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Thumb Nailer
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The question keeps coming up A LOT on this and other forums and I wanted to address this head on.

It depends.

Simply put, as many of you know by now, most of the tool manufacturing that is going on is happening more or less in the same factories in China. There are slight variances in specifications / features, but overall, at their core, most of the tools kind for kind are more or less the same thing.

To be blunt, Harbor Freight sells a lot of tools that are absolutely best bang for the buck, as long as...

#1. You do not want / need, or are wiling to retrofit some of the fancier features. An example would be cartridge filters on the dust collector, or tension quick release mechanism on the 14" bandsaw. These same features are missing on MANY Of the consumer grade tools though.
#2. You are the quality control. Get the item, use the snot out of it in the warranty period. If it dies in the warranty period take it back and get a new one. If it doesn't it will likely outlive you.
#3. For the most part, their bits and blades are absolute garbage. NOT universally true statement, but it is enough to make me second guess buying them. I will buy the HSS hole saws for jobs I know will mess up a hole saw as I KNOW they are disposable. The BiMetal hole saws have been perfect for my use, and the masonry bits have been great though. Otherwise, nope...
#4. Some of the tools I bought from them for one job, are still with me, working 10+ years later. These include the 1/2" hammer drill, and an angle grinder.
#5. Sometimes their stuff outclasses the big names. I absolutely LOVE my Drill Master pocket hole jig and wouldn't consider the plastic based Kreg...

And with the used market being what it is. I honestly couldn't have afforded to outfit my home workshop without Harbor Freight, and particulary their older selection of tools.

They do seem to be wanting to move up market and have several lines of tools that are price and feature positioned to go up against Metabo, DeWalt, and Rigid, that category of tools, but they still only have a 90 day warranty. They SERIOUSLY need to reconsider that policy if they expect to sell at those price points.

For me and my shop, I have the following HF items that have worked GREAT over the years.

14" bandsaw.
2HP dust collector
12" sliding miter saw
Mortising machine
JWL1236 clone lathe.
4x24 belt sander
1/2" hammer drill
angle grinder
Dozens of clamps
29 gallon air compressor
8 gallon air compressor
Compressed air regulator / filter, and dessicant dryer / filter with bridging clamp.
50' self retracting hose reel
3/8" breaker bar
screwdriver sets.
tape measures
1/2" impact extensions
Variable Speed oscillating multi tool
Multi tool blades.

There are some tools of theirs I worry about.
Planers. Except for the newer Bauer model, but at that price, might as well get a Wen and at least get a spiral cutterhead.
Router. Nope, those just scare me.
Most of their handheld sanders. Specs lower than Ryobi, and similar prices with nearly no warranty. Pass.

Now is this stuff as nice, fancy, feature packed, or powerful as say Powermatic, or whatever. Hardly, and we all know it. Is there any way even on the used market I am going to be able to afford it? I hunt and play guitar as well. So, not hardly...

Do these inexpensive tools get me out into the shop and productive?

As much as any tools can, yes. And that is the whole point.

We all have our own tolerance for the levels of finnesse for our tools. I personally have a fairly high tolerance for stuff rough around the edges.
 

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Old Methane Gas Cloud
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3,509 Posts
Generally speaking. . . . .

Harbor Freight tools can achieve the level if . . . . .
You are willing to futz and work on the set up. You will have to adjust and grind and then adjust and fine tune and maybe readjust with more fine tuning.

The point is that you and I can afford to take the time to do so but a commercial operation cannot.

In a conversation with a concrete contractor, about 15 years ago, he told me, "Cutting forms to length is no big deal and if we wear the saw out, I'll do a warranty exchange or buy a new one. The one we have is about 3 years old."
 

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Thumb Nailer
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Generally speaking. . . . .

Harbor Freight tools can achieve the level if . . . . .
You are willing to futz and work on the set up. You will have to adjust and grind and then adjust and fine tune and maybe readjust with more fine tuning.

The point is that you and I can afford to take the time to do so but a commercial operation cannot.

In a conversation with a concrete contractor, about 15 years ago, he told me, "Cutting forms to length is no big deal and if we wear the saw out, I'll do a warranty exchange or buy a new one. The one we have is about 3 years old."
Yep. My point exactly. I am not running a full time cabinet shop. I bought Snap On stuff when I was a mechanic because, honestly there was no futzing to it at all, HOWEVER...

I know a few trim carpenters that use HF miter saws in their work. Given a decent blade, and a proper set up, they hold setup well by the way if you give them a dab of thread locker... but given a good setup they really work well. And if someone steals the $150.00 miter saw from the job site, it doesn't hurt as bad as when someone steals a $450.00 miter saw from the job site...

I know if I were still working as a mechanic, there are a LOT of HF tools I would still use, and more than a few that just, well.... nope.

Generally speaking, the more complex it is, the less likely I am going to be interested.

Wrenches, impact wrench, air ratchet, sockets, combination wrenches, breaker bars. Yeah I am so good with that stuff.

Scan tools, micrometers, ultra fine accuracy tools? Hard pass.

Oil free compressors? Don't care who makes it or sells it, not going in my shop ever.

Some tools I have had were junk, swapped out, and got a good one.

Cooling system tester.
R134A manifold gauges

Some tools I have had were bought to be and used as disposable.

Large size HSS hole saw, set. They were cheap, I needed to cut 2 5" holes in hardi panel to route my AC ducting to 2 basically oversized dryer vents for my portable AC in the shop...
 

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Sorry, I wouldn’t t go that far - I sure wouldn’t want to start a cabinet shop out of HF. My motto is “never buy anything with a motor or moving parts”. I have a friend who has a fabrication shop he used to buy several 4” grinders at a time for $15 and throw them away when the switches (inevitably) went bad - some lasted a few years some a few months, some a few weeks. Never understood the logic.

That said, I’ve heard good things about the Hercules miter saw, and the Bauer shop vac beat a whole bunch of brand names. I think the 6x10” sander might be ok. I’ve heard you should always buy the service policy.

But there are a few things I buy from HF:
  1. The aluminum bar clamps are decent. A ver economical way for a ww’er to get started. 48” and under. If you file the collar edges the won’t bind, and slip a piece of hardwood in the channel (learned that from Paul Sellers).
  2. F clamps - 6 & 12”. Darn things have better handles than a Bessey. Lousy clamp pads.
  3. Moving blankets.
  4. Casters.
  5. Paint sprayers.
  6. 20” Pedestal fan
All of the air tools I have bought have been junk. A Central Machinery reciprocating saw was garbage - loud enough to launch the space shuttle and the washer broke on first use.

Den of Tools is biased but has tons of HF reviews. Also Project Farm.
 

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I believe the key to Harbor Freight Tools you must evaluate what you're buying. is it a one-and-done tool or for a long-term investment.

for beginning woodworker or a novice, Harbor Freight Tools get them started but with a poor quality tool and that it was a tool and not them. unfortunately causes some people would give up on woodworking because the poor quality tools make them think they do the work . Sometimes paying 25% more will give you a lifelong tools. also frequently between Harbor Freight Tools and used quality tools , cost is about same. and it could be a decent brand. we all have to make choices to fit within the budget that we have. in reality this is true with even some of the big box stores with their own brand tools.
 

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where's my table saw?
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There is no worse environment for an electric hand tool than that used for an angle grinder. I am like the guy who buys 3, maybe 4 angle grinders on sale at $15.00 at HF.
The cord to the switch connection or the switch is first to go, but often it can be repaired. I have new ones on the shelf ready to replace the ones that "crap out" but a few have been waiting for years and the old orange ones won't die! The red ones are made by a different company now, I think. They have "upped their game" in the last several years with the Bauer line and Hercules line. Chicago Electric still makes some things.

I bought four of the 3 ton floor jacks on sale for $80.00 years ago. Two are still new in the box, because they just don't wear out. Their jack stands are as good as any. Their lifting straps also last a long time. I'm pretty hard on the tow straps, they get cut by sharp edges on buckets and fragged on the ground, but still work OK a little frayed. I have their wrench sets, Allen sets, and some sockets. I don't recall any failures. My son has all of Snap ON because he was a working heavy mechanic for years. He won't use my hand tools and I have no need for his.

As for stationary power tools, I can't recommend any because I don't own any. Table saws, jointers etc. would be risky not only for longevity (the warranties are cheap however) but for quality of mechanical moving parts like controls, probably not very precise. Years ago, their 10" sliding miter saw went on sale, and when I got it home and unboxed, it was like stale crackers on the rails and it went back the same day.
 

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I use HF for the “trial” tools. When they run a special on a particular type of bit for instance I’ll buy theirs to try it out. If I like that style than when they wear out I’ll upgrade. If I don’t like them than they never wear out cause I never use them. Same goes for certain styles of hand tools.

I always learned though that if your going to invest in something, invest in quality. So I avoid their motored tools and if I find something is worth investing in I’ll save my Pennie’s for the best I need. (Bought a small Rikon jointer for instance cause don’t need it to do a ton or have tons of features but did want the helical head).

That said, I do tend to use them for their F Clamps as previously stated, you can outfit your show with a ton, just be careful to check for slippage before buying. Buddy of mine loves their Pittsburg hand tools cause they have a lifetime warranty so why pay more for Husky or Craftsman?
 

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Termite
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I don’t know of any trim carpenters using HF saws for trim work. I know of no cabinet or commeracial using HF. At the furniture company they did buy th3 HF guns for contact adhesive for upholster…

I might try somethin* for home use, but not professional..
 

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Depends on who's pockets the money is coming from, if the company is paying then go for Snap-on, if it is a hobby shop and your pockets aren't deep then bargain tools may be the answer.
We have Princess Auto here in Canada, equivalent to Harbor Freight, lower quality, but they also have a great refund policy on most purchases.
 

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A while back, 10 years or more, I bought a HF hardwood flooring nailer (pneumatic). I had considered the Bostitch but at 1/3 the price I went with HF. I have since done probably 10 floors and it is still working fine. I did have an issue on a bamboo floor where the staples would sometimes fail to drive correctly but I understand that is a problem with the density of the material and not necessarily the fault of the tool.
 

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I have a few things. The Cental machinery lathe and the icon torque wrench and the famous HVLPs.

I’ll buy into there clamps from time to time..

my stepfather had a few good words of advise. Retired union carpenter in St. louis…When your young you should buy the best you can, when your old in your 70’s like me, it doesn’t pay..
 

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Thumb Nailer
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I have a few things. The Cental machinery lathe and the icon torque wrench and the famous HVLPs.

I’ll buy into there clamps from time to time..

my stepfather had a few good words of advise. Retired union carpenter in St. louis…When your young you should buy the best you can, when your old in your 70’s like me, it doesn’t pay..
The comments above about the quality of the tool being a reason to blame on poor quality work isn't necessary indicative. As the saying goes, a good tradesman doesn't blame his tools.

Is it throw away into the landfill? BAD idea. Is it recycleable like the HSS hole saws? What's the problem?

The point the poster I quoted here makes, I totally agree with. I am, and many others here are not gearing up for a career in woodworking. My career does not depend on it. What my career depends on is between my ears, and at my fingertips.

I totally disagree with the concept of not buying anything with a motor. If you haven't seen contractors using HF gear, you haven't seen contractors working in sketchy areas. The angle grinders, miter saws etc.. are common items.

The point I was trying to make was their stuff fits the bill for a good number of people. Honestly I will never quite understand the weekend warrior, or even active youtube woodworking channel operator going full out on top tier branded equipment unless they are sponsored like Mark Spagnulo and Mark I apologize if I misspelled your name... IF you are a weekend warrior / hobby woodworker and can afford a shop full of Powermatic and Festool, great, Just realize it isn't the brand names on the tools that get the work done.
 

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Termite
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The comments above about the quality of the tool being a reason to blame on poor quality work isn't necessary indicative. As the saying goes, a good tradesman doesn't blame his tools.

Is it throw away into the landfill? BAD idea. Is it recycleable like the HSS hole saws? What's the problem?

The point the poster I quoted here makes, I totally agree with. I am, and many others here are not gearing up for a career in woodworking. My career does not depend on it. What my career depends on is between my ears, and at my fingertips.

I totally disagree with the concept of not buying anything with a motor. If you haven't seen contractors using HF gear, you haven't seen contractors working in sketchy areas. The angle grinders, miter saws etc.. are common items.

The point I was trying to make was their stuff fits the bill for a good number of people. Honestly I will never quite understand the weekend warrior, or even active youtube woodworking channel operator going full out on top tier branded equipment unless they are sponsored like Mark Spagnulo and Mark I apologize if I misspelled your name... IF you are a weekend warrior / hobby woodworker and can afford a shop full of Powermatic and Festool, great, Just realize it isn't the brand names on the tools that get the work done.
You want depend on HF tools to run a business by all means do so. Don’t blame a quality woodworker for buying quality tools…

I just read your opinions. It’s okay to have opinions..
 

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Thumb Nailer
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
You want depend on HF tools to run a business by all means do so. Don’t blame a quality woodworker for buying quality tools…

I just read your opinions. It’s okay to have opinions..
Not sure where you get the idea I am blaming someone for buying higher quality tools. I've done it where it made sense for me, the Taiwan sockets and such from the 80s nd 90s were beyond awful. I am just saying use the right tool for the situation and job you are addressing. No good reason to use a crescent wrench as a hammer after all...
 

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Termite
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making sense you is all that matters, many may not share your opinion..
 

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I have some but very little of HF products. They are a throw away product that may be just fine for typical home use.
Some of their products are pretty decent but the machining on some of there products are very crude and definitely built to a price point.
Lots of consolidation of American tool manufacturers as the throw away mentality has killed their profitability.
I try to buy once cry once but can't always justify it.
 

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Here's a fun twist...post a photo of all the hf tools within easy reach

I use these pretty regularly:
Purple Office equipment Circuit component Passive circuit component Office supplies



Not pictured
Deadblow mallet
Dust collector
Extension cords
 

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Harbor freight has been upgrading some of their tools.

I bought their sanding discs and 6x48 belts for the comination sander. There not klingspor or VSM , but work good enough to get by..
 

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Thumb Nailer
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Harbor freight has been upgrading some of their tools.

I bought their sanding discs and 6x48 belts for the comination sander. There not klingspor or VSM , but work good enough to get by..
Agreed....

FWIW, for what I use it for, the 4x24 belt sander works fine, and will likely outlive me. I don't use one often, so it won't get worn out.

The dust collector band saw, and miter saw get a LOT of use, I mean a LOT...
 
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