Harbor Freight is good

The jack stand recall is… tough.  Especially when it’s compounded by replacement jacks stands failing. This looks bad because it is bad. But I’m here to say that Harbor Freight is still a good company, and it’s a great place for gearheads and DIY fans to continue to shop. And I’m saying this as an unopened box of recalled jack stands sits in my garage next to me.

Add to that image above, jack stands with the SKU 56373. There’s a small welding defect that’s been discovered and it means that batch is bad as well. Harbor Freight CEO Eric Smidt addresses this in a letter he just emailed to, I’m guessing, quite a lot of people. How can I say a company is good when it’s pumping out crappy jack stands?

Harbor Freight has been a company that’s honest about its equipment from day one. The company was founded when Eric and his father started a small mail-order tool business that essentially cut out the middleman and was able to offer tools at a lower price. Yes, that means most of the stuff you’re going to find in a Harbor Freight store comes from China. Guess where a lot of your fancy, more expensive brand-name tools are also being stamped out.

I believe that Harbor Freight is a great source for lots of tools, storage, and many other pieces of garage gear. Especially for those of us wrenching on a budget. There are definitely tools and equipment where you should exercise caution, do research, and spend more money. This is clear, especially with the jack stand issue. Any piece of equipment where you trust your life to it requires spending the appropriate amount of money for the good stuff. For very nearly everything else, Harbor Freight has got you covered.

Beyond the stuff in the store, Harbor Freight employs a lot of people. There’s a location everywhere. And the reviews of the company on its Glass Door profile reveal strong marks for both the company and the man in charge. And speaking of Eric Smidt specifically, he’s gone from an orphanage to a billionaire. No, I don’t want you to weep for “the brands” or “the billionaires”. Hell no to that. But Eric is actually a self-made man. And he uses a lot of his money for good. In 2013, he directed his company to create a Tools for Schools program in Los Angeles. That program saw $1.4 million worth of tools and equipment sent into the LAUSD. And those were Harbor Freight tools, so that is a lot of equipment. Smidt donates to programs that support homeless veterans, vocational schools, the American Red Cross, and more. In fact, Smidt’s foundation donated $50 million to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. That’s the largest single donation ever received at Cedars. And in the face of our global pandemic, Smidt made his company donate all of its N95 masks, face shields, and nitrile gloves to in-need hospitals.

The jack stand situation is shitty. Of this, there can be no doubt. But I don’t think it’s time to write off the company in its wake. Go return your jack stands, but keep eyeballing that mailer for the crazy good deals on a ton of other stuff. And yeah, they’ll probably throw in that same damn LED light you get everytime you buy stuff there too.

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20 responses to “Harbor Freight is good”

  1. dangeruss Avatar

    I know a guy that works in QA for a company that manufactures tools in China. He never told me any specific brand names, but he told me that several different brands are manufactured on the same line, and that really only the name and the price that American consumers pay is different. And as a DIYer, my livelihood doesn’t depend on my tools, so HF stuff is plenty good enough for me. The low prices and convenience actually make DIY projects much more accessible and worthwhile as a result. As long as Harbor Freight is around selling cheap tools, I’ll be there to buy them.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      I would have expected different QA standards from brand to brand with HF having the most lax standards.

      1. dangeruss Avatar

        I don’t think he works for HF, but his company produces several different brands of tools on the same line.

        1. P161911 Avatar

          I could imagine something along the lines of “this one fails Craftsman standards, stamp it Harbor Freight”

          1. 0A5599 Avatar

            I used to work in manufacturing. There is a big cost difference between taking a product off the end of the assembly line and throwing it into bulk packaging, and taking a similar item off the assembly line, sending it to a 48-hour burn-in cycle, then an inspection cycle, rework if necessary, then a fancy colorful box with an outer shipping box. With HF, it is probably not so much that the product fails standards, it is more likely that they are happy eliminating defects at the cash register instead of at the factory.

    2. Scoutdude Avatar

      Yeah for the tool that you’ll only use occasionally Horror Freight is hard to beat.

  2. danleym Avatar

    I was talking with someone about winches the other day. I have a Smittybilt winch on my Jeep- it was cheap, and certainly doesn’t have the gold standard reputation of Warn. But as I was winch shopping, I decided that if I held out for a Warn I would never actually buy a winch, because I wasn’t going to talk myself into that much money for one thing- too many other things I wanted to buy for the Jeep. So I bought a Smittybilt, and it has been 100% perfectly fine.

    Same goes for Harbor Freight. I don’t buy all my tools there. But the fact is that I could have a few really nice tools from Snap On but be fairly limited in the work I could do, or I can have a garage full of tools made by other, “lesser” brands, and be able to do many more things with them. I have that garage full of lesser tools (only one Snap On piece among them), and I can’t think of a tool I’ve had that has failed.

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    I love Harbor Freight for what they are.

    It’s a bit weird that after leading the race to the bottom, they are trying to move upmarket with a lot of their tools. Their “high-end” stuff is indistinguishable in both construction (and unfortunately price) from myriad competitors. I can get a mechanics set of (now Chinese manufactured) Craftsman tools for often times less than an equivalent top-tier Pittsburgh set. Thankfully, the ubiquitous 20% coupon evens things back out.

    Always cross-shop. Harbor Freight being the cheapest is no longer a given. My Ozark Trail canopy was cheaper at Walmart than the (undoubtedly from the same factory) HF 10×10.

  4. P161911 Avatar

    Couldn’t find the link to the Hooniverse article, but I’ll just leave this here: https://m.imgur.com/gallery/JcG3B

  5. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    I’ve always used Harbor Freight for simple stuff that’s hard to screw up. Tie downs, trailer hitches, voltmeters, basic air tools, benches etc. I haven’t needed their hand tools or power tools because I have had US made Craftsman tools and Makita tools since before HF existed. Since the demise of Sears HF is a go to solution except for oddly specific stuff like Ford Triton camshaft locking tools which i ended up buying off of Ebay. These are a good example of the sort of thing where you only use it once or twice, Autozone doesn’t rent it and genuine OTC is way too much. (FWIW Autozone does rent the kit to fix a broken spark plug on a 3 valve Triton and the cam locking tools but nothing for the 2 valve)

  6. 0A5599 Avatar

    I have a fair amount of Harbor Freight tools, but I only started buying there about 5 years ago. I think a lot of the tools they sold in the 20th century don’t compare to their more recent offerings. When Sears brought in the Chinese-made Craftsman tools, price became the deciding factor for me–at least for non-power tools.

  7. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    i generally agree with the sentiment and have bought lots of HF tools, and as others have mentioned the quality is up significantly over just the last few years. but lately I’ve been finding that even though most HF stuff doesn’t *break* anymore, there’s something really nice about having a good tool, even if you’ll only use it once or twice. HF now competes with the Husky tools at Home Depot, but it’s often worth stepping up from there anyway.

    also, though their tools are ok, their consumables are trash. every consumable I’ve bought from them has been terrible. i can’t think of one occasion the entry level brand name goods weren’t better.

  8. neight428 Avatar

    I have a pretty decent batting average with HF’s stuff. Sure, you have a the impact socket that split the first time I used it and the hammer head that won’t stay attached to the handle, but I’ve had expensive tools crap out too.

    So this is your free shit mechanic Zen for the day: the key to happiness is lower expectations and being a good dude. That’s HF right there.

  9. Lokki Avatar

    I have always referred to Harbor Freight stuff as “TownHouse Tools” – that is tools for stuff an amateur is only going to do some particular task once. When I undertook “the gReaT restoration” of my previous Alfa Spider, I had a lot of their stuff, like a gear puller, a pickle fork, a brake cylinder hone, a little impact driver, and so forth. My wrenches are all good stuff from elsewhere because I actually use them all the time. I have their 3 gallon air compressor and a battery charger; the air compressor is only used twice a year when the season change affects my tire pressures and the battery charger seems to exist only to be lent to clueless neighbors who know I am a “Car Guy”.

    One of the things I discovered doing the restoration is that if one buys good tools for what is likely to be a one-time job, it can be almost as cheap to have a professional do it….and a lot faster….and, in my case, have it done right. Harbor Freight changed that equation to make it cheap enough to try myself, and I had a lot of fun learning to do it.

    The Jack Stand situation is, sadly, understandable. What is more basic than a Jack Stand? The design has been standardized for 100 years. No sane company manager would assign a QC to Jack Stands. So, in the case of the first group, the molds for the cast part of the stand got old and filled in so that the hook points weren’t sharp. It didn’t happen in a day but over years. There was no bright clear line for workers to notice the problem – today’s production looked, to the naked eye, exactly like yesterday’s. However today’s production passed the line from safe to unsafe.

    The weld situation is exactly the same; if you are going to hire a kid from the sticks and teach him to weld, what is the easiest product for him to weld and which needs the least real skill? Jack stand welding seems like a pretty good candidate. The QC guy was in for a week to check the molds and (from now on) will be back next year to check them again. He’s too expensive to have him standing around all day looking at Jack stand welds. Even if Corporate Customer pressure forces you to have QC you are going to hire a farm girl, show her a weld that looks like the Rocky Mountains and one that looks like the mighty Mississippi and tell her: Bad/Good. After a week of examining welds she will have become a zombie and even more worthless than she was the day she was hired.

    So, I bear no grudge against Harbor Freight. They have never pretended to be something they are not, and they are excellent about warranties. As for quality, well lady, you knew I was a snake when you picked me up.

  10. roy trevino Avatar
    roy trevino

    Cheap prices means cheap tools. I purchased a snake went to a house I was working on set it up started using the machine and the tip on the cable broke off. As I was winding the cable up it gets tangled on me inside the drum after that it was 1 thing after another. Once I was done winding up the cable there’s broken pieces of metal inside of the drum. I went to return the piece of crap and I was told I had to call a # on the receipt and fill out the return form and send it in. Once I filled out the return form I was told how did I want to receive my refund gift card or store credit I told them I wanted my refund the same way I paid for it CASH… so now I have to wait 3-4 weeks for a stupid gift card to come in the mail. Had i of knowed this I would have paid a little more $ and went to Home Depot. Now I know next time don’t purchase anything expensive at Harbor Freight.

  11. Al V Avatar
    Al V

    NEVER buy HF stuff on line. Why? Because you CANNOT cancel on line orders .. not on Website or by calling or leaving Email. Ordered staples .. informed they were backordered .. found them elsewhere .. no cancel option on their site .. called and phone rep said she will try but couldn’t promise internal system will accept cancellation. A month no kidding, later they arrived. Yeah, I returned them at a store but had to absorb the $8 shipping cost. A avoid on line HF purchases unless item in stock.

    1. Stackz48 Avatar

      Damn did they settle with you

  12. Pat McCallion Avatar
    Pat McCallion

    I was looking at a Pierce HF framing nailer. I ended up purchasing a rebuilt Hitachi for less money. I think HF is great for one time uses but long haul Hitachi/metabo is better bet. Just my 2 cents

  13. Charles Peterson Avatar
    Charles Peterson

    I bought a small electric cement mixer for my job and though it needed patching together after years of hard work I eventually passed it on to another contractor. It was light enough for 2 people to pick up and slide into my Ford Ranger.

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