It's something of a 'dirty little secret,' but I know several frequent ECN contributors who have some Harbor Freight / Northern / cheap China import tools in their trucks.
The cheap tools have their uses. For example, I bought the HF version of the 'roto-zip.' I was not sure if it was worth keeping such a tool (a small router) on the truck. Well, the tool proved it's worth rapidly - especially when a wall had a wood layer to it! This $20 experiment persuaded me on the merits of spending six times as much on a 'real' one, plus some accessories.
Some tools I've had excellent luck with. These include their versions of the 'porta-band;' the pipe bender NJ mentioned; their roto, demo, and jack-hammers; their angle grinder; and their saber saw.
The angle grinder is a good case in point. When I recently replaced it, it was not because the tool went bad ... rather, my use had shown me that I really wanted a 'paddle' switch, rather than the usual thumb-operated switch. Paddle switches are much harder to find, and often need to be ordered. I might very well have purchased an expensive model, with the wrong switch, had I not tried the HF first.
HF tools that have proven to be pure junk include their cordless tools (the batteries and chargers) and their version of the 'Sawzall.' Let's see ... HF for $20, top of the line brand name for $200 .... maybe there IS a difference
The example of that saw aside, HF tools tend to sell for 1/3 the price of a comparable brand-name tool.
I have an 4" angle grinder from harbor freight that has out lasted 2 maketas. I use it to cut stucco and concrete mostly and the one in the truck is 6+ yrs old. Other tools have not lasted one job. I get step drills when they are on sale and don't mind too much when they get dull, they work good for long enough. I just bought an 700 watt inverter so will see how long it lasts. Rod
I’m not a big fan of cheap tools. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t need to shell out for the top of the line tools, especially for only occasional use, but at least by something in the lower to middle range of reasonable industrial/pro quality rather than the gutbucket junk.
A company I worked for years ago, in an effort to cut costs, bought some drill bits and other items, like tie-wraps, from HF that where absolute garbage. The drill steel was so soft it dulled and cutter tips snapped within the first few uses. They were so bad that they make Milwaukee’s current Taiwanese crap drill bits seem like they are well made. The tie-wraps were so brittle they snapped like dry tinder, even in warm weather. The only thing they bought that was any good was a “Pittsburg” 3-peice-aluminum pipe wrench set. As I recall it had 18, 24, and 30”wrenches. They seemed to hold up all right, at least as far as electrical pipe work goes. I know of another company that tried those cheapo power tool brands that HF sells like, Chicago Electric, Jepson, etc… and they turned out to be junk. I’ve tried a few myself over the years and learned the hard way that you only end up risking hurting yourself and then have to replace them again anyway as they will fail when you need them most. The only way I could see supplying your employees with these cheapo tools is if you have a high loss or job theft rate in your area, because I don’t think even tool savvy thieves would steal that junk.
Since someone mentioned ISO9000 in SBIs other thread it might be important to point out I doubt any measuring tool from Harbor Freight comes with an ISO9000 compliant calibration document. Calibration costs more than most of these do new. (I used to be the I9K guy) I do believe that in a large percentage of the country we abandoned ISO9000 and "six sigma" quality programs years ago.
I know IBM handed out "Market Driven Quality" hats at a meeting (along with the M&M presentation) and we never heard about "six sigma" again. We stopped chasing Sony and fell in behind Sam Walton.
I have herd of other items that they only sell the consumables that fit that tool. Such as a mig welder that uses a wire size only HF sells.
As far as tring out a new tool it worked for me also. The first paint gun I bought for maybe $30 was a suction feed with the wrong sized tip for what I was doing. I learned what I needed with the $30 mistake. Still between the 2 guns I came out cheaper than one at another box store (that was also made in China).
Apart from the 'quality vs value' debate ... HF has another thing going for it: Very often it is the only source for 'industrial' type tools. Much of what they sell is simply not available at the usual tool stores .... and many places that sell the 'real' versions deal only with commercial accounts (such as W.W. Grainger).
I cannot speak as to the welders ... but their grinder, band saw, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and drills all use 'normal' tooling.
i went to some other bargain tool place to day and found allen wrenches up to 1 inch in a set for $ 20.00 bucks. that a good deal compared to what they wanted at sears and other big named stores. They also had stanley 36 inch prybars 5 a pc. so i guess sometimes these bargain tool outlets aren't that bad if u know what u are getting and take your time and inspect the quality of the merchandise.
when in doubt jump it out I happily work for slumlords