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Cotton Picker spindle, anyone messed with them?


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I grew up on a farm, pharmacist by current profession, and very recently got started into black/bladesmithing.


We have these used cotton picker spindles in the area, TONS of them. 

I am wondering if anyone has messed around with turning them into usable steel. I know they are very tough, and the teeth usually last 2-3 seasons of picking, so I imagine the steel is quite hardenable. I Also know they are chrome plated 50-90 microns (yikes, hexavalent chrome) so I at least stay upwind at all times when messing around with them, or wear proper respirator (overkill?). 

Anyways, anybody know what the underlying steel's composition is. I dont have enough experience yet to do an educated spark test, but I do know It shines up to a mirror finish with 400-800 grit sand paper. I emailed the manufacturer and got a response akin to "its our secret"... I'm thinking it might be a chrome-moly steel? Anyways, if anyone knows anything about it, I would sure appreciate any sharing of knowledge. It could be a really cheap source of steel if its worthwhile... maybe even sandwitch with 1080/1095 for some patterns if it will weld?


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Welcome aboard J, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you might be surprised how many of the Iforge gang live within visiting distance.

No, wearing PPE and staying up wind when hot working chrome plated is NOT OVERKILL. I started to squeeze my poor dented brain for how to strip chrome plating and decided to give Google a try instead. :) Below is the first hit in the search and tripped my memory cells. Use PPE for the acid etch and dispose of properly.


Play hard and Be safe.

Frosty The Lucky.

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In my first foolings around with it, I clamped it in a vice outside and hit it with a 7" angle grinder to flatten out the 'teeth' to not have any inclusions and decided to hit the whole spindle to de-chrome it, acid etching it off might be easier though.


I will play some more and put up some pics of sparks with known steel comparisons, mild, 15n20, 1095, random stainless...  See where I can go from there. I really want to know the steel's composition though, just to know what I'm really working with. It might save headaches and lots of trial and error.

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Interesting.  I did a little digging because I know absolutely nothing about these so wanted to learn.  It appears that many are now made by sintering powdered metals...but Deere mentions forged---and doesn't say what material except "chosen for inner toughness".  China is hitting the markets heavy with their offerings.

Any way...if you really have tons of the same (from the same maker) and can safely remove chrome it might be worth taking a cleaned sample down to your local big scrap metal buyer.  They can use their portable XRF gun to tell you what's actually in the metal and from there you can usually determine the actual grade.  Typically, the charge for this seems to be about 50 bucks which might be worth it if you have a continuing reliable source of spindles to use.

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10 minutes ago, Kozzy said:

... taking a cleaned sample down to your local big scrap metal buyer.  They can use their portable XRF gun to tell you what's actually in the metal and from there you can usually determine the actual grade...

That is an excellent idea. I live in a pretty small town, but there is one recycling center here and I am good friends with the gal that runs it, I will stop by and ask her if she has any ideas or any of the sampling equipment, or even a metallurgy lab she might use. Thank you for the idea.


Now I just need to find the time to investigate...

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  • 2 months later...

Well, 2 months later and I have my answer: Disappointed, but at least I learned something

Found an old mining metallurgist who used to work for the largest open pit copper mine in the world (Phelps Dodge at the time) and he still had some old assay equipment and gave it a shot for me. Confirmed to me that there was no chrome/molly under the plating, minimal manganese, no vanadium, and medium/low carbon content. 

Then I talked to someone I know in a DLC (Diamond like coating) business and he is actually working on a bid to re-engineer the spindle with his own DLC instead of chrome for longetivity. His estimates put it at 3-4 times the wear durability at roughly the same cost to the end consumer. He got the technical sheets from one of the manufacturers and it is simple plain 1020, where 0.01 (maybe) is carburized, then case hardened, then chrome plated 0.002 on the taper, 0.0005 on the shaft.  (units in inches)

so after the chrome, its a tapered, toothed hunk of 1020... humppfth

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  • 4 years later...

Sometimes I am gone from this site for weeks.  I had eight or ten of these fall into my lap a few years ago.  Ground a bunch of the spikey bits from one, to use as an eye drift.  Just as tough into the meat, as it was just under the chrome.  Worked ok as a drift, but I decided to finish it on a machine (not done yet). 

I reckon these picker spindles were made via numerous methods - mine are pretty tough under the skin...

Robert Taylor

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10 hours ago, Anachronist58 said:

Sometimes I am gone from this site for weeks. 

  Yes, I understand.  I got real sick just after joining and went for a year or more without logging in.  I lost all interest in everything.  Now I'm on here about everyday.  I fizzle out from time to time though.....

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