Where do Shade Tree Mechanics Buy Tools These Days?

Talking about tools for light jobs at home. Back in the day used to go to Sears and get Craftsman tools to use at home. Where do people go now? Home Depot maybe? Harbor Freight?

Not planning on putting big cheater bar/pipe combos on ratchets or anything, just don’t like using chintzy cheap tools.

For weekend warriors, Lowes and Home Depot are probably good enough.
If I was shopping for high quality tools I would ask my local mechanic when he expects the next visit from his tool supplier. They show up with a truck filled to capacity with every tool imaginable and I expect the mechanics aren’t buying cheap stuff that can’t be relied on.

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You can still buy Craftsman at Lowe’s & they have the same no questions asked guarantee that Sears offered.

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I setup a small tool box up for my Pickup, just something that I could leave in the bed under the Tonneau Cover. I picked up a 5 drawer tool box (a Top Box) for just over $100 from Harbor Freight. All of the tools in this box came from Harbor Freight and to be honest, I was surprised with the quality of some of them. My main Tool Box with the same type and amount of tools cost around $3000.00. My “Truck box” cost under $500.00 for around the same tools. This way if some asshole steals it I’m not out that much.

The main tools that I was surprised with were the Linesman Pliers (side cutters) and Wire cutters. They have “lifetime” full replacement on them and all I have to do is walk in and hand the broken one to them and I get a brand new one. Now, if I was still swinging wrenches for a living, I might stay away from some of these tools but others, I would have no problem having. I can buy a bunch of “cheep” HF tools for the price of one Snap On Screwdriver!

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There are still quite a few tools made in the USA that you can get good prices on. Lisle makes quite a few things in USA that can be had for the same price as HarborFreight junk. A good site that often has good specials is here: https://www.tooldiscounter.com/

GearWrench (owned by Apex) is a major brand now that is mostly made in Taiwan, but the quality is good and lifetime warranty (you can exchange at Fastenal, if they have in stock). Some craftsman/matco tools are exactly the same as gearwrench (impact swivel sockets). Ebay is good place too.

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I generally prefer Kobalt, both in quality and warranty.

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I won’t speak for Harbor Freights tool quality, but their tool boxes are a screaming deal at quite good quality. You can then fill that tool box up with high quality hand tools if you so choose.

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I’m sure Kobalt is fine too. My problem with Craftman is I bought a couple hundred piece set in '99 for my garage/patio at the time & a 70+ piece set in '04 for my truck & they won’t die. The ratchets go bad every 5-7 years or so but Sears would just give me new or rebuilt replacement. I’ve lost a few pieces over the years but I always find replacements at yard sales & at pawnshops for under a buck. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get new tools.

I’ve been using harbor freight for years and they’re good to go. The tool boxes, wrenches and sockets are a better value than anything out there. Unfortunately people have started to catch on and their prices are going up fast.

As long as its not electronic stuff. Bought an infrared thermometer and a multimeter once and they shit the bed pretty quick. Goes back to that old saying, you get what you pay for.

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yup, you get exactly what you pay for. I remember going 10 miles back for a good wrench after I broke one on the dozer up in the mountains. Of course we’d all like Snap On but those are so expensive anymore that on a retirement income I seldom spring for one but the pro line craftsman are pretty ok.
Matco, mac and those are good and very competitively priced. A lot of the quality is based on the metal used. the better stuff being more costly. then there are things to look at, like the radius on the 12 point combo wrenches, some of the contours are harder to forge and just not done on cheaper stuff.


I have a collection of automotive tools that I started in 1969 when I was an apprentice mechanic at a dealership. Even then, the debate was Snap-On, Mac, and Proto. Mine are a good mix of many brands, except Craftsman. Their wrenches were hard on the hands because of the big boss with their name in it.
I always looked at the tool individually for suitability. For open end and box wrenches, Snap-On was best because of the minimal material on the outboard dimension. There were applications where there wasn’t enough room on a 4 cylinder engine to get a box wrench over a bolt because of the space between the head and casting. Craftsman was the worst for too much material.
I have a lot of Harbor Freight, now, but it’s a purchase based on suitability for the application first. Their long-handled chrome combination wrenches are copies of the style and dimension of the Snap-On combos I bought back in the '70s. I probably spent more on one 1/2" combo wrench then, than the whole HF set costs now. Still have the Snap-Ons, and they’re a thing of beauty.
Just don’t be afraid to return things if you don’t like them.

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This always cracks me up. My last ship, all of NS5 was ‘cabinet 2, draw 3’ or ‘Vidmar 3, draw 4’. Is this a geographical thing? NE/Boston area maybe? I had never seen anyone spell it that way until that ship.

No one is mentioning the big Flea Market Lots where you can find vendors who deal in nothing but tools. All kinds, all sizes, new and used. I used to go buy at one where the tool manufactures name was ground off if the tool was a slight irregular. Adequate for my shade tree jobs.

These may be dirty, rusty, slightly bent, and a mishmash of brands to make a complete set…but a fraction of the retail store price.

Some of the tools I purchase, I don’t want to be in top shape. Example…Old Vice Grip plires that I would use with my MIG Welder to hold things in place while I weld. They’re only get ruined anyway.

I’ve seen old tools sold by the pound at these places too.

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You mean there are still shade tree mechanics?

This is good advice, if you can spare the time. It results in a much more charming collection, and makes it look like you’ve been swinging wrenches all your life. My personal collection is like this, although it came from my grandpa rather than a flea market. I really should replace it with a full Bahco set, what with the discounts I get, but its charm is such that I can’t bring myself to it.

Speaking of discounts, couldn’t you get something at work? I assume you deal with one of the major industrial supply houses, the guys who come on board with hoses, fittings, fasteners, sealants and all that. They usually have decent quality if not name brand tools in their catalogues. The quality might be surplus to your needs, but there’s a great pleasure in working with great tools.

Edit: to illustrate my point about street cred, here’s my personal grab kit next to the one i use at work.


Yes sir, all of my electrical test tools are Fluke with one Amprobe in the mix. Although I did blow up a harbor freight multimeter for fun once. I’m actually staking my life on those multimeters and testers multiple times per month if not every day so they have to be the best. Screwdrivers are another thing I don’t but from there although in my opinion they’re better ones are good to go as well.

On the other end I’ve had a few guys make comments about my HF tools at my current shoreside job(unfortunately) and it makes me laugh. HF is just down the road and will replace the entire set free if I happen to snap a wrench or break a socket(which I’ve never done).

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I fixed it for you, I’m from New Jersey (but do not speak like someone from “Jersey Shore”) and that’s just the way it was pronounced.

I buy my tools at pawn shops. Mac, Snap On, Proto and SK. Electrical tools, only Fluke, and again, pawn shops.I had a drilling company, two crews and a full shop. All outfitted like this. Only thing I bought new was screwdrivers because even the best wear out. I try to only get Felo or Wiiha screwdrivers, aside from the Lennox 16:1.
You need to get a Scanguage II. Worth it’s weight in platinum.

An OTC obd2 reader will do well, but it’s really worth it to fork up$ 400-600 and get a decent unit that has more OEM bi-directional functions and can graph. The snap-on Ethos series (make sure you get the bi-directional one) is really a great machine and can be had on ebay for around $500. A little bit of knowledge and one can really solve many problems. The next step would be a labscobe of some sort, for the ones that can dig that deep.

A fluke t5 is my go-to daily use at work. It’s better for amp measurments because it’s small and I can just stick it in a cabinet easily…no need to get the entire clamp around. The fluke 233 with removable face can be very handy. A 117 is good for electricians, but not to good for instrument stuff. The Fluke 101/106/107 is a nice tiny sweet unit.

IR cordless impact guns are great. I haven’t used an air in 10 years.

I would still spend the $140 on a ScanGuage since you can program them so well and they are a great first step. That unit alone has saved me thousands in 6.0L Ford diesel repairs by narrowing down diagnostics to specific faults when I’ve been on the road.