Cheep tools, were do you draw the line?

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Forum topic by TheShat posted 10-19-2010 02:58 AM 1971 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 2812 days

10-19-2010 02:58 AM

Topic tags/keywords: harbor freight cheep tools crap question

I was at my local Harbor Freight the other day, it got me wondering, what do you spend your money on and when is it ok to buy crap? I had a compressor from there that was total crap, it was extremely loud and it only lasted my about 6 months, but that doesn’t mean I won’t buy drill bits from them!

26 replies so far

View rsmith71's profile


269 posts in 3071 days

#1 posted 10-19-2010 03:17 AM

I agree. Do your research. I have a 33” lathe, 12” Disc Sander, & Oscillating Spindle Sander from HF that are gold to me. Run great, Didn’t cost much (less than $500 for all 3). There are a lot of things there I wouldn’t waste my money on. If they FEEL cheap, probably best to pass them by but I still go in and look around for the next good deal there.

-- Robert - Haven Wood Crafts

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70 posts in 2810 days

#2 posted 10-19-2010 03:21 AM

Its like gambling dont bet more than you can afford loose.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3103 days

#3 posted 10-19-2010 03:23 AM

In general, I prefer high quality tools and I am willing to pay for them, but that preference is limited to tools I expect to use for a long time.

Recently, I had a project that required an air stapler gun. I’ve never needed one before and I will probably never need one again. A $20 Tool Shop stapler did the job just fine. I ran through about 500 staples and I’ll probably never use it again. That is what cheap tools are for.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3921 days

#4 posted 10-19-2010 04:38 AM

On the flip side, expensive tools don’t always last either. I’ve burned up a Porter Cable compressor and ROS this year. My Ridgid ROS outlasted the PC. I have two Ryobi 14.4 drills that I have run to death over the past 10 years and they won’t die. However, I’ve never had any tool fail that has Dewalt stamped on it.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View a1Jim's profile


117128 posts in 3606 days

#5 posted 10-19-2010 04:46 AM

I’ve had good luck with their 2 hp dust collectors ,their 3/4” pipe clamps kind of . If I buy 20,fifteen are good and they will take the rest back. But at $2.50 on sale I can buy 5 or 6 compared to pony or other brand names. I’ve bought their sets of rifler’s ,their cheep and work fine and a number of other small things that work fine. Many other things I’ve bought from them is pure junk.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2955 days

#6 posted 10-19-2010 06:12 AM

My brother and I had this difference of opinion since we were kids. I would spend more money and have something that would last, he would buy two or three of the cheap ones just to get the job done.

For instance, he has borrowed my Super Sawcat a number of times lately which I bought in about 1977 when we were framing, he burned out a few of the cheap saws but mine still runs fine.

As Jim says, sometimes you get lucky with some good tools for less, but my experience is that I waste more time returning things than it’s worth, so I will continue to buy higher quality name brand tools.

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2963 days

#7 posted 10-19-2010 06:38 AM

I guess I never got lucky with the power tools I bought at hf.
When I started 2 years ago all my tools were from HF. all the power tool ended in the garbage within few months.
The few things I have left are my bench (to go soon), some clamps (many broke) some pry bar, some drill bits a vise and some pliers.

I would say most non electrical tools should be ok. And stay away from their hand planes and chisels.

I have not been to HF for over a year.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View Abbott's profile


2570 posts in 3332 days

#8 posted 10-19-2010 06:50 AM

I bought a compressor from Harbor Freight several years ago and got good service out of it for as long as I owned it. I upgraded to one with a 60-gallon tank or I would still be using it. The fellow that has it now hasn’t had any troubles with it and its about 6 years old now ~shrug~

-- Ohh mann...pancakes and boobies...I'll bet that's what Heaven is like! ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

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David Craig

2137 posts in 3138 days

#9 posted 10-19-2010 03:43 PM

When you shop at HF long enough, you start to get a feel for what will work and what won’t. The wooden clamps are decent and are much more reasonable than the other big box stores. Pittsburgh tools are pretty decent, clamps as well as auto tools. I would buy a dozen or spreader clamps when they are on sale but finally decided to just invest in solid clamps with a good name. Their pneumatic tools seem to work pretty well. I bought a pin nailer for about 12 bucks that has held up very well.

When I buy economy tools, usually the price is determined by country of origin, materials used, or how much prep work is performed at the factory. By prep work, I mean things like tuning of planes, blade pre-sharpening on chisels, etc. As long as the base material is decent, I am willing to invest in elbow grease if it will give me a decent tool. If it is going to be crap no matter what, I try to shy away.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3790 days

#10 posted 10-19-2010 04:06 PM

A couple of weeks ago, at the WIA conference in Covington KY, I met Woodcraft’s VP of marketing. I told him that I had sent back a set of tapered countersink drills that were so soft that the tips bent as soon as they touched wood, and in the same box I also included a 7 piece forstner bit set that wouldn’t drill into soft walnut.

I started to make the comment, “If I had wanted to buy cheap tools….......”, then he intrupted me saying, “You would have gone to Harbor Freight”. I said, “Right. I expect more from you guys.”

I just received a letter from him saying that he is sending me a $50 Woodcraft gift card. Nice!

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

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387 posts in 3010 days

#11 posted 10-19-2010 04:56 PM

I bought a palm sander a couple of years back @ HF for $7.99 and I use it all of the time. Sometimes you get lucky. I don’t recommend their bar clamps with the squeeze handle. The bar clamps with the twist to tighten handles are far better.

-- Pops ~ In So Cal...

View Brian024's profile


358 posts in 3429 days

#12 posted 10-19-2010 05:12 PM

Whenever it is a tool that I don’t use often. I bought a Ryobi biscuit jointer for one project and will probably never use it again, I thought about selling it but I figured for $100 it may be better to keep it.

View RonTanc's profile


23 posts in 2806 days

#13 posted 10-19-2010 06:13 PM

You can buy any car, start out in Maine and drive the entire coast line of the US to Oregon. If you hope to make it there and stay then get the cheap car. If you want to be sure to get there, get the intermidiate car. If you want to drive it back and forth, get the high end model.

Tools are the same way. A one time project, get cheap. Intermidiate will be with you for a long time. High end, you hope will never break. Another thing to consider is, how smooth do you want the ride to be!

All depends on how fat your wallet is.

-- Cut the hole twice and it's still too big!

View TheDane's profile


5448 posts in 3692 days

#14 posted 10-19-2010 06:14 PM

My experience with HF tools is pretty much as others have stated … it is hit-or-miss.

I bought their dovetail jig (under $30) sometime back because I just wanted to play with half-blind, machine cut dovetails, and didn’t want to spend the $$$ to buy a Leigh, PC, etc. Guess what … the HF jig does a terrific job, and I am using it to build a jig station (similar to the one from the WoodSmith Shop TV show) to house the HF jig.

A lot of other stuff I bought at HF (doweling jig, dowel centers, corded drill, etc.) is useful, practical stuff. I have never tried their pipe clamps, but A1Jim has pretty much convinced me I should!

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3203 days

#15 posted 10-19-2010 06:18 PM

8Iowa: watch, as my cynicism kicks in.

I HOPE the Woodcraft VP initiated a process to figure out what happened, in your case, and tried to make sure that it didn’t happen to others.

Because the option is to save a LOT of money, using cheap materials and inferior suppliers, and throw fifty bucks at an unhappy customer, now and again.

That IS one business model. It is NOT unusual, these days.

My philosophy for cheap tools is: how mad will I be if it breaks while I’m using it, or ruins the project that I’m using it on, and … will I get HURT if this product fails during use.

It’s amazing how far down that’s whittled my list of stuff that I WILL buy from HF ;-)

-- -- Neil

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