Railroad Spike Steel

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Posted · Report post

I have a cache of railroad spikes that I was planning on using to make some knives - when the weather warms up a bit. I was planning on these knives being the functional camp ground variety - utilitarian, solid with wood attached to increase handling comfort and to give a more positive grip.
I was speaking to a maker of carving tools who told me that RR steel was not good for anything - doesn't forge well - not my experience - and can't hold an edge.
Now, correct me if I am mistaken, but I was under the understanding that if properly prepared - normalizing, annealing, forging, quenching, a bit of grinding and then heat treating - RR spike steel would be fine to use as a knife. Or should I preferably use the old leaf and coil springs I have?

Brian
Ottawa

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Posted · Report post

Railroad spikes are low carbon steel mild steel, approximately 15 points carbon max, even the ones marked HC which stands for higher carbon, not High Carbon only have about 30 points of carbon. The accepted standard for knife steel is at least 60 to 65 points carbon minimum. Email me I have about 20 pages in MS Word on various types of junkyard steel, railroad steel and various steels that are commonly used in knifemaking that Iwill be glad to share with you. On the other hand old leaf and coil springs are good knife steel.

Woody

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Posted · Report post

From a post I saved away years ago:

"American Railway Engineering Association's Specifications for Soft-Steel Track Spikes. Original document, 1926, revised last in 1968

Two classes of track spikes are given specifications, both low carbon and high c
arbon. Two sizes of track spike are identified, one of 5/8 inch square shaft and
one of 9/16 inch.

Page 5-2-1. "A low carbon track spike will not contain greater than 0.12% carbon
nor greater than 0.20% copper.

Page 5-2-2. Section 6a.
Bending properties: The body of a full size finished spike shall stand being ben
t cold through 180 degrees flat on itself without cracking on the outside portio
n of the bent portion.

Page 5-2-2 Section 11. Marking. A letter or brand indicating the manufacturer sh
all be pressed on the head of each spike while it is being formed. When copper i
s specified, the letters "CU" shall be added.

Page 5-2-3: Specifications for high carbon steel track spikes 1968. Carbon not g
reater than 0.30%, nor greater than 0.20% copper. Page 5-2-4. Section 6a. Bendin
g properties: The body of a full size finished spike shall stand being bent cold
through 120 degrees around a pin, the diameter of which is not greater than the
thickness of the spike without cracking on the outside portion of the bent port
ion.

Page 5-2-5 Section 11. Marking: A letter or brand indicating manufacturer and also the letters "HC" indicating high carbon, shall be pressed on the head of each spike while it is being formed. When copper is specified, the letters "CU" shall be added."

Additionally included in a fax to Mike Blue by the gentleman at Wellington industries, a division of Sheffield Steel:
"Because of the bending tests required, the carbon content will not be greater than 0.30%. After all, brittle spikes would not be desirable as a track spike. Abent spike still holds the rail while a fractured spike would not. The consequences for the industry would be too great to consider. However, we refer to them as high carbon, they are not within the range of steels known as high carbon or hypereutectoid according to the steel industry standards, and have not been since at least 1926, when most track spikes were previously manufactured from wrought iron.""

I'd go with the spring stock myself!

Thomas

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Posted · Report post

"Page 5-2-2. Section 6a.
Bending properties: The body of a full size finished spike shall stand being ben
t cold through 180 degrees flat on itself without cracking on the outside portio
n of the bent portion."

That seems like one heck of a test!!

Blkbear:
If you are intent on keeping some of the spike contours or features as part of the resulting knife, why not split the spike and forge weld in a piece of leaf spring, etc? Seems like a logical solution to the problem.
-Aaron @ the SCF

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Posted · Report post

The "HC" means that they are high carbon rail road spikes, not that they are high carbon steel....

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Posted · Report post

Railroad spikes are low carbon steel mild steel, approximately 15 points carbon max, even the ones marked HC which stands for higher carbon, not High Carbon only have about 30 points of carbon. The accepted standard for knife steel is at least 60 to 65 points carbon minimum. Email me I have about 20 pages in MS Word on various types of junkyard steel, railroad steel and various steels that are commonly used in knifemaking that Iwill be glad to share with you. On the other hand old leaf and coil springs are good knife steel.

Woody


say..is that an open offer about your scrap info? cause if it is [email protected]

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Posted · Report post

Hi blkbear. I have heard that RR spikes make mediocre knives. But, my buddy made one for his daughter, and it looks real nice. I bet it would deliver a nasty cut or open a lot of envelopes. I made a leaf veining die out of a spike marked HC on the top. I used BBQ briquettes to anneal it, and filed the veins in. Then, heated to critical and quenched with no tempering. It worked just great. A year or two later when I was showing it off, I noticed that I had left a bit of the "HC" mark, and it was dinging my leaves. Couldn't touch it with a file! Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that RR spikes will make a decent knife, but they are hardenable. Also, they are much more difficult to work than mild steel, and people at open forge will look at you funny if you are drawing out reins on RR spike tongs.

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Posted · Report post

Technically, you could make a knife out of anything, including wood. What it cuts, how long the edge lasts and how sharp it gets, are what will change. I have made some knives out of scrap mild steel and hardened it when I needed to cut bale twines for the day. It was quick to make, and they lasted the day but there was no edge left. For a knife that lasts, you need the higher carbon like everyone has said. That being said, if you haven't made many knifes, I'd start with easier to handle metals, (ie. lower carbon) to get the idea down. Some high carbon steels are touchy and not forgiving when it comes to working heat, not to mention expensive. Just don't expect the edges to last because they won't harden enough.

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Posted · Report post

I personally think, and this is in no way meant to deman or belittle or pick a fight with anyone, and I completely understand about carbon content and all that, higher is good. I personally feel, and you can take my opinion on the fact that I have been making knives for about a year at most as opposed to others on here who have been making knives and other blades for longer than who know what:), that rr spikes make a good knife. Now, that is based on the fact the all a knife is is a peice of steel that will take an edge and hold it for atleast a little while. Now, of course a rr spike will not take a 3 micron sharp edge, nor hold an edge like that, not like the higher carbon steels or tools steels of course, but it will take an edge, cut things pretty good, and depending on heat treat and stuff hold an ok edge for a good while. I have had great success with rr spike knives, I sharpened them up and used them to see what kind of edge they do hold and stuff. But definately the higher carbon steels liek leaf springs and 1095 and ll the tool steels are like night and day compared to rr spikes. Spikes wil lmake OK knives when starting out, but using high hiogh carbon steels will be an amazing difference in both blade performance and stuff.

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Posted · Report post

Don't forget that it also depends on what you believe in and the angle you are coming from. If you want to use found materials and RR spikes, do it. The best work comes from your true self.

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Posted · Report post

Many a man has been killed with a sword made of bronze...

but then, again, many a man has been beaten to death by a stick.

A man can make a knife out of anything he wants to. There are no rules.

BUT... there is a great difference when you begin offering your work for sale to the public. Regardless of whether you agree with the ways and means of the organization, you've got to consider the testing standards the ABS guys have set for their blades. You can't do what they do with a spike. Period.

A maker of any sort is wrong to exploit the ignorance of the public. I had a guy tell me once that a smith had made him a knife from an HC spike, "and that was good, because that is the same steel they use in swords". People are generally gullible when they meet someone claiming to an expert.

Of course the buyer should beware, but we must be willing to be honest about our individual skill level and knowledge of material.

My $.02

Don

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Posted · Report post

Thank you all for your replies. I was definitley working under a mistaken assumption that the HC on railroad spikes meant high carbon content, good for knives.
The test described for rr spikes, bending back on itself, makes so much sense.
I do like the idea of welding the spike top onto the tang portion of a proper higher carbon steel blade.
My idea for knives was to have the top of the spike integrated as part of the handle pommel, as a sort of trade mark. I am making these for friends so I want to end up with a reasonably good quality knife. For the handle, I am using wood or bone wrapped with parachute cord. I can still do this by welding some good knife steel onto the top of the spike and have a good camp knife result.
Thanks for all your input.

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Posted · Report post

Sure has been lots of knives made from RR Spikes I havent made a knife from a spike myself but can be done. From what ive read it depends a lot of not burning any of the carbon out while forging.
Ive allways use springs for knives -like they say not much carbon.
this guy here can make a knife from a spike
there is tons of post on the Outpost
try this The Knife Network Forums : Knife Discussions

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Posted · Report post

My two cents here.....

I have made 100's and 100's of these things and when properly heat treated, they aren't all that bad, considering what they are.. There is more to making a knife than just the materials involved..PROPER and careful thermal treatment, a thermal treatment that is OPTIMAL for that particular material will work wonders on the end use, couple that with good edge geometry and you will have a pretty decent knife.

Now will they cut?? Sure they will..if properly done but they will not be as good at holding an edge as say a knife mde from 1084 or 1095, but for what they are, they will serve the purpose...

I can get mine "shaving sharp" and using cold caustic soda brine as a quenchant they get just hard enough (at least for me) to take and hold a decent edge for a decent length of time...Not the greatest material in the world but it does have what I call the "wow" factor...

I am woreking on a batch of 50 of these right now that I will have done later today or early tomorrow, I might just post a pick of a few .. I do mine a bit differently than most folks do...

All in all..just be honest with your clientele, tell them that these are more for a "novelty" than for serious use, although alot of my clients use them ALOT in re-enactment settings and they grab them up by the dozens...

Not the greatest steel for a knife but it can be used if you know how to do the right thermal treatment...

JPH

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Posted · Report post

blkbear I think you misunderstood the comment about welding the spike to a high carbon piece. I think what they ment was to split what would become the blade of the spike knife down the middle insert a piece of high carbon steel like a piece from a file or something of that nature, then forge weld the thing back together. After that forge the spike out into a knife and that will give you a blade with a high carbon center for a cutting edge and the "mild steel" or low carbon steel on the outside for flexibility. This would still preserve the complete style of the spike and give you a knife with superior edge holding qualities after it has been properly heat treated.

Woody

Woody

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Thanks Woody. That is exactly what I meant. I shoulda been more concise about what I was trying to say. Thanks for clarifying it for me ;)

-Aaron @ the SCF

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Posted · Report post

Ah! I understand now. Yes. As I recall that technique has been used over time to construct swords as well. It will be a good test of my forge welding skills and no doubt be a learning process as well. When the weather turns a bit warmer, today is this winter's first snow storm and temps for the next week or so are expected to in the munis 10-20 - celcius, I am certainly game for the challenge.
I will post results.

Brian

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Posted · Report post

Hey all, im new to blacksmithing, and i was wondering, is that junkyard list still available?

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Posted · Report post

Bluezero, 

 

Go to the "pages" section and search for junk yard. The topic you are looking for is 

BP0002 - Junk Yard and Rail Road Steels

 

Also take a look at Anvilfire.com they have a few very good cheat sheets on junk yard steel. Where are you located? 

 

Ernest

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Posted · Report post

and remember such lists are OFTEN WRONG.

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Posted · Report post

Rail road spike steel quality... such a can of worms! I think Mr. Powers hit it on the head (see what I did there?)

They make an easy selling piece, though! I've sold two this week! People like the looks, and for what most people use blades for a low carbon steel blade would probably suffice? I always warn people before they buy a spike knife or ax from me that it is not a high carbon steel, but a low carbon steel. 

Cheers! 

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Posted · Report post

I make them into tomahawks, not made a knife yet. sold about a dozen, said that they are "just " railway spikes. they trow nicely, as may of you know, and the first guy that bought one from me came back the next year for three more. 

that being said, if they hit the back of another hawk already in the target, you`ll need a file.

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I wanted to show you the RR spike knife my 13 year old Nephew is working on and a spike his Mom cleaned up.

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post-35414-0-05771100-1413759262_thumb.j

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Posted · Report post

As far as metal the will forge out fine. If you want to make it into a good knife I saw where some one forge welded a piece of Damascus into the middle of the spike so you got the handle with a twist but a good blade. It is a good place to start to learn how to control the movement of steel and start establishing your style in knife making. Then when you have confidence use better material and make a good knife.

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