Suppliers of Materials and Equipment

Sid Mikelbank 6/6/99


Review of McMaster Carr catalog, W.W. Grainger catalog, Thomas Register.

When I first came out of engineering school I learned that I didnít know much about where to buy things. My first big help was getting a McMaster Carr catalog. Yes they have a web page, McMaster Carr, and it can zero in on any of their items, but thereís nothing like having the catalog. I looked through mine from start to finish and thatís about 2000 pages. They are the first place to look for materials or equipment.

The next place to look is a W.W. Grainger catalog. Again, the paper catalog is much, much better than the web site, W.W. Grainger.

Now itís probable that most of the items in these catalogs can be obtained from the actual manufacturer of the item, or some wholesaler, for a lower price. However, it takes time to learn who actually is a good, trustable supplier of an item, especially the first time you buy one, or, if you are only buying one, the manufacturer and wholesaler arenít highly interested in your tiny amount of business. McMaster Carr or W.W. Grainger are interested in your business and they will usually ship your item from stock immediately.

For the high quantity purchases, for items bigger than a room, for really really specialty items, you want to deal with the manufacturer. Now I recommend getting a set of the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. Itís a big green set of books youíll find in most libraries, but if youíre in a business with a lot of buying, you really should have your own set. Theyíre about $250. They have a web site (again, forget the web site, Thomas Register, and use the paper books) but itís got a registration wall at the entrance, and I believe they sell a CD-ROM of the set but I havenít used it. Anyway, the big green books are about 30 books of materials, equipment and products manufactured or for sale in the United States, in alphabetical order by product, with who makes it or who sells it. If it's just about anything, it's in there.

Finally youíre going to collect a lot of catalogs from manufacturers and sales reps who you deal with. These take up a lot of space after a few years, organize them, keep a computer list of what you have, and occasionally throw some out.

Of course there is a lot of good product info on the web, but at this date, you can find most things faster with the paper resources reviewed here.