Current (2021) favorite places to order raw materials

OK, I’m posting this out of online shopping fatigue (wondering if I am missing something).

If you are ordering online recently, where have been the best deals you’ve found that you’ve been happy with on:

  • aluminum sheet and tube stock?
  • plastics (for us, polycarbonate and delrin)?
  • wire (typical FRC gauges)?
  • anything else that teams typically purchase in raw form?
  • FRC batteries (not a raw material, but still generic - is MKbattery still a thing?)

Everything has doubled in price since we made our “new team” budget several months ago so I am just trying to figure out if I am missing something. We’re also checking all our possible local suppliers (we’ve got a pretty good local metal shop but not plastics). Trying to get at least a few raw materials in the shop before kickoff. Thanks for any ideas!


Team 3636 just recently ordered quite a few materials and parts online for the upcoming season, I’m happy to provide where we bought our stuff:

  • Aluminum: We found Online Metals to have the best price of any online vendor. Their sheet was still not quite as cheap as our local metal shop, but their box tube was somewhat cheaper so we bought that from them.
  • Shaft Stock: We mostly use Thunderhex which necessitates ordering from Vex or WCP (both are the same price, we order from WCP since they ship faster as we’re on, y’know, the west coast). For standard hex shaft, round shaft, or tube stock, we can buy that at our local metal shop for cheaper than online.
  • Polycarbonate: We don’t have great prices at our local plastic store either. McMaster-Carr has the best prices online, but we ended up buying from WestCoast Products because McM’s shipping was high and we were already ordering a lot from WCP. (also maaaaybe because McMaster’s tinted polycarb was significantly more expensive than WCP’s and we wanted it to look cool)
  • Delrin: We don’t normally use delrin, and have no plan to for 2022, so I can’t help much. Online Metals and TAP Plastics both seem to have fairly high prices, but I don’t have a good reference point.
  • Wire: This is the one thing we didn’t order this year as we have a massive amount in our shop already. From what I know, the most recommended vendor is Powerwerx.
  • Batteries: MKbattery is, in fact, still a thing.

Other not-quite-raw-material things and where we ordered them:

  • Belts: I’m a big fan of VBeltGuys. They have timing belts in almost every size imaginable, and their prices are fantastic. (also shoutout to ReCalc, which links directly to the belt you want on the VBG website, and has an adjustable tooth increment setting that lets you take full advantage of their selection)
  • 3D Printer Filament: We buy eSUN PLA+ on Amazon, it’s fairly cheap (about $22 to $24 per spool) and stronger than normal PLA. I have heard good things about Duramic PLA+ as well, which seems to be similarly priced.
  • Bolts/Nuts/Washers/etc: Bolt Depot has the best prices, and their website is pretty good at filtering the exact size and type of bolt you want.
  • Bearings: TheThriftyBot.

Hope this helps!


aluminum sheet and tube stock?
Online metals or local

plastics (for us, polycarbonate and delrin)?
McM, WCP, us plastics, tap plastics

wire (typical FRC gauges)?
Powerwerx and ctre for can

12AWG for motor power, 18AWG for rio/vrm/pcm, 20/22/24AWG for signals (any of them, we just use 22 AWG because thats what CTRE has for CAN), and 4/6AWG for batteries

FRC batteries (not a raw material, but still generic - is MKbattery still a thing?)
MK battery, call and ask for FRC batteries, should be $35/per + shipping.

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10AWG may also be the move depending on the application.

Thanks for the responses. These are all very helpful.

For aluminum, we found that our local Metals Supermarket will cut us a really good deal, but I like to have a price point to compare against when I go in there. They have always been cheaper than Online Metals for sheet (don’t remember about tube). And we have another local guy who sometimes but not always has what we need at a good price point.

(We are fortunate to be a 3-hour drive from the DFW area so REV and Vex stuff usually arrive quickly when we need it and one time we even had a parent pick up a part in-person since they were down there. But all the FRC vendors have been or will be soon getting a lot of business from us as funding comes in and we stock up on generic things that every team needs to have around)

Anyone have much luck with local battery shops (or chains)? We’re going to try that route for a donation but it’s good to know the MKbattery prices. We inherited a stack of new-in-box 2016 FRC batteries but the ones we’ve tried have all been in not-so-good shape (they sat in a non-climate-controlled storage unit for several years) but are okay for testing.

Edit: we are also trying to set up a Fastenal Omnia contract for 50% off bolts/etc (that’s my understanding of it, anyway)

2nd vote for our local Metal Supermarket. They also give the FRC teams up here a discount and let us rummage through their scrap/discount bin for free, which really saves us some small cuts and odd pieces we wouldn’t otherwise buy. (It’s also nice to have an open P.O. from our school for them as well.)

We also have a local Piedmont Plastics office and can get various plastics at really good prices. Typically full-sheets (which makes transportation a bit fun for us) but they have cut them down to 1/2 sheets (or smaller) for us in the past - just takes a day or so extra.

I haven’t priced either post-COVID, but our metal prices were even or slightly cheaper than online options before discounts, and for polycarb our prices were about 1/2 of what we’d pay at Home Depot.

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Quasi-related followup: Any favorite rivets and rivet sourves? I know that #10 bolts and 3/16" rivets both fit a .201" hole, and #8 bolts and 5/32" rivets both fit a .159" hole. We’ve got a chunk of #10 hardware so we are probably just going to standardize on that and drill out any #8-size holes we have and go with the bigger size unless there is a compelling reason not to (weight? But how much does that save?). I believe Vex and TTB gussets are #8 holes and REV are #10, and we’ll eventually make a lot of our own once we can fund a CNC mill.

We get the majority of our fasteners here - great family owned company that supports FIRST teams.


If you’re willing to jump through some hoops is where I purchase a lot of our delrin/acetal and some of our aluminum sheet. Their search isn’t the easiest to use but it’s gotten better, and if you sign up for their mailing list you can get 15-20% off your entire order and free shipping every other month or so. I normally wait for a coupon code and do a large order. is my current favorite bolt source, it’s free pickup at their stores if you have one local to you so it normally ends up cheaper than McM, BoltDepot, etc. They also have random clearance bolts/fasteners at times for 70-90% off and I’ll buy a lot of them, normally not the most useful sizes but good for random projects, etc. is my defacto rivet source. The search is a little complicated to make sure you are getting exactly the rivets you want but it can be a very good value.


We approach a local commercial metal supplier and ask for pricing/discount/donation. They discounted our aluminum order 50% from online metal prices. Building a local relationship with a sponsor who wants to support your team year after year is worth the effort.


We always use Online Metals for our aluminum, no matter the format. By far the cheapest and they ship so fast you practically have it yesterday.

For plastics of all kinds (we use polycarb and recycled HDPE most of the time) the go-to is US Plastic. Again, way cheap and they ship like lightning.

For most hardware, we’re big fans of McMaster-Carr, especially those odd bits and pieces of hardware that no one else seems to have in as many sizes, etc. Once again, they tend to be cheaper than many other sources and you can’t beat their delivery time, since in many places they’ll have virtually anything you order to you the next day (they do industrial and commercial supply as a main business and are based on the idea of just in time supply chains.)

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FMW Fasteners is good if you don’t need it McMaster-fast.

You aren’t kidding about the search part. Do you have a favorite brand / type? There are so many… We’re also looking for something that won’t disintegrate the first time the robot gets hit. We had this happen in the first match of 2020 and it required some in-pit upgrades. These were 5/32" aluminum rivets of some sort, and I think we drilled everything out to 3/16" and replaced them with the larger size and had no more problems.

This was our last big order of 3/16" rivets.


That’s super-useful. Thank you.

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One plastics supplier that I’ve preached for the last several years: Sam’s Club. A 15"x20"x1/2" loosely-toleranced piece of HDPE (which amateurs may recognize as a cutting board) is still $7.64, which is actually cheaper than the usual $8.98.

Cuts like wood, and it’s plenty durable. We used two as side plates on our 2021 shooter rebuild, routed on 2815’s X-Carve.

Then we discovered some of our guesses were off, so we took them off, made notes…

…and spent a whole whopping $20 to make version 2 of our shooter with tweaks (fixed oversized bearing holes, eliminating unneeded material, changing the hole pattern for the AndyMark Peanut standoffs, etc). Once we got past the teething issues, it was basically maintenance-free through at-home challenges, SCRAP, and demos.

It sounds silly to say $40 of cutting boards changed our entire worldview about how to build robots…but we certainly weren’t talking about adding a CNC router to our shop beforehand!

Oh, and as for 2815 who generously made all those plates for us? After winning SCRAP with this intake, they may have the most famous cutting board in town now.


That’s a deal. Are you sure it’s HDPE and not LDPE?

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The linked product description says “Durable, high-density polyethylene,” for what it’s worth.


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