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What Tools Can I Make From Mild Steel?


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I'm having some trouble finding projects I can do with my skill level/setup/materials. I really like making tools that I can later use, even if they are not necessarily blacksmithing-releated. I've made three pairs of tongs - a pair of large flat jaw tongs, a pair of small flat jaw tongs, and a pair of scrolling tongs. They all work well, so I'm happy with how they came out. At some point, I would like to make a pair that is better at holding round stock, but I need a day where I have a lot of time.

I am yet to find a source of non-mild steel.(I'm open to suggestions, however) What kind of tools can be made with mild steel? Are there any types of punches or chisels that can be made with mild steel?

If you have any ideas, please let me know. Thanks!

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No automotive coil or leaf springs in your area?  I am shocked!  I made a bottle opener from a wrench and gave it to our local mechanic and he wanted to gift me a 2 lifetime supply of car/pickup springs! Also car/truck axles, torsion bars,...

There was a fad for making bending wrenches from snow plow wear plates if there are any of those in your area.

I make very few tools from mild as Higher Carbon alloys are usually easier and cheaper for me to find down here. (Most likely I have to buy my mild new where the HC stuff is abundant in the scrapyards!)

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Merry Christmas Chel

You can make V-shaped tongs, to hold round or square (or flat), by starting with Flat Jaw process. Set the Flat Jaw in a swage block with a 90 degree groove, use an old piece of square material as the top fuller. Line up the center of the V with the inner edge of the Tong rein. After setting the rivet in the Tongs, heat the jaw/hinge area, put a small piece of square in between the jaws, pinch in a vice to set the jaws and adjust the reins.

Mild steel is best for Tongs, they won't crack after quenching them in water a few hundred times. Coil Springs from cars/trucks/trains work well for a medium carbon material. Talk to your local Automotive Shop and ask for them, after they have replaced some. Remember, asking for something means leaving something behind, something you made, money, do-nuts, muffins, etc.   There is no such thing as something for nothing.

Neil

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Thomas, I'm sure there are springs out there, I just really don't know where to look. I don't really have any connections with mechanics. I'm sure there are plenty of snow plow wear plates around, but again, I don't personally know anyone in the snowplowing business. I did a google search for scrapyards near me, and while there seem to be several metal recycling places, I don't know if you can go there and buy stuff.

Swedefiddle, I don't have a swage block or a vise yet, but I'm sure I'll figure out some way to get a similar result as to what you described. Thank you.

 

Thanks!

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You have to get out, look and ask around. You won't find out from behind that computer or smart phone screen. The worst they can say is no. There are many autobody shops and mechanic shops about anywhere. Try one and move on to the next. Like Thomas said, a small gift or inexpensive treat like a box of doughnuts can possibly win you a lifetime worth of spring steel. You just need to get out there and talk to them. 

I found a metal fabrication shop that has a large selection of leftover and end stock they are happy to part with at a low price because it was already paid for through the jobs they did. 

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My last place, central Ohio, I found a medium sized ornamental iron place that had to pay to have their scrap dumpster hauled to be emptied. They liked me to haul off hundreds of pounds of good drops. (Mainly A-36; but some real WI!) I always: asked first, wore PPE. and left it cleaner and ready for even more scrap!

What did all the people you know say when you said you were looking for an independent mechanic? (and as Das said GET OFF THE SCREEN they places that are generally the most helpful do not have a web presence!  Most scrapyards do not alloy folks to walk the piles anymore---if you find one that does CULTIVATE THE RELATIONSHIP! There has been some places where I was allowed access; but nobody else was!)

Most auto wrecking yards charge a lot over scrap prices for items they sell as "reusable parts". Independent mechanics scrap the items they replace and so by going a step up the waste stream from the scrapyard you can get what you need.

Of course the best places are those who do lifts and lowers on brand new cars and scrap the new springs pretty much unused!  Get friendly with them and you then have to worry about storage space and code enforcement! (Had one student who worked at a place that turned big new pickups into EMT vehicles; he offered me several tons of springs with 19 miles total on them---distance from the dealership to their shop.)

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Mild steel is harder than the heated metal it is hitting, punching or cutting, but you will be dressing and straightning the tool quite often so it's very much worth it to find some better steel. So get out there and practice those people skills. :)

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Mild steel can also be used for making drifts and mandrels (though they will wear out sooner), jigs (great for making multiple items), a guillotine (fantastic tool, check out the "Smithing Magician"), hold downs, bending forks, and various different types of top and bottom fullers (though again they won't wear quite as well).  This is hardly an exhaustive list.  There are countless tools that have been made from mild steel over the centuries.  It all depends on what trade you are making tools for.  Leather workers, ceramicists, wood workers, jewelers... all can use mild steel tooling in addition to smiths.

That being said, there is a reason high carbon steel is often called "tool steel".

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Good Morning, Chel

Use Play-Doh, Plasticene, Modeling Clay, Cookie Dough (whatever) to make what you think you want, FIRST, by hand. Steel works identical, except you have to manipulate with Tools. There is no such thing as ONE Steel that does everything. Time is the teacher.

You should hook up with a Blacksmith Association in your area. It is worth Gold, to talk and learn from/with others.

Neil

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Thomas, so far I've just been using stuff I had laying around for mild steel. I've used cut nails for small hooks(non-galvanized), some really large nails(with galvanization removed) for slightly larger projects, some small round stock from something I don't even remember, and some 3/8 round bar that was once used as structural steel for when I made the tongs. I guess I'll need to find a source for this as well, once I run out or need a different sized piece.

How large is the price difference between the cold-rolled steel from a store like Lowes and hot-rolled steel?

Neil, I have tried the modeling clay thing, but I should probably do it more. I did take a class a few months ago, so I got to meet some people there. It was quite helpful.

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Last time I checked I could buy a 20' stick of hot rolled steel for the same price the Big Box Stores were charging for a 4' section. (And the local steel place was closer to my house...) When I buy new steel for a project I try to buy 1 piece extra for each size I am buying to allow for "oops" and to have stock on hand for other projects. (Though I often design projects to use the stock on hand...) Note you may need to call around as prices varied quite a lot between places selling the exact same stuff!

Note that cut masonry nails are generally HC steel.  *OLD* cut nails may be soft steel or even real wrought iron though.  Out here "found" round rod is often sucker rod and so generally a medium carbon steel---much less likely to be that where you are at.

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That's a much larger price difference than I would have expected. What types of places sell hot-rolled steel?

The cut nails are not very old. I never thought to test if they are able to be hardened, since they are to small to be used for much other than small hooks. If there is a type of tool I can make out of them, I'd love to give it a try. I think they're about 2.5" long

Will mild steel work alright for a simple spring hinge, or does that require a spring steel? If it will work, I may try making a pair of bacon tongs.

Thanks for all the help!

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I located my steel seller by searching on [city name] steel suppliers and called around with a price question for typical stock I use.

Cut nails: small wood/bone carving tools, tools for decorative stamping of cold copper/brass, engraving tools for die cutting...

If you stay within the  not taking a set range, mild and spring have about the same young's modulus---which is why we can use mild for post vise springs.  Spring steel has a much greater range before taking a set though.

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  • 1 month later...

Massachusetts must have steel fabrication or welding shops of some sort. The really large ones will likely not be worth your time. They all seem very fond of saying “Nope. Can’t because of liability.”  The smaller ones are more apt to be willing to let you rummage around their scrap barrels. Scrap steel is sold by the ton, meaning the little you will be carrying off will not be worth a lot to them. 

As for HR vs CR, that depends on what the shop usually manufactures.  If the item needs to be smooth after painting or powder coating, the scrap is apt to be CR. Utility trailers are mainly HR, as are truck beds.

When I want to buy new, I buy it from a company in Chickasha, Oklahoma that manufactures steel buildings. There is another steel building manufacturing company in OKC that I used when I needed a plate for my forge. Their drops are often pretty large. They basically gave me the plate for free and just charged me to cut a hole in it. 

If you want new blade steel, that would probably be a guy called the New Jersey Steel Baron. His prices seem reasonable and others here have recommended him. 

Medium and high carbon stock that isn’t flat bar, I haven’t found anyone yet, but like you, I am still practicing. Sucker rod, axels, and various automotive front end scrap is easy to come by and practically free. Burning something I didn’t pay more than a few cents for is much less painful than burning some super super steel.

TL;DR: You just have to do as the others have said, go to places and ask. There are still a surprisingly large number of people who still don’t realize their are people still blacksmithing. I have yet to find anyone who had been rude when I spoke with them about their scrap. 

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I don't look at the racks at the big boxes or local hardware stores much but as I recall a 3' piece of 1/2"sq.  was in the $8 range, a 20' stick at the closest steel supplier was $28 and change, a stick of 3/8" sq. was IIRC $21 and change.

When you buy from a steel supply do NOT ask to have it cut to transport at the counter or say yes when they ask. They have to charge by the cut, it's a paperwork thing. However the guys in the yard will almost always offer to whack it in half for you, gratis. If not bring your hack saw, you can cut 1/2" sq. in about 30 seconds with the right blade. No, NOT fine! It's getting hard to find them but Dad used to think I was nuts for buying 12 tpi (teeth per inch) silly fine blades but I cut some thin stock. The rule of thumb for saw blades is (3 teeth on the metal at all times.) That's a 6 tpi blade for 1/2" stock. 

5/16" rnd and such cuts nicely with a good pair of bolt cutters, they'll groove 5/16" x 3/4" enough to snap. 

If you take a box of doughnuts of muffins and talk to the receptionist at fab shops chances are good you'll be given access to drops. Good PR with the receptionist is better than with the owner/boss, the receptionist usually knows where everything is and who's who better than anyone else.

Frosty The Lucky.

Frosty The Lucky.

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  • 3 weeks later...

there are a bunch of steel supplies within 20minutes of Rutland..  

90% of the tools I make are from Mild steel..  Reasonably cheap, easy to procure and if they get damaged you just throw it in scrap.. 

Drifts, swages,  even some hammers for working with other metals that I don't want a hardened face to influence so the Mild steels hammers are in fact annealed for use.. 

Drifts are merely bar ends that are technically scrap as they have gotten to short to handle with hands verses tongs so maybe between 3-10" long.. 

 

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Fullers, spring fullers, hold downs all work well made of mild steel.

As said, axles are good medium carbon steel, torsion bars and coil and leaf springs are usually a bit higher medium carbon with chromium and or silicon to toughen them up. Sway bars are usually medium carbon steel, some are already shaped like hold downs, cut the end off at proper length, adjust bends and diameter of portion going into your pritchel hole if needed.

Job shops and fabricators almost always  have 4130/4140 remnants, as well as true tool steels.

Repurpose different type of fleamarket and yard sale hammers and hatchets to make handled tools without having to start the eye from scratch.

As stated,if buying new mild steel, many suppliers the guys in the yard will cut in half for you, or use the hack saw like Frosty said. Easy peasey.

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