David Dix

What steel bars should I order?

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I'm having a hard time finding scrap that holds heat. All I have to work with is a bunch of rebar and railroad spikes. The rebar can't hold heat at all, and the spikes aren't going to be able to do what I want them to do. My purpose is to make some decorative things (some for my blaket chest I am building), as well as some candleholders, quite a few pairs of tongs, some wall hooks, and a few other things. Since I have not worked with steel bars, I could really use some information on what type I should order, thickness, and length. Also, I am just about to start working a new job, so my wallet is not loaded at the moment. I'm looking for good material to work with with decent prices. Should I also buy rivets for the tongs I wish to make? I don't have any rivets yet. Thanks!

David Dix

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A36 (mild steel)is what is commonly used......Rebar and rr spikes are tougher steel, therefore you work harder and get less done in a heat.....Try buying remnants (short pieces) at your local steel supplier. There's plenty of rivet suppliers........or make your own if you don't need alot...

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what about thickness?


I reckon 1/4,5/16,3/8,7/16,or 1/2''round or sq would work for you, you have to narrow it down from there..... :)
Note; the 1/16's are harder to come by and are more expensive.

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I just bought 180m of steel in 14 different stock sizes (tube, round, square and flat) as my second steel order. I can now tackle pretty much anything, in some form, if i fancy it.

It's worth about £500

You'll have to think about what you need if you can't afford to get a big selection

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All plain carbon steels "hold heat" pretty much the same in similar cross-sections. You may not be getting the steel hot enough to begin with, you may be wasting a lot of energy (e.g., with an improvised anvil, which, depending on the design, can absorb a lot of energy that should go into the work), and as a new guy you probably aren't very efficient at moving steel. It takes practice.

For the types of work you describe, a variety 1018 or A36 mild steel bars from 1/4" through 3/4", both square and round (you'll likely need more 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" than 3/4") would probably serve well. I don't recommend rebar, as it is very unpredictable material. Mild steel is not very expensive, although I understand that when you're on a tight budget everything seems expensive.

Edit: I see while I was fiddling around, Mac beat me to it. I personally wouldn't worry about the 1/16" increments. Easy enough to make 5/16 out of 3/8, and so on. :)

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What about where I should be ordering. So far, I haven't really found a location in St. Louis. (I live in Collinsville, Illinois). That makes me think I need to order online. Recommended sites?

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there is steel everywhere. check your local welding shops first. they will have cutoffs that they will most likely give you. also tractor or implement dealers always have scrap/broken stuff out behind their shops. really you can find steel almost anywhere. even lawn mower repair shops.

Bob

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Someone in St. Louis builds buildings, and whoever that is buys their steel from somewhere. They make nothing but hot air in the DC area, where I live, and there are still several structural steel sellers (which often call themselves iron works) within ten miles of my house. Find them. It's much cheaper than paying for shipping on steel. I buy tool steel online. Never mild steel.

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I just went to yellowpages.com and found 30 of em in your area, also ornamental iron shops will very often sell rems, you need to get out more.......... :D

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I love the convenience of the Internet, but there really are some situations in which there's no substitute for getting out and pounding a little pavement. :)

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Macbruce has the right idea ... A36 is a good all-purpose steel to use for most projects like tongs, s-hooks and such. Hot-rolled is also less expensive than cold-rolled (I also prefer it because it doesn't have the sharp "machined" edges like cold-rolled does).
You're probably going to get alot of different advice on what sort of dimensions to get started with - it depends on the smith.

Here are my suggestions.
1/4" square and round (-good for s-hooks, j-hooks, nails and other small projects)
3/8" square and round (good for tong rivets, steak flippers, candle holders, heavier hooks, chest handles, med-duty tent stakes and long-handle forge tools like a fire-rake, water-can, coal shovel, poker, etc.
1/2" square and round (good for heavier projects like spits, tripods, fireplace tools, tent stakes, etc.)
1/4" x 3/4" bar (good for making light duty tongs, simple strap hinges, BBQ forks)
3/8" x 1" bar (general purpose tongs)

I think this is a good starter list to keep anyone busy making simple tools and projects. You don't need to buy a truck load of steel either to get started. Buying new steel usually comes in 10-12 foot lengths - I would say start off with buying 2 lengths of each type to get you started (less of some or more of others, depending on what you plan on making).

If you can, allow yourself a "stock allowance" ... try to squirrel-away $10.00 - $20.00 (or whatever you can manage) from each paycheque into a coffee can somewhere to go towards buying new stock when you need it. You can easily add to that allowance any profits you make from selling stuff you make (if you know any civ-war or blackpowder renactors, you can make a nice bit of money selling just tent stakes and s-hooks).

Later on as finances and skills improve you can get into the tool steels and real specialized stuff for making cutting / punching tools and the like.

Hope this helps. Like I said earlier, others may suggest different ideas - listen to all the suggestions given to you and then make your decision based on your particular plans and needs.

Good luck.

Sam.
Hamilton, ON.

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Note if you are getting started you may profit from finding a middling sized ornamental iron company and bringing in a few trinkets for their office staff and asking about their scrap.

When I lived in Columbus OH there was one close to where my day job was that would let me have as much as I wanted *free*! All nice new stuff (save for the odd bit of real wrought iron that came in when they were repairing an *old* fence hit by a car) All nice sizes to get started with. (and nice lengths too as steel usually goes by the 20' stick here and so hard to transport!)

Buying online is often the most expensive way so why???

Here in rural New Mexico I can buy steel at 3 different places in town (9,000 people and the largest in the county!) I generally get mine from a local windmill repair and construction place as it was cheaper than at the lumber yard (which was still way cheaper than at a big box store about 50 miles away!) The Windmill place gets a price break for quantity orders and so is usually happy to sell me some steel or piggy back an order with theirs. Knowing what they keep in stock means I don't have to buy ahead for projects I can just get it when I need it.

Of course when I need metal for a project my first go is a couple of small scrap yards where I see if I can find what I need for pennies on the dollar. I spend a bunch of time hunting and jawing with the owners (and getting better deals that way too!) and often find other stuff I can use---like smithing tools discarded as scrap!

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Since you know what you want to build, order material in dimensions that reduce the work you are wanting to do. This will mean that you should draw out all the hardware of your blanket chest so you have a solid starting point.

Phil

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One extra tip: if you are making a commission piece that uses an oddball size stock be sure to include the cost of the unused metal in the bid rather than having all your profit tied up in steel that just sits on the rack for years because it's a size/shape that you don't use for anything else.

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Not sure what you mean by "holding heat"? I guess the rough rebard would cool quicker until you get it squared up. Is that it? I for one have about had it with using rebar. It was great to practice with being free and a lot of hammer work to get it square while not risking messing anything up. at this point though I find it a nuisance to square up and seemingly VERY unpredictable in Carbon. The last piece I worked on seemed to be a bugger to hammer square. I am also seeing what looks like a lamination running a good 10+ inches which probably won't be good long term for forging depending on what it is used for.

Don't go to the local hardware store and buy the little pieces they sell. Find a steel yard that sells all manor of mild steel. You'll be a little surprised I think at the prices. Not too bad and all probably 20' lengths that they can cut in half for you to haul away. I do still like to use scraps. But I am wanting more to make things as opposed to make square rod from something not even close to what I need so that I can then make things. It feels like cheating maybe but life is too long to spend it hammering on re-bar by hand.

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That is the beauty of being a modern smith: buying stock suitable without forging the stock to a starting size.

Phil

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"Holding heat" it's an enigma of the blacksmiths craft.

Everyone elses work stays hotter, for longer, than what yours does.

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here's a party trick for you



I practiced this daily for a month, and it did improve my hammer control but I only got red once.

Phil

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Concerning the rebar no holding heat: what I meant was the rebar cools WAY too fast. I also learned not to put a hammer to it when it's black heat. I also found that yes, quenching rebar leads to cracking and/or shattering. I was told about that, but had forgotten. It doesn't matter because I was just practicing anyway.

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Sorry to tell you but rebar cools at the same rate as any other steel of the same cross sectional area. Now the alloy may have a more limited temperature range where it's forgeable; but it cools at the same rate.

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Thomas I would agree with you but I charge for all full length even if I have it in the rack.

I've always considered the off cuts as part of the profit, if you need to make a number of 3' long rails, then you can only get 6 from bar, leaving a lot of 2" lengths that can be used to make, for example, tentpegs. After a surprisingly short time you will have a selection of various sizes of bar and will only need to buy steel in for specific jobs. Spending £500 on stock to play with seems a bit ostentatious; in the UK most stockholders will deliver within a couple of days, even for smaller orders.

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