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Cool Things in the McMaster Catalog

July 5, 2010

I bought and went through the entire print version of the McMaster-Carr catalog.  3824 pages.  “Why the hell would you go through their entire catalog when they have such an amazingly-searchable-like-totally-better-than-even-Google website?  Because you can’t be an as effective design engineer if you don’t have a basic knowledge of what’s out there and worth buying pre-fab’d, and what is worth designing on your own.  I found quite a few things while going through the pages that I was not aware existed, or were just neat variations on things I did know existed, or which were just really awesome/impressive, even if I probably won’t ever end up using them.  Many of the things I saw could come in handy to me in my engineering career, or in my tech related hobbies.  I found about 90 items which I thought were neat enough to write down in my notebook, but I’ll just highlight a few of the coolest here (where “cool” is designed from the perspective of someone who is into machine design).

“Rotating Joints”

For leak-proof fluid transmission into piping or a drum which is rotating, these little dandies could save you a ton of time in having to design your own.  Making these on your own would be a very big design challenge in itself.  Some of these are rated for extremely high pressures, or for high rotation speeds.

“Inline Fuses and Fuse Holder”

Cool way to get a fuse into a circuit which wasn’t originally designed with one–adding an inline fuse (catalog page 908) into the wiring.

“Mechanically Operated Air Control Valves”

We use pneumaticss pretty frequently in my new job, but they’re typically monitored and controlled electronically.  We often buy them with hall sensors in them that detect the cylinder movement based on a magnet on the cylinder.  For position detection of other machine elements we often use prox sensors, but I could see there being situations where position detection/pneumatic reaction could be useful, which is what these valves enable.

“Linear/Rotary Ball Bearings and Spline Shafts”

Where torque needs to be transmitted to a component that also needs to be free to move linearly, these ball splines will get the job done.  McMaster also sells simpler combination linear/rotary ball bearings.  These bearings are going to to (hopefully) allow me to implement an innovative new design at my job:

“Ultra-Miniature Versa-Mount Guide Blocks & Rails”

The sizes on these guide blocks and rails are ridiculous; “we believe these are the smallest blocks and rails in the world.”  In the image above, that’s a fingertip holding one of them up.  McMaster also says they’re “ideal for electronic, medical, and other precision applications,” but I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to assemble anything this small.  What I’m currently working on at my job will employ the “miniature versa-mount blocks”–and these are still really small, being tapped with paltry M2 threads, to give you a sense of size.  But these ultra-miniatures are tapped with M1 x 0.9’s.  What the heck is that.  You’d have to employ ants to tighten the screws.  Dimension “A” in the image above, for the smallest of these assemblies, is 4 mm!

“Miniature Adjustable-Speed Controllers”

A simple mechanical solution for achieving a constant feed-rate for short strokes–“as the piston rod is compressed, hydraulic fluid is forced through an adjustable internal opening, creating consistent velocity throughout the stroke.”  Could be useful for preventing the breaking of drill bits in repetitive drilling operations, once you dial in the right rate (p. 1181).

“Air-Glide Multidirectional Dolly Kits”

By hooking up a hose with 90 psi shop air, these dollys have a remarkable lifting capacity–a plate-shaped dolly 21″ x 21″ x 2″ can lift 7,000 lbs. (!)

“Pocket-Size Vibration Meter”

I thought this was a neat little device.  “Flexible steel wire reed detects vibration while the scale on the side of the meter indicates the machine vibration in cycles per minute.”

“High Spot Blue Marking Paste”

“Also known as Prussian blue, this past marks high surfaces and interference spots on precision fittings such as bearings, gears, and valves.  Coat the parts and assemble them into working position.  Any improper fit will show up as a blue streak.”  Clever.

“Pipe Contour Gauge”

I thought this tool was awesome, and I had not seen it ever before.  ‘Twill be useful whenever I get a place with a real garage and get into welding.  “Transferring the exact outline of a pipe joint couldn’t be easier.  Simply slide the gauge over the pipe to be cut, hold pipe in joint position, and push the gauge probes down until they take the shape of the pipe joint.  Slide the gague up and you’re ready to mark the pipe.”  A similar tool is available on the same catalog page (2247) called a contour gauge; it operates on the same principle, just for replicating complex surfaces in a single plane:

“[…] Gauge” (Radius, Thread Pitch, Nut & Bolt, Wire & Sheet Metal, Hole Diameter (Plug))

I want one of each of these in my toolbox.  Well, some are probably too expensive to be practical, but they’re still useful.

“Electronic Water Level”

How damn clever is this?! Using water finding its own level in a tube, you find the level between two points!  “Determine level around corners and over long distances.  This level lets water seeking its own level do the work.  Just fill the attached hose with water and raise the unattached end of the hose in a different area.  When the electronic sensor buzzes, the water level in the hose marks the matching level point.”  Of course, you don’t really need a fancy buzzer, just a clear tube.  But applying Bernoulli’s principle / hydrostatics to level-finding…  smart!

“Shaft Alignment Kits”

Pretty critical for high-speed rotation or static joining of rotating shafts.  Two versions, inexpensive stylus, or expensive dial indicator.

“Threaded Hole Transfer Punches”

Where an array of drilled and tapped holes needs to be transferred to another part manually, these punches can be threaded in and used to drive pilot countersinks into the new component.

“Adjustable Large Diameter Hole Cutter”

Clever device for turning a drill into a device for cutting large circular holes in sheet metal.

“Tap Extractor”

I’ve been pretty careful whenever I’m tapping something (3/4 turn forward, 1/2 turn back…) because I didn’t want to find out what happens when you snap a tap off in your workpiece.  But this is what you get to use, if you have to get one of them back out of a hole.

“Hinged Pipe-Wrenching Collar”

These keep you from dinging up the pipe, by wrenching off of the collar, instead of directly on the pipe.

“Torque Multipliers”

Rather than using a breaker bar and damaging your tool, you can use a torque multiplier which has “gears in the housing which multiply the amount of torque that can be applied to the fastener.”  I saw versions of these being used on impact tools at GE’s wind assembly group, where I worked as an intern.

“Screw Extractors”

I haven’t had occasion to use these before, but you use them by drilling a hole in a bolt or screw, drive the extractor in CW, then back the bolt out on its own threads (CCW) by backing the screw extractor out.

“Sealing Flat Head Phillips”

Neat addition to a common product; rubber O-ring under the countersink face to seal pressurized fluids behind the fastener.

“Tension Indicating Steel Bolts”

The head of these bolts have a color dot which changes from red to black, once it’s properly tightened.

“Wire Lockable Bolts”

These bolt heads have holes through them, through which wires can be run.  The wires will prevent the bolt from backing out of the material; good for high vibration applications.

“Clip-On Nuts”

For holes on edges of sheet metal, these fasteners could save you time.  Clever design, many shapes available.

“Rivet Nuts”

I can’t imagine that these are rated for very high loads, but for light load joining, these could be handy.

“Precision Mini Torch”?!

“Needle point flame gives you maximum control for precision welding, brazing, soldering and heating…  Torch produces enough heat to weld steel up to 3/32″ thick.  Flame reaches 6000 degrees F using oxygen and acetylene.”  (WANT)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Earl permalink
    July 5, 2010 7:02 pm

    I learned a lot from this post!

    The most immediately applicable will be the contour gauge for pipes.

    The Romans used to make water levels out of animal intestines and use them for aqueduct layout and construction and other civil engineering uses.

    Now I want to read my McMaster catalogue cover to cover!

  2. Glenn permalink
    December 7, 2010 7:09 pm

    I was wondering how the miniature versa mount guide blocks and rails are working out for your project?

    I am considering using them and wanted your impressions, as the specs on them are sparse and I was going to run them ~>3 m/sec.

    Also, a sharpie/overhead markers work almost as well as Prussian blue and doesn’t make as big of mess (for me).

    • justinketterer permalink*
      December 8, 2010 3:11 am


      Thanks for the tip about the sharpie!

      The versa-mount blocks which are sold through McMaster-Carr are actually IKO linear rails and guide blocks. If you go to IKO’s website and find their catalog for this miniature series of linear guides, I’m sure you’ll be able to compare the dimensions shown on McMaster’s website to determine which IKO part number is actually being sold by McMaster. I’m also pretty sure that IKO’s catalog will have all the information you’ll need about load/speed/fatigue limits on their blocks. Good luck!

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