Content by Woodshop Cowboy | Mixed Media Steward | Nova Labs | Key Member
Getting metal for your project could be easier, not gonna lie. There aren't a ton of local vendors and shipping charges can eat into your wallet.
When looking for materials for a project, it's important to understand the intersection of convenience, quality and price. No metal supplier will have the perfect mix of convenience, quality and price. I will review these sources as I see them, as well as give you some context for how/why.
Nova Labs Makerspace Metal Shop
If you are a member of the Nova Labs makerspace in Fairfax, VA, then we sell metal in our metal shop. It is extremely convenient for a project providing the rack has your material on it. A quick donation to NL via the Paypal button and you can move on with your day!
Nova Labs makes periodic metal orders from BMG metals (see below) which you can piggy-back on via the Metalshop or Blacksmith Steward (or other coordinator). A fantastic way to get a great selection for cheap(er) than other methods. Downsides? We place an order every 3 to 6 months on average, so plan ahead. Sometimes, orders get mixed up at BMG or upon delivery, so make sure you know what you want. You get everything in 24 foot lengths, so what do you do with left over material for a small job? Delivery is made to NL during business hours, so you are asking someone to be here between 9am and 5pm, then asking them to break down the stuff. Low price point, good quality, but the reliability can be frustrating for those of us who are "I want it now"-types.
BMG Metals, Manassas, VA - BMG Metals Inc
BMG is a metal supply company that has several branches in the Mid-Atlantic region. They have a great selection, great 1 or 2 day turn-around, free delivery after a certain $ amount, great prices. What's the catch?
24 foot lengths & the cutting fees & ordering process. BMG's stock arrives in 24 foot lengths, which can be VERY heavy, so I always need another person to help unload. Heck, 24 footers don't fit in my garage, driveway nor are they easily delivered in my neighborhood. Usually, I'd just bring a portable bandsaw blade or angle grinder to BMG and cut the pieces down myself, but they forbid cutting of materials in the parking lot. I could pay BMG to cut the pieces down for me, but they charge a lot for that service. Lastly, ordering from them is a PAIN in the I-HATE-PHONE-CALLS way. I'm a Millennial. I don't "phone". I text. At least they take credit cards.
So while the prices work great, the logistics of pickup/delivery and frustrations in ordering make this a last place option for me.
Potomac Steel, Industrial Commercial Suppliers | Stainless Steel | Aluminum | Hardware | Springfield VA
Commercial distributor used by several members off I-95 in Springfield.
They have Alum Sheet in various thickness and copper and steel. They will cut it to size for you as well. Been there some 40+ years. Great place for small quantities of aluminum plate and other materials. ~ Review by John
Closer and better than Potomac Steel.
They're about the same size and similar product catalog, but their customer service is exceptional and their pricing is really good. They will cut the metal and sometimes won't charge you. I
— Review by Gari
Charges for cuts are minimal. 21 cuts for a recent purchase and they charged $20.
— Updates by woodshopcowboy.
Metal Supermarkets - Steel, Aluminum, Stainless, Hot-Rolled, Cold-Rolled, Alloy, Carbon, Galvanized, Brass, Bronze, Copper
Here's the company that I use most consistently. They do cost more than NL-Group-Order or BMG, but they have a very high convenience factor: great selection of metals, SOLD BY THE INCH, with a local-ish pick up option or home delivery. They offer 10% off any order over $100, which is very easy to get to. Service at the Beltsville location is very quick, professional and polite, even if parking is a pain in the butt. The biggest drawback for a maker are the hours - they do not have weekend hours.
Winchester Metals is an industrial shop about 1.25hr west of Nova Labs. They offer large and custom structural metal pieces, up to full I beams to build a large building. They also offer steel by the pound for smaller cutoffs. They are also scrap metal dealer, similar to Potomac Metals, they will take cars with title. More details TBD.
Many home centers, such as Home Depot, Lowe's and Ace Hardware have a small selection of mild steel, aluminum and sometimes the odd K&S hobby metals rack. The prices are way high compared to other vendors, but they are the only shop open when you need bar stock at 8 pm. Definitely not my first choice, but will do in a pinch.
Online at Amazon/Ebay
Both Amazon/Ebay offer metal for sale. While you may get a break on price, shipping often eats into any savings. The week-long lead times and shipping practices can be frustrating for makers with a deadline. Quality can be all over the map as well.
I have bought small sheets for classes and projects for less than other merchants here, but I won't bet a commission on it.
Quality Steel For Quality Blades -
Highly recommended by the blacksmithing/metalworking tribes. In fact, often only recommended by the blacksmithing/metalworking tribe. While a furniture builder like me plays with mostly mild steel for artistic applications, knifemakers, machinists, and engineers often need specific steels/metals for specific applications. To get a known steel or metal, you need a vendor you can trust. They trust a guy with "Baron" in his name.
If you want it, they usually have it. It just might cost you an arm and a leg. Great selection, great ordering system, awful prices.
Buy Metal Online | Online Metal Supplier
Buy Metal and Plastics at Online Metals | OnlineMetals.com®️
Speedy Metals Online Industrial Metal Supply
I usually order from Speedy metals or Online metals when they offer discounts. Typically the discount just offsets the shipping costs. Note that if you end up ordering 6 ft or longer shipping costs are up charged - keep lengths 3 ft or shorter. Speedy metals allows custom orders of 1” or more increments at about the same incremental cost of buying a 6 ft length. Always good to have them provide the labor. — Ken P