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What are old pickaxes made of?

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I have an old pickaxe that I was thinking of cutting up into 3 inch pieces to use for knife making or something like that. It would be great if I could know if it would still be usable. its in terrible condition so I cant restore it, It was sitting under the earth for a few years but it still has some usable steel on it. There was also, in the same general area, 2 axe heads in rough shape and most of an 8 pound sledge, which I know I can use.

I will get pictures week after next, or when possible.

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looks like metal of some sort from here,  Historically wrought iron is a good bet  hard to see it clearly

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If the pickaxe is in terrible shape, put it in an electrolysis tank and clean it up. You would probably see if its wrought iron or not. Then the spark test may tell you more. 

Or just a spark test.... but electrolysis is fun. 

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The really old wrought iron mining pick heads that I have run across have all been fairly small and light, which makes sense in a confined space. They also had canoe shaped openings for the handle, made by splitting the grain..

Later railroad picks and mattocks made from mild steel tend to be bigger, heavier, and with an egg shaped wider opening for the handle that may show signs of being drifted over a mandrel.

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After the spark test, throw one end in the forge and draw a small section out to about a quarter inch (6mm)thick, quench in water. Then do a file test and break test, should tell you if it's high carbon and worth making knives out of (I doubt it though).

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it is at the very least 20 years old I will throw it in the forge and see how well it hardens. The eye and tips are terrible but the rest is still usable, I will probably just use the leaf spring I scavenged for knives at the moment. I don't have access to/don't know how to use electrolysis but the spark test will tell well enough. I have learnt something new today and will think more about future projects. Also what would the carbon content on newer mattocks and pickaxes be.

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Digging tools are meant to be tough not hard. Even hoes are meant to be soft enough to touch up with a hand file in the field. Full size commercial wood chopping axes top out between 60 and 80 points of carbon (0.60% to 0.80%), so I would expect picks to be 40 to 50 points, same as pneumatic chisels and pavement breakers used by road crews.  Consider using them for hardy tools: cut the eye in half, and use the pick as the shaft.

Railroad spikes are usually under 35 points, and they won't hold an edge for beans. By the same token, they are made to bend, not break under any condition.

Bowie knives, bush knives and machetes are in the same impact range as axes, and made from similar springy steel alloys. Truck springs, old saw mill blades, etc.

Smaller blades tend to be made from higher carbon steels, 80 to 120 points as a general rule. Which brings us around to old files as fodder.

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Note: why would you assume that all the different manufacturers over a span of time and locations all over the world  would use the same alloy?  Rather like assuming all cars must be Fords.  A manufacturer can change what alloy they are using 3 times a day if it makes economic sense to them. John covered the generalities; but I would expect tools from China to be different alloys than tools from India to be different alloys from tools from Germany; etc and so on even for basically similar items!

"Old" is also a subjective term; I have clothes older than 20 years and tools over 200 years old. For me----pre 1900 is old for tools though a lot of the 19th century tools were hand forged in factories.  Others consider items that we made by local smiths to be "old" even if made in the 20th century.

You already know the scrap smith's mantra: "test, test, test!" and never assume that  two identical items are the same ally without testing! 

You might even run across an area where a specific smith "flooded" the market with what he thought made a better miner's pick and so have a different alloy than the "norm".  (Or of course the wrought iron body with steeled ends that get re-steeled as they wear out.)

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I had a friend say he found an old pickaxe in the river while kayaking and if I wanted it.  I thought if it was in bad shape I could grind it and make it into a bick mounted into a stump with a wooden handle or something.  When he gave it to me I saw instantly that it was made by folding with the tell tale signs in the handle hole just like old axe and tomahawk blades.  I cleaned it up and decided some day I will put a handle on it and save it as a display piece.  I think it earned at least that.  I would have not expected that pick axes were make folding and welding, but you can see the weld seam running for a little ways up from the eye right after the slit.  I'm guessing this pickaxe fits Thomas' definition of old.  I found a maker's mark stamped on it, but being in the river that long, I can't make anything out.

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Like the adze I bought at the local fleamarket that I left in the vinegar bucket too long.  When I remembered and washed it off it clearly showed it was made from real wrought iron with about an 1/8" slab of High C forge welded on the bottom of the blade section so the edge would always be High C.  Looks to have been made in a factory pre 1900.  It is such a good example of this that I used to lend it to a Mat Sci professor to use as a warning to his students.  I may bring it to Quad-State as a display item.

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I was thinking that my pickaxe was wrought iron too.  I'll have to look for the welded section of high carbon steel on the ends.  For being in the river for so many years, it's not pitted too bad after the clean-up.  Maybe I'll snap a picture and post it on here - not to high hack the thread but so people can see what I'm talking about.

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Just cut up an old pickaxe and was startled at how high it sparked. 

5A233E46-BBE7-4A10-8917-55132118A9EE.jpeg

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I had the same reaction to mine, after reading this thread I was surprised at how high the carbon content was. I was expecting wrought iron or some mild steel. I tested the whole thing and it is all high carbon steel.

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So I picked up an (old?) pick head because it had nice thick (tines? arms? picks? spikes? what are they called?) and I wanted to make a pair of hammer or axe drifts out of it. 

Yesterday I finally get around to heating it and straightening one of the (tines?) and lo and behold I see what appears to be delaminations from a not-so-great forge weld of a likely high carbon bit/point inserted. I know that's commonplace with axes, but I didn't know they do/did that with picks. 

Is that what I'm seeing here?

If you look closely, you can see what looks like the root of the bit as a wedge nestled in a long, narrow "V" about halfway back. 

Given what looks like 2-piece construction and given that the weld doesn't seem all that great, will it still make a serviceable drift or should I just scrap it and look elsewhere?

I did not spark test it yet, but if it truly is two-piece, there would be no other reason that the point being HC and the base being LC. UNless perhaps it was a repair job rather than manufactured that way. 

Thoughts?

pick 2.JPG

pick 1.JPG

Edited by Mod30
resize large photos.

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Hey Cav- yeah, looks like your old (?) worn out(!) pick head was re steeled at some point. Bad joke- sorry. Also looks like the 'not so great weld' held up fine, and did it's job. I can't really tell if the base metal is WI or mild. A good soak in vinegar might clear that up. Personally, I would not use it for anything- I would put it on a shelf with my other neat, nifty and/or odd doodads. If it is WI it might be a little soft for use anyways.

Steve

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I've seen even "modern"  (30's & 40's) picks with more steel welded to the ends as they wore down; particularly in mining or quarry areas.

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Places where the Great Depression and WWII interfered with replacing tools; not common; but not unheard of.

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Have to ask, did you quench at any point in forging? 

Either way don't bother finishing for a drift. Move on. 

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1 hour ago, jlpservicesinc said:

I agree.. Rare to find an old steeled pick ax.. To bad it was cut.. 

Turn of the century would be my guess.. 

It wasn't cut. It's still intact, just with that one end straightened out from the normal curvature. 

I picked it up in a scrap yard for scrap price, because it had the dimensions I was looking for in a drift. 

3 minutes ago, Daswulf said:

Have to ask, did you quench at any point in forging? 

Either way don't bother finishing for a drift. Move on. 

No. No quench at any point on my end. I just straightened it with one heat and when those delams happened I pretty much stopped work on it. 

12 minutes ago, jlpservicesinc said:

That is rare around here even in some of the older granite and marble quarries..  Might be different out your neck of the woods.. 

Dunno - got it from the scrap yard in Hanson. 

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wow, your in MA and you found one of the old type..   

Thomas,  We in the North East seemed to have moved into the sale of more modern goods fairly quickly and have found that were the areas of the mines and quarries were they had their own smiths but things changed pretty quickly into modern production methods and instead of fixing a tool or repointing/sharpening by welding in a new piece.. Once it got to a certain point the tool would just go to scrap..  So only the tips would be reforged and hardened.. 

So to find one that has been forge welded is pretty rare indeed.. In 42 years I've only seen 1 other and it was worn pretty much down to the scarfs... 

The example Cavpilot2K found is stunning with complete tips.. I'd be willing to pay for it to add to my museum of forged items.. 

 

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When I lived in Central Ohio I used to find steeled chisels and hammers fairly frequently and out here I have found several steeled adzes.  (And 2 British broad arrow marked 7# straight peen sledges, one from the 1940's and one from the 1980's.) Keeping the eyes open helps---Eternal Vigilance!

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Now Im wondering about the lot of picks I have laying around. I've been lucky so far with what I've used in forging. Any way to tell whats what?. I have at least 10 to test as users. Have some from my ancesters pennsylvania coal mining days that will remain displays as well. 

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Etch in vinegar?  I was derusting an adze that way and "forgot" it a couple of days and the steeling was quite visible---I even lent it to a Professor at NM Tech to show his students the sorts of things you can trip over in the wide world.

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