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Want to build a set of wheels
I want to build a set of wheels as much to learn how to build and true wheels as to end up with a decent spare set of wheels. The issue is finding parts. I've looked around a bit and if I want Ultegra hubs and say a Mavic Open Pro set of rims it's actually cheaper to buy a built wheel set instead of parts. Now, I suspect I might be able to find used parts on eBay or Craig's list but...

Any ideas?
While it is cheaper to buy pre-built wheels, they are usually made by machine. A properly hand-built set of wheels will last a lot longer and stay straight. Amazon has a good selection of hubs, rims and spokes. I am planning to do a tutorial on measuring and building wheels.

You might be able to find a good used set of hubs, but I'd recommend buying the rims new (unless you can find used ones that have never been built). Both eBay and Craig's list are good places to find used parts (buyer beware).
Looking at Jenson USA (and their priced do seem to be reasonable) for a set of Ultegra hubs and DT Swiss R1.1 rims (just to pick something) would be on the order of $300. Add skewers, rim tape, spokes and nipples and it's probably $50-70 more. The same set of wheel from say Colorado Cyclist, built, would be $290 (~$350 from Excel).
Now clearly they're making a profit in both the parts and the built wheels but boy, what a difference.
Oddly it sounds like one could buy the wheels for less than the parts then true them ones self and save money. Am I missing something? Is there something inherently better about starting from scratch instead of a built wheel?

There is an in-depth discussion about this topic over at bike forums that may be helpful.

Not that many people build their own wheels so large shops sell more complete wheels. They'd rather have you buy everything at once rather than shop around for the best price on individual components. You would think that parts would be cheaper because you're doing the labor of building them yourself, but the manufacturer's cost to machine build a wheel is tiny.

You might check around at local shops to see what they have. Since they sell few hubs and rims, you can sometimes talk them into a good deal on stuff that's been sitting there for a while. Ultimately, short of keeping an eye on ebay and craigslist, you will probably never save much money buying just the parts for any common popular rim/hub combo. If cost is your main thing, buy the pre-built wheels.

But I would really encourage you to try building your own wheels. It takes some patience and precision, but I think it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of bicycle maintenance. You will really learn a lot about how to true and maintain a wheel in a different way once you've built one from scratch. If you're just getting these for spares, I'd say take your time, look around for good parts (even if the front and back won't match), and go for it.

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