Sourcing metal

From Artisans Asylum Wiki

Where Can I Source Metal?

Scope of this document

This is created by the Metal shop, for metal shop users. The Machine Shop tends to have different needs & wants for metals.


Our shop mostly uses steel, specifically mild steel. Mild just means it’s not any special steel like stainless steel, or a high-strength steel like 4130, or steels with any special ingredients like lead to enhance machinability. Mild steel is made of just two things, iron and carbon, and very little of anything else. Mild steel sometimes gets called 1018 steel or A36.
If you’re not a big rush, like if 2-3 business days of lead time is OK, then call Turner Steel in West Bridgewater, MA. Use the Artisans Asylum account and get quotes on everything you need. If the total is under about $150, see below for info about putting together a group order. If you’re over $150, you can just place the order yourself directly from Turner.
If you need metal today or tomorrow, see below re Metals Supermarket.

Other metals

Metals Supermarket in Woburn has relatively high prices, but a broad selection of metals including nonferrous. They include cutting in their prices, so they’re sometimes an especially good option if you need a lot of short things cut up. The cuts aren’t super precision. They at least used to have a room full of scrap or off-cuts, i.e. chunks remaining when they use up a length of metal.

Turner Steel Group Orders

Probably the best local supplier of steel is Turner Steel in West Bridgewater, MA. They have generally the best prices and a wide selection, they’re generally reliable, and they’ve been the default supplier for all of Asylum history. The big catch is they require a $150 minimum order. Delivery is free, within about 2 business days, for any orders above the minimum. The minimum is slightly negotiable, as in they’ll often let you order with anything above about $140, maybe $145.
So the Asylum tradition is for someone with experience dealing with Turner to set up a group order, where multiple Asylum folks come together to place an order that meets the minimum. These are organized spontaneously by whomever has a need, on an as-needed, decentralized basis.

How do I know how much the steel costs and what's available? How do I place an order?

The only way to find out Turner's pricing is to call Turner. They have a reputation for being a little ornery, as in, they tend to be interested in simply selling steel, ideally large quantities of it.
They tend to be uninterested in discussing your project/needs/interests.
They want to know what shape you want and what size.
Shapes available may include:
Sheet/plate (sized by gauge number or fractional thickness, plus width & length)
Round bar (sized by diameter)
Square bar (sized by height/width)
Flat bar (sized by thickness and width)
Hex bar (sized by width)
Angle (sized by width, height, and thickness)
Square tube (sized by width and wall thickness)
Rectangular tube (sized by height, width, and wall thickness)
Round tube (sized by outside diameter [OD] and wall thickness)
Pipe (sized by nominal OD and schedule number)
Channel (sizing is complex and beyond our scope)
I-beam (there’s many sub-types of structural beams, I’m lumping them into a bucket here, their sizing is complex and beyond our scope)
When you call them, tell the receptionist that you’d like a quote. You’ll be transferred to a salesperson. Tell the salesperson you have an account, and give the account name Artisans Asylum.
Once you have quotes, send to whomever is organizing the order a list of what you want and what Turner’s price is.
Most stuff is sold in 20 foot lengths, though some in 12-foot and some in 24-foot lengths. Generally Turner seems to be uninterested in selling smaller portions than a full stick/length, but ask for what you want and see what they say.
They will shear plate into rectangles, but they won’t cut to any other shape, e.g. via CNC. You may need to familiarize yourself with the steel industry’s esoteric concepts like sheet metal gauge, terms like OD and ID, the names and shapes of various structural beam profiles, etc. These systems are sadly largely unintuitive and old-fashioned.
You may be offered the option to purchase cold rolled or hot rolled steel. There’s also HRPO–hot rolled, pickled, and oiled–typically offered only for sheet/plate. It’s your responsibility to determine which of these options is best for your application. Cold rolled and HRPO are nice because they don’t have scale on their surface, which is convenient for TIG welding because TIG is so picky about contaminants like scale. Paint also doesn’t stick as well to scale as it does to bare steel. Cold rolled’s main downside is that the outer layers have been compressed a little, so you tend to see a little more distortion when machining cold rolled vs. hot rolled. Hot rolled is sometimes a little cheaper than cold rolled, all else equal, though not a lot. Hot rolled is not as precise in sizing–especially the thickness dimension varies a bit more than cold rolled.

Can I order other metals besides steel?

Turner doesn't generally stock other metals to my knowledge, though this may have changed and they may be able to order that stuff.

How do I pay?

Asylum is not involved in this transaction. The person organizing the group order is ordering steel from Turner. All other parties need to send money to the organizer, via whatever mechanism they prefer, to pay for their piece of the order.
Turner requires an account to place an order, but the Asylum account is a cash account, meaning payment is due at time of purchase, no credit offered.

Do I need to be a member, a renter, a metal shop expert, etc?


How does one receive shipments from Turner?

They seem to have figured out the new Allston location and its quirks pretty well and in short order.
It's best to at least give Turner your cell phone number at time of order, as a backup. Officially, shop staff & volunteers are not involved in receiving Turner deliveries. The person organizing the group order is in a business relationship with Turner Steel. That person is responsible for ensuring there's at least a Deskie around, or someone in the shop to help receive. Do not assume that Shop staff/volunteers will be in the shop at the time of delivery. That said, unofficially, it's worked out fine for the deliveries I've received thus far at the new location--I assume Turner's driver found a Deskie to let them in. All I know is I came into the shop a few hours after delivery and found my steel sitting on the floor in front of the metal shop loading dock door, with a slip waiting for me at the Antwerp front desk. Turner seems to have this figured out. The slip has listed a set of Asylum open hours that may not be completely accurate but are at least somewhat representative of reality ;)