Harbor Freight is one of those stores that everyone seems to like to make fun of (and nickname things like Horror Freight and Harbor Fright). It’s almost a secret handshake to show that you’re a serious maker by snobbishly turning your nose up at the mere mention of Harbor Freight tools. But the truth is, nearly everyone has a few (or more) Freight tools in their toolbox that they regular reach for. Sure, Harbor Freight is known for making cheap, near-disposable tools, but sometimes, cheap is just fine; all you need.
Some 20 years ago, when I was first getting into hardware hacking in a big way, I was placing an order from Jameco for parts. At the last minute, I decided to toss their electronics repair toolset into my cart. For around $30, I got a cheap soldering iron, soldering and desoldering tools, drivers, spudgers, etc., all in a handy plastic zipcase. I still use a lot of those tools today (minus the soldering iron). If I did electronics every day, I likely would have long ago worn these tools out, found them wanting, but I don’t. For the amount of soldering, robot building, and kit-building that I do, cheap and basic tools usually perform just fine. And that is exactly the kind of tools you get at Harbor Freight.
There are a number of YouTube videos where makers run through some of the better tools you can get at the Freight. Here are several of these videos, with a few of the tools broken out.
The 5 Best Harbor Freight Tool Gems
As Dave Picciuto points out in his video of Harbor Freight gems, the cheap shop tools you can get there are a great way to outfit a beginner’s workshop. Getting Harbor Freight tools for machines that you only use on occasion buys you the ability to fully explore a maker hobby (woodworking, machining, electronics, etc) without having to make a huge upfront investment. If you get serious and discover the limitations of your cheap tools, you can then trade up. Dave shows us, among other things, his Harbor Freight 12″ disc sander ($150), his 14″ spindle sander ($140), and his 3 gal, 1/3 HP pancake air compressor ($50).
Like a lot of makers, Dave swears by his 70 gal, 2 HP Industrial Dust Collector ($209) that he got from Harbor Freight. As he points out, there are numerous add-ons and mods you can do to this collector, but he uses his as-is and is perfectly happy with it.
Every shop rat knows that you can never have enough clamps. Dave loves the 6″ quick-release clamps from the Freight which can be had for around 3 bucks a pop. Get as many as you can afford.
Harbor Freight Tools That Don’t Suck
Well-known YouTube maker Chris Cute recorded his own video rundown of some of his favorite Harbor Freight tools. Everyone who does one of these videos reminds us to shop the sales and use the Harbor Freight coupons. With these, offering deals like 20% off, you can save even more on top of the already suspiciously-low prices.
Chris swears by these digital calipers that he got for $12 with a coupon.
Gravity-Feed HVLP Spray Gun
If you only have periodic high-volume spraying to do, or you want what amounts to a disposable solution, check out the Freight’s Gravity-Feed HVLP (High-Volume/Low-Pressure) spray gun. For periodic or one-time spraying of stain, finish, and the like, at around $10 on sale, you can’t beat it.
Machine Mobile Base
For under $40, you can mobilize the machinery in your shop with these sturdy metal mobile bases which can handle up to 300 lbs.
Top 10 Tools from Harbor Freight (W/Bear)
Jeff King, aka Red Beard, aka The Bear walks us through ten of his favorite Harbor Freight finds.
8″ 5-Speed Benchtop Drill Press
For a measly $70, anyone can get a drill press onto their home shop workbench. Even though this press is basic and cheap, and Jeff now has much better tools at his disposal, he still relies on this tool for quick and dirty drilling, countersinking, etc. He can just keep it chucked up with a common bit and ready to roll.
1.5-ton Racing Floor Jack
Like Dave Picciuto’s enthusiasm for the Harbor Freight quick-release clamps, Jeff can’t say enough about their 1.5-ton Racing Floor Jack. For $80, you get a light jack for light-duty lifting that is surprisingly well-constructed for the modest price.
What tools have you gotten at Harbor Freight that you love? Please share them in the comments.