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Reality Check On The Price Of Steel

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  • Reality Check On The Price Of Steel

    As a low volume novice home shop machinist (calling myself a machinist is really a stretch at this point) I have been buying my materials at a couple of online metal suppliers who offer good prices and good service.

    Today I was shocked at the price differential between two particular suppliers (didn't mention names because I'm not sure if its ok).

    I priced a piece of 1018 crs 1" X 6" by 2 feet long. The supplier who has historically had the lowest prices who I usually go to first wants $127.50 + shipping. My intuition told me that was extremely high. So I went to another supplier I have also used with good luck albeit their prices are usually 15-20% higher, and they wanted $56.01 for the same piece of steel. So I figured there must be an error with the first suppliers online prices and decided to call and ask them. The person I spoke with in sales checked and said there's no error, the right price is $127.50. I told them it didn't make sense and I'd keep looking.

    Has anyone else found this kind of disparity in metal prices recently?

    I may have to find a cheaper hobby.


  • #2
    I'd call the $56.01 reasonable for a small quantity order. I've encountered wide disparities in pricing. On one occasion I got a quote on a quantity of stainless rods. The one supplier would have required me to drive eighty miles each way to pick it up with my own truck. I wound up getting the same quantity of material shipped to my shop via common carrier from out of state for $150.00 less than the first place quoted. You may also find that by ordering "max for min" you may spend the same money, but you'll wind up with extra material.


    • #3
      There are all kinds of variables.
      Could be a slow moving section.
      Could be an item they don't really have in stock that they are buying through another vendor and marking up.
      Could be an old price,not every dealer marks up old stock as the price changes.
      Could be slow moving stock for them.
      Could be made anywhere.
      Could be cold rolled that isn't stress relieved.

      Could just be differences in vendors.We deal with 5 different vendors at work.One will have good prices on structural hot rolled sections and not so good on tube products,another will have good prices on Hot rolled flats,but not on channels and angle and still another will have good tube prices and not on anything else.

      Bottom line,you did the right thing by shopping around.
      I just need one more tool,just one!


      • #4
        i have had similer experiences i deal mostly with one supplier now only cause i know the stuff i get is what i pay for and i can take as much or as little as i want, and i get really good prices so i cant complain for a local suppler plus i can also get stuff right here in town as EMJ canada is local in my city ..

        i get my teflon from fastenal as they do have the better price for it but you dont want to buy metal from them its way over priced no matter how much or little you buy


        • #5
          1 " x 6" x 24" = 144 cubic inches. Since steel's density is around 0.29lbs per cubic inch, that piece weighs about 42 lbs.

          The first supplier's prices were very high. $3/lb is close to what we pay for 303 stainless or 360 brass. I will add "ridiculously expensive cut fee" to weirdscience's excellent list of possible explanations.

          $56.01 is much more in line with what we're used to, and is actually quite good for a 2 ft cutoff.

          As for seeing disparities like that, we've seen worse. I got a quote a year ago from a company that wanted to charge $5.01/lb for 1018 CRS and $9.51/lb for 360 brass. It seems like some people try to make up for lost sales by INCREASING their prices, when high prices were the reason why they lost the sale in the first place.


          • #6
            Another consideration is how set are you on your sizes? 1X6 crs is some pretty hefty stuff. Do you really need 1 inch thick stock for what you are doing. I have seen bench grinders mounted on thick steel because it was handy or the person building the stand was not the person paying for the steel bill. If you can use 1/2 inch thick stock instead of 1 inch, you will aslo save a bunch of $.

            THINK HARDER




            • #7
              if the purchase is more than trivial, i always phone around. prices depend on the moon phases and what the guy had for dinner. 50% differences like that are common in my experience. The price of steel moves, so you don't know what their inventory cost is, there is no place to check what a 1x6x24 piece should be, so you get a big variance. they also have a lot of latitude when dealing with small time guys like us.

              I bought a bunch of 1" tubing last year, prices varied from $40 to 20 per length, just another day at office. If you live in a area that is large enough to have some service centres, phone around instead of ordering online.


              • #8
                THe high quote sounds like it came from Alro (an HSM advertiser). Alro has been buying up other suppliers and jacking up the prices to ridiculous levels. Alro bought "Ohio Metals" here in Dayton and, in the beginning, was pretty close to the old "Ohio Metals" pricing. Over time, they kept jacking the prices up and up, depending on what kind of volume they saw on your account (heaven forbid you want to walk-in and buy something for cash). In general, Alro wants multiple times what is a reasonable price for smaller quantities.

                In Dayton, I use a recycler that stocks some new material and can get most of what I need. He tends to "pool" orders for new material, and place an order every few days. He gets his steel from a competitor to Alro that has "minimum order pricing".


                • #9
                  Weird' has pretty much covered it, there all sorts of reasons for high quotes. And, don't judge a metals supplier by a single high quote, next time on another metal they may be lowest.

                  A bit of advice that may help.....sales people have a lot of leeway in pricing, most work on a commission basis. How you make your request for quote can have a major difference in the pricing. If you aren't knowledgeable in what you're ordering and price appears to be your major concern, the sales person knows you won't likely be a regular. Why should he spend a bunch of his time with you, for the same amount of time he can be making a $50K order with a regular customer? In other words time is money for sales people.

                  Know what you want before calling, don't ask for advice on material from the sales person. Ask about availability, meaning how soon can you get it. As a final, tell him you're quoting a job and need his price for the quote.

                  Keep in mind for large steel suppliers single piece orders like this are not profit makers.


                  • #10
                    I've known about some suppliers that quote high prices for small orders because they just don't want to deal with the little guys. I once got a price of $75 for a piece of brass that I could get elsewhere for about $20. It was clear to me that they did not want to bother with me.

                    My daughter-in-law is the buyer for a major steel distributor in the northern part of our state, but they have firm policies and even she can't get me deals. They have a minimum $300 order, and even the scrap bin is off limits to both customers and employees (and there's a lot of scrap in this case.... ).


                    • #11
                      Lots of "could be's". I reccommend noobs buy their small needs by asking first for remnents. This saves you a cutting charge and any surplus can be marked to keep material ID and stored for the next project.

                      I used to buy full lengths as I needed if it was a commony used material and stored the surplus.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by coollx
                        Has anyone else found this kind of disparity in metal prices recently?
                        That's been going on since the end of 2007, when the spot prices hit their peak. A lot of metal suppliers were buying at the peak, and when the metal market crashed in 2008, they weren't willing to adjust their prices. So you have some suppliers selling based on current prices, and others who are trying to sell based on 2007 prices.

                        I bought two plates of cold-rolled from Westbrook Metal in Austin, and a 6" x 12" plate of 1/2" was cheaper than a 6" x 12" x 3/8" plate, because they were doing "Cost + Plus" pricing.

                        These days, you can often buy metal mail order and the price including shipping will be less than your local metal supplier. Try SpeedyMetals, MetalExpress, etc. Alro and Onlinemetals have always been expensive.
                        "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."


                        • #13
                          Btw, both of the companies I mentioned specialize in and cater to small, no minimum size orders which is why the pricing disparity is so baffling.

                          Thanks for your thoughts.


                          • #14
                            Hi Coollx,
                            Would be nice for us brits to know where you are from, as if on different sides of the pond any answers would be different.

                            I have tools I don't know how to use!!


                            • #15
                              Hi Peter, I'm from Upstate New York