With the exception of knife making steels, I don’t buy metals online because I can generally get them a lot cheaper locally without also paying shipping costs. Through the local supplier I tracked down, the base cost of the material is cheaper and they’re a great local business owned by awesome people. While I love the interwebs, a lot of mom and pop businesses still don’t have a web presence and I can hear many of you gasping with disgust now. But like my supplier, many of these businesses get plenty of work selling materials and doing machine/fab work through word of mouth and they don’t need a website. Why add another thing to keep track of when you’re getting tons of business the old fashioned way?
Here’s some things I’ve learned in my quests to find materials for different projects:
For steel and aluminum, obviously check with steel and metal retailers in your area but also try calling a couple machine and fabrication shops and ask them where they get materials. If you’re friendly and polite they’ll probably tell you or in some cases offer to sell you some at a discount since they buy in bulk, which is how I found my supplier. Also, unless you have no other choice, don’t buy steel or aluminum at Lowes Depot as the markup is huge and you’ll pay way more.
For copper sheet, check with roofing outfits. High end roofing companies still offer copper roofing as an option for people with lots of disposable income and many will sell copper sheet to us mere mortals. For copper bar stock, unless you have a local supplier (call and ask!) you’ll probably be stuck getting that online.
Don’t be afraid to check with local scrap yards. While many don’t generally stock dimensional steel, aluminum, copper, etc, often they’ll set aside stock pieces that come in and you could find what you need at a decent price.
For wood, obviously you have the big box stores plus any local lumber yards. Also check with your local Restore.
But what if you need a part or shape, yes definitely a part, and you know in your minds eye what you need but lord help you to describe it? Google Image Search is your friend. I usually use image search until I see sorta what I need then use that to find the proper name for whatever widget. Armed with the proper name, it’s simply a matter of narrowing down what incarnation of widget I need and finding a vendor.
That’s all I’ve got for now and I’m working on a useful DIY project that is cheap and uses an unlikely source for the materials that you can building with minimal tools.