DHarris

Can Mystery Steel be ID’d by Density

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I have two 3 to 4 foot long pieces of 1.5” round stock of an unknown type of steel. I picked them up sometime last year at Nimmo’s, a salvage yard here in Purcell (now closed due to family illness). I spark tested them after I got them home and could see they contained carbon. I cut an inch off one of the bars to see if I could harden it. I was using a steel chop saw and it took a very long time to cut. I have never cut anything that thick before, but have quite a lot of experience with cutting angle, channel iron, and flat bar used to manufacture utility trailers and truck beds. Those cut like butter compared to this.

It didn’t harden much at all when I quenched the piece in oil, but hardened very well in water. 

Chris, one of the guys who posts here and is also a Saltfork Craftsman member is interested in making a hammer, so I took one of the two rods and a very large tie rod end to give him his choice of one or the other. With Korney’s help, we cut of a slice of the rod, heated it and quenched it in water. Chris then put the slice in a vice and hit it with a hammer to see if it would break. It did. I’ve attached the pics. The grain structure looks very small. 

The slice itself feels unusually heavy, which brings me to the point of this post. Is it possible to get even remotely close to an ID based upon density?  I work in a clinical lab so access to a certified scale and a graduated cylinder is not a problem. The density calculation itself is easy if you have that. 

The steel also feels ‘funny’, for lack of a better word, when sanding it by hand. It doesn’t sand easily but when sanded, the surface just looks great and has a wonderful feel to it. Lame description that doesn’t give any useful information, but it is the best I can do. I have always carried bits of wood, stone, or metal in my pockets to fiddle with when thinking or waiting. This little sliver of steel is very satisfying to carry.

Any ideas on how I could identify what sort of steel it is? Are there labs that could ID it for me? Cost isn’t really a concern for me. 

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I wonder if these could be pieces of drilling rod, also called sucker rod. Were there any more pieces, and were some of them threaded at the ends? Some also have markings in the steel.

I just noticed that you are from Oklahoma. Lots of oil wells out there.

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The best way to identify it is to match the spark pattern to a known piece of steel. This assumes you dont want to have a lab id it.

Without a known piece to test spark against, a spark test is a guess.

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Some junkyards have handheld spectrometers for testing mystery metals. You said you have access to a lab perhaps they have one. Maybe even a jewelry store but I'm just guessing about that.

Pnut (Mike)

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6 hours ago, anvil said:

The best way to identify it is to match the spark pattern to a known piece of steel.

I disagree about spark testing, because that is not best it is only a educated guess.   A chemical analysis like Gas Chromatography is the best way, he did say he has a lab

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I agree Steve. A gas chromatograph mass spectrometry test would be the best way to find out exactly what it is and what percentage of each compound or element it contains. No guesswork involved.

Pnut (Mike)

 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Steve Sells said:

A chemical analysis like Gas Chromatography is the best way

I agree with that.  I also saw his mentioning working  in a lab. I assumed it was not a lab that could identify steels. Thus my mentioning a lab to I'd it.

I have no clue as to the cost to have a lab identify a piece of steel. A sample board is relatively inexpensive and works best if you have a bit of experience.

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Gas chromatography or xray spectrometery will give you a good idea but neither is perfect. Calculating it's mass and density might tell you how far from low alloy steel it is but won't tell you what's in it. The higher the carbon content the lower the mass. 

The break looks darned granular to me, I wouldn't call it good but I'm looking at a pic on a computer so it's FWIW.

Steel that thick tends to bog hot saws down and cut slowly so that's no indication. The sparks coming off the blade is a better indicator but not a good one. Spark testing was reasonably accurate in the day of simple steels when there were only trace elements in them. Now steels are designer stews, things like: vanadium, manganese, chrome, molybdenum, cobalt, tungsten, copper, lead, aluminum, etc, etc, don't spark like steel, they aren't. 

If what the stuff is really matters it's lab time. You'll want to decide how accurate a result you want first. Running an xray spectrometer over a sample might run you $10 in a scrap yard where gas spectrometry is probably significantly more expensive and if you want a full blown chemical analysis you're looking at crazy money.

Frosty The Lucky.

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X-ray florescence or optical emission spectrometry would give the most accurate analysis but like frosty said who knows how much money that might cost.

Pnut (Mike)

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Clinical lab, as in a hospital. The only mass spec we have is a Bruker MALDI-TOF instrument used to identify microorganisms.

After looking at this chart I found today online, I think I should be able to get reasonably close.  There is some overlap, but I should be able to use other observable characteristics to rule a few out.  It is not stainless for example, so I can exclude that section entirely. 

I have considered trying to find an engineering student at OU in need of a little cash to run a few tests for me in their labs.

Density of steel chart at amesweb

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