A Noob’s Guide to McMaster-Carr

For the penny-pinching basement hacker, McMaster-Carr seems like a weird go-to resource for hardware. For one, they’re primarily a B2B company; and, for two, their prices aren’t cheap. Yet their name is ubiquitous among the hacker community. Why? Despite the price, something makes them too useful to ignore by everyday DIY enthusiasts. Those of us who’ve already been enlightened by the McMaster-Carr can design wonders with a vocabulary of parts just one day away at the click of a button.

Today, this article is for those of us who have yet to receive that enlightenment. When used wisely, this source of mechanical everything brings us a world of fast parts at our fingertips. When used poorly, we find nothing but overpriced stock components in oversized shipping boxes.

Since we, the McMaster-Carr sages, are forever doomed to stuff our desk drawers with those characteristic yellow baggies till the end of time, we thought we’d give an intro to the noobs that are just beginning to flex their muscles with this almighty resource. Grab another cup of coffee as we take you on a tour of the good and good-grievances of McMaster-Carr.

Getting to Know Your Future One-Stop Shop

So what is it? What exactly puts McMaster-Carr into the vocabulary of every single engineer who’s ever built something in their career? Well, simply put, McMaster-Carr shines as a one-stop hardware shop with a massive inventory, an easy-to-browse online catalog, and a speedy turnaround time from the moment you push the buy button to the moment parts land on your door. With such a ubiquitous name, we might think they’d do more, but that’s it! What’s special about their cause is that they’ve built an extremely well-tuned system for getting parts into the hands of engineers. Let’s take a quick tour of what’s on the table.

Half a Million Components

First off, their inventory variety is massive — as in: over 550,000 unique components. McMaster-Carr isn’t just an online replacement for your home improvement store. While your everyday Home Depot has many types of screws, McMaster-Carr has every type of screw, or close to it. Did you need set screws, shoulder screws, or wood screws? Oh yeah? How long do you need them? What thread type? Countersunk or Buttonhead? Metric or Jurassic? And that’s just the typical settings. For the niche user with refined tastes, there’s also vented, wire-locking, and sealing screws.

Minimum Quantities Banished

Yellow journalism aside, McMaster-Carr has almost every type of screw. For your even more niche screw tastes that they can’t satisfy, I’d suggest RAF Hardware. Nevertheless, with a vendor like RAF, we hobbyists quickly bump into the dreaded minimum-order roadblock. Yep, I needed a few custom standoffs. Nope, I didn’t need 1000 custom standoffs; but, by golly, I sure hope my friends want to fistfight over the other 996.

McMaster-Carr has no such minimum quantity. Apart from ordering, let’s say, a 25 pack of “jellybean” parts like screws and nuts, most orders wont conscript you into a minimum purchase of 99 extra parts. For the hardware hacker, no minimum quantity is a convenience that saves us from filling our basement with the sins of ordering bulk.

Bullet Checkout that Cuts to the Chase

And the convenience goes one step further. Actually placing an order with McMaster-Carr is easy–almost too easy. If you’ve ever ordered from a place like Misumi, you’ll probably remember those curbside bumps in the checkout process. First you enter your fake company name; then you enter a fake purchase order so that your fake purchasing department can add it to their system; then you schedule a delivery date so that your fake shipping/receiving center is ready for your incoming parts… and so-on and so-forth.

These steps are enough to make the hobbyist fumble and stumble before they can get their order out the door, but not with McMaster-Carr. After configuring your address and credit card once, hit the order button, and–boom: it’s ordered! Careful though! By removing all the conventional “safety locks” of punching in your credit card and entering your shipping address every time we make an order, it’s extremely easy to mail goodies to the wrong doorstep. I’ve had the strange-but-true experience of sending goodies to my former college, my mother, and my previous landlords. Word from the wise: update your default address each time you change venues.

Lightning Quick Delivery in an Oversize McMaster-Box

Before we get too trigger happy with that bullet-checkout, don’t forget that there’s no getting off cheap. Where McMaster-Carr saves us time, they’ll leave a nasty gouge in our pockets if we’re not careful with what we buy.

Let’s do a case study with some stock aluminum. Here, a 6061-T6 grade aluminum rod that’s 36-in. (914.4 mm) long and 0.25-in. (6.35 mm) in diameter will cost us $2.24 at Online Metals. On McMaster-Carr, it’s a whopping $5.27 for the same part — more than twice as expensive! Why on earth would anyone snag the McMaster-Carr flavor for twice the price?

Here’s the difference. From the McMaster Help Webpage: Most orders are delivered the same or next business day at standard ground rates. That means that the McMaster-Carr rod will land on my doorstep today or tomorrow for the ground shipping price. If we’re designing a long-term project with a faraway deadline, maybe we can wait til next week for some stock components to arrive. But if we’re prototyping with lots of unanswered questions, if we’ve messed up the design and need slightly different sized parts, or if we goofed our machining and need to remake a part and still hit our deadlines, McMaster-Carr comes to the rescue with parts that are in our cart at 5PM and on our doorstep the next morning. That next-day convenience will cost us a premium in part prices, but sometimes it’s worth it. The next time you order parts from McMaster-Carr, keep that speed/price exchange in mind.

It’s worth wondering: how on earth does McMaster-Carr achieve almost-guaranteed next-day delivery for most of their parts? There are mighty forces of abstraction at work here, but I thought I’d just highlight the two that we’re most likely to encounter on the receiving side.

First is the penny-pinching hacker’s worst nightmare: hidden fees. When we order from McMaster-Carr, we don’t know how much ground shipping will cost us until after we’ve placed our order. This quirk is most-likely because, quite frankly, at that moment when we just clicked order, McMaster-Carr doesn’t know either. McMaster-Carr has special partnerships with a host of local package delivery businesses across the US. Behind the scenes I imagine a complicated system all geared up to get your package to you ASAP. When we order from McMaster-Carr, we’re admitting that we put such a premium on parts that we don’t care about the small fees along the way.

Next is McMaster’s oddball shipping box sizing formula. Order a packet of screws, and–behold: a shipping box that about 20 times too big!

After ordering one-too-many parts from them, I quickly realized that McMaster-Carr has a pretty limited vocabulary of box sizes for shipping. On top of that, they tend to pick the absolute largest box possible without upsetting customers enough to phone in and ask if someone needs an optometry appointment. Point being: shipping boxes tend to be laughably oversize.

Jokes aside, I’ll bet that these box-sizing standards play a triple role in McMaster-Carr’s promise of speed. First, they’re likely a computer-suggested size based on back-of-the-envelope weight and volume calculations from our order. Next, these standardized boxes must have a maximum capacity weight spec, which would help provide estimates to the delivery businesses that need to prepare for getting truckloads of them out the door. Finally, on the bottom of some boxes, we’ll actually discover a load spec, some of which are actually rather strong. What this means is that McMaster-boxes boxes of the same size will support stacking. Now, I wont assume this next bit, but I can’t help but wonder if these boxes let the shipping folks play a nice game of Tetris inside the delivery truck.

With all these quirks so far, just remember: McMaster-Carr pulls out all the stops to optimize for speed.

An Engineer’s Shopping Experience

Ok, we’ve ogled over McMaster-Carr’s wares for long enough; let’s now take a look at the actual shopping experience.

First, I’ll admit my first moment for shame: sadly, the oh-so-coveted hard-copy of their catalog gets sent only to a handful of customers annually. What is this elitism? Admittedly, we basement hackers are scavengers. We’ll never climb to the top of the food chain to merit a hard copy of this catalog. (To be fair, we can’t be too salty over not getting a hard copy since some of us would likely use it as a bludgeoning weapon anyways.) Nevertheless, their website features the same inventory, so, with some disappointment, let’s focus on the web browsing experience.

CAD Models

Once we narrow our search down to an actual part, odds are good that specific parts come with an attached CAD model. Having the actual CAD model is a great way to evaluate if a design will work before committing to the actual parts. (Shhh! It’s also a sneaky way for McMaster-Carr to sink its feelers into our project to get us to commit to their components.) Attaching a CAD model to a webpage isn’t anything new in the hardware engineering community. In fact, it’s a clear way of communicating what’s being sold.

Searching By Category

McMaster-Carr’s catalog is best searched by category, not brand. In fact, searching by brand usually leads to a dead-end. For instance, punching Panavise into the search bar turns up no hits. However, searching for “vise” and then clicking the circuit board vise subcategory takes us to an item that’s almost unmistakably a Panavise product. Should we mark this drawback as a ding in credibility? After all, some engineers will crusade for certain brand-name items like Mitutoyo Calipers. Why would McMaster-Carr seem to deliberately make brand-related searches hit a dead end?

McMaster-Carr caters to a very specific, dare I say: engineering, mindset of shopping. Here, we adopt a requirements-and-constraints mantra, where we say: “I don’t care what brand does this best, any solution will do for me, as long as it satisfies my constraints.” For “jellybean” hardware components like nuts, screws, and standoffs, this mindset cuts to the chase. Do we really need an audition from each vendor to tell us that their screws are so much better than their competitors? Of course not.  No particular screw brand trumps the other, and this brand-agnosticism is where the categorical search feature helps us find something that does exactly what we need without wasting time.

Order-by-Description:

Let’s make one thing clear first: if you’re searching McMaster-Carr for a specific brand that you can find elsewhere, remember that you’ll pay a premium price to get it to your doorstep next day. It’s also subject to those aformentioned “dead-ends” since McMaster-Carr just isn’t setup for brand-specific searches.

Nevertheless, I hear the skeptics now. “Over 550,000 components and I can’t find my trusted brand of wire crimpers?” Fear not. One of McMaster-Carr’s better kept dirty secrets is the ability to order a part simply by describing it! At the cart level, enter a vague description of your part into the part number field, and a magical text box appears asking you to describe your part. Here, if you really do have a specific brand in mind, is where you can enter a manufacturer part number. Keep in mind that a human will need to help you find your specific part in this case, so you may sacrifice the next-day shipping feature by going this route.

Tuned for the Engineer

McMaster-Carr has been wooing the engineering community since 1901. Over the years they’ve developed a finely tuned shopping experience tailored exclusively to engineers. There are no ads, no brand-specific endorsements, just a no-nonsense categorical search into one of the largest industrial part databases with the promise of next-day delivery. Admittedly, there are some drawbacks. We can’t shop by brand. We can’t preview shipping costs until after receiving our order. Nevertheless, as a complete package, McMaster-Carr still seems to land in the vernacular of every engineer. For the noobs to this resource, we hope you work around the kinks faster than your predecessors; and, of course, if we missed something, let us have it in the comments.

Easter Eggs

Think you’ve browsed to the end of all things in the McMaster-Carr Catalog? Just how savvy is your McMaster-Fu? We’re curious: what’s your most bizarre encounter on the McMaster-Carr catalog? On our end, we’ve seen everything from coffee makers to entire buildings. Let us know in the comments.

Here’s my favorite easter egg so far

 

 

 

161 thoughts on “A Noob’s Guide to McMaster-Carr

      1. As a Canadian, McMaster-Carr is so damn frustrating. You spend all this time putting together this elaborate order, then they don’t let you buy any of it.

        Even if you are doing a build in America, with parts being shipped to within America, they wont let you buy with a Canadian Credit card from within Canada!

        And they carry so many items that are impossible top find elsewhere!

        1. They do ship to Canada as I order often from them. I think the trick is to either use a business credit card or ship to a business. I’ve placed orders at 3PM and had it arrive on my desk (central Canada) by 10 am the next morning. It’s incredible the logistics behind to make that happen.

        2. Good day Kyle,
          This is not true. I am located in Canada (Edmonton) and buy from McMaster Carr regularly (every few weeks). Usually my order arrives the next day via Purolator. In fact my last order was at the end of August. That being said I am setup as a corporate customer and ship to my company address… but I pay with my personal credit card. I would contact McMasterCarr and find out the issue.
          Cheers

          1. My first and last order went via Purolator, and they never let me know the shipping price beforehand. I selected pickup, not knowing they didn’t have a depot in the city. Purolator attempted delivery 3 or 4 times, I spent literally hours on the phone providing directions, and I’m home all the time but the end result was that the $5 worth of o-rings was sent back and they refunded me the full amount due to not being advised of the shipping cost and not receiving the goods. Purolator drivers are incompetent, and since they ship with them, I will never do business with McMaster-Carr until they have a local pickup location or change to Fedex or USPS/Canada Post.

        3. I had a similar problem with this company, trying to get parts exported for a yacht solar panel installation. McMaster-Carr refused to deliver some extremely unexciting parts to a shipping company in Miami. If I were ordering bearings for gas centrifuges, fair enough, but surely there’s scope for some judgement. Very frustrating…not recommended…

        4. I’m in Toronto, and I order from McMaster-Carr quite often. They do ship to Canada, and they do take a Canadian credit card – I pay with my Canadian CIBC card all the time. Delivery is fast, usually 1-2 days.

        1. Fastenal has some local stores you can walk into. They typically have a min order so they looked up a company and added my order to theirs and then I paid cash to meet the min req.

        2. The place I work at used Fastenal to supply most of our fasteners. They drop stuff in the wrong bins all the time and I’m told their response our complaints is along the lines of “Who else are you going to get to stock your parts.” Our buyer has gone as far as to just buy a shit-ton of a certain part himself, just to keep Fastenal from ever restocking its bin with the wrong part again–it’s easier than trying to convince them that something is wrong and they need to fix it.

    1. I typically go to a place called Elfa, but they are not shipping to all of Europe to what I know. But they surely have everything, from fasteners, to cables, and even components. (Like Digikey, but a fair bit more hardware too…)
      Then if they don’t have something, it is just on to the next store. (Typically Bauhaus in my case.)
      Otherwise one can just look around for one’s local hardware/vvs store, they typically have what one is looking for. And in any case, one can always check with the Ebay sellers and see if they have any good offer.

      In the end, I don’t see that there is any go to place, at least not in Europe to my knowledge.

      1. It looks like you need to be registered as a company for ordering from them.
        I’ve heard of “Mädler” http://maedler.de/ but either has subsidiaries or partnerships with other European companies (like “Michaud-Chailly” in France or Maedler.ch in Switzerland), and they also have a couple of shops you can directly buy from.
        I’ve also ordered from “Tri-Distribution” in France http://www.tridistribution.fr/ which is a bit cheaper that its competitors, and they also seem to deliver in Europe.
        I think most of the Hackaday readers wouldn’t complain about having a “Digy-key” of mechanical hardware…

    1. In the Continental US, shipping from Digikey by US Mail is about half the price that UPS charges, and the stuff arrives (in good shape) in 2-3 days instead or the week that UPS takes. Order by Tuesday and you will have it Thursday or Friday.
      BobH

        1. Good day Jacques,
          I do not know where you are, but I get Digikey orders the next day… usually by noon… Same with Mouser. For Digikey the shipping is $8 flat rate and is free for orders over $100. Mouser is $20 and is free for orders over $100.
          Cheers

      1. Correction: Only USPS “Express” (expensive, overnight) is shipped same-day, and it’s almost as much as UPS overnight anyhow. Regular USPS Priority is about the same price as UPS Ground, and takes 3 days anyhow.

        So yeah, no comparable options.

        1. I order stuff from Digikey and get the ship notice email from Digikey the same day. I assume it goes out to the Post Office the same day. In any event, stuff arrives here in southern Arizona in 2-3 days

      1. It is! UPS ships same day if ordered by 8 PM, and we frequently receive the order the next day (usually early afternoon). If you live in the Dallas area, you can even pick up your parts yourself!

      2. I can readily vouch for that. When I lived in any other city besides Dallas (ex. Houston), my order would arrive the next day using standard UPS shipping. When I lived in Dallas, I would just take a small trip to their warehouse after ordering and then pick it up a couple hours after placing the order online.

      3. Used to work in south Texas. We ordered from mouser almost exclusively (were able to set up a net-30 contract for our research group), and we received everything in generally less than three days, and occasionally the next day.

    2. For a while Arrow had free 2 day shipping on all orders… That was pretty convenient.

      Just wish they would place more than the MPN on the package, it gets really weird when you order a bunch of SMT jellybean parts from different vendors.

      1. What’s frustrating to me is that Arrow writes the MPN on the bag, but also sends sheets of paper with descriptions of each MPN, forcing customers to cross-reference bags to separate pieces of paper. Why not just put that info on the label like other wholesalers?

        1. Exactly what I’m saying!! I agree wholeheartedly!

          Their part searching is slowly catching up to Digikey (and I mean *SLOWLY* literally, what’s with the web 3.0 filtering interface that apparently needs to fetch many MB’s of data every time you click something?), but I will always still consider Digikey until they start labeling the bags better.

      1. RS usually works out at being the best, in my experience. Plus being in leeds if I *really* wanted I could go pick up my order (never have). Their prices are sometimes a penny or two more, but their order minimum is tiny, and more often than not they’re treating existing customers to ‘no minimum’ time.

    3. Newark. I use them quite often. Same as digikey and Mouser. also use McMaster quite often. Reason being, we have a McMaster over in the next town so most all our shipments can be here next day,even if we pick cheapest shipping. Same with Newark, they have a distribution center somewhere close, and I can pick cheapest shipping and sometimes have it here next day.
      I think the distribution centers location is a key factor so, when trying to find a place to purchase from, always best to find one closest.
      McMaster and fastenol are driving distance, so if needed then and now, we can do a quick 30 minute and get what we need.
      Amazon is actually coming up there with selection and if someone is a prime member with free two day shipping,this can be a plus.

    4. Arrow.com is/was doing a free next day shipping with a minimum $20 order. I’ve not used them enough to tell if their inventory is as deep as Digi or Mouser, but so far they’ve had everything I needed.

    5. TME (Transfer Multisort Elektronik) is a great place to buy electronics in EU. If you put your order before 2pm you get the parcel on the next day. Prices are a little bit higher, but you can get everything in one place. Highly recommend, especially for professional orders.

      1. TME ships to me in USA from Lodz by UPS, for $10, arrives in 2-3 days. The shipping charge was $20 before. They have some interesting product categories and it takes the same time or longer for parcels from most of the big distributors to reach me. I think only Newark is faster.

        I have had mouser ship my stuff overnight and bill me the ground rate when I have entered orders that are obviously for production.

  1. The database is the biggest win. I remember when to achieve the same I had to have shelves of books, and still to a certain extent. Then there was the move to CD/DVDs and now online, although with secret this, and NDA that, it can be a pain.

  2. So I showed the McMaster website to my wife, and she immediately asked, “Do they have wooden journal bearings for our horse-drawn disk harrow?”

    I looked up the term, saw dozens of journal bearings, but none of wood. Frown! But not for long…

    Off to Google, and immediately I discovered this bit of 110-year-old technology:
    http://woodexbearing.com

    Here’s just one example of the engineering for making machinery with wood:
    http://woodexbearing.com/engineering-data#Grain Direction

  3. Another thing that’s impressed me about McMaster-Carr is that their tech support will field just about any question, no matter how bizarre – there was one time I had to call and ask them, “I know this hose is rated for high temperatures, but how well would it last if we used it to vacuum up iron filings…that were on fire?”

  4. Ah, the beloved McMaster-Carr catalog. Back in my working days that was my go-to book for almost everything I needed for the work I did, with few exceptions. I always had a copy of the paper catalog on hand, I guess I was one of the lucky few? (not)

    1. The last place I worked at had about 5 people in the department who received them yearly, and a couple from as far back as the mid 80s. I think only one person who received them to the department was actually still on staff. But one for each year ended up on “The Shelf”, and some of the old documentation would even reference catalog pages and part numbers, so we kept one from each year for reference.

      But the others? Recycling! They became such wonderful monitor stands, door stops, props, grease paper, etc. My “monitor stands” were a 1985 McMaster catalog and a 1992 Allied Electronics catalog. They were the perfect height, especially since I had about a 2in difference in height between my two monitors, thanks to being different brands.

    1. Yup, was gonna say this – although unless you need to move something *really* heavy, a single speed with a fork-mounted front rack will be more convenient. I guess trikes are preferred since they’re nearly impossible to fall off of…but even then, put the cargo box in front!

      1. That must be the nuclear tape I heard mentioned when I was in a welding class where one of the instructors worked at Electric Boat.

        What surprised me in the description was the part about it being used to “hold labels and signs”. Seems odd that nuke tape would be required for that, but I suppose it would help prevent non-nuke tape being available for accidental use in an inappropriate location.

        1. Just based on the part description, I cannot tell if it is the same or not. As McMaster-Carr seems to only supply silver tape, I’m going to guess it is not, since EB-Green (and later EB-Red) does not come in silver unless something has changed in the last 11 years…

          But, in the interest of science I am going to order a roll to test!

          Essentially what makes this product “Nuclear Grade” is conforming to the NRC regulations that stipulate the materials that it cannot be made from. You don’t want anything that can damage and cause premature failure of the materials the reactor is made from, nor anything that can become radioactive and then decay into something that can cause damage to the reactor.

          And yes, in addition to holding a submarine together we use it to post temporary “Do not enter” and “Nukes Rule – Cones Drool” signs.

  5. For a lot of things, you can get a box of 25-100 for the price of 4 (!) at the local hardware store. And with the rapid delivery, you don’t need to inventory it. Well worth it, in many cases.

    1. You don’t mean a real hardware store, you mean like Home Depot who’ll have them in a 4 pack blister for $6.99, the REAL hardware store will be selling them out of the brown box loose for 20c a piece.

  6. One of the most annoying things they do is how far they go out of their way to obfuscate the actual brand or model number of the item they are selling or offering. I get in part why they do that but it still seems rather obtuse.

    As others have echoed, everything they sell is marked up so much. Raw materials in particular regularly run 2 to 3 times retail prices for even small quantities, before any discounts from other vendors.

    Plus, again, they don’t even ship to Canada. You can use services like crossborderpickups.ca though but it’s still a hassle.

      1. Oh, most certainly. But with the advent of Amazon Industrial in particular and other retailers starting to move in on their market, competition is starting to heat up for the otherwise insulated market of somewhat niche industrial and MRO items.

      2. Internet; it’s their business model not to offer the manufacture p/n or brand name; they buy to spec… You might get a works-man trike one purchase, and a different brand one next time but they meet the spec on the catalog page. Here is a quick tip (doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does) Google the Mcmaster p/n. Many times Grainger, amazon or msc direct will have the Mcmaster carr p/n in their database or items descriptions. (I’m a buyer by profession, or at least an equal)….

        Why do folks use McMaster???? Because of their online catalog… it’s pretty much the best in the industry. Grainger isn’t even close, nor is MSC or Fastenal.

        1. I wonder what their average inventory carry time is?

          Agree with you on their catalog being great to use and quite user friendly. Searching Grainger’s catalog is simply awful. Finding anything in there is truly horrible unless you know the exact part number and even then, it’s not very informative much of the time. You would think that they could pay SOMEBODY to actually organize their catalog and make it possible to find things. Even Amazon is starting to break down basic things like size or color even across nearly every category.

    1. I don’t mind it when things like fasteners and other BOM parts don’t come with brands, but not knowing the brand of tools you are purchasing is pretty painful.

      A Canadian account will work forever if you are able to successfully order from them once. The easiest way to pull this off is by ordering for an approved business/school using your personal account.

      1. I’m never that bothered by brand selection, it seems they do a great job of curating it. I’ve discovered a lot of really great manufacturers by buying blind through McMaster.

        Granted, I’m pretty picky with my tools and mostly order elsewhere, but McM always ships good stuff.

    2. I’ve went and bought retail parts (Home Depot, Lowes, etc) and gotten home and the cheap both stripped when i tried to tighten it down. Retail has gotten better but with McMaster you pay extra to know that grade 8 bolt actually is grade 8.

      1. Yup. I’ve been burned one too many times by HomeDesperate or Lowest. I’ve never been burned by McMaster-Carr, and I end up paying less for bits and bobs while getting more of them in the process (at least the bits and bobs that are available from both, the unique stuff can be pricey). Unless I’m “same-day desperate”, McMaster-Carr is my go-to these days.

    3. I ordered a solenoid valve from them and needed more information on it’s specs, so I checked with the valve manufacturer (which was clearly marked on the valve). It turned out to be a custom part number just for McMaster!

      1. A similar tactic is employed by many (every?) big box store.
        The manufacturer will gladly give them a unique Model/Part #, so the when a customer comes into the big box store with an ad for something from another business and asks for a “price match”, the store personnel can say, “Oh that is a different part/model number! Our Price Match Guarantee[TM] only applies to the same model/part numbers!”

        1. Some manufacturers also pull that crap when you try to order products or replacement parts sometimes. Oh, we don’t stock that custom part anymore or that custom part is $200 versus the $50 retail price of the IDENTICAL item just with a different “custom” part number. Or you have to buy them in packs of 10 instead of individually or there’s a 4 week leadtime for our custom part number.

          It’s also like advertising that your business is the only source for a specific trademarked product. Well, yes, that’s generally how trademark law works.

  7. My father says that if you want to return an item to McMaster-Carr, you can just put it in the box it came in and ship it back to them. They figure out from your address who ordered it, then they refund you for the thing. No RMA or any of that BS.

  8. There is a relatively seamless link between Autodesk Fusion 360 and their catalog of CAD models. It’s a really great way to design-in “real” parts. Their customer service is also top-notch. As mentioned, the only drawback is shipping cost. (but I happen to live about 20 minutes away from their warehouse, and have discovered “will call”).

  9. Not going to lie, this whole article read like an ad to me… I mean it was useful, sure, and I learned some stuff, but it did constantly make me question how much the author got paid to write it.

    Not that it’s a bad thing if they did, but maybe a disclaimer would be nice.

    1. I wouldn’t be too happy if I paid someone to write an article and they prominently pointed out that my prices in some cases are much higher.

      The important takeaways are:
      1. McMaster-Carr’s catalog is huge.
      2. They have no problem selling to the individual hobbyist/maker/hacker, unlike many other B2B companies.

  10. One of the things that really impresses me about McMaster-Carr is their website. It is incredibly well designed. They’ve got their shit figured out. It is so easy to find things, and their sorting features are very powerful and a godsend. There are so many other vendors that could learn a thing or two about how to let their customers figure out exactly what they want through filtering and a well designed interface. It’s so good that I use it for researching parts even if I’m not going to order them.

    1. “It’s so good that I use it for researching parts even if I’m not going to order them.”

      It’s actually kind of fun to use, looking up various things, learning a bit about what “those things” are called or that “those other things” exist at all. Even if you’re not ordering anything at all.

  11. I have one major issue with their website. It does not seem to allow ctrl-clicking on a link to open them in new tabs. This becomes very frustrating when trying to compare parts or if you’re on a wild goose chase for something and you’re not positive what/where it is.

  12. I remember struggling to get a print catalog before the http://WWW…. I begged them to sell me one and the response I got was “I show that there is a Rich M. in the same building. Can’t you just use his?” I was never able to get them to send me one, or even sell me one.

  13. and for those of us who use them all the time did anyone else know their online inventory is not their entire inventory. I’ve got items that I have had to reference 15+ year old paper catalogs. Call them up give them the description or older number and they can normally find it. They are great.

  14. I have done price comparisons with McMaster and other places and I have found them to be almost always comparable or cheaper.

    One thing about shipping. Business/Commercial locations get overnight shipping default, residential locations get regular ground. I have has parts shipped to my house for work on the work account and whenever I did that it took a good chunk of the week.

    Also interesting is McMaster has their own UPS depot and they are the number one shipper in the world.

    1. The Grainger website is abysmal compared to McMaster.

      They do require a business account for some items such as HVAC components. I needed a 24 transformer for my heat pump. The wouldn’t sell me the exact part as a walk in customer. But a few minutes browsing the catalog in the store, I found an equivalent part in the electrical section (rather than the HVAC) of their catalog – which they were happy to sell me. Weird.

  15. McMaster-Carr’s inventory of commonly available items is indeed impressive, and if you need that 1/4-20 rod delivered tomorrow and you can’t be bothered to drive to a local shop, I’m sure it’s worth the extra money.

    Their inventory of less common (but still standard) items is not impressive at all. They don’t stock #12 NF threaded rod in any material, for example.

  16. I have used McMaster-Carr for years. Between the remarkable drill-down of their online catalog, the lack of minimums and the nearly-overnight shipping, it is one of my best sources for parts. While shipping costs are average at best and small parts are often cheaper per unit if purchased in quantity elsewhere, on many things their prices are quite competitive. It’s worth checking.

  17. Say you’ve got “Glengary Glen Ross” opening tomorrow night in your community theater and you’re missing a key prop. Faster than you can get to Hobby Lobby and back and wait for gold spray paint to dry on a couple of wooden macrame beads, McMaster-Carr can get a set of genuine brass balls in your hands. https://www.mcmaster.com/#metal-balls/=19dbu3e

    Or just machine-threded allen-head metric cap screws for that serious look on a project box . . . they got those, too.

    1. Your community theater has a budget? Here they’d be scouring the stalls for discarded ferrero rocher wrappers, smoothing them out and scraping the last out of the elmers with a popsicle stick to glue it on….

    2. Those allen cap screws are probably my favorite fastener.
      You can use them in so many places to instantly make something look cool.

      And looking cool makes everything more reliable, said no-one ever.

    1. If your are the plant engineer for a large factory, mill, or plant, it is much easier (and likely quicker and cheaper) to add the bike to an order with an approved supplier then it is to go though all the hassles of getting your accounting department to agree to buying form a unapproved company.

  18. McMaster Car customer service is top notch – you can call them and a human picks up without any hold music or recorded operator.

    You can call up McMaster and ask them the specific manufacturer PN of a part — IF you have a good order history with them.

    In the midwest you can place an order by 5 p.m. and they will have it delivered to you by ground shipping the next day.

    I have ordered the wrong part from them before and talked to someone and they simply sent out a replacement – without sending back the wrong part.
    ($10 tap).

  19. “Now, I wont assume this next bit, but I can’t help but wonder if these boxes let the shipping folks play a nice game of Tetris inside the delivery truck.”

    I once worked at a distribution center for probably the largest toy chain in the States and that is exactly what I did… the pot helped.

  20. I am fortunate to live within a few miles of the headquarters in Elmhurst, IL and have ordered many things from them. Many times I would receive within a couple hours after ordering and if I was out and about any way I would just use their will call and pick up on my way home. And can confirm McMaster Carr’s customer service is top notch never had any problems returning parts or getting me the correct parts when I order the wrong ones.

  21. Here is why I like McMaster Carr and also Digi-key since others mentioned it: They both have *excellent* web interfaces that make it easy for me to zero in on *exactly* what I want very quickly. Their service is also exceptional. They rarely make mistakes in my experience. That really is the key to success for this type of company in my opinion.

      1. It isn’t about how the website looks for me. The reason I use digikey while designing is because they have all the parameters in there that I’m looking for as I drill down to find the parts that will fit the requirements. I get pricing, quantity on-hand (look for higher numbers to get a warm-fuzzy that the part isn’t going to go obsolete), part active-status (will it be end-of-life soon?), useful design parameters related to that type of part before I even open the datasheet(e.g. if an amplifier, then gain, p1dB, etc). Once I find a part I’m considering, they have a handy one-click link to the manufacturer’s data sheet. I also get the manufacturer and manufacturer part# and other important items for the BOM. All of this is easy copy-paste text form. I hope they don’t change a thing about their website.

        1. As mentioned at the bottom of this forum I could see such functionality embedded in various open and closed source tools. Heck those distributors could be contributors to the code if the parts-list was sourced through them.

  22. a strong reason for larger packaging is also the fact shipping losses small boxes all the time. flat mail goes through its own processing, by anything 3 dimensional gets thrown in with the mix large or small. whether in the back of a UPS truck or on a conveyor belt in Louisville, Kentucky, small boxes get lost. a lot.

  23. They’re basically the Digi-Key of mechanical engineering, and that’s a good thing.
    In the land of Fosters and Skippy it’s obvious that it takes a little bit longer to arrive, but being able to order by Tuesday evening and have the parcel arrive on the Digi-Key Learjet by Friday is still really impressive. And free shipping for $60 orders.

    I really wish McMaster was available here, with similar logistics performance.

  24. Compare McMaster-Carr to Grainger for website experience. From the early days of their internet presence, McMaster has hit the sweet spot of catalog-familiarity, search, and drill-down functionality. I cannot find a darn thing on the Grainger site.

    (Amazon aside) the internet was the biggest boon to large-catalog wholsale technical companies like McMaster, Grainger, Newark, etc. Internet allowed them to get rid of hundreds of call center staff for order taking, and keep costs down as a result. Being , able to tap into retail as well as wholesale customers is another benefit. No need to set up a wholesale account, just take the credit card.

    1. You’d think…. seemed to have killed Future Active the real electronics side of Future Shop in Canada, but maybe they weren’t with it quick enough. Yo numbskulls, you coulda been Canada’s Mouser/Digikey etc.

  25. I’ve been using McMaster for ages, but I guess I’ve missed something about the hardcopy catalogs. I’ve never found them that useful, they’re always in the way and the department doesn’t need a dozen copies of them. Seems highly wasteful. Its gotten the the point of asking Purchasing to tell them to not send any more.

  26. I used to write portions (meaning reams) of the McMaster Carr 100 lb. catalog. My guess as to why it’s near impossible to search by brand is because the catalog is specifically written so there’s not an ounce of favoritism. It is all factual, with 0% advertising. Companies woo mightily to get in the catalog, all with the understanding that there will be no promotion of their brand. Searching by brand might be seen as a competitive advantage on what’s supposed to be a level playing field. I also worked on their freight floor and in small order fill. Both areas run like clockwork. The box sizes aren’t custom because orders are typically filled within 15 minutes of clicking buy. You grab (or try to grab) the box that best fits the order ASAP.

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