I use Harbour Freight stuff as a test/filter. If I'm not sure how much I'll use something, or which item in a set I'll use, then I find them ideal.
For example, I bought a set of 20+ router bits from them for something like $20. I wore one of them out, and went out and bought a Freid version of that one bit for $17. But I wouldn't have known at the time which one(s) I would end up using.
Likewise, I bought a couple of woodworking tools. They weren't great quality, but several of them I never used, and one I deteremined had to be the highest quality I could afford. Again, let me get hands on before I pay a lot of money.
Now, soldering irons, and fine-tip tools: Buy the best you can afford.
I agree about what you say with regards to quality. There are very few things that I would recommend from Harbor Freight. This workbench and the tool chest that you mentioned. I am also fine with hammers and pry bar/chisel/I mean screwdrivers. Their stands for grinders are not that bad.
Though anytime I have gone there because I need an emergency tool, or a one time use tool and they ask me if I would like to purchase the extended warranty, I always laugh, and respond, "I came here knowing that I was purchasing a cheap piece of tooling that will probably break, and I am ok with that, if I wanted something with a warranty, I would go somewhere else." The cashiers always give me a look of shock and disgust.
For the tools you use all the time, buy very good quality. I'm in automation, so I do a lot of electro-mechanical work.
I recommend Bondhus for hex wrenches (mine are ~15 years old), and Wiha for screwdrivers (I use mine all the time, although there are other good brands). Invest in a good set of wire strippers; mine are Paladin with soft grips.
I use a lot of Plano 3750 tackle boxes to store stuff like connectors, pins, hoods, etc, with some of the dividers glued down. I find Sterilte 1723 pencil boxes (available at Walmart for ~$1) great for holding stuff bulker items, and use clear plastic shoe boxes (also ~$1) for even bulkier items.
I'd go for an oscilloscope before a logic analyzer, but it depends on what you're doing.
Harbor Freight's stuff varies. Their hand tools are, in general, junk, but if you're only going to use something occasionally then it's not worth spending a lot of money. I've heard great things about their car jacks, and their red tool chests look nice, but I wouldn't take the cheap ones if they were free. I've been happy with their oscillating multitool (<$20 on sale; anything better is going to be >$80), and $40 DMM (you can buy the same DMM for 2x the price; it's got some nice features such as 4000 counts and AAA batteries - I HATE 9V batteries!!!)
@Aeroengineer: So, I am still curious as to what the final result will be.
Oh, sorry -- this was an early incarnation of the control system for my Man vs. Woman Display-O-Meter project using a PICAXE microcontroller -- I was using a lot of shift registers to read in the values from a bunch of switches and to control a bunch of tri-colored LEDs.
Now its' just a piece of "Electronic Art" sitting on the book shelves in my office
That is true, but even for things that I do not know their temperatures, or that my box may not be completely accurate in its temperatures it displays, I usually have a procedure.
For these, I usually start at a low temperature, then keep increasing the temp by 10°C till I get to the point that it is just barely melting the solder. I then add another 10°C after I reach that point. This way I keep the temp as low as possible. There are times that if I am soldering a joint that can sink a lot of heat that I might have to turn it up more.
The Other Tesla David Blaza5 comments I find myself going to Kickstarter and Indiegogo on a regular basis these days because they have become real innovation marketplaces. As far as I'm concerned, this is where a lot of cool ...