Everyone in the engineering world knows McMaster-Carr, but few people in the DIY world do. McMaster is a privately held company based in Illinois that may be the world’s largest engineering superstore. They have hundreds of thousands of items and in twenty plus years of using them I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a stock out. Remarkable.
They have everything. What do I mean by “everything”? Well, you can buy stainless steel spring wire, storage bins, a work bench, a belt sander, fasteners, and (literally) a kitchen sink.
You wouldn’t want to use McMaster for something you can get at Home Depot, even though they have almost everything Home Depot does, but they fit the bill when you need something a little bit out of the ordinary or you want to use an industrial/commercial product in your personal project.
Here are some nice items I’ve used them for in my projects:
John Boos “butcherblock” countertops (under “Maple tops”) at $16/sq-ft
Richlite lab bench material (the predecessor to the oh-so-trendy Paperstone…called “phenolic tops” at McMaster) at $26/sq-ft
Heavy-duty urethane casters to support a huge rolling shelving unit.
Acme threaded rod for shelf supports.
Any manner of weird drill bit or fastener.
“Speedrail” tubing fittings for railings, etc.
They take credit cards. They ship the same day by UPS.
My workbenches shown here (on the left) have McMaster tops (both butcher block and Richlite).
Occasionally my expertise as an engineer carries over into the Baubilt world. Here is one such case. If you need to make fussy little shafts or brackets for some DIY project like a light fixture or a toilet paper holder, consider using the Misumi service. Misumi is a Japanese company that has a huge collection of semi-custom parts (hundreds of categories really) that are made to order using your uniquely specified parameters. For example, let’s say you need a stainless-steel rod 8mm in diameter and 96mm long for some perfect door pull you are designing. You can order that part from Misumi and it will be made to order on a computer-controlled machine tool (in Japan) and shipped directly to you…for remarkably short money.
Here are some parts I had made for use with the Ponoko parts described elsewhere. I think I had 10 sets made, and have already used 7 of the sets by now. My recollection is that these parts were $5-15 each, which is a screaming deal for a custom machined part. The trick of course is that these aren’t really custom; they are semi-custom parts that are made to order with your pre-specified dimensions.
Ponoko is a web-based business offering laser cutting from almost any file format. This service can be used to make fussy parts with complex curves. For example, I needed to prototype a three dimensional component and made the basic structure with interlocking pieces of plywood. Here is a sheet of the pieces as they came from Ponoko. To minimize costs you try to nest as many parts as you can on a sheet of material. I fit nine sets on this piece. Ponoko offers lots of materials. I drew these parts in Adobe Illustrator, but almost any drawing tool can be used, even Powerpoint, I think.
Here you can see the parts going together to form a three-dimensional structure. I glued the parts together with Gorilla glue and the structure was super strong and very precise.