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Maybe HF isn't all that bad (for some tools)

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  • Maybe HF isn't all that bad (for some tools)

    A long time ago (2005) I wrote about the first HF store (I called it the Tool Store of Death back then) to open in our area (within 30 miles of me), and the first HF store I had ever been in. I know lots of people find what they consider good deals in HF and I said I had no plans to buy anything there.

    For the most part I have lived up to my own advice and stayed out of there. But I have to say for a few items I have found some decent deals and items of better quality than I would have expected, even a few things made in the USA.

    On another forum there is a long running thread titled "HF Tools That Don't Suck" or something close to that. [BHD you may remember seeing it]

    So I will eat some of my words here and say there are a few items that I would buy (and have bought) from HF over other places like HD or Lowes or Sears (when they still existed). NONE of them are power tools though, let's get that right out front. So here's a list of things I have found to be good deals at HF. Feel free to add your own to the list.

    Toolboxes - their toolboxes are decent I have to say, in features, quality of construction, and price. You will find numerous reviews on YT and elsewhere comparing their Yukon or US General brands to other make toolboxes but just for an example here is a recent one comparing a Husky box to a Yukon.

    Furniture dollies - just as good as any /I have seen for sale elsewhere and usually for less money.

    Furniture moving pads - Heck sometimes you can get these for free with a coupon they place in ads on various magazines.

    Trailer coupler locks - About 10 years ago a friend told me of a real nice trailer coupler locking device he picked up at HF for less than $25, and it was made in the USA. After looking at his I went and bought one for my trailer. I see they still have them but the price is now $29. But still a decent locking device. I know nothing is vandal proof in todays world with cordless grinders and cutoff wheels but nothing will stand up to that except a 12 Ga and some 00 buckshot.

    Their wrenches and sockets and ratchets look to be as good as any Husky, Kobalt, or Craftsman I have seen. They are not on par with Snap-On, Proto, Williams, or MAC or some of the other brands I have used and/or own, but look to be better than those cheap Stanley junk you see for sale everywhere. I have not bought any, I have all the sockets and wrenches I need at this stage of my life but if I were in need and there no longer being decent Craftsman brand tools I would have to consider them. The Craftsman branded mechanics hand tools I saw for sale this Christmas in Lowes were junk compared to what Sears used to sell.

    So what HF tools have you found that don't suck, or ones that do but that list is longer I would think so maybe just stick to the good stuff.

    Just trying to get some discussion going here. it's been dead for a while.
    "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006


  • #2
    I have several HF tools myself and frequently shop there. Yes there are definitely good and bad tools and may threads online about good and bad buys at HF. Some of my good buys have been - angle grinders, disposable gloves, nailer for hardwood flooring, heat gun, C-clamps and 4 x 6 metal bandsaw which is recommended on many metalworking forums. Bad buys have been sliding miter saw and the large plunge router - both had very strong springs and resulted in a jerky downward motion and side to side slop. I eventually replaced the miter saw with the Bosch and the router with a Hitachi. As a result I don't recommend HF tools that require precision. But for lots of other situations their tools work just fine.

    Some of their stuff has good internal parts but not necessarily put together well. I bought a concrete vibrator for a concrete project and it started smoking and died at the end of one pour. Luckily I was done using it and settling the concrete. I opened it up and found that the motor was well made. The issue was a loose wire in a terminal block that had arced and melted. I got a new terminal block, cleaned the end of the wire and inserted it into the new block and it has been fine since. That repair only cost about 20 cents in parts.

    Automotive hand tools as good buys as well.
    Last edited by blue_can; 12-26-2018, 04:40 PM.


    • Bob D.
      Bob D. commented
      Editing a comment
      disposable gloves is something I have bought there and am happy with their performance.

    • blue_can
      blue_can commented
      Editing a comment
      Yes gloves are an item I regularly buy from HF. I use the thick black ones for auto work and the thinner dark blue ones for other stuff. I used to buy the really thin light blue ones but I found them a bit too thin and could end up ripping them on some jobs.

  • #3
    a number of my larger sockets (the over sized 3/4") and I have on one truck a 3/4 drive, and did end up getting a 1" drive, and some of there 3/4 impact and 1" drive impact,

    I have one of there older 3/4 impact air and a 1" air impact, (there crude, but have done what I have asked of them, No I do not think they would have stood up in a tire shop, but for my needs good,
    I have one of there 3/8 butterfly impacts I use a lot,

    I have hammers, (we had a church work day with kids a number of years ago, and I bought about 20 claw hammers, and have been impressed with them),

    I bought the large oversized open box end set, and used it lot,

    I have not bought a lot of late,

    I did buy a 36" break, and for the money it is a good buy, just wish they had offered the 48" as well,

    there tin snips are junk IMO, they will work but with great frustration,

    I am sure there is much more, over the years, but have stayed away from the electric stuff,

    there pick up hoists are OK, I have two of them the one on the pickup I replaced the winch to some thing that will hold the load, the one I have on the log splitter is doing ok,

    have a set of there car stands, I would rate them at 1/2 of HF rating,
    have a number of there tall hydraulic jacks, (could be better), they some of them use a folded over vinyl tube for a spring in the check valve, and have had a check valve split in half, (easy fix, drop in a new ball),

    the deal is there is so many low end import tools that look to be the same as HFs, on some items there is not a lot of choice, in some instances there is not even US equivalent,

    some time ago, I was looking for some relays, and found some on amazon, and found them at grangers, as well, same numbers and looked like the same pictures, direct from china there were $4 dollars,(shipping included) from granger over 40 each,hard to know what is saving money or wasting moneys,

    Push sticks/blocks Save Fingers
    "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."
    attributed to Samuel Johnson
    PUBLIC NOTICE: Due to recent budget cuts, the rising cost of electricity, gas, and the current state of the economy............the light at the end of the tunnel, has been turned off.


    • #4
      just one more post to reach my 5000 post,
      Push sticks/blocks Save Fingers
      "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."
      attributed to Samuel Johnson
      PUBLIC NOTICE: Due to recent budget cuts, the rising cost of electricity, gas, and the current state of the economy............the light at the end of the tunnel, has been turned off.


      • #5
        The thing about HF tools for me is how I plan on using them. If I need a tool that I know I will only use maybe once or twice a year but doesn't necessarily have to be the best quality then a HF tool comes into buying decision. A few of the HF tools I own that meet this criteria are a soldering gun, 12V jump starter, hand electric planer, heat gun, pneumatic stapler and multi-function oscillating tool. There are some others but like I said they are tools that I use rarely but their quality level has been acceptable to me.

        Some of the HF gems as they are referred to that I own would be their 2 HP Dust Collector, 50' pneumatic retractable hose reel, U S General toolbox, 6" & 12" F-clamps, C-clamps, 1# dead blow hammer, SAE & metric socket sets, and a 700# hand truck.

        Looking over my tool inventory list for this reply I was actually surprised at how many items from HF I actually own. Most of them that were not mentioned I would put in the would not buy again category but didn't really disappoint me as they were after all bought at HF.
        Diapers and Politicians need to be changed often... Usually for the same reason.


        • #6
          Originally posted by BHD View Post
          just one more post to reach my 5000 post,
          Diapers and Politicians need to be changed often... Usually for the same reason.


          • #7
            Hmmm, a lot more than comes to my mind. My wife just said this afternoon that I hadn't been in the local HF in several weeks; hey, I've run out of room and don't have the time to use any of the tools that I have, whatever the brand.

            So, here's just the stuff that quickly comes to mind:

            Hardwood 4-drawer work bench (I have two) You can't beat the price, mine have held up really well, but I don't pound on them!

            11-drawer steel rolling tool cabinets (two) These are lightweight compared to the several hundred dollar pro units I've seen. But I have them full and they've held up really well.

            Both circular saw blade and chainsaw sharpeners. A little modification, but they work as expected.

            Slot cutter boxed set for the router. Terrific price and I've used them often with no problems

            16-piece Forstner Bit Set. I needed these to make a gun rack/case for a friend... they did the job nicely and I have yet the need to sharpen them

            12 setting Heat Gun I haven't used this a lot, but it works well and seems dependable.

            Electric Chain Saw. Nice, inexpensive, and does the job for trim and cutting up the several saplings and larger branches in my yard.

            String cutter for weeds. At this price ($30) it's almost a through away, but I'm on my third season and second roll of string.

            Sump Pump - my old one died this last spring and I replaced it with one from HF. IT works, is quieter, and we'll have to see how long it lasts.

            Compact Power Pack - Third year I've had this (IIRC), keep in the van and though I've not had to use it on my vehicle, I've started four other cars with it. Real handy!

            I've got several wrench sets, including faucet sockets. All work well. I still prefer my Craftsman stuff, but I don't like breaking them up and buy the HF to keep at the saw's and in the shop.

            Drill bit sets, those that come in the black and yellow boxes. Not the best, but they're handy and I have yet to break any.

            Velcro rolls - I love that stuff. Comes in a 3/4 x 35 inch rolls. Easy make for electrical cords and almost anything you can imagine. Made a easy sling for my AR-7, various ties for my camera equipment, and just about any other thing I need to bind, carry, or fasten.

            Tap and die sets - Not the best, and I wouldn't use them for precision stuff, but I do little of that kind of thing. They are great for occasional use, clean up threads nicely and work well of the occasional need to tap and thread in the shop for a fixture or jig.

            General small hardware and fastener. Not the the best perhaps, but when I need something, it's a lot easier finding it at HF then either my local Lowes or HD.

            And of course I have lots of small things, castors, moving blankets and a dolly. And clamps, can't forget those. Every F-clamp I own is from HF, except one set of four Bessy's. (I like the HF's better.) Ear protection, face shield, and other things that don't readily come to mind.

            Around here (Binghamton, NY) I think HF pretty well is the answer for a lot of people. The HD carries more tool boxes and bags than anyone, but their tool corral is pretty disheveled. Lowes isn't a lot better. My HD is much friendlier, always organized, better help getting anything to the vehicle and their prices and service is outstanding. Yes, the quality may not be on par with the big-brand electric tools, but I tell you, the biggest problem at HF is finding a place to park... that's how much people like them!



            • #8
              HF isn't my first pick but I have bought a few (number) of things.

              1). F style clamps, they're ok not as smooth as domestic, the threads seem imprecise. For general use.
              2). Spring clamps were good. For general use.
              3). Disposable gloves were very good. Almost everyone in the shop uses them, about 35 guys or about 210 boxes a year. We use these instead of bare hands and if they don't tear sometimes all day.
              4). Circular saw with a laser guide used it once then I gave it to my brother the next day. It's works though. I didn't care for the style mostly and the laser is useless. Used this to trim a door.
              5). Circulation fan, works great i use it to vent the crawlspace prior to entry. Used this for several months clearing out a crawlspace, placeing a vapor barrier or anytime working for extended periods in it.
              6). Multi tool, I use the crap out of this tool. I wasn't sure how well this would work for cutting into existing work without disturbing existing finishes but it's been great. The heads is starting to wear flat so the blades want to slip a little. Not sure I'll buy another HF version. Use it a great deal sometimes for long periods.
              7). Multitool Japanese style blades, work very well. Virtually identical to lowes blades and about $4 less. Used for most cuts in wood.
              8). Belt sander it works well but the dust port could use redesign. Use it very rarely, I'll probably give this away.
              9). Forstner bits, I haven't used them.
              10). Casters, some are great some are ok. Used for rolling cabinets.
              11). Extendable 1/2" ratchet wrench which is a trade favorite in our county. Use it for everything from 3/8" to 3/4" nuts/ bolts.
              12). Diamond hones, they're ok. Used for kitchen knives.
              13). Short style hydraulic Jack that's leaked from day one and has progressively gotten worse. I added an o ring to see if it helps but I have yet test the repair under load. It was rarely used. Used to sister joist's.
              14). Needle scaler, I does the job. Use it for removing multiple layer of paint of stucco sometimes for days at a time.
              15). Medium size trigger clamps, not very good. I need to go get a set of Irwin of Dewalt. For holding structural wood together prior to nailing.
              16). Small vise grip style clamps, not very good. I'm probably going pick up vise grips somewhere else but it's not pressing. For holding metal together prior to assembly.
              17). Slot cutter it did the job. I used this it to cut a groove into 3/4 subfloor. It was a bit awkward to pull off but it worked.

              Funny how I've gone over to the dark side.
              Last edited by Mightyservant; 12-26-2018, 11:47 PM.


              • #9
                As a non-pro, I am probably the target consumer for HF tools. Among my favorites are:
                • Digital Caliper (68304) - Remarkably accurate with great functionality for such an inexpensive device.
                • 12V Auto Battery Tester (66892) - Uses the conductance method of testing. When it shows the CCA is < 75% of rated capacity, I can expect the battery to fail within months and plan a replacement at my convenience.
                • Flexible Ratchet (96369) - Both the head and the handle have flex joints to fit in odd spaces.
                • Torque Wrenches (1/4 and 3/8 sizes) - Before using, I measure their accuracy using a torque meter. Then I adjust my measurement to offset the variance. I'll match my cheap-o HF torque wrench with measurement adjustment against SnapOn any day.
                • Multimeter (61593) - I checked the measurement accuracy for the lower range of DC voltage that I normally use, then calibrated the device by adjusting the VR1 screw on the circuit board. Now it's spot-on!
                My favorite part of visiting the local HF store is bringing an extra coupon and giving it to the person in line behind me at the register if they don't already have one. Good karma.


                • #10
                  I own Harbor Freight pneumatic tools..for over 15 years..only once did I need to disassemble one to clean the innards!
                  Black cable ties bags and bags and sizes of black cable ties
                  Their 10 roll of electrical tape, double stick tape.
                  I could go on and on as others here have done so.
                  I do have a lot of their "stuff"

                  The only "bummer tool" was their mid priced electric car/wax buffer...I tried two of them and they were duds!
                  I actually saw the store guy simply place the returned buffer on to the shelf! No issues getting a refund!

                  For the weekend warrior, Harbor Freight fills the void a twenty dollar 4 1/2" grinder VS a professional modle
                  at a hundred bucks or more is an amazing deal....Even if only runs for a single project!

                  Time passes to today.....they have introduced some newer lines of power and hand tools.
                  they are comparing them more to name brand units and I suspect many are coming out of the
                  same factories and simply different colors and I imagine some cheaper innards.

                  Cactus Man


                  • #11
                    Sounds like Harbor Freight is a twin of the Princess Auto chain here in Canada


                    • #12
                      I believe that my best HF purchase was the 11" swivel pad locking pliers, I believe that I paid less than the current price. The adjustment screw on the end was a little rough so I ran a tap in to clean the threads. Now, it works as well as a Vise Grip brand pair.

                      I also have the 44" tool cabinet and chest. The quality is superb.


                      • #13
                        Originally posted by museum_guy View Post
                        ... I also have the 44" tool cabinet and chest. The quality is superb.
                        So then why are SnapOn tool chests so ridiculously expensive? How much better is a great tool cabinet from a good one? Is it an ego thing? The toolbox doesn't make you any money. The tools inside of the box do.


                        • CWSmith
                          CWSmith commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Is the SnapOn made in the U.S.A. ?

                          That's not meant as a political statement, and I often question what the "made in" label says. I used to work for a company that once prided itself because of it's origin. Very little of their stuff is made here anymore. Same specs though, just not the same labor.


                        • blue_can
                          blue_can commented
                          Editing a comment
                          SnapOn in general in always expensive - I think their stuff is geared towards auto professionals and dealerships and they charge a lot of $ for their stuff. very similar to Kent-Moore tools. I have several Kent-Moore tools for servicing my vehicles but I typically pick them up on eBay for a decent price - for example new they wanted $250 for a tool for depressing the servo piston cover on a transmission (I was rebuilding a transmission). Due to the specialized nature of the tool no other real options unless you can fabricate it yourself (which I have also done on occasion). But I picked it up on eBay for $15. A lot of good used auto tools can be found on ebay from dealerships that are closing down.

                          But for something like a toolbox - I doubt there is any benefit for a hobbyist/DIYer to purchase a SnapOn. Not sure where it they are made but I doubt it is in the USA.

                      • #14
                        Originally posted by AverageHomeowner View Post

                        So then why are SnapOn tool chests so ridiculously expensive? How much better is a great tool cabinet from a good one? Is it an ego thing? The toolbox doesn't make you any money. The tools inside of the box do.
                        Can't answer that one, never owned a SnapOn. I've always owned Craftsman, the red and black version. Served me well but I wanted ball bearing slides. That's why I went with HF, after reading reviews. Never regretted the purchase.


                        • #15
                          Oh, I forgot, I bought two other items that I think are good deals. A couple years ago HF came out with a portable welding table and also a cart for a MIG welder. I had bought a Lincoln 180 Amp MIG machine a year before and been looking for a cart. The HF cart holds a bottle, the MIG machine, and has some drawers plus a storage compartment that is big enough to put your welding shield and jacket in. The intro price was $59. I bought one. The welding table was $49 at the introductory price, I bought one of those too. They have both held up well and I think were a good value at the introductory prices, however the price is about double now and I don't know if I would pay that much, maybe watch for them to go on sale or use a 20% off coupon if you can.
                          "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006




                          • blue_can
                            blue_can commented
                            Editing a comment
                            For welding I have their auto darkening welding helmet - a good buy and also recommended on several metalworking forums