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I Forge Iron

Rail - evidence of heat treat?

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I’ve seen mention several times about making a small bick using rail web and flange lately and decided I’d try again. (Charles mentioned it to me shortly after I joined IFI and I failed miserably on my first attempt) I took a short piece of rail to work to cut on our large bandsaw to save myself a headache trying to cut it with my limited tooling at home. When I finished cutting it I washed off the cutting fluid and noticed a line following the profile of the rail and it’s got me a little curious. Is this line evidence of the heat treatment? I know very little about the specifics of the metallurgy of rail but will be doing some more in depth searching to help figure out what this line is. In the mean time I thought I’d share a picture of it to see what others thought about it. Looking at this picture you can see what I’m taking about really well at the top and right hand sides. It’s visible all the way around but the lighting makes it hard to see it all at one time. 


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According to what I just found on a website for a local rail manufacturer the specs for one type of rail they make are as follows:

Carbon .72 to .84

Manganese .80 to 1.10

Phosphorus .035 max

Sulfur .04 max

Silicon .10 to .50

Some of the other weight rails they make have varying mixes of the above. I really wish now I had started my research durin lunch today so I could have called this company with some questions I’m starting to get. Looks like I need to write them down and call them one day next week and have a nice chat with them. 

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Remember that the rail isn’t extruded like toothpaste; it’s squeezed between rollers that force it into its final shape. As @Steve Sells points out, that pressure on each surface compresses and deforms the grain structure. 

I suspect that annealing/normalizing would reduce or eliminate that grain structure, but that’s just a guess.  

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39 minutes ago, Steve Sells said:

compression/deformation of the grain

That means I committed a big crime and posted this in the wrong section :(  I’m sorry. 

I actually thought the line might’ve been a result of the steel not being a through hardening steel. That’s why I posted here in the heat treatment area. I guess I need to do some more reading and digging to learn more before I give in that it’s just a natural result of the forming process. It’s nothing personal, I just need to practice researching a little more so that I don’t repeat this type of mistake later. 

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I didn’t mean anything by my comment. I was just saying I’ve gotten lazy and don’t research enough for myself. As a result I have gotten content with the answers given to me instead of finding out the truth for myself. 

The fact that biggun and Steve both commented with similar answers means there might be something to the idea of it being an artifact of the manufacturing process. However, I will do some homework and see where it leads me. 

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Laphroaig*? Laphroaig?

Did I hear someone  mention Laphroaig?,

Hammerman: that IS my favorite single malt. Your erudition and astounding good taste regularly amaze me.

That nectar is the ideal antidote to crummy weather and when the smithed iron does not co-operate, and slides into the scrap bin.

I wish the tax man would stop hammering us aficionados into the ground.

And Abeloure is for fair weather hammering, at the forge.

I will stop high-jacking this thread from now on. But mentioning Laphroaig pushed me beyond my limit of self control. Sorry.



*Laphroaig is a very smoky single malt scotch whisky that is distilled on the Island of Islay (pronounced Eye Lah) off the Scottish coast. It has a wonderful, very strong peaty taste and nose.


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I have no direct knowledge but a little searching revealed to me that hardened rails do exist.  The process is called head hardening.  The hardened rails are more durable and are used in areas where particularly heavy trains travel or where there is a slow down zone.  It seems they use a process of thermal cycling to achieve the hardness.  I have absolutely no idea if that process would result in a thru-hardened rail or one hardened o lay to a certain depth.  I would assume they would want a soft, squishy core for more toughness though.


Oh, and when it comes to whiskey, I will choose a barrel strength rye every time.  High West, James E. Pepper ....oh, the list is so long and glorious.

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Perhaps proper for those folks not lucky enough to have an Irish heritage!  I have a grandson named Jameson!

And of course the stuff that comes out of the hills untaxed also has an "e"

But I'm not fussy as I'm a crude unlettered rum drinker myself---give me my fill of cruzan blackstrap rum and original recipe toll house chocolate chip cookies and I'll sit happily on the sidelines and watch y'all argue it out...

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T. P. Steve Sells,

Alcohol distilled in the United States and Ireland spell their product with an 'E', whiskey.

Canadian, Scottish and Japanese spell their native product without the 'E', namely whisky.

Try this site for a discussion on the subject.



Talisker is a wonderful single malt. I store it right beside my bottle of Laphroaig.

It is ready anytime you show up (together with the other fine hospitality chez SLAG.).

T. P. we have a selection of fine rums too whenever you show up.



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I'm usually travelling through St Louis on my way to or from quad-state these days and generally try to make it *past* before stopping for the night. Rolla has been my stop a lot of times on my way back.  Going out we stop in NW AR and stay with our kids and grandkids and then in Columbus Ohio with our kids and grandkids.

As for the E I've know about the difference for 40-50 years now...

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