The Ultimate Guide to Harbor Freight
Important Note 1: This is NOT a sponsored post. I just think Harbor Freight can save you a bunch of money, and I wanted you to know!
If I asked most people to name the major home improvement stores in the United States, I'd probably hear Home Depot, Lowes, and if they live in the Midwest, Menards. But they have an often overlooked competitor that I'd like to talk about today!
What is Harbor Freight?
Harbor Freight is a low-cost tool supply store that is located throughout the continental United States. They have locations in most medium-large size cities and towns, so there's likely to be a store somewhere near you. They specializes in affordable tools and supplies- meaning things like saws, sanders, sandpaper, measuring tools, clamps, etc. They don't sell raw material, like lumber, plywood, or nails and screws.
In addition to having super low prices, Harbor Freight has a coupon based sales strategy. In addition to the coupons sent out in their monthly mailer, coupons can be found in DIY magazines and the ad sections of newspapers, as well as struggleville.net if you don't have access to any of the other sources.
If you've never heard of them, and you're wondering why, there are a couple reasons. First of all, the trade off for such low prices is that the items are of lower quality. As a result, bloggers hesitate to recommend them. Additionally, Harbor Freight doesn't have an affiliate program, so for internet DIY-ers, they would be recommending an inferior product for absolutely no personal gain. However, I think that Harbor Freight is a great way to save money when you don't need something super high quality, so I wanted to ensure you guys have the best information on how to shop there.
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Important Note 2: While the Harbor Freight links are not affiliate links (I just like Harbor Freight,) some of the other links are, meaning I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I don't recommend anything that I don't use and love!
If you walk into Harbor Freight without at least two coupons in hand, you're doing something wrong. There are three different types of coupons available, and two of the three can be used on anything:
- Freebie Coupons- Harbor Freight has a number of items that they offer "free with any purchase." And if you're thinking they're items nobody would want, think again. Even non-DIYers need tape measures and basic screwdrivers.
- % Off Coupons- Every Harbor Freight mailer typically has at least one 20% off a single item coupon. Occasionally I'll see 25% off coupons that are only good on a specific day. Unfortunately you can only use one of these coupons per purchase.
- Item Coupons- These coupons give a specific item at a specific price.
When I go into Harbor Freight, I typically have a freebie coupon, a 20% off coupon, and any item specific coupons I intend to use. Unfortunately, you can't use more than one coupon on the same item. However, if you only intend to purchase one item, say some sanding blocks, you can use the 20% off coupon on the sanding blocks, pick up a tape measure, and use a freebie coupon on the tape measure. Thus, even if you're only purchasing one item, you should always have two coupons!
I've mentioned the freebies a lot, because I swear, they're things that are actually useful. The following are my very favorite freebies, although they have more that I'm sure are worthwhile as well. To see the full list of freebies, plus current coupons for each, click here.
- Tape Measure- It's a tape measure. It works. I have no idea why anyone would ever purchase a tape measure when you can get this one for free.
- 6 Pieces Screwdriver Set- Basic screwdrivers. I'm always losing screwdrivers. I feel a heck of a lot less sad about that when they're free.
- 7 Function Digital Multimeter- A few years back my dad told me to pick this up as my freebie next time I was at Harbor Freight. I literally had no idea what it was or how to use it. Three years later, all I really know how to do with it is test my outlets for power, but that sole use has made the multimeter invaluable to me.
- Microfiber Cloths- These things are super low quality microfiber, but they're free rags, so I still find them useful.
- Electronic Fly Swatter- This is the only device I can actually manage to kill flies with. Super great. The only downside is it doesn't come with batteries, so you will have to purchase those.
- Big Blue Flashlight- Harbor Freight actually has two freebie flashlights. I like the blue one better simply because it's bigger and it hangs!
- 40" x 50" Moving Blanket- I use this as a dropcloth. I used to use the plastic blue tarps (also freebies,) however dried paint would flake off and make a mess, plus the plastic didn't fold easily. I therefore switched to the moving blankets, although they are a little smaller.
Items Worth Buying
So as mentioned earlier, one of the cons of Harbor Freight is that the items are lower quality than you'd find at other stores. Here's a list of items I've purchased and had a good experience with.
- Pittsburgh 7 in. Rafter Angle Square- This is amazing. I’m not totally sure who or what exactly this is intended for (roofers is some capacity?) but for the average DIY-er, it’s great. I use it constantly to check if my angles are square, to make sure I’m drawing a perpendicular line, and when I need to draw an angle for a cut. Also, it’s a piece of plastic, so Harbor Freight couldn’t really screw it up. $4.
- 10 pc Foam Brush Kit- Do not be fooled. These are crap. They will ultimately fall apart. But- they are super cheap, and will probably make it through an hour’s worth of staining. Which is exactly what you need them to do, and then you throw them out, because nobody ever wants to clean up stain or any other sort of oil-based product. In fact, cleaning the brushes is probably more expensive than the actual brush itself, because mineral spirits are way more pricy than these things.
- Sandpaper Sponges- Harbor Freight sells a variety of different sizes and grits, so pick what works for your project. In general, these are awesome for getting into nooks and crannies that a sander wont be able to reach. Additionally, it’s nice to have something to hold on to, since I don’t own any sort of sanding block for hand sanding. Each one actually lasts a surprisingly long time, and I use them pretty frequently.
- Clamps- They're cheap and they work. Why pay the big bucks when you can get something effective for less?
- Sisal Rope- I used this to make my Farmhouse Doormat project, and it was perfect. It's hard to mess up rope.
- Levels- If you're doing any project that requires leveling over a long distance (installing shelves or cabinets, for example), save yourself money and purchase your levels from Harbor Freight.
- Hardwood Dolly- This is essential for anyone who purchases thrift store or yard sale furniture. As a single girl who is not inclined to ask for help, it was my secret to moving heavy pieces from the car into the house. Super useful.
- Wire Strippers- This one is actually surprising, because wire strippers are easy to mess up. They need to be super precise to accurately strip wires of insulation without damaging the wire inside. Regardless, Harbor Freight has actually done a decent job with these wire strippers; they strip the wire quickly and effectively without any extra damage.
Items to Avoid
Now, I know I've raved about Harbor Freight for most of this post, but I have purchased things that were complete busts. Here's the items from Harbor Freight that were completely useless.
- Sandpaper: It seems great. Ten pieces, for around four dollars! Compared to Home Depot, where you pay more for half that amount, it seems like a bargain. And it’s sandpaper, right? What could go wrong? Everything. This stuff rips so easily that you will spend more time replacing the paper on your sander than you will actually sanding. I never went through and collected data to see which one was cheaper, but I would be willing to bet that the four sheets of higher quality Home Depot 3M Sandpaper will actually sand more of your project than the ten sheets of Harbor Freight Sandpaper would.
- DrillMaster ¼ Sheet Orbital Palm Sander- Back when this still worked, I would sand. And sand. And sand. And even with a low grit number, it seemed like no progress was made. I knew some palm sanders worked, because in some of the wood shops I worked in, I would use nicer palm sanders and sanding would happen. So I sat around and wondered what was wrong with me and my projects at home, because clearly this sander shook a bit or something, so why was nothing sanding? I never quite figured it out, so one day, when this sander turned off mid-sanding and refused to turn back on, I went and got a nice sander (this one, actually) and never looked back.
- Batteries- The batteries at Harbor Freight are super cheap and therefore super tempting. Resist. I once bought (or got as a freebie) some AAA batteries to keep in my classroom for kids who needed them for their graphing calculators. The very first day I gave some out, they leaked in a calculator. That $100+ calculator never turned back on. Just say no.
Clearly, there are some great deals to be had at Harbor Freight. There are also some things (I'm talking about you, calculator-ruining batteries) that you should absolutely never, ever buy. I hope this guide gave you an idea of what those things are! If you have any questions about a Harbor Freight item, feel free to ask in the comments below, or shoot me an email. I'd love to hear from you!