How-To: Where to find parts for your projects


Hunting down the right parts usually takes more time than soldering everything together. I can’t count the number of projects that I tried to build and couldn’t find some key component that’s no longer made. You can help put together a list of suppliers at the end, but the idea is to have a quick reference to get your projects rolling (saving your money for important things, like espresso). Even if you’re familiar with the usual electronics parts shops, chime in to help me create a list of the best suppliers to fuel those hardware hacking projects.


If you want to keep your money, I’d avoid RadioShack as much as possible. When you’re stuck because you can’t find a freaking 10kohm resistor, it’s fine, but the markup on their low quality parts is insane-their clearance prices aren’t too bad. As much as people bag on RadioShack, just remember that nobody else bothers to sell electronic parts in the middle of nowhere.

Shipping can eat your project budget quicker than anything else. It’s the reason that I’m sometimes willing to pay $1 for $.05 in resistors at RadioShack. When I’m buying parts, I try to buy from a single supplier if possible to maximize my parts budget.

Stocking up on parts in bulk can help make projects extra affordable later on. Buying a quantity of resistors, capacitors, PNP and NPN transistors and a decent supply of linear voltage regulators will save you a fair amount of money later on. I love it when I can build a $30 project for the cost of a proto-board and an odd capacitor.


Just about every electronics component manufacturer will provide free samples on request. That’s right – free. It’s usually just a matter of creating an account on the manufacturers web site and selecting the components you need. As a rule, I don’t mention when I’ve sampled parts for a project. Seriously, they’ll get a little suspicious if 100 people suddenly sample the exact same parts. Samples aren’t limited to semiconductor companies. [ladyada] has a nice list of sample providers, including enclosures and connectors.


Digi-Key carries just about every part you can think of. These guys prefer to sell large quantities, but they’re happy to take small orders. Orders are shipped out fast, but they’ll tack on an extra $5 fee if your order is under $25. Even if you’re not ordering, they usually have data sheets linked for every part they carry online. If you’re wiling to jump through the hoops, you can even create a parts order that’s linkable from your website – it can make it much easier to share a project with others, but I usually find that a few part numbers get deprecated as time goes by. Oh, and they’ll send you a massive parts catalog that’s handy for parts hunting and brain storming.

Mouser Electronics is one of my favorite suppliers these days. They have reasonable shipping options and are fast with UPS ground orders showing up at my house within two days. Their inventory isn’t always the best, but substitution parts are usually easy to find because the online catalog links to web enabled PDF pages from their print catalog. It makes cross-referencing very easy. Like Digi-Key, they’ll send you a massive parts catalog to shove under your monitor.

Futurlec is a great place to get incredibly cheap parts, but you won’t be seeing your order for about a month (ok, so my last order showed up after three weeks). I suggest stocking up on connector headers and resistors. I haven’t had to make a late night resistor run in a couple of years thanks to these guys.

Sparkfun electronics is like a candy shop for Hack-A-Day readers. They carry higher end parts like GPS units, GMRS modules and micro controller programmers. Pricing varies a bit, but I can always find something interesting there. If you prefer professionally made PC Boards, they even put together an inexpensive PC Board service.

ebay is one of my favorite places to shop for parts. It’s a great place to buy brand new $150 stepper motors for $20 or hunt down funky, hackable hardware. People certainly try to sell single components, but it’s usually not worth the effort.


Salvaging parts is the absolute cheapest method for parts shopping. Thanks to custom ICs and SMD parts, newer electronics don’t normally have much in the way of salvage value. On the other hand, older hardware is a great source for parts. My current favorite salvage source is the dot matrix printer. They’re easy to take apart, have nice power supplies, and they’re loaded with quality heat sinks, wiring, connectors, hardened steel rods, and stepper motors. The bigger the dot matrix printer, the bigger the stepper motor. If you can score a few of the same model, you’ll end up with a few matched sets. People hate throwing them away, so they’re easy to get for free.


Lack of availability can be a problem, but obsolete parts are another way to keep costs down. Originally, the UCN5804B stepper driver I used for the cutting board CNC machine cost about $16 each. Now that they’re deprecated, they can be had for about $5 each.

Grab bags are another good way to save money. They’re usually full of loose parts that’ll have to be identified, but they’re cheap. The guys over at uchobby put together a nice how-to on sorting them.

Thanks to the movement from mail order to internet suppliers, the parts company scene is huge. There are loads of production part and surplus companies around. Here’s a quick list of shops that’ll probably be useful if you’re looking for parts.

Digi-Key electronics
Mouser electronics
Futurlec
Sparkfun electronics
eBay
All Electronics
BG Micro
American Science & Surplus
Goldmine Electronics
MPJA Online
MCM Electronics
Parts Express

Got a favorite shop? Drop the link in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.

Comments

  1. Chris J says:

    For discontinued or hard to find parts contact http://www.unicornelectronics.com. I use them for the MM5314 clock chip that hasn’t been made in 15 years as well as discontinued 74 series logic.

  2. Mike Vander Vorste says:

    odd bits of material and such can also be found at:
    http://www.mcmaster.com/
    They have a wonderful search engine for their site, and sell things that many other companies don’t. DigiKey is my main source, but if I can’t find it anywhere else… McMaster Carr sure is a good thing to have on the list.

  3. chewy says:

    and for grab bags do not forget about

    http://www.alldatasheet.com/

    it is your friend, your savior and all around life preserver for figuring out what in the world you actually picked up

  4. davr says:

    Searching for parts: these search engines designed specifically to find what shops carry that part you need.
    http://octopart.com/
    http://findchips.com/

    http://www.newark.com/ is also a good supplier…they don’t have the $5 fee like digikey, most parts have minimum quantity of 1, shipping is cheap & fast.

  5. Kyle says:

    This is an awesome article! I use electronics goldmine a lot! But out of all these sites I can’t find USB ends anywhere, I don’t want to buy usb cords and cut them up. Anyone know where I can find and USB sockets/heads/ends(whatever you want to call them)?

    • jayduey says:

      +1 to american science and surplus. They’re probably the best brick-and-mortar store out there.

      I would also add DX.com, as the stuff is pretty cheap (unfortunatealy, not just in pricing), but shipping is totally free, and they carry a ton of arduino/non-consumer electronics stuff

  6. dan says:

    http://octopart.com/ is an easy way to cross reference component suppliers

  7. Royce says:
  8. hardwire says:

    For Sydney Austraila i would recommend jaycar at bondi junction, very friendly and they do stock just about most common parts.

    any readers that are from Sydney Australia should list some part shops that you would recommend. :)

  9. Royce says:

    To kyle:
    Here is a mini-socket.
    http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=8401
    Digi-key will have every variation. Search for ‘USB connector’ and dig around.

  10. Brian Howell says:

    This is a very useful post, thank you.

    A couple more source I’d like to add is http://www.smallparts.com. They’re a good source for raw materials like aluminum, brass stock, tubing, threaded rods, gears, bearings, etc. They used to have wonderful catalogs available by request, however they’ve recently teamed up with Amazon @ http://www.amazon.com/industrial-scientific-fastners-raw-materials/b?ie=UTF8&node=16310091 making them even easier to use in my opinion, since Amazon most likely already has your account info, and you can take advantage of Amazon’s great interface.

    Another source along that same line is http://www.micromark.com/. They have a good variety of hobby tools, casting & molding materials, jig & fixture supplies.

    I’m interested to see what other people have to contribute to this post.
    Thanks again!

  11. Dean Putney says:

    I lived out in the middle of nowhere for a long time, with very little money anyway, so parts were almost impossible to buy. Salvaging is a great way to start because you can get your desoldering technique down (very important) and learn a lot about the various parts. In the big old electronics, it’s all labeled! A few of us scrapped a set of scanners and printers and wound up with a big lens, a quality photo-resistor, dozens of huge caps and a handful of LEDs.

  12. wirehead says:

    royce,
    Thanks for the reminder that Circuit Specialists is still around. Many years ago I had a credit from them and since I knew I was going to be travelling to their area, I stopped by in person to claim it.

    They were surprised that I had came from over 1500 miles away to claim it in person.

    I was surprised that the clerk at the counter took one look at the slip, which only listed a part number and credit amount, and said, “We got those in stock now, you want them?”

    Another good place is HSC http://www.halted.com/, I can spend hours in their stores, which have many items not listed online.

  13. thethirdmoose says:

    Molex, for connectors and ports. Good, fast shipping if you need something like an SD card slot.

  14. macegr says:

    i’d like to recommend the electronic goldmine at http://www.goldmine-elec.com. this has been my favorite place to find unique cheap parts that spark projects on their own. also, they have goldpaks and surprise boxes where you often get hundreds of dollars worth of parts for only a few bucks…seriously, the surprise boxes are the single best way i can think of to stock up on all sorts of components, leds, switches, hardware, oscillators, you name it.

    second, i’d like to mention jameco again as linked in a previous comment. these guys are competive on price, except for standard connectors where they destroy everyone else. they have the cheapest prices on d-sub connectors and rectangular idc headers and ribbon cable. plus they’re about 2 miles from here so i can walk up to their counter and pick up my order! :)

  15. At NYC resistor, we brought up the same topic. here’s the list we assembled:

    http://groups.google.com/group/nycresistormicrocontrollers/browse_thread/thread/297c475a5d3499df

    -Dane

  16. andrew says:

    What’s the deal with leaving out jameco? Seriously, they’re an excellent supplier.

  17. smellsofbikes says:

    I didn’t see these listed previously:
    Newark
    http://www.newarkinone.com or just http://www.newark.com
    allied electronics
    http://www.alliedelec.com

    They’re a lot like digikey. I’ve found digikey better for semiconductors, and mouser and particularly allied better for weird connectors and sensors. Jameco is usually cheaper if they have the part in stock.
    gatewayelex.com also sometimes has some good inexpensive stuff.

  18. Sparks says:

    There’s also…
    Think & Tinker for all your PCB manufacturing needs
    http://www.thinktink.com/
    as well as
    Electrosonic
    http://www.e-sonic.com/
    and
    Future Electronics
    http://www.futureelectronics.com/

    And like will mentions, lots of companies will give samples of products. For my thesis work a few years back I snagged a set of fiber-op transceivers worth about 500 bucks for the price of an email and ten bucks shipping. Ask nice, be polite and you’ll typically get a good response.

  19. Mac Cody says:

    Another good source for electronic parts is BG Micro ( http://www.bgmicro.com ). They have a lot of useful parts at very reasonable prices.

  20. If you live in a college town with a technical university I can almost guarantee that there is a non-radio-shack electronics store near by. When I was attenting RPI there was a local place called “Trojan Electronics” and it was f-ing amazing. the store was roughly the size of about 5 radioshacks and was just no-nonsense isle after isle, of bins of parts, including many no longer made parts. And the owner was extremely helpful. and if they didn’t have it they would order it for you and you wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges since they were putting in bulk orders several times a week.

    Finding good online shops is nice but it can’t hurt to pickup a phone book to see if you’re lucky enough to have a real electronics shop in your area… It’s also good to support your local businesses.

  21. hitch says:

    if anybodys from the uk here are couple of places i know:

    rapid electronics
    http://www.rapidonline.com
    deffinately my favourite, amazing customer service.

    http://rswww.com
    never really used (i think its related to/is radio shack?) but they do stuff in the uk anyways.

    http://www.maplin.co.uk
    inflated prices and erm…uneducated staff, i almost shed a small tear when i buy something from here. but i guess its usefull if you really really need something.

    in the slim chance that anybody reading this lives near/in chesterfield in the uk, one of the most amazing electronics shops, “jpg electronics” is on Chatsworth road, loads of exciting things in boxes, and helpfull staff. (been going there since i was about 12)

  22. sly says:

    along the lines of local shops… in the north dallas area is tanners electronics
    http://www.tannerelectronics.com/

    great for those last minute needs.

    also… altex is a chain in texas that sometimes will have the stuff that nobody else has
    http://www.altex.com/

  23. jd says:

    Don’t forget that at most manufacturers’ websites you can sample parts for free. Great for getting free microcontrollers (Microchip), sensors (Freescale), opamps (Analog Devices), transistors (ST Microelectronics) etc.

  24. Mecha_D says:

    I know it’s geared more towards computers, but hey, they said the same about auto parts stores too. FrozenCPU.com has a bunch of oddball/cool parts, LEDs, Cold Cathodes, the list goes on. And their turn around time is decent as well, usualy can get my stuff in about 4 days, and I live in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Maine.

  25. fbz says:

    in germany we have the slightly overpriced but brick-and-mortar-plus-online http://conrad.de

    and the better priced http://www.reichelt.de under the heading “Bauelemente”

  26. Rob says:

    http://www.rapidonline.com/ (UK Based)
    Useful for getting parts pretty quick and cheap.

  27. Juanito Carlisle says:

    Here is my list:

    How can you forget All Electronics:
    http://www.allelectronics.com/

    Hosfelt Electronics
    http://www.hosfelt.com/

    Leeds Radio
    http://www.leedselect.com/index.html

    Ocean State Electronics
    http://www.oselectronics.com/

    Antique Electronics Supply
    Awesome Tube and Vintage (but new) Parts
    http://www.tubesandmore.com/

  28. Jason says:

    Check out Nebraska Surplus at http://surplussales.com/

  29. TJ says:

    If you’re in N Europe, an excellent shop is Elfa. Knowledgeable employees and a ginormous online catalog.

    http://www.elfa.se/en

  30. Joshua says:

    http://www.allelectronics.com/

    good stuff here.

    josh

  31. happy gilmore says:
  32. MioTheGreat says:

    I got Futurlec’s linear IC pack, and I think I’m set for voltage regulators for the rest of my life… Came with a bunch of opamps and comparators, too. So I think it was a pretty good deal.

  33. wwsean08 says:
  34. jeff moss says:

    here in Cleveland we have a goldmine for electronics parts. The store is called Electronic Surplus, http://www.electronicsurplus.com
    The store recently moved and right now they do everything online. I’ve been to their old store several times, and they had everything you could possibly think of. Plus many things I could not possibly begin to know how to use :)

  35. jeef says:

    Along the same lines as college resources, I am currently enrolled at RPI, and there are large boxes in a handful of buildings where they recycle old electronics. They’re picked up about once a month, but seeing as it’s and engineering school, many fantastic appliances end up in these boxes. Personally, I’ve found working LCD monitors, blue-tooth mice, and countless power supplies and fans. If you’re currently in school, or live near a campus, you might be able to find similar resources. Also, this may be a useful site to find useful/cheap products:
    http://www.harborfreight.com/

  36. Stephan says:

    A great pcb design program. Very similar to PADS and very powerful. The design provides great support and it has a nice devoted following. It outputs gerber files, which is so much nicer then what expresspcb offers. I HIGHLY recommend this software if your looking for something new to use.

    http://www.freepcb.com/

    If your looking for cheap board hosues:

    Advanced Circuits; Great quality, and great deals for students. They have a great staff, don’t hesitate to ask them if you have questions. They have their own pcb software which is nice, but I found it to be a bit too complicated. They have a DRC on their website and are more then willing to check your board before it is made for possible conflicts.
    http://www.4pcb.com/

    Our PCB; I can’t comment on the quality, but their price is good.
    http://ourpcb.com/

    Imagineering; Again, can’t comment on quality, but the price is good.
    http://www.pcbnet.com/

    Maxima; Again, another place with good prices, but I don’t know how their quality is.
    https://maxima5.abac.com/pcbex/product_index.asp

  37. Coyotecom says:

    Wow, I’m going to bookmark this one.

    I had a supplier for cheap ass laptop parts before, but I seem to have misplaced the link. Got a power jack that I was told would run me $30-$50 everywhere I went for repairs, for just $5 a piece. I ordered two, and I think the second one was deducted because I was a first time customer or something. Then had motherboards for my unit for $30 and I was told it was at least a $300 fix.

  38. hcker2000 says:
  39. HeBD says:

    ok heres for everyone down under :)

    http://au.farnell.com/
    http://www.jaycar.com.au/
    http://www.dse.com.au/
    http://www.rsaustralia.com/

    yeah. thats it for Australia and i dont think there is such a thing as surplus shops here :s

  40. DioXide says:

    If you are in a small mexican city (ie. not Mexico City, not Guadalajara, nor Monterrey) get it at Steren, don’t bother looking at other places — Steren is the cheapest (and they have a store every 5 blocks)

    http://www.steren.com

    (I read somewhere that they also have a few stores in the US and China, but i don’t know if they have the same parts/prices.. on mexico they have a pretty good variety of parts and it’s all cheap)

  41. andrew says:

    I live in Waterloo, ON, where there are not only two universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier) but also Conestoga College and Research In Motion. Sayal electronics (www.sayal.com) is a retail chain that used to be right nearby, but they’ve relocated to Cambridge now. KW Surplus (www.kwsurplus.com) was an old standby but now they’re just a surplus retail store with very little electronic equipment, although they do have a lot of cheap shop materials if you’re willing to dig around. For a town with such a technical bent, and one that has won most intellectual city of the year twice, it’s crazy that there is so few places around to get parts.

  42. Miles says:

    Re RadioShack,

    I am free to rag on them still because all of them within a 50 miles radius of my house have discontinued all electronic components, boo.

    There is a Radio Mart that may still be keeping stock, I will have to check (Radio Mart carries Radio Shack, but seems to be a privately owned business, not a franchise), so those will likely differ by owner.

    Thanks for this super guide :), I love to hack. I haven’t read it all, but you can usually find lots of great stuff at second-hand shops.

    I recently got a Motorola “Wireless Wheels” R/C car for a $1, while way to over my head to hack (and the RC components look as crappy as your usual $20 JCPenney special, negating the coolness factor), I did get a toy earthmover that I put a $3 RC radio (Walmart “Tuner RC” close-out, so I bought 5-6, so what?) in and converted to wireless :).

    Keep up the good work.

  43. Gh0sTly says:

    Mendelsons Liquidation outlet
    http://www.MECI.com
    Im kinda biased for these guys though, I live close to there warehouse, and anyone in the public can go pick and choose what they want. Awesome place. They also have a Parts Express inside.

  44. andrew says:

    @33: don’t forget these Canadian ones:

    http://www.apcircuits.com – Alberta, extremely fast turnaround, can do plated, 2 layer no mask/silk next day and will do full mask/silk and routed multilayer in under a week. FR4 and the more exotic substrates as well. Excellent staff.

    http://www.sibercircuits.com/ – Ontario, also fast turnaround, seems able to handle my Eagle gerbers better than APC. Very high quality, I use them for an 8-layer 5/5 .062 containing four microBGAs. Excellent boards, excellent service, good pricing.

  45. DaveSt says:

    Can we have a similar post, but with UK suppliers? I only really use a couple of companies – farnell and crownhill. It’d be nice to find some others.

    Dave.

  46. Chris says:

    I have also found that Mouser will recommend a part for substitution, even help you integrate it into your project if you need the assist.

  47. Azurus says:

    A great book fell into my lap here and I thought I would share the website that came along with it.

    http://www.shop-pitsco.com

    I have yet to read through here but this book has so much for ideas and little things you could work with.
    Check it out!

  48. DrBunsen says:

    Another Sydney, Australia outlet is Oatley Electronics. They tend to stock oddball and surplus items which vary a lot over time. Ordering is through their website or by phone.

    Also in Australia are RS Components, and rockby.com

  49. DrBunsen says:

    don’t forget jaycar is a national australian chain and their website lists their full catalog and takes orders.

  50. bbarbie says:

    These two are pretty big on my list. Did I not read the post right?

    http://www.digikey.com/

    http://www.mouser.com/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,301 other followers