In late 2019, a new brand of tool showed up in Wal-Mart stores called Hart. Hart tools are cheaper than most of the big name brands, but more expensive than Wal-Mart’s Hyper Tough house brand. But is Hart a good brand? Who makes Hart tools? Let’s dig in.
Hart tools are made by Techtronic Industries (TTI), an OEM for many other brands, including Craftsman and Ryobi. Post-2019 Hart tools are aimed at consumers, and designed to be equivalent in quality to Black and Decker.
Hart isn’t a new brand
Hart was founded in 1983 and specialized in framing hammers. Its corporate tag line was “Nothing hits harder.” Professionals hold the old Hart hammers in extremely high regard. This history is why the stylized “H” in the Hart logo resembles a hammer and nail.
TTI bought Hart in 2007. Hart hand tools are still designed in the United States but produced overseas. Hart tools bear a “Born in the USA” sticker, but that’s not exactly the same as making them in the USA.
A vintage Hart hammer will be higher quality than a Hart hammer from Wal-Mart after 2019. Hart hand tools aren’t the same premium quality they were in the 80s. They’re no worse than the Stanley tools they displaced on the shelf, and better than the Hyper Tough tools next to them, but nothing super special.
If Hart is better than Black and Decker or Ryobi, it’s an accident
TTI is a rival of Stanley Black and Decker, and like its rival, TTI positions its tools at several price points. Wal-Mart had been selling Black and Decker tools for years. In the United States, TTI has an exclusive agreement with Home Depot to sell Ryobi tools, so TTI has to use a different brand to sell at Wal-Mart.
Many of Hart’s power tools look just like Ryobi tools with a different color and a different battery system. The prices are also very similar.
TTI also sells tools under the Ridgid and Milwaukee brand names. Ridgids are better than Ryobis, and Milwaukees are better still, but they also come at correspondingly higher price points.
Using different brand names for different grades of tools helps both companies preserve the reputation of their highest-margin tool lines. That’s why you don’t see a label on the box saying something like, “By the makers of Milwaukee tools.” Associating the two brands will dilute Milwaukee’s standing. TTI doesn’t want people buying a Hart reciprocating saw thinking it’s 90% as good as a Milwaukee Sawzall at half the price.
They want you to buy the Hart, think of it as a knockoff, then replace it with a genuine Sawzall if you wear out the Hart. And then, if you buy a Sawzall and like it, they hope you’ll buy a Milwaukee drill and circular saw too, since they use the same battery system.
Alternatively, if you buy a Hart and it turns out to be good enough for you, both Wal-Mart and TTI know they’ll make good money selling you replacement batteries, and other tools that use the same battery system. Forget about using Ryobi batteries in Harts though. They don’t fit. And if you upgrade to Milwaukee someday, the Hart batteries won’t fit those either.
Advantages of the Hart brand
The only advantage to Hart tools, really, is availability. You can get them at any Wal-Mart. If there’s no hardware store nearby, you can get a viable tool at Wal-Mart that will be good enough for your weekend project. And the price probably won’t be bad.
Hart isn’t really an upstart, since TTI has been making tools for decades, and the Hart power tool line borrows heavily from Ryobi. If you’ve been buying tools at Wal-Mart all along, Hart tools will be comparable to what you’re used to. The hand tools are comparable to the Stanley tools Wal-Mart used to sell, and the power tools are comparable the the Black and Decker power tools they used to sell.
If a Hart-branded tool were on sale and I didn’t have that tool already, I’d consider it. Especially hand tools, since you don’t have to worry about batteries and there aren’t any motors to wear out.
Disadvantages of the Hart brand
That’s not to say Hart tools are perfect. There are enough disadvantages to them that I won’t be spending my own money on them. I have nothing against TTI; but I can do better with TTI tools from elsewhere.
Hart hand tools only have a three-year warranty
The warranty, for example, is three years. Even on hand tools. Even cheap Harbor Freight has a lifetime warranty on its hand tools. So if you need cheap hand tools and have a Harbor Freight near you, that’s a better deal. Harbor Freight hand tools are absolutely fine as far as consumer grade tools go, they’re usually cheaper, and if one breaks, take it back to the store. Harbor Freight takes a package off the shelf, opens it up, and gives you a new one. And their customer service is better than Wal-Mart’s. If you don’t have a Harbor Freight near you, Home Depot’s Husky and Lowe’s Kobalt house brands also offer a lifetime warranty on hand tools at a similar price point to Wal-Mart, and their customer service is also better. So does Craftsman. With Hart, you have to keep your receipt and pay shipping both ways.
The warranty isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s a disadvantage.
You can do better than the Hart battery system
The disadvantage to Hart power tools is the battery system. It’s not compatible with anyone else’s, so you’re stuck buying batteries at Wal-Mart. If you’re going to be stuck buying your tools in one place, you’re better off with Ryobi or one of Harbor Freight’s brands. The price and selection is comparable, or better in the case of Ryobi, and Ryobi has been using the same battery system for decades. Harbor Freight doesn’t have the same track record with batteries but its Bauer brand is comparable to Hart if not better, and the price is usually lower. And if you want a better warranty, consider Ridgid.
Disadvantages to buying tools at Wal-Mart
My main reason for not buying tools at Wal-Mart is there’s no such thing as a quick Wal-Mart run. If I know what I need and go at the right time, I can get in and out of Home Depot in five minutes. You’ll spend at least five minutes just standing in line to check out at Wal-Mart. Of course, if I’m already there anyway, it’s kind of moot.
I’m also concerned about Hart’s longevity. If Stanley Black and Decker makes Wal-Mart a deal in five years, what happens to Hart? That’s no problem on the hand tools, but it’s a major concern for the power tools. A power tool you can’t get batteries for isn’t very useful. TTI would probably sell replacement batteries through Amazon in that case, but then you have to wait for the batteries to arrive.
Would I buy Hart tools?
Depending on your situation, Hart tools can be just fine. They’re designed to be reasonable quality consumer grade tools. And that’s not really a knock. The majority of people don’t need professional grade tools.
Since I live in a large metro area and have lots of choices, I have plenty of other options for tools. I could literally walk to Home Depot if I wanted. I have zero reason to buy tools at Wal-Mart if I can walk to Home Depot.
Not everyone lives right next to a Home Depot or Lowe’s. If Wal-Mart is the closest place for you to buy tools, Hart isn’t a bad choice. You can do better, but you have to decide if it’s worth the inconvenience. You can also do a lot worse.