mirrors. Having a motto; “Quality tools at ridiculously low prices”. This is a travesty, a sham, and a mockery, a trasvashamockery! Having these products with “limited lifetime warranty” basically means we sell you such cheap crap and 98% of you won’t bring your junk broken tool back for warranty, but we sure made you feel all warm inside with that nice gold lifetime limited warranty sticker. A quote from one of my favorite movies: “But why do they put a guarantee on the box? Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That\’s all it is, isn\’t it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer\’s sake, for your daughter\’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me.”

    Quote number C: “Harbor Freight however is not about fancy brand names”

    Your right, it’s just about ruining historically great industrial city names like Chicago and Pittsburgh.

    These quotes are piling up: “Todays economy is a tough place, especially for tool manufactures. Work is hard to find and people don’t have the extra cash to spend for a premium brand unless it really is a premium tool and their trade requires it. The brands that are selling out will only lose consumer confidence and places like Harbor Freight will flourish. “

    This says it all, why do you think our economy sucks, maybe because we buy cheap crap products and hurt the quality branded companies (many of which are headquartered here in the states). There is a pretty good reason why trades require quality tools. They work and last long!

    Not slowing down: “You can get an entire impact socket set for $9.99, a reciprocating saw for $22.99, a pancake compressor for $59 and even a 3-D Empire State Building puzzle for $2.97.”

    Do you seriously think this is good? Many of the products at the great HF aren’t even UL listed. So on top of being junk they aren’t very safe and they drive the cost up for good quality branded companies that have to pay an arm and a leg for product liability and certifications. Let’s be real here and stop kidding yourself. This isn’t about value this is about getting more and more for less so you can buy more and more and more, oh and grab me 10 of those $2 multimeters, you never know when you will need to inaccurately measure voltage or struggle to find the 9 volt battery it didn’t come with.

    Dang the last one: ”The brands that are selling out will only lose consumer confidence and places like Harbor Freight will flourish.”

    For yours and my sake I hope this day never comes and people wake up and start buying better products and move the market share to the quality respectable brands so they don’t have to sell out.

    I am 26, I used to shop at harbor freight all the time when I was in my teens. I purchased plenty of things that I thought were a great deal at the time. I saw Harbor freight as a way to get a lot for a little. Since then about ever tool has either broken, left my knuckles bleeding, started something on fire, oh and now I have nothing to show for the money I spent. I regret every dime I ever spent there. I continue to regret every purchase I have ever made that was based on finding the cheapest possible product instead of finding a quality product for a good price that will actually last you a long time. They might even last you long enough to pass down to your grand kids like my grandfather has done for me.
    In about a week I will get over this and we will be friends again. I will come back to your site to read about the latest and greatest, but for now I’m walking away kicking a screaming with my pair of Channellocks in one hand, Knipex in the other and my Pittsburgh in the trash.

    Have a good Holiday, hope you get some great QUALITY tools for Christmas!

    • I dont usually take the time for this sort of thing but I will (even on this turd box tab) for zander. I agree with you friend. I too am quite alight with pride in quality, and it is an extreme challenge to find quality these days. I usually look to buy Japanese, German and Swedish when possible. Why? Well, I have seen the quality that is produced in America these days and I am unimpressed. Its depressing and taxing. Even in the military now they will not get rid of a bad tool, and by tool im speaking of the human variety, we let incompetents pass to keep up the numbers. People who by-and-large are expected to be the very best by john, q, public. But, the moronic voters expect much, however care little, especially if it involves there money. What does this have to do with tools?

      Nothing.

      It has as much to do with tools as your post did. Its about philosophy. The philosophy of communism. The philosophy that preaches that which is good is inherant regardless of motive. You see, Americans have become everything that is bad for GOOD. Now of course I dont mean all americans, but enough so that the majority will change the foundations of this country, due in large part by “democracy” (the great pre-emptor to communism). I as you have pleaded with those who have a choice to choose quality, whether it be USA or Foreign, but by God choose quality!

      There is a large faction of American companies who basically slap their name on chinese products. In the great scheme of things china will become masters of all “wares” but what will not change, whatcanjot change is the tireless majority of mouth breathing ape like creatures whom cannot see beyond the price tag, they have given up their ability to discern quality. They will find every reason to justify it, even to their own detriment.

      My advice to you would be to focus on those to whom you can demonstrate your own wisdom, and show the truth. You will find that is equally as difficult to convince to those whom you would die for, as it is to those strangers wandering by, that a persons choice, is their only power. In this power they either reward all which is against them, or that which is for them.

      My favorite: Cry now or cry later. It is better to suffer today to prepare for tomarrow.

      I am not a pro-american product guy. I drive a Honda. Paint with a SATA, and browse with a Samsung. I am pro-quality, even if its from China. The difference is caring to see the difference. It is up to the individual to LOOK.

      Reward Quality! Shun inferiority! THAT is the American way.

      Good luck to you, you will see much more than most, and unlike most, will be affected by it.

      PS. It took me 3 weeks, and 96 hours of reading to decide which welding machine to buy.

  7. HF is a good place to get hand tools that your not going to go looking for if
    someone wlks off with it. I have shopped HF for years for small stuff.
    Your right it is a mans dollr store i spend hours just going up and down the
    isles looking at all the stuff. Great way to kill a rainy Sat morning.

  8. Zander,

    Man…26 years old and wise beyond your years. Wow. I am a fan. Do you have a blog somewhere yourself? I would read it. That was not only damn funny, it was, of course, ultimately true. But whether anyone is a fan or simply sickened by the success of this approach, it’s made some people multi-millionaires, just not any of the inventor/entrepreneurs that live here I would speculate. Meanwhile, it’s the privilege of our American capitalist system to let people (who would never vote in any other way perhaps) vote with their spending dollars. Your points are all logical and well presented, and extremely entertaining, but take it as a tool inventor who makes patented tools right here in the USA, the volume of business you do with a low cost unit is mind boggling versus the premium you have to charge to hold your head high and delivery fantastic American tools. I’ve lived it. People go out of their way to email me about spending $2 bucks on a screwdriver and a rock to pull out staples, or “what is wrong with my 95 cent pry bar for pulling nails?” Exactly nothing my friends, nothing at all! Quality and pride has its own rewards, and it, like durability, is the long term game! But all that said, there’s a place for this stuff, there just is, and Harbor Freight has it nailed.

  9. Zander is a funny guy.. Truth is HF is not much different then Northern tool, grainger, grizzly or MSC.. They all sell similar items HF, HF just does not carry any of the big names like the other place’s do. Do a little research Many of the big ticket items at HF are the same exact item made in the same exact factory. Drill press, mill, sheet metal tools, lathe, all of those items carry “high end” manufacture stickers to..

    It really comes down to buying what you need and doing the research. HF does seem to be employing US workers everyday in this country.

  10. Harbor Freight tools have their own place in the market. Unless you are very bad at your job, they are not professional tools. They are really only good for once in a while or “I need a tool for a specific job” type of tools.
    Realistically, there’s just not much available in the middle level marker other then Craftsman, Kobalt or Husky (all store brands, hmm?). Most auto stores carry complete crap. But even those brands are still double the price of Harbor Freight if it’s regular price. The fact is that most tool companies do overcharge you any chance they get. Do you really think that a simple SnapOn combination wrench really costs 10-20 times more to make then HF or 2-5 times more then Craftsman?
    I wouldn’t buy any tool that I used on a regular basis for work from there but back up or tools that would be nice to have “just in case” are all great buys. I’ve bought The HF 105 tool set for five friends who have no other tools. Because at least I have something to work with when I go visit them, and they ask me to do something my Leatherman can’t do.
    Competition in America is as American as apple pie. If the competition can’t stand up to what Harbor Freight is offering, then they need to rethink their approach to price and market. Many of the hand tools at HF can rival tools twice the price. The power tools and consumable items are pretty bad but you learn that quickly. I would say that it actually helps the professional brands in some ways because many people upgrade after their first tools break, but they might not have bough it in the first place. For example, I have a HF welder that I wouldn’t have been able to afford from a name brand. But now that I know I like welding, I will buy my next machine from a reputable brand.
    Truth is, %90 of people that are buying at Harbor Freight know exactly what they are getting. If they are too dumb to understand that they should buy one pro tool instead of buying three of the HF, then stupid can’t be helped. But there is a huge market for people that need tools for occasional or amateur use that are very over priced anywhere else.

  11. Sometimes you absolutely get what you pay for. Although, if I were afraid of a tool getting stolen from a jobsite, I’d rather it be a $40 HF driver than a $150 driver from a real brand.

  12. I’m not sure everyone is getting what I am putting down. I am looking at the great big picture, and I am specifically point out Harbor Freight because I despise their business strategy and I love tools. We cannot continue to accept mediocrity, we cannot continue to make excuses, we cannot continue to make ourselves feel better by the notion “well you get what you pay for” “they are good for once in a while” blah blah, cough, blah, little violin playing…. (wow that was very preachy)

    Matt makes a good point: “Do a little research Many of the big ticket items at HF are the same exact item made in the same exact factory”

    Without a doubt this happens all over and it’s because we buy it and worse off we accept it! The marketing teams with the big ears catch wind of these cheap products that people are gobbling up and their eyes light up with gold dollar signs, look at these huge margins we can make by slapping our name on this, yippy I’m getting promoted! We can’t accept HF as OK just because they are selling the same crap just cheaper. It’s still crap!

    Mike said is perfect “Quality and pride”

    What happened to this? If we continue to buy this crud, continue to support this mentality, you will continue to see this in every mode of business. Make it cheap sell it cheaper and they will come, and buy 2 dozen, actually make that 3 dozen my brother-in-law needs some.

    It’s simple supply and demand peeps. If we demand higher quality with fair prices we will get it. Quality branded companies will stop faking you out with lick and stick crap, and people will see the value in tools like Mike is working so hard to push out (I have a nail jack sitting near my desk right now).

    In summary, if you buy products from places like Harbor Freight (no matter how long you think it will last or how similar it is to another name brand tool or how many you can buy for the same price or how often you will use it) you are supporting cheap quality products and bloating the market share of cheap products. Are you a terrible person for doing so? Nope, not at all, in fact you are normal. I am just trying to change the norm! (Mic drop!)

  13. I like going to HF for the little things. They usually have some decent S-Biners, nick nack stuff but I will never buy their power tools or safety equipment.

  14. @Zander
    Actually now that you bring up supply and demand I think You have a good point.. Truth is I have purchased things from HF for years and there products have came along way since the store first went in. They seem to be putting out better and better mid range products each year and keeping the cost down.. I dont think I can say that about Snapon..

    There model works people except it and like it.. To many name brands are not worth the price of the name on the product.

  15. I have HF hand tools, and they have served me well. I don’t go to HF thinking I am getting a Craftsman, but in todays market…..similarities as goes quality. I bought a B&S generator (5000W) that was in the shop twice under warranty, and finally the repair facility said they wouldn’t work on it – contact B&S. Never got this paperweight fixed, but have a neighbor with a HF generator, first failed, they replaced, second failed about three weeks in – they replaced; now he has had the same one and it is five years old………I still have my non-working B&S paperweight.

  16. A lot of people whine about cheap chinese tools but many people will never buy a us made tool because of the cost and it is very difficult to find us made tools. I wish i could by a us made power tool but all the manufacturing has moved to china. If the tool is well made i would rather buy it from a us company

  17. Zander,

    bravo, I wish more people would wake up and see the false econony in buying disposable junk tools, junk anything really. The reason places like HF exist is because we let them, by buying their crap. What happened to the old ways of buying a quality product and taking care of it, rather filling up our landfills with disposable cheap junk, and filling the pockets of greedy businessmen with our hard earned cash as a direct consiquence? It’s the same with the 99 cent stores, it’s all low quality and many times unsafe junk. The American consumer needs to wake up and demand more value for his or her money. Value, not cheap crap pretending to be a good “value.”

    “quality tools at ridiculously low prices…”

    yeah OK!

  18. Great article. I too have been going to HF for awhile and on the exact same page w/you Dan as well as some of the exact same tools. HF is good for.

    -quick hitters
    -one time use/light use/limited use/or just get you out of a jam
    -cheap nick nacks are worth their value

    Depending on the batch possible SOME power tools would be of value. And it could be one of those tools you loan to a neighbor and not worry about.

    Keep up the great work Dan and Eric!

  19. I’ve collected and have a lot of great tools, including my Snap-on gems, SK, Proto, Craftsman and I’m an American engineer (rocket engines) and believe in America. I want to buy American and do as much as I can. No retired due to a disability, I don’t spend like I used to spend.
    Today I bought my first HB tools for a single job after which I was planning to give them away. Every ratchet was dead-on-arrival.
    Won’t be going back there!

  20. I have some tools from this store there not to bad the screw drivers work but I bought a copper cutter and it didn’t work to great but it’s a good store for tools that you beat on and loose a lot

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