Sailing Around the Horn with Harbor Freight

Building a relationship with Harbor Freight is likely to be the most complicated retail relationship that you will need to negotiate.

It is true, Harbor sells some items of terrifically poor quality - sometimes so perplexingly engineered that we have to believe they are visual approximations of the tool that they emulate without concern for function. Imagine an aquarium with a pipe wrench inside as being the sole guide to developing a functional pipe wrench. Poor quality and oblique engineering is not reason enough to write-off The Freight as a valid resource.

Being moderns, we recognize that Harbor is not making all this stuff in a single factory with the electrical tape assembly line downstairs from the vise forge and across from the solar powered garden figural lighthouse QA department. There are 100's or 1000's of suppliers developing and selling products and some of them are better than others. Some are terrible, many are good enough and a few are really nice.

As a consumer, it is an interestingly complicated model of shared sourcing and QA. Instead to thinking about Harbor Freight as a retail store, think of it as an international trade show. You, the buyer, get to enjoy head-scratchingly low prices - like a volume buyer - but it is your responsibility to weigh the practicality, engineering and quality of the products. For example, if you go to Trader Joe's, you learn how their view of quality intersects with your own values. Nuts! Trader Joe's knows nuts as they are always fresher than any other source but I don't trust their discernment of wine or frozen fish.

Given the breadth of products at Harbor Freight, it is difficult to be a quality control


They really force an individual to grapple with appropriate technology, quality and engineering for the task. The perfect sweet spot - the cheapest tool that uses the least material is ultimately the perfect tool for the job.


Brass Brushes - Hardly a day goes by that we don't use these small brass brushes. Softer than steel, these are the go to tool for removing rust from chrome, steel and iron. Still requires a light touch as it is plenty possible to scratch chrome. Keep away from aluminum, unless you desire is to removing the anodizing and leave a brushed finish (which, depending on the pitting, might be exactly what you want to do.)