So it’s Saturday morning and you’ve found yourself with an urge to build something involving copper plates or carbon electrodes. Maybe you need a metallic powder for a chemistry experiment. Casting supplies? Pure lead? Copper mesh? Silver wire? Odd tools? Exceedingly caustic etchants? There’s a store that sells it all, and it’s not usually frequented by hackers: the art store.
If you know where to look, the store is full of useful things. Each method of expression in art has its own set of supplies; a bountiful collection of various processes and the useful things therein. I grew up in a city that did not have a real art supply store. It had one of those big box craft stores that assault you with glittery plasticized flowers and terrible manufactured scents. When I moved to a different city and walked over to the local art supply to purchase some new pens I ended up staying for a few hours just looking at all the cool things they had for sale.
The drawing section contains a few useful things. There are graphite and carbon rods, squares, and powders in different compositions, from hard to soft. These can be used for anything from DIY resistors, electrodes, brushes, and high voltage experiments. There are also, naturally, quite a nice selection of drawing and drafting tools.
Depending on the art store, the painting section contains a selection of useful chemicals. Sometimes the pigments for blending oils can be pure metals. The section is also usually good for better than average purity mineral spirits, acetones, etc. used to thin and modify the paints.
Modeling & Ceramics
The modeling section is really quite handy. Aside from a full selection of normal clays there are other useful materials. Plasticine, which is a great material for making models of things, masters for resin casting, and more. Sculpey and the other oven bakeable clays make acceptable quick parts. It can be filed and machined quite well, but the strength is so so.
This section also contains a complete selection of resins for resin casting. I’ve often found silicone rubber, urethane rubber, clear resins, water moldable polymers and more.
Also, if you’re lucky enough to have an art store that sells materials for glazes, it’s just as good as having a chemistry supply store in town, except they may actually sell to you without checking you for a drug habit first.
The printing section is packed full of useful materials. Various rubbers are available in this section. I’ve also seen copper and zinc plates for sale. Also a full selection of chisels. Rubber rollers in all sizes for glue or transferring prussian blue for checking machine fits.
Fabric and Leather
The fabric section contains useful cutting mats and jigs. Also a better than average selection of dyes. Including dyes that come with more warning labels than the ones at big box stores. These can be used for coloring plastics, filaments, or even colorants for anodizing. Leatherwork likewise has its own interesting set of tools and supplies.
Depending on the art store the jewelry section can be a trove. I’ve even seen pure silver, gold, and copper wire at some stores (behind very locked cabinets). It usually has a small selection of precision hand tools — depending on your town this may be your best bet for a local source of pliers and snips. Some stores even have supplies for lost wax casting, soldering of precious metals, lapping supplies (for gems) and more.
The glass section in some stores can contain anything from pure lead sheeting to propane bunsen burners. Glass rods,tubing, colored glass, small ovens, heavy duty irons, and more. Unfortunately this store wasn’t well equipped for this hobby.
There are also a huge assortment of objects that stretch across the disciplines. I took a sampling of some of the items that stuck out to me.
Thanks to the Dakota Art Store in Bellingham for letting me run around their store for thirty minutes with a camera. Also, for running to the back to find some of the more odd items. If you’ve not paid a visit to your local art supply, I recommend you do.
Does anyone else get their supplies at a store you wouldn’t expect? If you have a favorite place to score material for your hacks, leave a comment below. I’d also like to hear about any favorite art-store finds I missed in my whirlwind tour.