Scrap Railroad steel

Hey all, I ran across some really impressive piles of cast off railroad hardware. I heard that the newer spikes have a higher carbon content. I
assume the sample that I took are the older stuff but... Anybody know what the relative carbon content is in both old and new? I heated and quenched one of the spikes and afterword it was still fairly easy to file but when I put a sharp chisle point on it I tried hammering a shallow design into a steel plate (from the same pile) and when I was done the point was still sharp. The really interesting find was a pile of what looked like some sort of spring clip. They are about a quarter inch or more thick and about two inches wide and curved into some sort of retainer clip with a slot running about 4/5ths of the total length. I split the piece into halves completing the slot and straightened one out to a lenth of about 7 or 8 inches. It appears to be really tough stuff and I figure it must be high carbon. Anybody know what these are? With a little drawing out they should make some decent knife blanks.
Greyangel
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GTA. (Google Tells All). Seek and ye shall find.
I live near some tracks and have done a bit of experimenting with some railroad steel. I find their large flattish bar-looking stuff to be weldable without preheat using low-hydrogen rod. There is a lot of information about railroad spikes available online. My experience is the carbon varies a lot. Most of the ones I find are pretty mild.
Try googling on Groups and "railroad steel". http://www.google.com
Grant Erwin
Greyangel wrote:

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In addition to google, I have a couple of books w/ charts of steel types for common "found" items (e.g. car axles, springs, etc). The New Edge of the Anvil has one such chart I believe (at work :( , can't confirm).
don
Greyangel wrote:

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It should, as the "old" one does.
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Those clips are used to secure the rails to the new concrete ties:
When you look at the head of the regular spikes if you find a "HC" on the top it means it is a high carbon steel, they were used where a little more strength was required; joints, junctions, etc.I have used those to create a knife by twisting the upper 4 inches for a handle and then forging a blade with the rest of the spike. They make impressive letter openers but are not much more than eye candy.
C Ray

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Hey,
I have seen the same pile of unused rails next to a railway close to where I live for over a year. At what point do I assume that they don't want them anymore? Also, besides next to railways, where do you guys get your track/spikes?
-Jonathan Ward
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Bad assumption. Railroads stockpile rails in many places. Often in plain sight with no security.
Traditionally if they don't want them anymore they chop them into 2 foot sections and sell them for scrap.
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Yeah you are probably right. Although when I said pile, I meant three 20 ft (40 ft?) sections randomly strewn in between two sets of tracks. Even if they were giving them out, I would have no way to cart them away.
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Jonathan Ward wrote:

Noticed several torn up and abandoned sections of track in the Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas area. In Rosedale, MS today and along Railroad Street there were several sections of track in the old right of way. They had a few years worth of growth over them. Checking around I have found spikes and plates plus other bits and pieces that seemed to have been left after the major work was done. Never had a comment from the police, talked to a few. Now, they probably don't know everything but general opinion was that it was abandoned property and free for the taking. Your mileage may vary.
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When I worked in the "maintenance of way department" the word was always "we don't sell rail it goes back for use in making new rail -no exceptions!" But small pieces used for anvils etc weren't what they were talking about. That steel is special steel and there's no use spending extra time, effort and money making new stuff from "dirt;)" when it's already made, just needs re-melting.
Talk to the guys working along the tracks they'll give you all you need unless you need too friggin much. ;)

I've known some mining railroads to sell rails whole (33' or 39') for underground mine supports (dangged if i can remember what those mine supports are called).

Draggin'em one at a time works! ;) At night, the faster you go the cooler it looks. ;)
Old ones were 33'foot long when new, and the newer ones were 39' long when new, or those welded together making 78' rails, it has to do with the length of the cars and the rocking back and forth of the cars at certain speeds. Speed limits are set by that and the ties' conditions and how many spikes are actually holding etc. ;)
Alvin in AZ (retired signal ape)
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The piles I found don't include a lot of rail, just miscellaneous plate, spikes, the clips and some big ugly pieces of some kind of beam that is about the size of rail and about two foot long and oddly shaped. Can't think what those would be good for as they have no flat sides. The piles are rusting badly and I honestly never considered that the railway gave a damn what happens to the stuff. I have a two foot section of rail that I am using for a makeshift anvil. Gives me something to beat on anyway. Thinking about grinding the top flat if I don't just go buy myself an anvil. Note on the clips: I cut one in half at the split and forged a blade from it that is a bit less than a quarter inch thick and about 12 inches long including the tang. Now I am just teaching myself the craft and bought a weed burning torch and a pile of fire brick to use as a forge. Seems to work pretty well for now. Anyway I know very little about what I am doing but these clips are some really incredible stuff. After heating and beating this thing into a knife shape I have been trying to grind/sand/whatever the outer layer of rough metal and it is starting to get discouraging with the amount of work I have had to put into it. This stuff acts like I have already hardend it! I pretty much wore out two of those Makita side grinder sanding disks (the ones with the flaps of sand paper overlapping) and two 50 grit flat sanding disks and still have not achived a smooth surface over the whole blade. My big bastard file just skates over the surface. I also have a strange looking file I picked up at the local flea market that has semicircular cutting edges that makes a bit more progress but not much and it leaves nasty scratches that again take forever to sand off. Any idea what this stuff is made of? Any good suggestions on grinding it flat? How about suggested hardening and tempering? I figured after putting a rough edge to it I would try to determine if and what kind of hardening to do to it. I planned on using the other half to hammer into a rough flat of metal an then experiment with quenches and tempering to see what I can get away with.
Greyangel

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Greyangel wrote:

>... My big bastard file just skates over the surface. I also have

Sounds like it's already hard. Did you try to anneal it?
You want to be grinding, not sanding, at this point.
Got a grinder? Read a bit about spark-testing then test some known samples vs the clip. Describe the results here if you like.
I can't tell from your description... The semicircular-toothed file is either a form of mill-file that should give a wonderfully fine surface if used carefully, or it's a rasp which will give you the roughest finish possible.
http://h00050207be9f.ne.client2.attbi.com/SemiCircularTeeth.gif
I expect the former. If so, save it for later, and when you do use it be very careful not to let the sides dig in.
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----- Original Message -----
Newsgroups: alt.crafts.blacksmithing Sent: Saturday, April 17, 2004 2:56 AM Subject: Re: Scrap Railroad steel

Naw, don't think so

Imagine taking a slightly smaller two foot lenth of Rail Steel, making is soft and then squeezing it between some really big plyers at the side to side. Offset the square of the sides a bit and you would get something like these things. As I said though with the size and shape I can't imagine a use for them.

They came through here a couple of years ago and replaced a lot of rail on the 30 mile stretch that parallels my commute to work. Don't see much of them these days. I don't want the pile, just miscellaneous material to play with. The 1/2x9 x14 inch plates are heavy and have built in hardy holes too. Wne or two of them around the house for light weight stump anvil will be handy. The spikes should make decent hardies too.

I took it to to a buddy of mine and had him cut out a 6 or 8 inch piece of the foot and webbing with a cutting torch so that I would have a sort of a horn. Cuts fairly easily. I have used the hand held sidegrinder to clean up the torch cut. Lot of work to make an anvil out of rail steel but what the hell, as long as I keep working on it in increments and don't find the cash for a real anvil then it will evolve into one eventually. The cool part about rail steel is that it has a long flat surface that is STRAIGHT! Since sword making is what I am really interested in, long and straight is an important feature.

I have no idea. Never saw one in place. Just found this pile of them in the grass. Probably a hundred or so if I had to guess. I grabbed about three of them and after working the steel a bit went back and grabbed another handful of them. I am betting they will make really tough knife blades. The first one is impressing the hell out of me. I notice that when I get it down to polished steel it gets an almost laquered look to it. Cool stuff and hard as hell. I will soon be doing some experimenting to find out how much stress this stuff will take. I do know it will crack if worked too cold but I was able to get away with a couple of precise hits with the hammer to straighten some residual warp in the knive blade while completely cold.

had a derailment a quarter mile from my work. Nasty stuff. I saw box cars that looked like aluminum beer cans after a bad play at the superbowl.

What's Enderes?

Hmm, OK, I will get back to you. I have ground on it but never tried to actually define the spark. Lots of branching early on. I'll have to characterize it.

No faster than chill California spring air in the evening with a rail steel anvil for a heatsink, still, with the right alloys...

Hahah, Wild ass guesses are my bread and butter right now. Like I said earlier, I will find out what you can and cannot do to this stuff. I won't know what it is but I will know what you can do with it.

Only have the handheld right now and a standard bench grinder. Working on the rest as fast as my wallet (and my wife) will allow.

No
I'm too ignorant to argue right now but my gut tells me its more than that...

I know that about 100 degrees past magnetic is supposed to be good for carbon steel Not sure of the definition of "arrest point" I have heard of the visible phase change.

I still have to verify that I can do the hardening process without breaking the steel. If it breaks then I will try different quenches and temper heats. A barely worked piece of scrap steel is a cheap education in my book

I have seen that! Kind of cool.

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I'm lost. :) heck it might be something I've never seen before. :/

Sounds cool. :)

Derailments are talked about in terms of what kind of stuff was scattered all over the place or plied up. "yeah, that was the derailment with the bolts of cloth laying in the corn syrup"
"that was the derailment where we were looking for the conductors foot"
etc. :)

Tool makers... you'll find their display in a good hardware store.
Good stuff! :)

Ok, but, it's all about comparisons not absolutes ok?
I've heard about guys that can do spark testing by absolutes, they are inside the steel industry and from what I heard are well paid and highly thought of.

What railroad and towns are we talking about? :)

Yellow pages... "tools -used" ;)

Cool. :)

I've been wanting to do that anyway and will get to as quick as I can. for me if not for you. ;)

That's it! :) I read metallurgy books instead of getting my information from "knife sources". Arrest point is where the steel quits getting hotter... it's sucking up that energy doing something else.
Cooling it does the same thing except it stops getting cooler while that stored up enregy is released as a flash. Have you seen it? :)

But still if you know what you are working with the experimenting will be more productive too. Spark testing is the key here that un-locks a lot of information faster than you can even ask it. ;)
Alvin in AZ
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So I figured that a picture is worth a thousand words. Check this out
http://home.comcast.net/~greyangel1/AngelStation/temp/lowexp.jpg
http://home.comcast.net/~greyangel1/AngelStation/temp/highexp.jpg
http://home.comcast.net/~greyangel1/AngelStation/temp/clip.jpg
Now it's hard as hell to get on digital camera what the eye sees. Basically these photos are a lot more orange that what I see and the focus is crap but I tried. The main distribution seems to happen about a foot from the wheel and then you just get straight spark out to about three or four feet. One picture shows a darker image of what the eye sees and the next shows over bright. Pick a spot in the middle and give it a bit more yellow/white. The third picture is what the clip looks like in it's unmutilated state. The clip is sitting on a standard half thickness fire brick so you get an idea of the size.

Between Sacramento (Roseville) and Marysville, California. Found another pile of plates and spikes right here in town.

Bank, Payday, Home Depot tools - quick, cheap. Got a huge flea market about thirty miles away. Great for picking up old tools when I want to spend several hours at it. I could drop 500 bucks in the hardware store if I wanted to skip the mortgage for a month... After my latest experience the belt sander is next.

OK, now my experience with heating steel is that I seem to miss most of the red zone (too much light, no covered place to work) and get into dull orange. I've been pounding by bright orange to almost yellow. Haven't even seen anything hotter than that first hand. Don't know if I just need to wait longer, redesign my forge setup or build a better torch (or a couple of them). The heats get smooth if I get it orange/yellow and get it back into the fire as soon as it drops to medium red. About the time I am ready for a break the brick pile I use for a forge is really starting to hold heat. My reading tells me that much of what I want to do needs to happen closer to the white although I recently read that carbon steel should not be heated that much. Which brings me to the question: How can I forge weld if I can't heat the steel that hot? I have been wanting to try a blade that is welded cable. Don't expect to get there for a while yet but one of these days...

Greyangel - NorCal :)>
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Greyangel wrote:

I am not a great expert, but that doesn't look high carbon to me. Of course, I only have experience with griding files, which don't have fancy alloys. A good rule of thumb to tell how much carbon there is in a piece is to look at the sparks coming off of it. When they are flagged (like wheat), there generally is more carbon in it. If you grind a file, you will see tons of flagged ends to the spark. It is almost as if the spark goes and then breaks apart into like five more sparks. I hope I helped.
-Jonathan Ward
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As I said it is hard to capture with a camera what the eye sees. Most of the distribution happens close to the wheel. But I would tend to agree that it's not what you would expect out of high carbon. I would lean toward the alloy explanation on this stuff since I have a worked piece of it that is hard without intending to quench it. It would be nice to get an analysis of it.
Greyangel
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A cement-tie, rail holding clip.
Don't know what they are called, I never worked with those things.
The spark-bursts are being suppressed by alloying is my guess. We need an analysis or someone who knows, to tell us what the heck the stuff is. :/

Yep, we need to know what this stuff is could be anything from 4340 to 4370 (L6). Whatever it is it's all about being a dammed good spring. My wild-ass guess is a medium carbon spring steel like what the automotive industry uses for leaf springs. I'd be willing to bet a dollar on that one. ;)
The creepers were straight high carbon steel but with the cement ties and these extra good clips they don't need creepers or spikes they need something that will outlast the cement tie, and/or work hard at protecting the cement tie.
They didn't mess around, compared to the cost of the rail and ties and labor the clips are cheap even if they're 5160 or 4340 or 8750 or whatever...
Knowing what all of them are isn't going to happen, if it's like the automotive industry they use different alloys to do the same thing. There are several that work, and work the same, for leaf springs and different manufactures get their supplys from different sources etc.
Seems like railroad car springs were figured to mostly be simple 1070 or there abouts. :)
I'm into high carbon steel and tool steel but read a book about leaf and coil springs after being asked about it on r.k.
Same with reading/studying more than I really wanted to know about sorry old martensitic stainless steel.
Alvin in AZ (not a metallurgist, just a reader of;) ps- here's a list for you, the ones they acutally named as most common and I bothered to mark in my ASM's Handbook;) 4060 4068 4161 4340 5060 5160 50B60 (boron steel hardens deeper, almost air hardening, so it's 51B60 for thicker springs without costing more, by not having to add more expensive elements like Mo and Cr for that effect) 6150 (old and outdated for suspension, now just used for valve springs unless the -best- is wanted;) 8660 9260 (passenger car springs) 9261 (passenger car springs) 9262 (passenger car springs)
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I straightened and drew out the other half of the piece I made a knife out of tonight. I boxed it into the brick pile I call a forge after I was done so it should cool pretty slowly. I want to check if it is any softer when I go get it out tomarrow. Should give me an idea if I inadvertantly air hardend the first piece (unless it needs to cool even slower than that). I'm going to grind it off later and do a heat and dump into some warm oil to see if it breaks or holds together in the quench. After that if it holds together I will try a couple of tempers on it then try to bend it in the vice to see what happens. If I can keep it intact and show a good hardness I'll try the same on the knife. The interesting thing about the knife is that is seems to hold a high gloss finish pretty well... chromium? I have handled it plenty and it doesn't appear to tarnish the way the low carbon steel does with handling.
Any idea how hard (and expensive) it is to get a metalurgical analysis?

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Carl West wrote:

You may also need to clean it between strokes. Chalk or welders' soapstone crayon rubbed into the teeth is supposed to help.
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