Much of the quality and variety of what I build depends on the quality and variety of parts and materials that I can source. To this end, I collect and semi-religiously thumb through catalogs. (Yes, most of these places also have Web sites, but sometimes catalogs are just easier, or at least more fun.) Whether for selection, esoterica or service, here are my six favorite vendors for all my project needs. Got a favorite of your own? Tell us about it in the comments.
My Favorite Vendors:
1. McMaster Carr - No list like this could ignore the 10,000lb gorilla of industrial supply. Imagine some item that you might need for a project. No, imagine harder—something even more rare or specialized. McMaster probably has it. Although the catalog is a shop staple, the site is extremely good at helping you narrow down the massive selection to the precise part you need. And the staff even manages to sort it out when I do things like forget which invoices I've paid and send in duplicate payments. If you already do business with McMaster, you already know what I'm talking about. If you don't, you need to start.
2. NAPA - It is fairly well documented, I think, that the really great projects typically involve internal combustion. My favorite parts stores, hands down, are Napa stores, which almost universally come equipped with a friendly and knowledgeable parts guy and a serious amount of inventory.
3. Jameco - Partially for nostalgia, Jameco is one of my favorite electronics suppliers. They have a decent selection of most things I want, reasonable prices, and a battery powered mechanical wood tyrannosaurus in the catalog. I cannot, however, seem to locate on the Web site the great kits that they used to sell. Mouser, also an excellent choice, was a very close contender for this spot.
4. Joseph Fazzio, Inc. - Not a mail order business, but for builders living in the greater Philadelphia / New Jersey area, an absolutely indispensable resource. Almost all of my metal comes from Fazzios (at exceptionally fair prices) and its rows upon rows of industrial surplus are a site to behold. It is worth the trip to Glassboro, NJ for anyone closer than say, Nebraska. [Ed. note: This is my favorite place in the entire world.]
5. Enco - Filling the space between Harbor Freight and MSC Industrial Supply is Enco: cheaper than the really nice stuff, but nicer than the really cheap stuff. I deal with Enco primarily for metalwork tools and tooling.
6. Gemplers - Safety gear? Check. Farm supplies? Check. LP Gas Cannons to repel birds and wildlife with a loud "thunderclap"? Check. Shopping at Gemplers is one of the many great things I learned from my Grandfather.