What are tools you definitely DO or definitely DON'T want to get at Harbor Freight?

I’m guessing you don’t get micrometers at HF, but that the cheap-o crowbar works about the same as a Snap-On one. But (a) I’m ready to hear that it’s the opposite; and (b) there’s a lot of things in the middle ground.

Thinking about either the tools that ATXHS keeps in the shop, or the ones that members are likely to also buy for themselves, when should you buy the cheap import and when should you just save for the good stuff? What’s the downside to the cheapo?

Here are tools I would imagine are totally fine to get at HF. Tell me where I’m wrong:

  • propane soldering setup and sparker
  • punch and cold chisel set (not wood chisel of course)
  • multimeter, if I do electrical more than electronics
  • drop light
  • regular hex and torx drivers
  • large diameter ratchet sockets
  • air tools like a die grinder or impact wrench
  • Hammers and mallets

/not a sockpuppet, testing public signup/

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Never get drills.

I got a couple index’s worth of drills from HF to restock a drill dispensary. They are the worst drills I have ever used. Can barely drill through 1/4 steel.


most of the multimeters i know from HFT are terrible. I think some of the higher end ones are OK, I haven’t looked at them extensively. But the thing is, Flukes are the highest quality, most reliable meters available and you can get them in a similar price range if you go for the diverted Chinese ones.

That is, Fluke made a deal to sell the same meters to China for much less than the US price. It’s the same meter, new-in-box, with an insert that says “not to be sold in USA”

The 12E+

Seems to be just a cheaper China zone of the venerable 15B+:

Same inside AFAIK. The China ones used to be sold as “15B”. Actually, they still do have a Chinese 15B+:


amazing — so glad I asked! Any more like that? I know with the consolidation of tool companies they have to introduce in some cases purposeful quality defects to maintain a price range,

I use Harbor Freight as follows.

How often will I probably use the tool? Once a year? Get it at Harbor Freight. Once a week? Invest in a good tool.
Is a good tool pretty expensive and I don’t know how often I will use it? Get it at Harbor Freight
Is this a replacement tool for a tool I bought at Harbor Freight? Get a good name brand, it’s a tool that I’m gonna use a lot.
Does it have a sharp edge that isn’t replaceable? (chisels, etc) - DON’T get from Harbor Freight
Is it something I lost already? (sockets, drill bits, drivers, etc) - Get at Harbor Freight because by the time the Harbor Freight one wears out I’ve already lost it.
Everything else (screwdrivers, hacksaw handles, sockets, wrenches, etc) - get at Harbor Freight

I would say one caveat for the Hackerspace is that some tools people just walk off with, either intentionally or accidentally, like screwdrivers, wrenches, tape measurers, etc. Don’t spend too much money on those, replace them with Harbor Freight.


The tape measures from IKEA cost 1.50$ and are bright white, compact and read in metric and English units (which also makes them an analog computer for unit conversion). A little session with epoxy and neodymium magnets and they’re perfect.

I like to have a good Philips screwdriver in each size because they cam out less easily, but otherwise — if I’m designing the thing I use Torx or hex fasteners, so the cheap tools work well.

You’re right to point out that the tools which walk are nearly never anything expensive, it’s the things that are easily forgettable / misplaceable / confusable with your own tools.

if someone wanted a nice hxs improvement task, use illustrator or onshape or Corel or a big piece of paper or whatever and lay out a “sensible” arrangement of all the hand tools on the wall. We can CNC mill cutouts for the tools and make it a lot harder to keep a messy shop. John Eklund has been working up an inventory of all the shop tools, so we can get you a list…

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Counterpoint: I’m completely over crappy screwdrivers. Years ago, I picked up a Greenlee phillips head screwdriver on clearance when one of the big box stores was switching brands in the electrical section, and it just felt and fit so much nicer than the miscellany I had in my tool chest, I went back and picked up one of every size they had left.

On the other hand, buying a pneumatic floor nailer from HF was cheaper than renting one. I also took advantage of shockingly cheap huge bottle jacks when I had to level my old house and just disbursed them to family members when I was done with them.

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Good screwdrivers and allen keys will strip out less fasteners. Less work in the long run

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What are good allen keys these days, anyway? I have a set of Craftsman T-handles that really likes rounding over. Lifetime warranty is great and all, but I’d prefer to find a set that stays hexagonal. Should I be looking at Wiha, or is there an intermediate brand that’s still worth buying?

I’m big fan of WIHA, Wera, and Bondhus for allen wrenches. If you are not planning on trading an allen wrench in on warranty. You can use a bench grinder to shorten the wrench and make a new surface.

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Good point, although at the hackerspace Screwdrivers and allen keys tend to disappear, so we really don’t want to spend too much on them.

Moore’s Ideal Products. MIP Thorp hex/allen.

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