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What is your favorite all-around metal?

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Hey guys,
Just getting started here and was wondering what type of metal you guys use for a lot for whatever reason (for making tools, knockers, hinges, etc). I was reading through the Art of Blacksmithing and read that 1020 Hot rolled is supposed to be fairly common? Though I think when I was looking through McMaster Carr for metal to order there wasn't a whole lot of choices for 1020. I'm going to start out making the basics (tongs, for one becuse that's what I need badly) and move up from there.

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Ahh back when that was originally published "mild steel" was probably 1020 or 1010.

However nowadays if you ask for mild you probably get A36 a different kettle of fish indeed. Also buying "mild" steel from MMC for plain forging is probably *NOT* a good idea. Finding a local source that can sell you it in 20' lengths will probably be much more cost effective. (I get my steel from a traditional windmill erection and repair company 2 miles from my shop---about 1/3 cheaper than at the lumber yard in town and 1/10th the cost of buying it in 4' lengths at a big box store. I'm also cheap and bring a hacksaw and cut it to length myself rather than to pay $1 a cut to the store...)

Hot rolled is cheaper than cold rolled and as you are going to forge it anyway usually not worth the extra cost.

As for what to use for a hardy tool well it depends on what tool you plan to make! Mild, 5160, High Alloy steels all have their place depending on WHAT. For a simple hardy I would go with 5160, for bending forks say 4140, Swages mild-medium, etc..

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A lot depends on what you want to make. For learning exercises mild, A-36 is the "modern" equivalent of 1018 or 1020 mild steel. Hot rolled as already said is a much better deal than cold rolled.

Rebar makes decent general forging project but it can be problematic under some circumstances as it's manufactured under performance specs rather than an analysis spec. 1018 is literally an analysis specification meaning it's low alloy with 18 points of Carbon. For reference a point of carbon is .01% So 5160 Leaf spring has 0.60% carbon along with other alloying metals as signified by the first two numbers. Being 60pts or 0.60% carbon means it's medium carbon steel however being a medium alloy it has both chrome and mylybdenum in it so it has characteristics all it's own. It's good stuff so don't hesitate to pick up any you find laying around. Oh yeah, 1018 mild has 0.18% carbon which isn't enough to harden in heat treat appreciably. This doesn't mean it wound work harden but that's a different thing entirely.

What tool you're making will determine the desired steel as well. For tongs a medium carbon steel works well but it means you have to be careful NOT to quench it if it gets red hot. The same holds true for using auto, coil spring, Generally 9260 if memory serves, it's good tough steel able to take heat treatment but with a generally more forgiving nature than most tool steels. Again, quenching a pair of spring steel tongs at red heat is a B-A-D thing.

Coil and leaf spring is good for lots of smithing tools needing the extra toughness or hardness. Coil spring makes pretty good cold chisels for instance. Leaf spring not only makes decent dies, blades and such for a guillotine tool it'll make a pretty decent hack or darned good knife blades.

A pickup truck axle makes good hammer stock. It's not high enough carbon to take a high degree of hardening so it's not so great for a hot hardy for instance, but it's just dandy for making various hand hammers and sets, even power hammer sets. It's good and tough without being particularly brittle.

Of course you can buy small quantities of steel in almost any spec you want but that's not a good idea for learning. Steel shop the ditches as you travel, watch for abandoned machinery or buildings being torn down. Look in the Yellow pages for a local steel supplier, it's always nice to work with brand new, clean steel, not necessary mind you, just NICE. While you're looking in the yellow pages look for local fabrication shops, they'll often let you buy out of their drop bin for scrap prices. Other metal working companies may be willing to afford you the same opportunity, oh say a crane company, those things wear and often break requiring copious quantities of steel to repair.

Well darn if I didn't seem to get into wordy gear. :o I just hope I haven't confused you more than you deserve. :rolleyes:

Frosty the Lucky.

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In my area there is at least two general steel yards and a few plate steel yards. I usually buy 1018 mild hot rolled steel for most work. Every tong I have ever made was out of mild steel and always work out well. If made right they will last years.

As far as cut off hardy's, I like used jack hammer bits. hard strong stuff! I found two of them at an army surplus store for 25 cents each. My favorite cut off hardy I made 5 years ago from a used jack hammer bit and I usually sharpen it once a year. It holds up very well. I just make sure to keep the steel hot and don't hit the hardy with the hammer! :blink:

Coil springs from trucks make great chisles, and I use them for punches as well. They hold up okay for punches if not over heated and quenched often. Cheap anyway, and usually free. Since I'm into restoring classic pickups and belong to classic vehicle clubs, friends give them to me free. :D So, instead of buying expensive high carbon steel for punches, I make them from coil springs. When I destroy one, no worry, I have many more....

The blades for my guillotine are made from leaf springs from a truck as well. Good hard stuff!

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Oh boy - yeah you guys gave me a lot to chew on :) Well my father owns a machine shop so he has good amount of scrap metal always kicking around. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what is what. No idea if what I'm picking up is 1020 or what. For instance I was just making a hook to hang a tool on last weekend and felt the metal I was using was like silly putty...it mushed down really easy...too easy actually...made it hard to keep a square shape when drawing out to a point. (My father thought it was 1018 maybe)

That's why I thought it would be good to start with samples from McMaster Carr so I can know what's what and feel the differences in the metal. You mentioned not quenching a high-carbon steel with water...is oil the the thing to use? Or does one just not quench whatsoever?
I am definitely going to quickly pursue making punches or chisels...

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Quenching a high carbon steel from critical temp makes it hard and brittle---most of your tools you don't want brittle! (think of pounding on a glass bottle with your hammer!)

So it's a good idea *NOT* to overheat and quench any of your tools! (if they need it; quench them while they are still "cool" and below critical temp.)

Now when you heat treat something wanting to make it hard/tough; what you quench it in depends on the alloy and the use and can be: air, oil, water or brine. Without knowing alloy and intended use you can't get good heat treat suggestions; save for basic junkyard steel rules: (generally a good idea to follow them in this order too!)

Check for carbon content using the spark test.

Forge a piece out to approximate size of your intended use item and then heat to just above the point where a magnet is no longer attracted to it. (a hanging magnet is a useful shop item as you don't want to touch it with red hot steel) *Quickly* quench it in warm oil. Check for cracks, if it cracked then may be an air hardening steel. If it didn't crack then check for hardness with a file; if it skates off after any decarb layer is removed then it's probably an oil hardening steel.

If a file digs in after removal of any decarb layer then reheat and try quenching in water or brine. Check for cracks, if it cracked then may be an oil hardening steel after all. If it didn't crack then check for hardness with a file; if it skates off after any decarb layer is removed then it's probably a water/brine hardening steel

If it's still soft then it's not a very hardenable steel and you may be able to get a bit added toughness from it using superquench.

In my shop I often don't have any water. When I am done forging an item I will toss it out onto the sand and let it cool, a normalization rather than a quench for *most* steels.

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Since your dad owns a shop, he probably orders a fair quantity of steel. Ask to have some new stock, pay for it per cost, and play around with that. You will want a36 or 1018 to start learning on.

Alternately cut stock for the machinists and label your drops as you go.

Steel that works like putty is a treat! It means that you are as hot as you should be.


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