The other day I had a somewhat heated discussion with my brother-in-law over Harbor Freight tools. He is not a car guy, and to tell you the truth, he really does not do many things that would require much more than a hammer and a screwdriver. I never thought I would find myself defending HF, but there I was in an awkward spot, forced to make an honest assessment.
I know many of you wouldn’t be caught dead with any “Chinese junk” in your toolboxes. I am also aware that professionals need tools that will stand up to daily punishment. I understand the argument and will never “dis” quality pieces of American-made tools. I am speaking to the rest of us who are in need of something fast, cheap, not as shiny/pretty and will do the job.
Back to my discussion with my brother-in law; he was spouting nonsense about how everything at HF is junk and their sockets round off bolt heads and anyone who buys their crap is an idiot. Once again, this is from a guy who does not wrench on anything. Like many of you, I have partaken in the game of “hit or miss “ while shopping at HF. I have bought my fair share of shoddy products (public service: skip the electric drill bit sharpener), but have also been pleasantly surprised by some of their hand tools. I took offense to being called an idiot, so I did the unthinkable; I stuck up for HF. It seemed kind of odd hearing it come out of my mouth.
On a side note, I have always felt a bit sheepish shopping at a store where nothing is made in the USA. Politics aside, it is hard to keep that vigil up these days. There is no way to put the genie back into the bottle as it pertains to the loss of American manufactured goods. The rules of the game have changed in the new worldwide economy. Regardless of political leanings, it is hard to dispute that the economic climate has changed drastically over the last 30 years.
After I received the mother of all stink eyes from my brother–in-law, I got to thinking: As a kid I used my dad’s Craftsman tools and always was under the impression that Craftsman was as American as apple pie. At one time I am sure they were actually made in the good ol’ USA, but I found out the hard way that things aren’t always as they seem. When I finally had my own place, I marched down to the local Sears and picked out a Craftsman drill press content in the thought that I was buying a quality-made piece of machinery made in the USA. While unpacking the press from the cardboard packaging the disappointing reality stuck out like a sore thumb - “MADE IN CHINA” cast multiple times on parts of the drill press. I started to look at tools a bit differently that day.
I will probably catch some heat for buying Chinese made tools, but it is hard justifying paying 8-10 times more for a socket or tool from one of the top-shelf brands that I will only use once or twice. I would rather spend that extra money on quality parts for my car that hopefully aren’t made in China (which are getting harder to find each day). If the tool is within spec and does the job it was intended to do, it is hard to say no to it.
I guess this blog is more of a confessional than a guide to tool buying. I am sure there are many of you out there, that don’t want to admit it publicly, that are in the same boat as me. I wager there are quite a number of toolboxes that have a few of these “cheapo” pieces alongside the “good” stuff. So put aside the rhetoric and keep an open mind. We all have the same goal… to keep our classics running. Nothing is more “American” than that.