Don't Look Past These Must-Have Tools When Shopping At Harbor Freight - House Digest (2024)

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Don't Look Past These Must-Have Tools When Shopping At Harbor Freight - House Digest (1)

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ByRon Baker/

There might be no more popular topic in DIY video streaming or the DIY blogosphere than "what you should be buying at Harbor Freight." Whatever the opinion of snooty electricians whose pants are being dragged down by pricey Klein tools, Harbor Freight offers plenty of products you probably wouldn't buy anywhere else — either because HF is much cheaper, or because you can't find the stuff locally. I've made a list of things ranging from $3.49 to $149.99 you should seriously consider from HF. Some are luxuries, some are daily necessities, and a couple are stand-ins for a whole bunch of other luxuries and daily necessities. (Yes, I kind of cheated on those.)

I arrived at these picks based on reviews, a good sense of what DIYers need, and around 30 years of experience with HF. That experience has, admittedly, been mixed. But here's another sentiment you'll find among many online tool-talkers: Harbor Freight is closing the gap with its competitors in terms of quality. If you're wondering whether the Bauer or Hercules power tools from Harbor Freight are any good, I encourage you to give them a shot. But for this list, I've stuck to items that HF has consistently delivered on for a long time, so read on and see what you think.

Security bit set

Don't Look Past These Must-Have Tools When Shopping At Harbor Freight - House Digest (2)

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If you've ever tried to take apart certain electronics, or have ever been trapped in a restroom stall long enough to notice how things are put together, you've run across screw and bolt heads that appear to be some sort of alien technology. Some have strange shapes in place of the usual slotted, Phillips, and Torx star heads, while others appear to be designed so that they can't be removed at all. You have discovered the world of security screws, a secret place known only to authorized people and those with $9.99 for a 100-piece security bit set from Harbor Freight.

As you might expect from a 100-piece kit, these driver bits do more than let you break into old CD players and break out of bathroom stalls. They encompass a wide range of sizes in both the usual slotted and Phillips bits, as well as other useful bits for fasteners that are less common. These include Pozidriv bits, which are common in Europe, and which you'll occasionally see in the U.S. Others include hollow-tip Torx and square-drive fasteners, which can be a boon to anyone doing even a little electrical work. The variety is necessary because there are more types of screws and screwdrivers useful to DIYers than are dreamt of in your philosophy. An amazing 3,400-plus reviewers rate this set at 4.6 stars, which suggests it's really good.

Classic workbench

A good workbench is important to both productivity and the vibe of your woodworking space. Harbor Freight'sYukon 60-inch, three-drawer workbench ($179.99) does everything you need it to. It has a hardwood top, a 7-inch end vise, and is covered with holes for bench dogs (eight are provided). It has 4.7 stars from over 1,000 reviews, and the only common complaint is that the three drawers aren't easy to install. A similar bench from Rockler (with two vises but no drawers) is $749.99 for the large size, and the HF bench is even cheaper than one of our favorite hacks: Gluing a couple of IKEA Kallax shelves together to make an epic workbench full of storage space.

The thing is you can't build a workbench like this for the Harbor Freight price, and you'd have to have a pretty comprehensive set of woodworking power tools (a planer, for example) to try. In which case you might very well already have a workbench. A similar DIY workbench build featured in Popular Woodworking features an end vise that costs more($204.58 at current exchange rates) than HF's entire workbench — albeit obviously at a higher level of quality. This is where first-hand experience really comes into play. I've had an older version of the HF workbench in more or less constant use for 24 years. It's worn, necessarily, but not wobbly or broken in any way, and even the bench dogs are still in service. You won't find a better or more useful deal.

A magnetic sweeper

What, you might be asking yourself, could a magnetic sweeper possibly be good for? If so, congratulations: That means you've never picked up a screw at a construction site and found yourself stranded on the roadside 47 minutes from nowhere. Harbor Freight's30-inch magnetic sweeper ($49.99) can be a lifesaver, especially for anyone who's been within a stone's throw of a roofing job. (Roofing nails, constantly dropped by people who can't be reasonably expected to climb down and retrieve them, are designed in such a way that they inflict considerable damage to tires, shoes, feet, etc.)

Roll this sweeper over floors, asphalt, carpet, grass, etc. and it'll pick up anything a magnet can grab onto. It does this grabbing with a surprising amount of force — HF claims it has 50 pounds of pull. And once you get back to your trash can (or sorting bin, if you're the frugal sort), a single pull of the release handle lets it all go. Purchasers seem to agree and give the magnet sweeper 4.7 stars from over 1,100 reviews, and the few negative reviews are studded with irrationality. For example, one buyer gave the product one star for being too large for his yard. It's not perfect — the 30-inch width means it's prone to bottoming out on uneven surfaces. But it is indispensable.

Magnetic parts holders and trays

From sweepers to neodymium rare-earth magnets, Harbor Freight has something of a specialty in magnetic goodies. While we're going to recommend the remarkably cheap ($3.99)Pittsburgh Automotive 6-inch magnetic parts holder (4.8 stars from over 2,300 reviews), there's actually a whole category of offerings from HF that you'll try once and never be without again. These range in price from $2.99 to $19.99 and include both magnetic and silicone devices for catching whatever screws, bolts, and nuts you're removing as you work. The Pittsburgh Automotive tray is good enough that you'll probably want three or four — or 8 to 10 if you have enough projects going on at once.

The idea is simply to keep you from losing the parts and tripling the length of your project by having to make a trip to the hardware store (or even Fastenal) to find replacements. This product not only holds fast to whatever magnet-compatible metal you put in it, but you can also stick it to metal things like toolboxes and rolling carts, so you can always find a tray when you need one.

Cable ties ... and more

Don't Look Past These Must-Have Tools When Shopping At Harbor Freight - House Digest (6)

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This one might sound silly, but bear with us. Sure, Harbor Freight is cheaper than competitors, but in the case of cable ties, they're far cheaper. A pack of 100 11-inch black UV-resistant cable tiescosts $3.49 at HF. Competitor prices include $15.52 at Home Depot and $9.98 at Lowes. Are the HF ties inferior? They have the same tensile strength rating as Home Depot's at 50 pounds, but less than the Lowes model at 75 pounds. For most purposes, a DIYer would find a 50-pound cable tie perfectly sufficient, and at the price difference you could add two. Customers seem to like them — 98% of purchasers recommend them, and they get 4.8 stars on a whopping 8,500-plus reviews.

Cable ties are awesome and people should use more of them for things like cable management, creating impromptu loops to hang things (think garden tools) with, and a means of re-sealing large plastic bags. Cable ties can even help you clean your shower drain. But I include cable ties here as a bit of a stand-in for a whole class of goods available at Harbor Freight: Cheap commodity consumables that can't be found anywhere else at anywhere near the price from HF. Rubber bands, O-rings, framing nails — the thing about commodities is that they are functionally the same. If you can save a ton for basically the same item at Harbor Freight, why wouldn't you?

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Don't Look Past These Must-Have Tools When Shopping At Harbor Freight - House Digest (2024)
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