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What steel for what tool


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So I was wondering if anyone has come across some sort of chart that has a general list of what steels are best for what tools. I've done a few google searches with no avail with the phrases I've used. I know I can look up each tool/steel individually and just draw up a chart myself if I wanted to. Just wasn't sure if anyone has seen something of the sort.

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Oh man. Thats a big time broad question. 

Any chance you can elaborate a bit on what tools? There is the steel that will get you by and better ones for each job. 

Dunno about a chart. There are tools and suggested materials on here but more specific to A tool. There are charts with guesstimated alloys of certain scrap on here. 

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If money is no problem 


h13 for hot work chisels punches and hardies

s7 for hammers and punches 

Salvaged material you simply need to make a test tool and see if it is sutible as you really have no clue what you have 

i hear suckerrod is good for most tooling 


this is by no meanes a compleate list just a atarting point



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Sucker rod is generally a medium carbon steel; going for tough rather than hard---it's a real pain when your sucker rod breaks 600' down the hole...

So good for things like drifts and fullers, not as good for chisels.

Machinery's Handbook had a listing of alloys and what they are good for---but as mentioned the question is broad just chisels can be for wood or steel (and hot or cold work).  Note that such lists are a "weak reed" to rely on---A lot of scrapyard steel lists may be based on such lists but they do not reflect reality. One such lists S7 as a good steel for jack hammer bits; it certainly would be but most are made from a plan 1050 steel as it's *cheap* and works well enough.  (Titanium would make a great car body---you seen any Ti bodied cars on the road???)

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  • 2 weeks later...

a good reference for this can be found in old blacksmithing manuals and instruction books pre about 1930. they are readily available with a bit of looking. steels were simpler back then. most of the steels will be 1040 to 1095. they will be organized as high/medium carbon steels. they will list tooling and usually give you heat treating methods including quench medium. 

a good book for this is "Plain and Ornamental Forging: Ernst Schwarzkopf".  Its easily found with a google search. Prices vary from the simple to the sublime, so look around. This was originally the high school textbook for the NewYork City school system circa 1900.

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On 1/2/2019 at 7:32 PM, Irondragon Forge & Clay said:

It's available through BAM

Excellent and thanks. I did not know this.


On 1/2/2019 at 7:53 PM, Glenn said:

You MUST remember that the steels and their uses are based on THE DATE the list was put together

Correct. However, we need not seek out steels from "daze gonne bye". 

The 10 series steels and the W1series tool steels do to this day work very well with the ways of the ancients. In fact these same principals work with othermodern steels as well. There is not much commonly found info beyond  how to achieve max Rockwell hardness,  but its often alluded to in the spec sheets. However, I have never found  any data on varying temper temps to achieve a different hardness/toughness for specific situations. I'm pretty sure that's because in this day and age of designer steels it's easier to find a specific steel for a specific job.

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Most of my research books do not speak directly on "varying temper temps to achieve a different hardness/toughness for specific situations."  However they do post the graphs of how tempering temps produce differing hardnesses and I believe they expect the user to either know the details of their specific use or make use of a metallurgist that should know.  Generally we are amateurs making use of materials designed for experts.

They certainly contain a lot more info on how a steel alloy acts with various heat treat regimes than any cook book I have does with differing time and temps (and altitudes), in using an oven to cook  with.

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As far as the old books, it amazes me on just how many levels they break the temper colors down to for specific jobs. . And if you look at the old 18th century books, they are very similar to those around the end of the 19th and early 20th century.

As far as contemporary, I agree. We are supposed to know. Thus my primary steels are the W series and the 10** series.

As a side note, my basic intro came from Frank Turley around 1980. He indicated that Carpenter Tech was a great place for a fledgling smith to contact. There catalog was excellent and their tech support was as fascinated with traditional heat treating as todays contemporary knife smiths are with the high tech stuff of the day. Sometimes it was hard to get them off the phone. They looked at us as a window into their roots.

Long story short, they reconfirmed to me that with experience and proper lighting, heat treating most all contemporary tool steels was very doable by knowing your colors. 

Im no expert like a smith from back in the day, but i get great pleasure attempting to heat treat  a wood chisel for a specific type of wood.  And hit or miss miss, the difference is so slight that most wood guys are satisfied anyway.  ;)

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What other 18th century sources do you know of?  I usually mention Moxon for the early part and Diderot's Encyclopedia for the late and the translations in "Sources for the History of the Science of Steel"  that cuts off in 1786 when someone slapped their head and said "Sacre Bleu; it is plumbago that makes iron into steel!"

Always drooling to find new sources!

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On 1/6/2019 at 3:27 PM, ThomasPowers said:

What other 18th century sources do you know of?

Im at the tail end of a move. I got everything here and out of the weather the day before winter struck. So thats my reason and im sticking to it!  or so the song goes'

I should have about a cd,s worth of stored pdf's and many go back to the 18th century. Along with that Jim Fleming years ago, haunted the national archives for old microfish copied blacksmithing gems. These cover'd the 18th century thru the early 20th. Im really anxious to see how they have survived.  When i find them, Ill let you know and share whatever you want. Ive got some good stuff from Prague and one ~ 1890's polish hardbound. And its a typical blacksmith source. The pics are all you need. My true treasure is a West Virginia University page for page(original german text on opposite page) from the Potsdam arsenal during the time of Frederic the Great. Its 3-4 volumes and is handy. Its out of print but still avalable with a bit of patience. It includes such details like the swarf from rifling and filing was re forged into brestplates for the curiassiers. Excellent trivia, and worth a beer in many bars,,,  ;)

If you dont have it, Schwartzkops's book above is a truely great old textbook.   

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  • 1 month later...

Awesome!  Thanks for the redirect.  I saved the chart.  

Its some rod I picked up at a scrapyard a couple years ago and it had all been sheered into 3 or 4 foot sections.  I think I managed to scavenge some of the thread ends too.  Thanks again! An invaluable nugget of information there...

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On 1/7/2019 at 4:47 PM, ThomasPowers said:

but I love the old stuff even when it's only a couple of centuries old

Me too. Heres my thoughts on a major difference between then and now.

I think of the "golden days as a time of limited types of steel, and max knowledge on breaking down temper color spectrums to achieve  proper tools for differing situations. One kind of tool steel,,, carbon steel. So I call this time "The Age of Carbon Steel".

Carbon content was relativity easily recognized by a spark test.  And basically three types. Low, medium, high carbon. I believe in Richardson's "Practical Blacksmithing, I remember agricultural Smith's speaking of dozens of ways of hardening picks depending on the type of ground, from  granite to loam.

And now we live in the "Age of Designer Steels"

Metaphorically speaking one might come up with a specific purpose, and go to "your local steel designing engineer" and he will design a specific type of steel best for that application. And, it works "best" when max hardened and "tempered" to a spec to give it max Rockwell hardness. Thus no need to take a color band and break it down to a dozen "shades of grey".  

And that answers my question above as to why there seems to be no data on varying tempers in modern steels. There's just no need to do that. 

However, one today can still take any type of steel and figure out varying situational tempers. But unless you are "just" a traditional Smith, it's rather redundant.



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I am often perplexed when people ask what alloy was used for a specific item that may have been in use for 100 years and made by manufacturers all over the world and expect a single answer.  The old books generally have a strong mandate to TEST each batch of steel you buy to see how it works.  Mechanicks Exercises even mentions what iron from different countries is usually good for as the smelting methods and local ores did make differences. English, Swedish, Spanish, Holland/German are all described.

I started smithing in Oklahoma where I made use of the scrap piles of many a farm abandoned during the Dust Bowl Years, (Never recall having any issues getting permission from the current owners as it was mainly just in the way with the larger consolidated farms.) I learned the hard way that what was used by the Farmers was often what they had to hand---an old implement might have two stay bars replaced on it---one was very mild indeed and the other more like 1080!

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