Harbor Freight Buying Guide: UPDATE 2009

The infamous Harbor Freight Buying Guide got an extensive update today!

Here’s what’s new:

New Items:
5 items added to the “Bad-but-Buyable” list
11 items added to Abysmal list
48 items added to the “Good-Enough” list
37 ranking updates for Good List HF Tools

In addition:
4 threads added to resource section
4 photos added
8 nicknames added

The lions’ share of additions came from the 63 comments YOU added to the guide, so THANK YOU!

+1 Mention to Existing Gems and +1 or More Mentions for New Items
Some old standards got new mentions – the Nitrile gloves for example and just about any socket set. Harbor Freight clamps picked up over 10 more “gem” mentions.

Some new tools came out of the gate strong… they hadn’t been on the list before but turned out to be good performers based on user experience. The #93440 18 Volt 3/8″ Drill for example, came out of nowhere. So did the compressors, which really surprised me. The #47257 Harbor Freight 6″ Digital Caliper came from nowhere with 4 mentions, too.

#36649 16 Piece 1/2″ SAE Deep Wall Impact Socket Set: 10

#37052 Pack of 100 X-Large Nitrile Gloves: 8

#47257 Harbor Freight 6″ Digital Caliper: 6

#93440 18 Volt 3/8″ Drill with Keyless Chuck: 5

the welding magnets: 4 (mentioned several times, did not specify type…)

Every compressor I’ve purchased from HF has worked like a champ.: 4

#97513 28° FRAMING NAILER: 4

#38142 Heavy Duty 16 Speed Bench Drill Press: 4

#38160 Oscillating Spindle Sander: 4

#32208 14″ 4 Speed Woodworking Bandsaw: 4

#00623 1″ Travel Machinist’s Dial Indicator: 3

#96308 Digital Clamp Meter: 3


#46309 18 Gauge 3/8″ to 2″ Air Brad Nailer: 3
-18 ga nailer. People really rip on this one. It was jamming on me for a while. I kept trying to oil up the hammer, but it would jam again. I finally removed the entire piston assembly (allen bolts through the exhaust vent cap) and oiled it up well and it’s worked great ever since. $15 nailer!!!

#91039 3000 Lb. Capacity Lightweight Aluminum Racing Jack: 3


#37793 2-1/2 HP Plunge Router: 2

New Good-Enough Items with One Mention
Getting on the “Good-enough” list isn’t tough for Harbor Freight tools – they just have to have a single mention from someone. This doesn’t mean they’re great, just that one person had a good experience with them.

#91995 10″ Compound Miter Saw

#39662 Leather Work Gloves

#93085 Utility Blades, 10 Pack

#65330 20 Ton Air/Hydraulic Shop Press with Oil Filter Crusher

#93983 Non-Contact Pocket Thermometer

#40706 Sta-Lube Air Tool Oil

#93290 Fluid Siphon Pump

#34924 12 Ton Jack Stands

#92623 7″ Variable Speed Polisher/Sander

#97759 Wheel Hub/Stud Resurfacing Kit

#66098 1600 Watt Heavy Duty Dual Temperature Heat Gun

#43468 12″ Direct Drive Bench Top Disc Sander

I bought some ratcheting wrenches a few years ago that I’ll put up against anything out there.

US General tool boxes and chests

#90154 1195 Lb. Capacity 48″ x 96″ Heavy Duty Foldable Utility Trailer

#95189 5.5 HP, 2400 Watts Max/2200 Watts Rated Generator Set

#65324 2″ 235 GPM Dirty Water Pump

#42202 Abrasive Blast Cabinet (with mods and fixes)

#65685 600 Lb. Capacity Appliance Hand Truck

#33795 2 Ton Air One-End Frame Lift

#1694 8 Piece Heavy Duty Screwdriver Set

#95987 Blind Hole Bearing Puller

#95121 2 Piece Valve Lapper Tool

#42292 Automatic Battery Float Charger

#45338 1/2″ Variable Speed Reversible Hammer Drill

#93004 3 Pocket Cotton Apron

New Bad, But Buyable Items
If you’re a hacker/DIY type then these tools might serve you well. Just figure out an hourly rate for yourself and then add an hour of work to the cost of these tools ;)

-If you want a cheep 18 gauge nail gun for a weekend woodworker, buy HF and tweak it to work well … (I have done this with my HF air nailers and they work fine for friends that want to borrow my tools…. that way the Senco and Bostich guns stay in the shop!!)
-Pittsburgh wrenches: Wouldnt recommend. Just junk wrenches you dont mind abusing. Chrome on your arms if you wrench too hard. Good warranty though.
-Hand operated well pump
-HF biscuit joiner
-stationary power tools

New Abysmal Items
These items are no-buys under any circumstances… unless of course they show up on the “Good-Enough” list ;) That’s the enigma of Harbor Freight – one man’s “Abysmal” is 4 guys’ “Good-Enough.”

-carving knives
-Chicago Electric close quarters drill #92956
-the plastic wire ties.
-NEVER buy the bunjee (tie-down) cords!!
-The 4″ jointer (65673-1VGA) is useless, mainly because of the poor quality fence.
-Nitrile Gloves: NOT “I’m not a chemist but sodium hydroxide,(paint remover) ate through HF Blue Nitrile gloves.”
-bench drill press (…often recommended)
-3/8″ Corded drill.
-I got a small benchtop blasting cabinet. I HATE IT!!
-black bar w/ orange grip bar clamps.

Nicknames Added
For fun, here are the new nicknames that HF shoppers use to deride the store they secretly love:

# Harbor Fright
# Bottom of the Harbor Freight
# Harbor Hate
# The Chinese Cheesecake Factory
# For their inexpensive, thrice-yearly-use Chinese air tools, we call them, “INGERSOLL-CHAN.”
# I thought that I would tell you what my wife calls HF; we speak Russian at home, and she calls it vonuchka, or “little stinker.” She hates that HF smell of uncured rubber.
# “Harbor Sheight” (…Shite)
# China Fright

Read the Harbor Freight Buying Guide and remember to always trump your friends in the forums when they start talking about a great tool they “discovered” at Harbor Freight ;)

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26 Responses to Harbor Freight Buying Guide: UPDATE 2009

  1. rob says:

    for those of us familiar with the guide it would be helpful to summarize the specific changes rather than just count them.

  2. toolcrib says:

    Thanks for the suggestion Rob – I updated this post with the tools and products in question…


  3. Scott says:

    Harbor Freight #97427 Dual Dowel Jointer is worth looking at. Manual say 1 5/16 between drill center but is actually 32 mm. Great for system holes on cabinets. The drills that come with it are tool steel and not very good. Purchase a variable speed control item #43060-4VGA to slow it down. 16.5K to fast for anything but carbide. The fence has to be shimmed to square and the height setting is difficult (scribe a line on fence after setup)Freud at $399 is the next price point for this tool. Once dialed in the HF unit works great and for $60 can’t beat the price

  4. robert ellis says:

    great company to purchase from

  5. Chris says:

    15″, 18″, 24″ Jumbo adjustable wrench set
    ITEM 751-4VGA Is a great deal, especially when it goes on sale or with the usual 20% email coupons.
    The jaw capacities aren’t quite as big as i would hope, but they do come in handy when trying to break free a big ass bolt or union.

    Magnetic Parts trays are also a steal at harbor freight (various item number 4″, 6″, 9 1/2″). I carry the 4″ in my toolbag to hold screws when taking apart things, the magnet is very strong.

    6″ plastic utility caliper is a good beater tool for your toolbag. $1.99 reg price, but regularly goes for $1, especially during parkinglot sales and dollar days.

    1 1/4 gallon sprayer for $10, goes on sale for $8 with a coupon. Great buy, Ive been using it with harsh chemicals and its held up pretty well. I just make sure to rinse it out after each use. The 1 1/4″ gallon size is perfect, not too big and has a sturdy base that doesn’t tip over.

  6. PBerry says:

    Been buying, using, HF tools since the 80’s and there are only a very few that I know are killing machines.

    The collapsible trailer jack with a wheel, has a plate to swivel upon, that is so weak, it deforms just putting the leg up/down, dropping the trailer onto your leg, or side! These need a CPSC RECALL!

    The red/black plastic automatic wire strippers really fall apart on 18 AWG wire. Sad POS.

    The good news… I have many HFT hand and power tools dating back to the 1980’s that still perform

    Tons of money saved! I really like their welding tools, welders, grinders, drills, and air tools!

  7. Jeanclaude says:

    I have been buying Harbor Freight tools for nearly ten years. My first purchase was when my one-year-old, $80 Dewalt 4″ grinder went belly-up. I almost bought a new Dewalt, but saw a Harbor Freight ad for a 4″ grinder for $15. I thought, “I can buy four of these cheap ones for less than one Dewalt and then throw them away when they crap out”. That was almost ten years ago; I still using the first one and the other three are still new in the box. Sure, I’ve had my horror stories with cheap Harbor Freight tools, but remember when you buy a cheap tool, don’t expect the quality and performance of high end, expensive tools: i.e. a $5 Pittsburg wrench does not compare to a $150 Snap-on wrench (duh)… same thing goes for $15 nailers mentioned here; don’t compare them to $180 nailers: if you want the performance of of a Bostitch nailer, stop your whining about cheap tools, blow the dust off of your wallet and buy a bostitch.

  8. philipma1957 says:

    I have the 10 inch compound miter sliding saw. Just add a better saw blade and it is a decent tool. It is durable I redid a ton of work in my home with it. for 70 bucks on sale it is good. you will need a better blade for cleaner cuts.

  9. Robert Smith says:

    Approach electronics with caution, hammers and impact sockets are a good buy–it really helps to visit the store to see what you are buying.

  10. gerald t. says:

    Item 95977-2VGA water pump. I used a straight 4hrs/day twice a week for one summer for irrigation. So far it’s a winner. I changed oil at least three times in that period. Doesn’t take that much straight 30 weight, so why not? Engine combustion acids are what kills engines. Mine is the 5.5 hp. They claim the 6.5 is now on that model. Watch HF for their frequently screwed up descriptions of product.

  11. Richard Duda says:

    Please continue to send me the Monthly Savings Book!


  13. Armand Ortego says:

    I enjoy shopping from your monthly saving books
    I also like shopping your store in Lake C
    harles La.Please continue sending your monthly saving books

    Thanke You.

    Armand Ortego

  14. BILL OXENER says:


  15. toolcrib says:

    Hey Guys! Just so it’s clear – we’re not in any way affiliated with Harbor Freight! We’re fans of their operation, and think you can find some great deals there, but we’re not Harbor Freight.

  16. David says:

    The 4 piece tongue and groove pliers set is great! I’ve used them a lot and they are still working fine.

  17. Ritchie Gypsy says:

    I have purchased every air tool Harbor freight has ever had in last 10 years and every one of them are excellent I have also purchased motorcycle hig`h lift hydrolic puller set and numerous other items to date I have never had a issue with any tools from harbor freight they exceed all they are advertized for when properly used to manufactors specifications EARTHQUAKE air tools exceed most name brand tools including Snap On Craftsman NitroCat ETC ETC. Harbor Freight excellent job keep it up

  18. Cameron says:

    Great blog on HF.

    I love Harbor Freight! Sure, they sell cheap tools but anyone who works with their hands and knows materials can pretty much tell where a tool needs work or improvement and can repair most HF tools if necessary, and can spot right away the ones to avoid.

    Most of the faults of many of the tools are just poor machining and a few parts/fasteners that have bad metalurgy. Those can usually be fixed with a bit of filing or shaping -and replacing cheap fasteners with good ones if they break. As far as tool marks on the wrenches and things like that it is mostly just cosmetic. The tools are a bit ugly, but the Chinese metallurgy has come a long ways -and most of the Pittsburgh hand tools have a lifetime guarantee now -just save your receipts! It’s best to photocopy them right away before they fade away into blank white paper and save them in a big manila envelope fastened to the top of your toolbox with a HF magnet! That’s what I do.

    One thing I didn’t see in the blog is talking about prices. The prices at HF are going up and are no longer universally low. The trick it to only buy stuff when it is ON SALE. That is their new business model. You see something on sale and don’t really need it but you foresee a time when you WILL need it so you have a choice to either buy it NOW or wait until you really need it and have to pay the high non-sale price.

    Just BUY it now at $1.99 or $4.99 or whatever. It’s an investment insurance policy. You know you’re going to need it eventually…

    And their “Inside Track” club is a $30/year membership but the coupon deals they send you in emails make even their normal great deals/sales look terrible in comparison. I paid for the $30 membership the second time I visited the store a week after I bought the card. It’s WORTH it.

    That $99 black 3/4 horse compressor is a GREAT bargain. The only issues are that it comes without ANYTHING (not even the oil to fill it -it takes a whole quart so don’t forget to buy enough compressor oil!). It’s a good thing that the air tool stuff is cheap too. You need some hose, some quick connects, and one of their dryer/filter/oiler setups. You have to re-plumb it with new fittings to get the air output out to the side rather than the front but it is worth it. With another $20-40 in parts/supplies this $99 is still a great deal. Finding some better wheels is a good idea too. The ones that come with it are total crap. HF has lots of wheels cheap. I’ve got big ball-bearing wheels on mine with a locking caster wheel in front -HUGE improvement rolling this thing around the shop.

    Also, what is with that weird plastic and rubber smell? If they could do something about that and the cheesy orange color of a lot of their plastic tools they would have a lot more customers I think.

    I’ve started to like that smell though -it smells like a bargain to me ;)

  19. Hal says:

    I got the ratch bar clamps. Finally squeezed to hard and broke one. Took the side cover off. The handle to squeeze rides on a round platic bushing that is part of the frame. I super glued it back on. Drilled a hole thru the bushings that matched its ID. Put a little bolt thru the side with a lock nut. Better then ever now. Bushing has support and will not break off the side covers. Easy fix.

  20. ROBERT I NELSEN says:


  21. john robbins says:

    hi there the flash lights i got were given to the childern and thay say there just great. what i am talking about are the 31/2″ nine led lights, i got eight of them , thay sure last a long time,, thank you. John

  22. I’ve been using H/F things since they were only a mail order outfit in Calif. I still have much of what I’ve purchaced over the yrs. Granted there is some real junk there, but if you know what you’re looking for and the limits of what you buy, you should be O.K., I have 4 of the 4″ grinder/sanders, a heat gun, tarps, wheels for equipment, but things like so-called “left hand” drills that have the tips ground for regular right hand rotation are the kind of things you need to look for. Also the $99. wire feed welder is a big hunk of junk, it requires a level of skill that 20 yrs. of race car building and Maintenance hasn’t taught me.

  23. Don Andersen says:

    Wow! I never realized there was so much info on HF. 3/8″ corded and cordless drills are a good price. 4 1/2 inch angle grinders are cheap enough to have one for grinding and one for cutoff. 2/10/55 battery charger quit after a month or so.

  24. this is a super reading and amazing post. I will bookmark this article.

  25. Jim says:

    I will NEVER buy another ‘tool’ from Harbor Freight. If I need something but can’t afford to buy a good one, I will go without. Their priducts are the worst of the worse and Customer Service is NON existent to wit:

    I tried to see if I could get a replacement vise. I intentionally bought one with the Pipe Jaws and realized a few days out of warranty when I finally needed to put pipe in it that the casting was bad and there was no pipe jaw on one side. I tried to plead my case to their CS and was told more or less; Gee that’s too bad but it’s out of warranty! Any decet place would have seen that is was an obvious manufacturing goof and covered it anyway.

    Today, my motorcycle lift got stuck and I determined that it was the release valve. I couldn’t get it fixed so I called to see if I could buy a complete replacement hydraulic jack. I gave them the model number and was told “That’s an obsolete item and no parts are available”, I’ll look it up, but I THINK there is a law about parts availability for CONSUMER ITEMS for x years.

    Oh well. All you folks who think they are great (I was one for many years) will get burned by them eventually. There are some decent things coming out of China, and then there is the cheap crap. Harbor Freight dels in the cheapest junk they can buy.

  26. valve says:

    I simply couldn’t go away your web site before suggesting that I actually loved the usual information an individual supply on your visitors? Is going to be again steadily in order to investigate cross-check new posts

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