Buying Parts for a DIY Quadcopter Build

quadcopter parts

When I started the process of building my own quadcopter, I discovered that purchasing the parts was going to be an adventure. In particular:

  • ordering directly from China
  • finding parts that are in stock.

If you go into the shopping process with the right mind set, it can be an enjoyable process. You learn more about the quadcopter you’re going to build, and you get to experience a whole new source (direct from china) for buying parts. But, if you go in thinking it’s going to be an Amazon Prime experience, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed.

Let’s walk through each of these points in detail  and I’ll share where I ordered from at the end.

Ordering Directly from China

One of my goals for my first DIY quadcopter was to keep costs on the low side (in other words cheap). I figure that most likely I will crash this thing more than fly it. When the inevitable crash comes I would rather not curl up in a ball and cry over all of the money that just went hurtling into the neighbor’s house.

If you want to keep your costs low, you will be looking at ordering from China. For me, this was a new experience: ordering on Chinese websites, long shipping times, very questionable English.. the list goes on.  If you’re use to the warm fuzzy experience of ordering from Amazon you’re going to be in for a new experience.

Let me quickly clear up two things. First, if you read forums, etc. about ordering directly from China you’ll get the egg drop soup scared out of you. I’m sure there are some shady Chinese websites, but it isn’t that bad. My limited experiences to date have actually been quite good. If you go in with the right expectations and are smart about it you will not be disappointed.

Second, understand that you are buying a clone in 99% of cases. What does this mean? Well, probably nothing for those just getting started like myself. But, in reality it may not be as high as quality as the original. Do I care at this point? No, because:

  • I’m just getting started and don’t know how much I’ll enjoy the hobby.
  • I’m going for cheap.

If I do enjoy the hobby: I’ll upgrade if needed. Yes, my overall costs will be higher. But, if I do enjoy flying quadcopters I most likely would have bought more stuff anyway.

Parts Constantly Out of Stock

Get used to these three words: Out of Stock and On Backorder. This was the second thing that made ordering parts for my quadcopter an adventure.

I don’t know what’s causing it, but there is a serious problem with supply and demand in the quadcopter market. Demand seems to be far out pacing supply. If you don’t want to wait months for a particular part to be restocked, be prepared to buy something else and from someone else. In reality, this worked out in my favor:

  1. It forced me to really look at all the parts for my quadcopter and understand what they do. Do I really need that out of stock Afro SimonK 12A ESC that every raves about or could I get by with a 10A ESC that is in stock?
  2. It made me spread my risk out between a couple of vendors.

Partially driven by not having parts I needed, partially driven by my risk aversion to sinking a couple of hundred dollars in one untested foreign website, I chose to spread my purchases between a couple of sites. Diversification baby!

I bought some parts from China, and I bought some parts from a company based in the good ol’ USA. I probably spent about $20 more overall, but I didn’t have to wait for some parts to be restocked and I felt more comfortable spreading my money around.

Where to Buy From

I looked at a lot of sites, the following two had what I wanted at good prices so I ordered from them:

China Website:

First, hilarious name. They seem to be a big player for quadcopter parts. Lots of people use them – of course you’ll see a wide mix of reviews. My experience was positive. The website is a little clunky, but my order arrived quickly and in good shape. I also had a problem ordering (my fault) and the customer service was quick to respond via email and take care of things (bad English and all).

US Based Website:

Based in Columbus, OH. Not sure how big they are, found them accidentally when searching for an ESC that was in stock. Very positive experience. Ordered on a Friday, it was shipped about 45 mins after ordering and at my door by Tuesday! Website is very clunky and slow, but it worked fine – really happy overall.

I looked at a lot of other sites that I’m not going to list here since I didn’t use them. Many looked quite good but didn’t have what I wanted, some were too shady so I avoided. Your experience might vary – regardless, think of it as an adventure and have fun with it!

What about you? Where do you order your quadcopter parts from, what have been your experiences?

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