Harbor Freight: Tools on a Budget

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases (more).

Generally I’m not a fan of the box store chains.  Which is odd–because I am a fan of having more money in my wallet.  Or my significant other’s wallet.  These places definitely have the advantage of having lower prices.  Cruising by Harbor Freight the other day, I took a good 45 minute walk through to check out their claim of “Quality Tools at Ridiculously Low Prices”.  To be entirely honest I do not know a lot about Harbor Freight Tools other than they opened a store here last month in Missoula and they have tools.  You could probably open a store that sold French Literature, Sandra Bullock movies, “Precious Moments” figures, and tools–I would still probably check out the tools. Mostly–I wanted to check out Harbor Freight Tools for an item that I have been after for a little while.  An airbrush compressor.  Right–I know, I can hear the peals of laughter from here–and no I am not making awesome airbrushed eagle decals or anything like that.  I had a need to paint some wood without the ugly brush strokes–so there ya go.  Since I am not a professional artist, do not have a jacked up truck, or have any item I would ever airbrush eagles on–I had two basic requirements for my purchase:

It had to work.

It had to be cheap.

Check(ish) and check.  Installing the filter and hoses on the airbrush compressor I cracked the housing where the airbrush screws into the fitting on the compressor.  Ugh.  It was leaking air like an ignited Hindenburg–and I figured since I broke it–I was out my 40 bucks.  This is where I give Harbor Freight high marks.  I walked back into the store–told them what happened, and in under 3 minutes had a new compressor and was out the door.  Nice.  I like good service, and I like no hassle returns/exchanges.  All of this I encountered at my local Harbor Freight.

I’ve used the compressor multiple times–and it works just fine.  I’m not even sure it has a “brand” name–but I think the simplified Chinese is:  ????.   And that is the rub with Harbor Freight–don’t expect (I found this to be true with power tools especially) to find brand names you recognize.  But–they do have a wildly diverse selection of things that you won’t find in other places.  I found everything from a great selection of clamps to a knock off version of my dog’s Chuck-It.  (They have a pet section oddly enough).

I also suspect that Harbor Freight Tools gets things in from time to time that they don’t plan on stocking, or get a deal on a shipment–or steal it–I really don’t care–but I found bottles of Gorilla Brand wood glue for a ridiculously low price–so I snatched up a few 18 oz. bottles.  Finding the glue was unexpected, and I think I may have experienced the near euphoria that consumes my wife when she finds a shoe sale.  (Don’t tell her–I love shoes too.  I freaking loooove shoes).

From a pro carpenter’s standpoint:  You try to save money on tools where you can–but I’ve always found it to be better in the long run to own quality tools that you care for with proper maintenance.  I would be remiss to offer a long-term judgment on the compressor I bought, but I wouldn’t go to Harbor Freight for a tool I would be using day in and day out.  Having said that–my needs and demands on a tool might be vastly different than yours–and who knows?  Maybe you can find your Holy Gorilla for your next Home Fixation.

Photo of author

About Ty

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get access to free prizes, product sneak-peeks, reviews, how-to's and much more!

More Info | Email Privacy

11 thoughts on “Harbor Freight: Tools on a Budget”

  1. I love going to HF. I have only bought non-mechanical items like tarps, breaker bars and power steering pulley pullers. I would stay away from power tools; rather to go with a known-name brand. I only buy things that are one and done from HF.

  2. I love Harbor Freight! I’m a weekend warrior and in preparing to redo all the finish work in our home few years ago I went to HF and bought 5 gallon air compressor for $89, 18 gauge nail gun for $18, and a hose for $6. With my whopping $115 investment we put 1,000 feet of 7″ base, 1,000 feet of crown, and installed built-up panel molding in 3 rooms with no problems. Now I loan it out to friends and family taking on similar projects and it keeps chugging away!

    I do stay away from their power tools. I have an HF saws-all with no brake, it takes about 60 seconds to wind down after letting off the trigger, it’s the scariest tool I own! After that experience I did all the above stated projects w/ a 12″ double-bevel craftsman miter saw (that hasn’t let me down either).

    • Woah, I just realized Harbor Freight abbreviated is the same as Home Fixated abbreviated. Not sure how I feel about that! Anyway, thanks for sharing your Harbor Freight experience with HF Mike, much appreciated!

  3. I also tend towards the brand names for power tools expecting the higher price to equal better performance and longevity. For tools that only see occasional use, I have to admit that Harbor Freight has worked out well for me. I picked up a sliding compound miter saw a few years back for cheap and it’s worked out really well. Many hundreds of square feet of hardwood flooring and countless other projects have all been handled by this orange, no-name saw. While I will need to replace it soon (motor doesn’t seem to have much power anymore), I’ll replace it with another one. I can’t justify spending 3 times the price (or more) for a name brand.

  4. Thanks for the comments all.
    Jeff: The compressor I bought was a one-time use kinda thing–but I am adept at creating future “uses” for tool purchases. Keep that bit of info on the down-low.
    Take the “pro carpenter’s standpoint” with a few grains of salt. Yes–that is what I do for a living, and have for quite a while–but by no means do I wish to imply that I have all the answers.
    What I am using as a cordless drill for instance, may need to be a bit more beefy than what a Fixater in her 90’s might need for making more shelves to cover with carpet for her cats to sleep on.
    In my case–woodworking–can involve a sledgehammer and a vocabulary reserved for Naval duty, so extremely fine accuracy isn’t always an issue. For cabinets, trim, and such–I have to go with Chaim: better to own/maintain tools that have tolerances small enough for your tastes.

  5. I have bought a ton of stuff from HF and as an avid woodworker, I’ve generally had very good experiences. And like the author said…returns/exchanges are easy if something does not work out. You could easily save 50% on the cost of your tools.

    The only items I specifically avoid are power tools that specifically need unusual accuracy–table saws, drill presses, and miter saws are the main examples for my uses.

  6. Harbor Freight is good for cheap hand tools, their power tools can be kind of dicey. Sometime they work for a good long while, other times they explode on the second use, spewing sparks and small parts in every direction. Cases in point, I had a 10″ sliding compound miter saw from them. Used the hell out of it when we were replacing clapboards on our house. I got like 3-4 years our of it before it started having issues, and I eventually replaced it with a Rigid 12″ miter saw (which BTW, is a fantastic tool). On the other end of the spectrum I bought an air-powered paint can shaker. Worked great the first time I used it. Loaned it to my dad, it worked for him, and then never worked again.

  7. “I’ve always found it to be better in the long run to own quality tools that you care for with proper maintenance.”

    Your statement rings true in my case. I’ve never been in a HF store just because of that.

    What about renting or borrowing low usage tools in your case or was the compressor sufficiently cheap?


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.