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Harbor Freight tools-good and bad

by MrRon
posted 09-03-2011 09:52 PM

31 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117063 posts in 3546 days

#1 posted 09-03-2011 10:14 PM

I have found that HF pipe clamps work great ,there are a percent of them that need to be sent back but for the most part after a little vasiline on the threads they work fine. I’ve purchased many of mine on sale for $1.50 each for 3/4” and probably own a 100 or so.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View navtalk's profile


27 posts in 2475 days

#2 posted 09-03-2011 10:44 PM

I recently purchased several HF bar clamps and the only thing they’re good for is to save the bar for something and toss the rest. Fortunately I found two 24” on sale at rockler for $14. ea.

I have stuff from HF that works fine, just have to be careful what you buy. Just be aware that this stuff is low end stuff.

-- My G-Kids call me Grumpy

View knotscott's profile


7983 posts in 3344 days

#3 posted 09-03-2011 10:57 PM

I’ve got a bunch of the Pittsburg bar clamps from HF that have been great, and not very expensive….usually $2-$5 depending on size.

Have also been very pleased with the 13” bencthop DP model 38142 that I got for $144. My $55 HF compressor and $100 HF mortiser have been fine too.

On the downside, their blades and bits scare me, as do their router, and the $5 hair clippers were a total waste.

You really never know how things will go with HF items, but they’re often really cheap, and their return policy is very good. U wouldn’t want to make my living with a lot of these items, but they’ve served this hobbyist well enough.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Raymond's profile


676 posts in 3696 days

#4 posted 09-04-2011 04:26 AM

I have many Harbor Freight tools and have been happy with them all. From clamps to a mini milling machine. Use them for what they are intended for and they will work well.

-- Ray

View DamnYankee's profile


3301 posts in 2530 days

#5 posted 09-04-2011 05:29 AM

After reading every HF discussion I’ve come across it would appear that the general concensus is 50-50. Sometimes good sometimes bad and at all time beware.

-- Shameless - Winner of two Stumpy Nubs Awards

View makedust's profile


53 posts in 2886 days

#6 posted 09-04-2011 04:33 PM

Harbor Freight clamps are not bad for the price, but I will stay away from power tools from them in the future. I had purchased the Chicago Biscuit Joiner for $39.00 with a coupon some time back. I have used it twice and now the machine does not run any more. I press the start switch and nothing will happen. I talked to people at my local Harbor Freight and they can’t do a thing for me. That will teach me not to buy quality tools instead of junk.

-- "Happiness is creating dust"

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3019 days

#7 posted 09-05-2011 10:02 AM

Actually, if it were not for HF, I wouldn’t be doing this. It would be easier to list my bad buys than the good ones, so I’ll start. I bought a 1/2” drive demolition drill that worked famously until it went up in smoke. Seems that instead of 120 volt line, I got a hot and a mis-labled hot from a unlabled 3-phase which gave it 240 v. HF exchanged anyway even after explaining that it was my bad.

The rest have been perfect. Bought a really cheap ($15 to $18 on sale) trim router. Use them all the time—I have 4 now and plan 2 or 3 more—as they are easy to use powerful and smooth and a great buy. I have bought 14” bandsaw, 6” jointer, 10” scms, bench drill press, 6” grinder, oscillating spindle sander, 2 HP dust collector, f-style barclamps, c clamps, spring clamps, drill bits; split point, brad point, forstners, tapered w/countersinks, saw blades, a 33” bbe3tween centers 12” swing wood lathe, bench vise, drill press vise, hand tools of all kinds, lathe tools (ok, they’re cheap but I LIKE to sharpen—that means I can—hammers, chisels, cheap hand planes, two 8” dado sets, routerbits, a 8” slow speed wet sharpener, and stuff I can’t remember. I use it as it was designed to be used, do the set up and maintainance necessary and have never had a let down from HF Power or Hand Tools. I do just as good a job with them as I would with the expensive spread.

Too many people, because the tool is inexpensive, set out to break it because it MUST be broken to justify the illusion that money spent translates into quality received. Most of this stuff is not rocket science. Inexpensive tools are usually just as good in the end as top dollar in the work they allow one to do. Spending more is sometimes necessary, but the exception proves the general rule. Caviet Emptor. Beware, be wise, be honest in your assesments.

Magazines make a fortune not on subscriptions, but on add revenue. They can maximize that by giving deals on renewalls to keep the #’s pumped. They state their tool tests are un-biased, yet they either refuse to test or give such tests grudgingly with unrealistic results. They have stated in the past that they will not test HF tools because of low expectations and in order to provide the best guidance for the reader. I submit, however, that concern for the cherished reader doesn’t extend to REFUSING TO ACCEPT HF’S 2 PAGE ADD EVERY MONTH!! mONEY RULES IN THIS BUSINESS, AND THE ONES SPENDING THE BIGGEST BUCKS ON ADDS, AND THE ONES WITH THE HIGHER PRICES, ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE BEST TOOL IN WHICH TO INVEST. Buying decisions need to be made using the same thought processes one uses to buy paint or apples or light bulbs. Look dispassionaTELY,at the offerings, analyze them on the basis of suitability for the job, and greatest utility for cost, use what you buy wisely and enjoy this wonderful hobby with the knowledge that allways you do your best in everything you do.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2930 days

#8 posted 09-05-2011 01:12 PM

I have bought some things from HF and found them to be OK, so far. I got some of their clamps for $1.99. A couple of them don’t snug down tight but work for what I use them for. They do have a good warranty.
Anything is subject to failure. A couple in town bought a Rolls Royce many years ago. The next day the car wouldn’t start! I knew a fellow who bought a Diehard battery. Next day, it had died.

View Ripthorn's profile


1454 posts in 2954 days

#9 posted 09-05-2011 01:31 PM

HF is one of several stores that I buy from. I will not say that they are my go-to store, but neither are they a last resort. I make sure to read about and examine every tool I plan to buy from there. There are some things, like a cold chisel or taping knife, that are so uncomplicated that I have no problem buying.

However, my personal rule of thumb is to stay away from hand held power tools and anything with a cutting edge. The exceptions that I have found to this are their oscillating multitool (for the hh power tools) and their drill bits (for tools with cutting edges). If you do buy tools with cutting edges (chisels, planes, etc.) be ready to spend extensive amounts of time sharpening them, as they are really only roughly shaped and never sharpened out of the box. Then again, there are many places that are more expensive where the same holds true.

The short and long is that I don’t think one should expect good or bad across the board from them. They are hit and miss and, depending on your own personal experience with them, they may be more of one than the other.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View navtalk's profile


27 posts in 2475 days

#10 posted 09-05-2011 05:07 PM

I said earlier that the Bar Clamps I bought were useless. When I tried to use them they would clamp to a point and then relax as you released the trigger. one fell off the work as I moved it. One clamp broke, you can see my fix, a silver colored bolt.
The second picture shows some real Bar Clamps and I picked up two Irwins for $14 ea on sale at Rockler, the bottom bar clamp is a HF useless.

I have several power tools from HF that work well. If I were in business I would probably not deal with HF except in the most limited way. I still have a circular Saw I purchased from Grainger when I was in my 30’s, I am 73 now, and it still runs great. it weighs about 2.5 ;) tons and is made out of metal. I can hardly pick it up. I only use it to rip sheets of plywood to make them manageable for use on my table saw.

-- My G-Kids call me Grumpy

View MrRon's profile


4720 posts in 3212 days

#11 posted 09-05-2011 05:52 PM

Although many others have brought up the topic of HF quality, I wanted to try to approach it from a different perspective. Instead of condemning all HF tools as junk as some people do, I wanted to keep an open mind. Fussy made a great point about paid ads by the name brand tool makers; it’s all about the money. If one goes into a HF store, you should have a pretty good idea of what your needs are and if the tool will suit your needs. This is true with name brand tools as well. I guess it takes a certain amount of knowledge of tools to be able to make good judgement calls. One should note that Northern Tool and Equipment carries pretty much the same quality tools as HF. The name “Harbor Freight” conjurs up a negative image of a store selling surplus and distressed goods; in other words, “junk”. The Northern name presents a positive image, implying that it is an industrial supplier that caters to serious industry. Please note that I have no connection with HF what-so-ever. I’m just a shopper like you.

View ferstler's profile


342 posts in 3489 days

#12 posted 09-05-2011 10:51 PM

The trick is to just look at the stuff closely and use your head to see if it looks decent. Usually, cheap tools will look, well, cheap. The do have some decent non-powered stuff at HF (I recently purchased some rubber-covered four-inch wheels, and I have a digital caliper that works fine), but I would be suspicious of some of their power tools. They have a compound slider that looks cheap to me, and at one time they had a jointer/planer that looked dangerous to use. I once was on the hunt for some new feather guides and the ones they had were jokes. They have some cheap, plastic-head clamps that work OK, but you cannot use them to clamp tightly. I had the handle break right off of one a while back, and I was not squeezing the grip all that hard.

Howard Ferstler

View a4523427's profile


1 post in 2410 days

#13 posted 09-19-2011 03:12 AM

Has anyone noticed the high prices at HF these days?! Even the sale prices are not a bargain, considering the products are inexpensive, non-branded products made in China. Kind of shocking. Their claim of “ridiculously low prices” is unmoored from reality.

View NiteWalker's profile


2736 posts in 2545 days

#14 posted 09-19-2011 03:30 AM

My Personal HF Gem List:
Air Hose Reel – Want another one of these.
Dial Indicator
Feeler Gauge Set
12-inch Bar Clamps
Multimeter (I caught this on sale for $2.99)

I did have a couple of the rubber parts of the clamp handles come off; epoxy or CA glue to save the day.

Thanks for posting that thread! Gettin a shopping list together. :D
Some things I keep forgetting about, like the orange dead blow hammers.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2456 days

#15 posted 09-19-2011 03:51 AM


I got those same HF clamps for Christmas and had the same results…...

Until a light dawned on my little noggin.

I took a 3 corner file and made lines across the top and bottom about every 1/8” and now those suckers clamp hard enough to squeeze Christmas presents out of the Grinch!

I never told my wife that they didn’t work. I know better.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View navtalk's profile


27 posts in 2475 days

#16 posted 09-19-2011 04:01 AM

Thanks for the heads up , I will give that a try. Sure can’t hurt.

-- My G-Kids call me Grumpy

View gawthrrw's profile


207 posts in 2416 days

#17 posted 09-19-2011 05:30 AM

I used some 80 grit sandpaper on mine and that fixed it for me. I’ve alway been very careful when buying from HF but they do have some great deals. I bought their 10 inch Disk sander and have had it for years now with no issues. I got a buddy that bought the 6 inch jointer and once set up right, it was a great machine. I almost pulled the trigger on their 14 inch bandsaw but have seen too many bad reviews. When it comes to sandpaper, glue brushes, gloves etc. Their prices cant be beat IMHO.

-- Rob, Dallas TX

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3019 days

#18 posted 09-19-2011 07:39 AM

Gawthrrw (is that an Irish name?), I have had the HF bandsaw for 6 or 7 year now. Can’t live without it. Never had a problem or found anything it can’t do (well, it won’t fly, but I’m working on that). Set it up like michael fortune says and it works perfectly. The 2 times I needed parts (added a longer tensioning screw that now comes with it, and a guide holder that I broke), I ordered from Grizzly because their parts are faster. Looked just like mine and fit perfectly. I believe they come out of the same factory. Buy with confidencew. They’re great.

ps I have no association with HF. I’m just a very satisfied customer.

-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View hawke777's profile


12 posts in 2977 days

#19 posted 09-19-2011 04:01 PM

Regarding HF high prices – I think what seems to have happened is that they are relying on coupons for their “loyal” customers and ‘retailing’ the people who don’t know any better. The prices do seem a big higher of late, but since the flyers are in-store and available, that seems to be the way to focus in on the deals and avoid some of the higher-priced items. To this day their $20 sale price on the rotating recip saw is crazy as is their $20 multi-tool. Disposable tools… Contrast that to their 10” wet tile saw that’s still running (for me) after a dozen projects and 3 years…

-- "This is the buffer... you don't want to be puttin' your face in it!" - My 9th grade shop teacher

View JamesG79's profile


23 posts in 2415 days

#20 posted 09-19-2011 04:11 PM

I’ve had good luck with the HF tools I’ve purchased. As @Fussy stated earlier if it wasn’t for HF I wouldn’t be doing this. Yes they have a lot of junk but they do have some gems (as they have become known) I have found that a little Internet research ahead of a purchase will typically help you decide if it’s worth the buy or not. Another thing to remember is that buying a tool at HF isn’t typically accurate out of the box and will need some tweaking and modification. I’ve come to expect that for the money I save. When I get a tool that doesn’t live up to expectations they have always replaced it or returned it with no questions asked.

View dbhost's profile


5705 posts in 3200 days

#21 posted 09-19-2011 04:16 PM

I’ve had fairly good luck with HF tools, although I must admit that going through the tool selection there is looking at the Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly… Most of their stuff is usable, and produces good results, some of it is less than pleasant, and every now and then there is a tool that is patently dangerous. The good thing is that if you have even the slightest bit of understanding of tools, the bad ones become obvious quickly…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View brian88's profile


108 posts in 2738 days

#22 posted 09-19-2011 05:08 PM

I have purchased some tools from hf as well. The bar clamps or o.k. I actually did try to strip one out at the store and tighten it as hard as I could to test the bend and was please. The Quckie clamps on the other hand like the one shown above are complete junk. I have also bought a pressure pot sprayer that works well and a few misc. hand tools. They are fine for infreaquent use but something that is going to be used a lot should be avoided.

-- "thats all I have to say about that..."

View bandit571's profile


19761 posts in 2652 days

#23 posted 09-19-2011 05:09 PM

Some hand tools I’ve gotten from there are decent. I did go out and buy a benchtop drill press. Chuck would just spin, wasn’t loose on the quill though. Got to looking around inside, hmm, a missing set screw in the pulley. Went to Menards, spent a whole $.49 on a set screw, DP works just fine now. Counting the set screw, I paid a whole $70.49 for it.

Some of the air hose couplings are junk, wouldn’t fit others in the shop. Those T handled allen wrenches also tend to bend. I tend to fill the toolbox at work with cheap stuff, if someone likes them better than me, it won’t cost me much to replace. I have a full set of mechanic’s tools at home that I have inherited this year. Mostly Craftsman ( the OLDER set), some Proto/ S&Ks/ and even a few Bonneys. So, I guess IF I need any tools for work, H-F will get some business.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View bandit571's profile


19761 posts in 2652 days

#24 posted 09-20-2011 07:26 PM

Just a picture of the Drill Press I got from H-F. Still going strong…

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View dbhost's profile


5705 posts in 3200 days

#25 posted 09-20-2011 07:53 PM

Okay this is a quick and dirty list of what I have found at HF that works well, and what doesn’t..

-14” 4 speed band saw. I hot rodded it to get the features I wanted, but it would have been fine without. Good buy.
-Universal mobile bases. Funny lumber sizes, but it works, and works well…
-Jet 1236 clone lathe. Add loctite blue to the bolt threads to keep it from disassembling itself. Other than that, I got it for $199.00 minums the 20% off coupon, so $159.00 (or close there somewhere…). Had to replace the belt with a NAPA belt as the OEM one glazed and slipped after a year and a half or so… No big deal. I replace belts in my cars more often than that!
-2 HP Dust collector. I upgraded to a Wynn filter, it works great.
-12” sliding miter saw. Replace the OEM blade, but I would have done that with a Hitachi, Makita or Bosch too!
-Dial indicator. Works fine.
-Moisture meter. Works fine.
-Stud / metal sensor. Works dandy thank you….
-Nitrile gloves.
-Disposable paint brushes.
-Air compressor. Small, but effective.
-Nail guns. I have the framing, finish, pin, and finish / staple guns… All work great.
-Link belts

What I didn’t get good results from..
-Hole saw sets. I tried both the small and large sets. Thankfully they were bought to be throw away sets. I did NOT expect them to last, especially with what I was doing to them. I used them to score guide grooves to cut holes in Hardi Panel…
-Sanding sponges. They leave a black residue on wood.
-pnuematic couplers. No matter what I do, they leak like a sieve.
-Half Blind Dovetail Jig. It’s the same jig half a dozen other vendors sell, and they all stink.

All in all, I couldn’t have finished my shop without Harbor Freight. I don’t necessarily care that folks look down their noses at it. I use what works for me, and I have a shop full of tools to help me do a lot of different tasks. For the same dollars, they may have, a SawStop, and a hammer.

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3164 days

#26 posted 09-20-2011 08:47 PM

My favorite HF tool is the 2 HP Dust Collector which we bought on sale plus a 20% coupon so think it was great price. We have added Wynn Nano filter cartridge and a pre-separator in front of it.

Bought the 12” Direct Drive Bench Top Disc Sander. Runs very smooth and has a sturdy table.

We also got their 14 Gauge Swivel Head Shear to cut large sheet of laminate down to size.

Agree with NAVTALK about the HF Bar clamps …. they are useless. Have now caught some good sales on the Irwin’s which work great.

Has anyone joined the HF “Insider Club” yet. it worth it, think you have to pay a fee?

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3164 days

#27 posted 09-20-2011 09:00 PM

Almost forgot, HF had a 3HP, 10” cabinet saw for a few months last year that was, as far as we know, built in same factory in China as Steel City and others. It was priced at about $750 as I recall but by the time I decided to pull the trigger they had three left and dropped price to about $530 and let me use a 20% coupon off that. As far as we know I got the very last one. It was completely squared up when I received it and the only thing I ever had to do was a shop mod on the 45 degree stop as it would not quite get to 45 degrees from the factory. Put it on a mobile base and it is a fine tool in our shop. We did replace the cheap blade with a Freud Diablo and made a few ZC inserts for it.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View A Slice of Wood Workshop's profile

A Slice of Wood Workshop

1069 posts in 3142 days

#28 posted 09-20-2011 09:14 PM

It really truly is a hit or miss deal with HF. Two people can buy the exact same model saws or whatever, one have trouble with it and the other says it works great. Granted, all saws from there need different blades, but the 10” slideing miter i have works great. I also have a drill press that does so-so unless you are drilling thicker hardwoods. Now I see a lot of talk with people having bar clamps, mine suck when used fully out. I have 3 30” bar clamps that are no good after about 24” opened up. It’s like they say though, you get what you pay for!

-- Follow me on YouTube-

View MrRon's profile


4720 posts in 3212 days

#29 posted 09-20-2011 09:15 PM

Viking; Sounds like a great deal on the saw. I have the 2hp DC also; works great. I’m pretty sure the DC is identical to the Shop Fox, sold by Grizzly. I downloaded their manual and it seemed to be identical to the HF one. It looked like it had been rewritten, but the illustrations and parts breakdown was identical. After discounts, the HF DC cost less than half. The same is true of the 12” wood lathe sold by HF and Grizzly. Again a comparison of the two manuals appears they are identical except for price.

View schuft's profile


123 posts in 2576 days

#30 posted 09-20-2011 09:16 PM


Saw your post on the HF table saw and thought I’d see what’s on their website. Found this. It made me laugh: check out the miter gauge.

All laughing aside, $800 for a 3hp contractor saw doesn’t sound too bad, assuming it really is 3hp. Of course you’d have to put up with the lattice extensions and 5-17 week turnaround.

View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3164 days

#31 posted 09-20-2011 09:30 PM


Here is a review of the saw three of us LJ’s bought. It is a real 3HP cabinet saw, no riving knife though. I installed splitter on the ZC insert.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

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