Beyond the Hardware Store

Hard-to-find stuff is easier than ever to get.

Field & Stream Online Editors

I'm lucky. My little North Country town still has an old-fashioned hardware store, a relic that sells things like horse collars, kerosene, and carriage bolts. Here I can get some wood screws, a drill bit, a Milky Way, and some deer-rifle ammo-all in one stop, taking the time to warm myself by the woodstove. But even here I sometimes get strange looks and shrugs when I ask for something out of the ordinary, a specialized bolt, say, or a particular kind of wire. My barn, basement, and even my Jeep are crammed with outdoor gear of every description. Something always needs fixing. Parts can be elusive, and specialized tools equally hard to find.

My next step is similar to what you may do. I drive however many miles to the nearest large mall and check out the tool department at Sears. Often what I need is there, sometimes not. When it's not, I've found some great new places to go.

** INTERNET HARDWARE**
I was looking desperately the other day for some 3-in-1 brand blue-label oil, which I like to use as a fishing-reel lube. All my local suppliers had red label but no blue. So I searched the Internet and wound up ordering what for me will be a lifetime supply from www.CornerHardware.com for less than 10 bucks.

Hardware retailers of every description abound on the Internet, where you can find everything from specialized marine fasteners to chain-saw or fishing-reel parts. If you're stuck on fixing an old reel, you can often also find schematic drawings to help you out. All you have to do is use a search engine such as www.Google.com to find what you're looking for. Be specific in your search terms, but not too much so. Using "marine hardware" will give a better array of results than "Penn Yan oarlocks," for example.

** INDUSTRIAL SUPPLIERS**
When all else fails, I turn to industrial supply catalogs. These are truly phenomenal in size and scope. If it isn't in here, it probably doesn't exist. Most consumer catalogs might show a few thousand hardware and tool items in a 100-page catalog weighing a few ounces. Industrial suppliers, such as McMaster-Carr or MSC Industrial Supply, produce catalogs measured in pounds, listing a half million items or more. One such catalog on my desk is almost 5,000 pages long.

There is a catch, however, which is that these companies are for the most part not consumer direct. Most won't even send you a catalog unless you can supply an employer ID or state resale number with your request.

But if you're desperate enough for a special tool, part, or other item you can do what I sometimes do, which is to work through a third party. Find a friend whose business either gets or can get such catalogs. Borrow some old copies and find what you're looking for that way. Then get your buddy to order by phone with a credit card. You'll quickly find that what was once an impossible search has become very simple.