Are Bauer Tools Worth Buying? Here's What We Know

Bauer tools are Harbor Freight's mid-tier offering, usually sandwiched between bargain Warrior and premium Hercules products. By virtue of being a house brand of Harbor Freight, Bauer is saddled with a few reputational issues by default. Despite being a family-owned, U.S.-based company, consumers often see HF as a purveyor of cheap Chinese goods. HF tools have a reputation for being either great deals or utterly unusable, with few ways to predict where which tool lies. But the reality is that Bauer power tools offer some advantages you won't find elsewhere, which might be compelling enough to prompt you to switch brands.

Bauer's major competitors are Home Depot's Ryobi and Hart — a brand primarily sold at Walmart. If Harbor Freight's Warrior brand is for budget-conscious consumers, and its Hercules brand has its eye on the budget-conscious pro-market, Bauer seems targeted at the consumer who wants a bargain on a tool that is reliable enough. And there's one more huge factor: anyone trying to sell cordless power tools has a truly tough row to hoe because of the expense of batteries and the habit of consumers commiting semi-permanently to a battery ecosystem. The battery problem is a special consideration for Harbor Freight customers who remember replacement batteries for Chicago Electric's (an older HF brand) 18-volt NiCad tools simply disappearing all at once, leaving tool owners with no recourse other than to begin replacing all their cordless Chicago Electric tools.

Evaluating Individual Bauer Tools

Reviews posted by Harbor Freight can seem unrealistically positive. All three of Harbor Freight's impact drivers in the same class as the Bauer 20v are rated 4.8 stars, with 98 to100% of owners recommending them. To look for hidden problems, we examined all the one-star reviews for several Bower power tools. Aside from the usual reports of premature failure and being underpowered, we only found a few recurring problems. For example, an impact driver's propensity for its LED to stop working (admittedly not a critical bit of info to know before you buy an impact driver) or the 20v drill chuck's habit of failing... a problem we also saw when we tried the cheapest Ryobi drill at Home Depot.

When we went in search of hard data about Bauer's performance, we found a mixed bag. Todd Osgood of Project Farm has tested a number of Bauer products. His drill tests showed the Bauer performing torque tests poorly but handling torque-heavy tasks fairly well for the tool that was the cheapest in the lineup — and cheaper by far than the most expensive ones. Tests of impact bits concluded that Bauer and Milwaukee are the brands to buy, and twist drill bits he tested showed Bauer performing about as well as any of the high-end brands.

The Battery Ecosystem and the Bauer Brand as a Whole

It might be easy to mentally relegate Bauer (or at least its power tools) to the bargain section — things to buy if you can't afford anything else. But it gets more complicated when you're talking about cordless power tools for homeowners and DIYers. While cordless tools make up more than 60% of the electric tools market, industrial users tend to seek corded alternatives when costs are a concern. But home users will often select a cordless brand that's good enough and stick with it because having a single battery platform is far less expensive than having two or more. And this is where the Bauer brand's strategy is tailored to homeowners.

Harbor Freight approached Bauer batteries in some unusual and unique ways. They use high-quality Samsung battery cells — uncommon for inexpensive tool batteries. They chose medium-output, medium-capacity batteries that are more suitable to homeowners than pros. Bauer chargers charge the batteries far more slowly than competitors, which makes them last longer. And they took the unusual step of offloading all the charging and battery-management circuitry to the chargers and tools, reducing per-battery costs. The result is a battery platform that's cheap, long-lived, reliable, and powerful enough for most home use. When you combine all that with more than 65 pretty good tools at a very good price, you have an attractive option for homeowners looking for a brand to commit to buying.