What are the world's most useful dead-tree catalogs?
April 1, 2008 9:23 AM   Subscribe

What is the iconic (or just "your favorite") dead-tree product catalog (listing of merchandise for mail-order sale) for your hobby, industry, or trade?

I get a lot of inspiration and project ideas from those huge, cinder-block-sized industry-specific catalogs that most every industrial supply company puts out. I really like the feeling of having these things on the shelf for when I need... something to fix a particular problem, but am not sure at all what that something is or what form it might take.

I want more of these catalogs. Hard copies. On my bookshelf. I want to know the inside scoop on all of the thousands of vocations and hobbies about which I know nothing. I want to know what the go-to catalog is for model railroaders, scrapbookers, field geologists, rock-climbers, steamfitters, tailors, hydroponic gardeners, blacksmiths, glaziers, restauranteurs, casino-operators, robotic-arm builders... just, everything.

By way of example, I love love love the Grainger catalog (catalog order form). It's filled with amazing things. I'm not shilling for them whatsoever and I couldn't endorse their product or their service anyway, having never ordered from them (I usually use it to get my ideas, and then I try to buy local from a similar, smaller supplier close by). The B&H photo and video catalog (catalog order) is another favorite (same deal, never spent a cent with them... I'm real big on keeping my money local).

So eager to see what y'all got. I've always been so awed by the disparate fields of knowledge and expertise that are brought together by MeFi. I am very interested in your little corner of experience and interest... and I thank you so much for sharing it with me, if you'd be kind enough to do so.
posted by cadastral to Shopping (72 answers total) 298 users marked this as a favorite
I want to know what the go-to catalog is for model railroaders...

posted by gyusan at 9:25 AM on April 1, 2008

McMaster Carr. I think I cite them in about 4% of all my AskMe posts.

Their catalog is the size of the Manhattan phone book, and has everything you need to build a factory. They don't send out their catalog to just anyone (I waited years after requesting one and being a regular customer).
posted by adamrice at 9:27 AM on April 1, 2008

I'm not a graphic designer, but since I bought something from them once, I get Veer's catalogs. They send out lots of super-cool stuff, and I use them all the time as writing prompts and "visual stimulants" for my work.
posted by angry.polymath at 9:28 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

For beads and bead related items you can't beat the Fire Mountain Gems catalog. It even has elaborate/amazing/tacky examples of beaded works by customers sprinkled throughout.

Order at your own risk. You'll be getting them in the mail every few months and they're pretty big.
posted by Alison at 9:35 AM on April 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

One of my favorite catalogs is the Sigma-Aldritch chemicals catalog. You can't order anything from them without being a semi-legitimate institution, but it's still a fun catalog.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:45 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, I was totally planning on asking this question myself at some point. Thanks.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:51 AM on April 1, 2008

If you are into photography B&H photo is your one-stop shop. They actually have several phone-book sized catalogs for specific needs such as digital photography or 35mm photography. As a child I used to enjoy browsing through the Edmund Scientific catalog and dream up things to do with all the lasers, lenses, magnets and so on.
posted by TedW at 9:57 AM on April 1, 2008

Happ (formerly Happ Controls) manufactures all manner of coin-op arcade game components. Back when I had a basement full of 80s era coin-ops Happ was the place I went to for joysticks, buttons, marques, and the like. Their catalog is several inches thick. Online version here. Not sure how you can still get a your mits on a hardcopy, but if you click around their website you should be able to order one.
posted by wfrgms at 10:02 AM on April 1, 2008

Levenger, for reading.
posted by mattbucher at 10:09 AM on April 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also, for Hazardous Materials equipment, The Compliance Center catalog. There are tons of great restaurant supply catalogs. Not sure which one is best, maybe Zesco or Sysco?
posted by mattbucher at 10:18 AM on April 1, 2008

For laboratory supply, there are a couple important ones:

For fine chemicals, no body beats Sigma-Aldrich (and all 2^256 of it's subsidiaries).

For the equipment to outfit a lab, there are a couple of choices: Fisher Scientific (my personal favorite) and Cole-Parmer.

There are lots of companies who do specialty chemicals or unique equipment, but those companies are the ones who reliably send me 15 cm thick catalogues every year or two.
posted by bonehead at 10:18 AM on April 1, 2008

For those seeking simple, non-electric goods, it has to be Lehman's. I'll take one of everything, please, starting with the butter churn.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:41 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Central Restaurant Products

American Metalcraft has some really interesting catalogs both for restaurant/bar supplies and hobby supplies.
posted by cooker girl at 10:50 AM on April 1, 2008

Digi-Key for electronics parts. No handling charge for orders over $25, and same-day shipping available. Also, Allied Electronics tends to have more selection, but they take longer and have a higher minimum order.
Omega for industrial automation, test equipment, and process control-- their catalogs are monstrous hardbound shelf-fulls. Also, they have some very nice free posters.
posted by leapfrog at 10:56 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forestry Suppliers Inc. is the staple for a myriad of supplies for just about everyone in the environmental field, from biologists to foresters to environmental consultants like myself. There's lots of really nifty stuff in there. I think they're moving away from Dead Tree editions though, although we still have one in the office that we use. You can order the catalog from the link - on the left side, halfway down:

"Over 700 pages of cool stuff!"
posted by elendil71 at 10:59 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dick has a catalog full of amazing and ridiculously specialized woodworking tools.

no puns intended
posted by casarkos at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2008

For decades, I have loved the Edmund Scientific catalog.
posted by MtDewd at 11:11 AM on April 1, 2008

My husband likes Williams Homebrewing.

I like Bluestone Perennials.

Fire Mountain Gems is awesome, too.
posted by Ostara at 11:14 AM on April 1, 2008

This is not huge- less than 50 pages- but if you want Table Tennis supplies in the US, you go to the Paddle Palace. Over 1000 different types of rubber.
posted by MtDewd at 11:17 AM on April 1, 2008

Lee Valley has three beautiful catalogs - woodworking, gardening tools, and general hardware.
posted by true at 11:18 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Musical instrument makers' supplies: Stewart MacDonald, Music Makers.
posted by Plug Dub In at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2008

I always loved browsing the Galls catalogs for light-bars and fire boots.
posted by saladin at 11:25 AM on April 1, 2008

I wouldn't exactly call it 'most useful', but the best type specimens I ever received were Emigre's Little Book of Love Letters vol. I and II, which feature some pretty stunning love letters writen to the personification of each typeface. "Dear Mrs Eaves", "Dear Fairplex", "Dear Tribute", etc.

I imagine a few people in this thread have seen them. My copies are incredibly dog-eared and currently on loan. "Dear Filosofia" got a friend of mine laid.
posted by avocet at 11:33 AM on April 1, 2008

Even though I haven't ordered anything in ages, I loves me some Veer.As long as your on their mailing list they send you all sorts of cool freebies all throughout the year. I once got a huge puzzle, the image on which was a forties pulp novel cover sendup made from the stock photos they sell.
posted by littlerobothead at 11:42 AM on April 1, 2008

posted by bolognius maximus at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2008

Lehman's Nonelectric catalog is pretty unique for people who live off the grid.
posted by electroboy at 12:08 PM on April 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sporty's is probably the biggest name for pilot supplies. Aircraft Spruce is well-known for aircraft parts - they cater to the homebuilder, I think, but their stock is interesting.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:16 PM on April 1, 2008

If you like to climb trees: Sherrill Tree.
posted by kortez at 12:22 PM on April 1, 2008

King Architectural Metals.
posted by weebil at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2008

Dick Blick, 624 pages of art supplies.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:45 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Layline for yacht racing and Lasers in particular.

Nashbar for cycling.

Title for boxing equipment.

Seconding McMaster-Carr and what's amazing is that their Web site is really just their vast, ridiculously comprehensive, but well-written and instructive print catalog very cleverly made searchable and navigable as either HTML or PDF.

And seconding Lee Valley and especially Dick Tools for woodworking.
posted by nicwolff at 12:47 PM on April 1, 2008

I am astonished nobody has mentioned American Science and Surplus yet. Bizarre surplus, scientific, office, craft and just plain goofy, amusingly described. Often I don't even order, but just happily read all the little entries for my own entertainment.

Also, for fish hobbyists - or pet owners in general, but the catalog I get from them is for fish owners, and I assume there are separate catalogs for different animals - Drs Foster and Smith.
posted by bettafish at 1:04 PM on April 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Hobby Builders Supply for miniatures

Lab Safety Supply for everything you need in a, well, laboratory

epromos might not have a dead tree version, but if you are looking for anything from .25c things to toss at a crowd, up to $500 awards for you CEO, they've probably got it.
posted by legotech at 1:35 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Google catalogs!

You know, as a resource.
posted by O9scar at 7:45 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like MSC and Small Parts to complement Grainger and McMaster-Carr, which are both superb.

If you need semi-exotic metal stock (Chromoly steel, etc) or milspec fasteners, the Dillsburg Aeroplane Works (as recommended by the great Carroll Smith) is fantastic. As far as I know (I've moved away from the northeast) you can still only order from them over the phone, and they're wonderfully crotchety. Know your stuff when you call, and be prepared -- it's the Soup Nazi experience, for good and bad.

I also love the MPJA catalog, for the random things you won't find anywhere else. JC Whitney and Harbor Freight are where you go when you want something cheap and taiwanese, like for the toolbox in your trunk or where you'll only use it a couple times.

* Is there an equivalent to Godwin's Law for customer service conversations viz. the Soup Nazi?
posted by mrflip at 11:07 PM on April 1, 2008

The Rivendell Bicycle Works catalogue, and the 1992, 93 and 94 Bridgestone USA cycling catalogues always put a smile on my face..

You can read all the Bridgestone USA cycling catalogues from 1985 to 1994 in that link. Where you ask? Sheldonbrown.com of course. God-bless that crazy old bastard.
posted by nonemoreblack at 3:44 AM on April 2, 2008

Lindsay's Technical Books (catalog request form) is am amazing resource for books on everything from lightbulbs, tesla coils, to machine shop working and homesteading.
posted by mrbill at 6:21 AM on April 2, 2008

West Marine (online catalog)
Overton's (catalogs.google.com 2005 version)
Bart's Water Sports

Global Sources - costs money to subscribe, however a huge resource for 'white label' products from China/Asia (online store if you buy in quantity)
Anixter - IT/Communications components + infrastructure
Black Box - Data, Voice and Network Infrastructure

Musical Instruments:
Musician's Friend

Hedonics - Canada's answer to skymall

Some interesting results here as well : catalogs.com
posted by 3rdparty at 7:43 AM on April 2, 2008

When my brother and I were kids we loved looking through the catalogs from the Johnson Smith Company, primarily the "Things You Never Knew Existed" one. When you're 9 years old, pretty much everything in that catalog seems essential.
posted by sportbucket at 2:47 PM on April 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Super Duper is the charismatic leader of the speech pathology materials industry. (They also serve occupational therapy, special ed, and physical therapy, to various extents.) They send out pretty hefty catalogs once or twice a year.
posted by kmel at 7:25 PM on April 2, 2008

Oh man, I remember "Things You Never Knew Existed", sportbucket...I always desperately wanted the "Butthead" mask. See, it was a mask...of a butt. With glasses. And white briefs for a hat. I can confirm that at 9 years old, nothing seemed like a more worthwhile purchase.
posted by silby at 9:53 PM on April 2, 2008

I second the Digi-Key recommend. Awesome catalog.
posted by kingbenny at 10:20 AM on April 3, 2008

Papa Jim's Botanica was a voodoo supply catalog that was closed down by the FDA back in the early nineties for "practicing medicine". It was filled with potions, spells, charms, hexes, kits, candles, capsules, you name it. With helpful and informative articles interspersed like Self-Help for Cataracts and What that Itch Might be Trying to Tell You. Spell Kits came in three strengths-- $19.99, $29.99, and $39.99. One of my favorite kits was for "Draw luck like a magnet", but I never bought a single thing, which come to think of it may explain a few things.

Holy shit they have a Web site!

Guess they worked out that issue with the FDA. Or the FDA changed enough to no longer regulate voodoo. Hmmm, probably the latter.

Looks like you can get a print catalog. I'm signing back up.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:49 PM on April 4, 2008

Chiltern Seeds. Hawkins Bazaar: Christmas / party stuff. The Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogue.

And there's a library/archivist supply catalogue that I'm sure jessamyn would know, but whose name I've forgotten: it lists shelf units and slip-cover sleeves and boxes for old books that get stored in subterranean stacks.
posted by holgate at 11:09 PM on April 5, 2008

Also, for Hazardous Materials equipment, The Compliance Center catalog.

Requesting a catalog from them WILL result in a sales call a day or two later, even if you click "No do not have a sales rep call me". My wife called me at work, "WHY do we have people calling the house and asking about your hazmat shipping needs? Are you doing something I need to be aware of?"

I requested some catalogs from Omega last weekend, and had a big heavy box delivered to me at work on Tuesday. REALLY nice - and they threw in a pack of their-logo playing cards as well.
posted by mrbill at 6:39 PM on April 10, 2008

posted by 517 at 7:53 PM on April 11, 2008

Van Dyke's Taxidermy

Even if you don't order from them, it's good to know what a full size rhinoceros form will set you back, should you find yourself in need.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:56 PM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love many of the ones already posted here, but am aghast that nobody so far has mentioned The Summit Racing Catalog.

Its possible, but extremely contra-indicated, to attempt to tune your car or bike without it.
posted by ChasFile at 8:41 PM on April 11, 2008

The Lark in the Morning catalog is full hundreds of beautiful and bizarre musical instruments, a real joy to look through.
posted by interrobang at 9:18 PM on April 11, 2008

(The "Request a Catalog" link is on the lower right.)
posted by interrobang at 9:18 PM on April 11, 2008

I'm shocked no one has linked REI for this question. The ultimate in everything outdoorsy. If I had the capital and wanted to get into the retail business, I'd open a branch here. And yes, they have catalogs, but the stores themselves are really inspiring. Want to try out a rappelling harness? You can, in the store. Want to know how those hiking boots will work out on uneven ground? They have fake rocks to try them out on. Not satisfied with anything you bought in the past year? Full store credit. Seriously, between REI and Williams Sonoma (I really love to cook), I could drop fifteen grand in less than an hour and still not think I had enough.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:19 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Libraries mostly use Demco or Gaylord.
Bookshelves, bookends, book carts, book tape, bookmarks, book covers, etc. etc.
posted by exceptinsects at 9:34 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Knife collectors: Cold Steel has an awesome catalog. Everything from Japanese style swords to reenactment sabres to daggers concealed in a hairbrush. Just got the Spring Special Projects catalog and the cover is gorgeous. They also sell kitchen knives.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:13 AM on April 12, 2008

Duluth Trading Company. Worth reading for the copy alone, and offers such wonders as the Denim Presentation Jacket for important meetings or the Longtail Tee for preventing plumber's butt...one of my favorite catalogs since Carhartt started sucking.
posted by barchan at 7:52 AM on April 12, 2008

Great question, great thread..

Elderly Instruments
in Lansing Michigan is a hotbed of acoustic goodness, and all things music...
posted by HuronBob at 8:01 AM on April 12, 2008

Smith and Hawken for gardening tools, supplies and apparently furniture now, too.

Burpee for seeds.

Graybar has stuff for industrial electrical applications
posted by SteveTheRed at 8:39 AM on April 12, 2008

Well, I see I'm late to the party but Demco and Gaylord are, as exceptinsects says, the go-to places for library supplies (including shelf labels, book ends, display modules, that pebbly grey shelf tape, etc.)

Highsmith and SchoolSpecialty are both good catalogs for school supplies, with some overlap with Demco and Gaylord (media/library supplies) but they also carry stack desks, dry erase boards, rugs for childrens' areas, hand puppets, and so on.

National Business Furniture is not a big catalog but if you're interested in corporate furniture it's a good one to consult.
posted by johnofjack at 9:07 AM on April 12, 2008

Brodart also sells a lot of library stuff.
posted by box at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

For flyfishing: Orvis

For electronics, in addition to the excellent suggestions by leapfrog, I like Mouser.

For cycling: Colorado Cyclist

For cooking: Knife Merchant

For home audio: Elusive Disc and Music Direct
posted by caddis at 12:14 PM on April 12, 2008

Seconding Grainger, Edmunds Scientific, Stewart Mcdonald, Duluth Trading Company, Digikey, Lee Valley, JC Whitney, American Science and Surplus, Summit, Lindsays, Galls.

I'd add:

Ramsey Electronics. All sorts of eletronic kits.
Rio Grande Jewelry oriented tools and supplys, but full of all kinds of weird and interesting tools. Multiple large catalogs for beads/tools/etc.
KV Vet Pet supplies and what not.
Jerrys Art-O-Rama
Flax Art And Design Paper, art supplies, pen, etc.
Snapon, Mac Tools, Matco Tools, Cornwell Tools. Mechanic oriented tools of all varieties.
J&P Cycles, Custom Chrome, Drag Specialties, Dennis Kirk for motorcycle (particularly "cruiser") stuff.
Micro-Mark Tools Tool and supllies for model builders.
Year One for muscle car parts
posted by alikins at 9:59 PM on April 12, 2008

My friend works for Fastenal and says that there MIGHT be a way to get them from them wither online or calling, but your best bet is to go into one locally and just ask for one. More huge catalogy goodness.
posted by Stunt at 4:26 PM on April 13, 2008

Got the Cole-Parmer catalog in over the weekend, and I think it's the heaviest catalog/book I've ever received in the mail.
posted by mrbill at 2:11 PM on April 14, 2008

Cyberguys for tech stuff.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:22 PM on April 14, 2008

IronMind is for strongmen/strongwomen. (Strength training supplies for athletes, musicians, etc.)
posted by cinemafiend at 8:33 PM on April 14, 2008

Duluth Trading Company looks full of goodness, but I do not understand why you would put drawings of your products on your website instead of photos of the real thing. There are a couple of pieces of clothing I'd like to order there (particularly some of the fire hose stuff), but I can't tell how it really looks.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:00 PM on April 14, 2008

I think I'm in heaven.

My contribution, as someone already mentioned Galls, is the Lab Safety Supply Public Safety catalog.

As far as I can tell, you can't order a fire engine from it, but you can order damn near everything else, including HazMat moon suits and the like.
posted by scrump at 12:38 PM on April 15, 2008

As far as inspiration goes, it's hard to beat Carolina Science Supply
Lore has it that Damien Hirst more or less directly took ideas for at least one of his vitrine installations from the pages of this bad boy, as well as multiple concepts for sculptures (ie: the ones based on anatomical models)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:28 AM on April 17, 2008

Alfa Aesar chemicals catalog/handbook.
posted by aerotive at 7:29 AM on April 17, 2008

Bioquip, Carolina Biological Supply, Forestry Suppliers, and Fisher Scientific are my offerings. They're already listed but I heartily second them.

One of my teacher friends used to have a catalog with every weird cheap toy you could ever think of, all sold in bulk. I think it was basically everything found in vending machines in the U.S., all of it made in China. Bouncy balls priced by the thousand, etc. Unfortunately I can't remember the name if it. It was fun to read.
posted by Tehanu at 3:15 PM on April 28, 2008

Tehanu, I think you might be remembering Oriental Trading.
posted by marsha56 at 2:04 PM on July 9, 2008

http://www.campmor.com/ without a doubt!

best place to find cheap new camping gear online...found out about it over the treeware version though!
posted by guptaxpn at 10:13 PM on August 19, 2008

Third the Campmor for the old-school feel. For dying fabrics (and more), there's Dharma Trading - fabrics and blanks of all varieties and the supplies to dye, print, stamp, screen, batik, etc.
posted by clerestory at 11:05 AM on November 2, 2008

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