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I Forge Iron

Railroad spike "tomahatchet"

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A friend asked that I make him a spike tomahawk, so I had a go at it. I have made one other tomahawk/hatchet type device out of a railroad spike before, but last time I kept the spike head as a "hammer" and made the blade from the spike end (after upsetting). This time I had a go at forging the spike head into the blade because my friend wanted it bearded. I cut and shaped the handle from a leftover piece of hickory floor board. I call it a "tomahatchet" because the handle is attached like a hammer not a tomahawk. I actually patterned the handle after a little ball peen hammer handle I liked the feel of. My friend's intended use is placing on a shelf not throwing, so I think my handle will hold up :) I've been trying to keep track of lessons learned from each project:

- I'd like to purchase or make a larger drift so I can try a true tomahawk handle (currently using a drift I made out of another railroad spike).

- I made my drift with more aggressive of a taper than needed, so there is some gap around the handle at the top of the eye after wedging. It doesn't take much taper for a fairly noticable size difference top to bottom.

- I had a hard time upsetting the spike "backwards" by putting the head down and hitting the spike end. It seemed logical at the time because I wanted to beef up the blade side, but I think if I did it again I'd upset normal or maybe try from both directions because I feel like it ended up too thin through the middle.

- I ended up with multiple cold shuts on the blade from forging down the spike head into the blade. My post reading tells me I needed to go to heat more often and also perhaps get it hotter each time to start. I was able to chase out any major issue ones at the grinder luckily.

- I tried to duplicate a texturing technique I'd seen in a video about forging crosses. The technique involved using a ball peen hammer to add the texture. I got a texture, but not really matching up to what I was attempting. As best I can tell it is an issue of my inconsistent spacing and force of blows. Goes to prove things in blacksmithing can look and seem simple (oh just hit it a bunch of times with a ball peen, I can do that!), But actually require a lot of practice and technique. I think I'll try figuring out textures some more on scrap pieces before attempting on a full project again.

Here are some pics. I need to decide how to finish the handle (and yes my shop is a complete and total mess)



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Thanks RaggedEarth. I have not worked up to forge welding yet, so it is pure "HC" spike. I used "superquench" to eek out whatever hardness I can from the barely carbon spike metal. I've read some say superquench actually does something and I've also read it's fools alchemy that doesn't do anything more than cold water. I don't know which is true, but I had mixed up a 5 gallon batch when I started this journey so I just keep using it. Seems to do the trick to get the spike hard enough to handle novelty level use. I doubt it would hold up well to any real use, but honestly can't say that I've ever put it through serious testing to say. I can tell you it holds an edge well enough to widdle some wood to test sharpness and still cut your thumb good when you wipe off the blade, DOH! Here are some more pics after staining the handle and just filling in the little extra gapping in the eye. I am considering nail polishing the cutting edge and giving the blade end another bath in vinegar. I had to do some grinder work to get the flow to the blade to where I was happy with it, so there is an awkward bit that is shiny.



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I had heard that the superquench could "harden" to some extent mild or low carbon steel.  Being bored one day, I mixed up a batch to see if it worked.  I did the non-magnetic quench on a piece of A-36 mild steel (man, that stuff really screams at you when it hits the water!!!!).  End result with the file skate test was a *little* apparent hardening, more like thin case hardening, not anything that probably would hold an edge for long.  The quench is still in the bucket, never have used it since that first time.

"HC" railroad spikes are not higher carbon in the sense that you would use it for cutting tools, chisels, axes, punches, knives, etc.  It is merely a slightly higher carbon than low carbon spikes.  It is my understanding that they were supposedly a slightly tougher steel used on curves and such where the trains and rails might exert a higher stress on the spike's holding power.  I'm sure some spike experts will jump in here and expound on the subject.  I don't use spikes but once in a blue moon, don't really like them.

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Hey arkie, yeah I put it in quotes for a reason ;). The HC spikes are a bit better than mild steel as I understand it. I've read in the range of .30% vs the .18% of mild. I mixed up the superquench early on after reading a supposed test where a HC spike was superquenched then hardness tested out at 54-55RC. Of course that was just someone on a forum, so it could have been total hooey. I'm not actually trying to advocate that an all spike blade is suitable for more than learning and novelty blades. Eventually I'll work my way up to the forge weld attempt.

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