My 2014 General Experience with Harbor Freight

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Review by JHAstrello posted 10-25-2014 02:57 PM 4385 views 0 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch
My 2014 General Experience with Harbor Freight No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Like many, I started out buying a few things from Harbor Freight – for the most part because of the perceived ‘Killer Deals’ that they offer. That, and the ability to get their now famous 20% off Super Coupon that can be copied and used for any one piece of product. Here is what I have bought recently, and my experience.

HF Dust System – it’s still in the box awaiting installation.
HF Benchtop Belt/Disk sander
HF 2 ton Crane – primarily purchased to help me lift/move heavier equipment
HF 1 ton ‘lift’ table

By and large the most useful and fail free tool that I have purchased from them are the 4” and 6” magnetic ‘saucers’. They are killer good. If you can get them on sale, they are even better. *

Here is my experience/comments in order:

HF Dust System – purchased in large part from the comments here. Now that I have decided upon my new shop layout (see my blog on the Building My Dream Shop), I will be unpacking and installing it in the next several weeks. Nothing to report on, to date.

HF Benchtop Belt/Disk Sander – purchased on sale when I bought the dust system. Unpacked and started putting it together. Turns out, this was damaged in shipment. Caused broken plastic ‘covers’ (around the disc sander); several metal frame parts bent; in general poor handing and general lack of quality control. Returned for a refund given I found a much better solution subsequent to purchase.

HF 2 ton crane – purchased on line and shipped in two boxes. Given that the Fed Ex shipping was so reasonable, it was far less expensive than driving to my ‘store’ (about an hour away). First box delivered contained several of the ‘base pieces’. Turned out the box showed no damage, but was missing all of the fasteners/bolts/pins and instructions. Second box arrived on Monday, and the box looked beat to the devil; taped back up and not sure what was supposed to be in it. Generally, it contained all of the heavier ‘arms/legs’ and the hydraulic unit. When I called customer service, they said to return it – and they would send a replacement unit. What a pain. I was told that I could simply return it to my local store.

Long story, I put what was left of the boxes in the truck along with the ‘packing material’ and headed out to my local store. The people at the store couldn’t have been better. They found replacement parts that were missing (stole them out of an ‘unopened box’ (box 1 of 2)), and printed me the instructions. Asked if I had everything, but given there is not a full inventory in the instructions – I said yes and it looked like it. Turned out, still missing two smaller 3” casters. When I returned to HF subsequently to return something else; they took me in the back and basically let me take anything that I needed from the recently opened box 1 of 2 that they took the other parts from. I now have all the parts for the crane and will finish putting it together today. No further problems expected.

HF 1 Ton Lift Table – while back at the HF store to get the balance of the crane parts (first trip), I purchased the 1 ton lift table. They helped me load it, took it home and put it on my unloading area. Attached the handle and the lift arm (minimal installation on this unit). Went to move it the shop and noticed that it wasn’t rolling properly. Turns out the front left ‘wheel’ was shattered and ultimately feel off. Bearings and other pieces were still bolted to it, but the wheel itself (plastic) was shattered. Took it back to ‘exchange’ for a working one, and no stock. Got my money back.

This is the summary (sorry for the length, but thought it was important). They packaging is simply NOT SUFFICIENT for what they are shipping. The Crane is a massive heavy piece of equipment. It is shipped in very low grade cardboard. Same for the lift table. Heavy, and again in sub-standard cardboard shipping container. When I was taken in the ‘back’ to browse their box and choose other parts that I might need, the amount of tools/equipment that had been returned was amazing. It is apparent that they do not ship things back to the ‘factory’ for repair or refurbishment. I believe they use parts to help satisfy customers like myself, and/or sell for scrap to a local vendor.

I am now in the ‘buyer beware’ column with them. Some of their supplies and smaller items (some of their clamps and misc. non-critical tools I might get; but I am done with anything that runs off of power, or needs any type of special packaging to get to the final destination.

-- John in E. Texas

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27 posts in 2217 days

21 comments so far

View Florida_Jim's profile


83 posts in 3733 days

#1 posted 10-25-2014 03:26 PM

I look a HF stuff as a “kit”. you usually have to do some modifications to get a proper running tool. That said, they’re some great values. Especially with the 20% coupon.
The dust collector being one of them. With a Wynn filter, a trash can with a home made thein baffle, you have a pretty good dust system.

View Raz1's profile


8 posts in 2486 days

#2 posted 10-25-2014 03:39 PM


I like you go for the 20-25% off coupons that I get in both my VFW and American Legion magazines. I have made some purchases this past year. The haerest thing I have tried to get was the rubber plug for the cylinder on the 2 ton engine hoist. Finally I found a small bottle jack at a garage sale that was questionable but for $1.00 I bought it for the plug. I am putting a floor in the overhead of my work shop and when they put the wallboard hoist on sale @ $149.00 I got my most recent 25% coupon out of the VFW magazine and drove to the closest store. I have now hoisted the plywood sheathing up into the overhead by myself. I wait for the round magnetic base “saucers” to be on the “free no purchase required” list and I have accumulated a few as well as the 25’ free tapes, I swear my wife eats those tapes. She claimed the pneumatic roller seat as her own so now I have a twin with His or Hers on the side of the cushions. I have been buying HF Stuff since you had to order from Camarillo, CA in the late 80’s. most of it is still in my tool boxes.

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5934 posts in 4099 days

#3 posted 10-25-2014 04:27 PM

I have had much worse experience with Sears Crapsman items than with HF. I live within 20 miles of a HF, so I go there often. I don’t buy anything online because of potential problems.

View JHAstrello's profile


27 posts in 2217 days

#4 posted 10-25-2014 04:43 PM

I thought that when I purchased the ‘lift table’ – there on site at the HF store; I wouldn’t have any worries. What I have decided, is that if I do buy anything like this at a HF store, I will open the box and do a complete inspection before I leave the store/parking lot. The box for the table was not damaged (had a few bruises – but nothing that I thought should raise any concern); but only after I got the table out and really tried to move/roll it, did I find the shattered wheel.

-- John in E. Texas

View CharlesA's profile


3443 posts in 2653 days

#5 posted 10-25-2014 05:03 PM

HF QA is carried out by the customer. If you know that, have the time and patience to take this responsibility on, you can get some good deals. I have a small number of HF tools. Don’t like the clamps I bought there, like a couple of doo-dads I’ve picked up, like my DC (but I bought that used off of CL, so the original purchaser did the QA).

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View JHAstrello's profile


27 posts in 2217 days

#6 posted 10-25-2014 08:11 PM

Charles – I think you hit the nail right on the head. I certainly agree.

Just finished putting the ‘Crane’ together, and didn’t run into any more problems other than the general irritation of very poor instructions. The biggest problems (both overcome) were:

1) had to open the instructions to three different pages at one time to figure out exactly which bolt/nut/washer to use. Instruction page had the item number (8, 9, 23 – nut, washer, bolt). Then you went to the ‘hardware card’ where each nut/bolt/washer was described by size and not item number.

2) As I was assembling the crane, there should have been clear instructions to only finger tighten most bolts/nuts so that everything would align properly. More than once had to loosen parts, put in new bolts for another piece, then go back and re-tighten everything.

Craftsman is NOT what it used to be – by any stretch. I don’t even buy their hand tools anymore.

-- John in E. Texas

View poopiekat's profile


4801 posts in 4590 days

#7 posted 10-26-2014 05:42 PM

The unfortunate fact is that there are loyal HF customers who willingly filter out all the bad experiences and post glowing reviews on their purchases. Other people see the positive, but skewed reviews and fall into the HF quality trap. This company is okay if you’re willing to continuously make lemonade out of lemons, but I encourage people to buy reputable brands from reputable sellers.

Thanks, John, for a real-life review of your Harbor Freight experience.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View ColonelTravis's profile


1976 posts in 2750 days

#8 posted 10-27-2014 04:11 AM

Bought that Benchtop Belt/Disk Sander and found the same crappy construction (couldn’t put it all together because of some bent metal) but there are a few stores close I took it back and got another one in better shape. No question there are better sanders out there, but with the coupon and a sale, and the fact that I don’t use it for heavy duty stuff I’ve found it to be a good value.

Sorry about your experience. If I didn’t have the several, nearby stores I wouldn’t order anything substantial from them online because the sander is not the first thing I’ve had to take back. I’ve found plenty of good buys on smallish items, just got this thing, which is a big hit with the ladies:

Cost $4. Absolutely great for filing a dovetail saw.

View emart's profile


445 posts in 3484 days

#9 posted 10-27-2014 08:00 AM

Craftsman is NOT what it used to be – by any stretch. I don t even buy their hand tools anymore.

- JHAstrello

I couldn’t agree more. Lately it seems all my newer craftsman tools are either going kaput or are just not suitable for real work. I said a lot of interesting things when my combination sander’s table wouldn’t hold at 90 degrees and ruined one of my chisels I was sharpening. It’s a shame because my vintage machines run better than their new stuff.

-- tools are only as good as the hands that hold them

View StumpyNubs's profile


7827 posts in 3656 days

#10 posted 10-27-2014 12:34 PM

Harbor freight is always a crap shoot, sometimes literally. But it’s a godsend for new woodworkers with small shops and little money to get started. I began with a lot of harbor freight stuff, and later upgraded the tools I use the most to higher end machines. But I still own several HF tools.

Sounds like you got good customer service at the store at least :)

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View dbray45's profile


3390 posts in 3632 days

#11 posted 10-27-2014 12:42 PM

I bought a HF dust collector, then I bought the large 1 micron filter from PennState to replace the top bag. I put a plastic bag in the lower cloth bag. Between the two, I have a good dust collector.

-- David in Palm Bay, FL

View JHAstrello's profile


27 posts in 2217 days

#12 posted 10-27-2014 01:28 PM

Thanks David. Exploring the ways to install and improve the dust collection. I’ll be doing that over the next several weeks.

-- John in E. Texas

View JHAstrello's profile


27 posts in 2217 days

#13 posted 10-27-2014 01:33 PM

Living out in the country, and away from the readily available selection of stores/shops, I have to drive about 50 miles to get to a decent selection of products. As noted, the people in the store have been simply GREAT. Really nice, and more than willing to help out.

My opinion is that HF simply has the: ‘make it cheap, and if it is broken/breaks – give them a new one’. Limited ‘spare parts’ are available, and they simply do not want to deal with returning something to a ‘factory recondition facility’.

-- John in E. Texas

View Raz1's profile


8 posts in 2486 days

#14 posted 10-27-2014 03:11 PM

@JHAstrello. I also live 60-70 miles from the big city. I have had more good experiences compared to bad at HF. I only have 1 comment to those who post here and have nothing but BAD to say about HF. “Don’t got there, Buy elsewhere”. I think that if a person expects HF items to fit into a commercial/industrial atmosphere then they are setting themselves up for a fall. I am a retired home workshop kinda guy. I research what I buy and if HF fills the bill I buy HF. If I require a bit more stamina I buy elsewhere. My handtools, ie: wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers etc. many are from HF. When I retired from the Navy in 1986 I went to work for Lockheed. We were required to supply our own hand tools with all other tools supplied by the company. Many bought big name tools and the Snap-on supplier was at the flightline gate every payday, twice monthly, Collecting payments and selling more tools. Some of these folks making the payments did not last long at the job but were still stuck with the payments. To this day My tools still include tools I bought from HF and they are still doing the job called upon to perform. I have done all sorts of automotive work from engine changes to minor repairs. I do not abuse my tools. So all in all I, like you JH, do shop at HF and seldom am let down because I research my purchases thoughly.

View ChuckC's profile


844 posts in 3791 days

#15 posted 10-27-2014 04:01 PM

I bought a HF dust collector, then I bought the large 1 micron filter from PennState to replace the top bag. I put a plastic bag in the lower cloth bag. Between the two, I have a good dust collector.

- dbray45

What lower cloth bag? The upper filter is cloth and the lower bag is plastic.

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