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.
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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".
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Grant Erwin
Greyangel wrote:
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Grant Erwin
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).
Greyangel wrote:
Reply to
don schad
It should, as the "old" one does.
Reply to
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
Reply to
C. Ray Nichol
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
Reply to
Jonathan Ward
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.
Reply to
Ernie Leimkuhler
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.
Reply to
Jonathan Ward
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.
Reply to
Bob Yates
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.
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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.
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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.
Reply to
Carl West
What the track bolts go through and hold the rail ends together are called "angle bars" and I'm guessing you ain't talking about those, right? :)
I think I know what it is tho but there is so much of that weird shaped stuff tho and bridge parts too.
I'm thinking it's the spacer+holder between the "stock rail" and the "switch point". It's really heavy-duty looking... if laying like it should you can see how it's made to fit inside, next the web on both sides of it so it's sort of symetrical.
For the most part you are right... just until you try carrying off the whole pile at once. :) A piece or two at a time know one will care. But really the best setup for you is to get to know the workers they'll had you hunks of fresh cut rail and all kinds of stuff that's better than what's prob'ly in that pile.
I have a few pieces of rail too of course ;) and used to make a point of collecting all the neatly cut pieces to give a away.
Standing on end is a real good use. If the end was "friction saw" cut (chop saw;) then that surface might be so hard as to not be filable! :)
I'm going to guess those are "rail anchors" or the common name is "creepers". Is that what they are? what's clipped to the underside base of the rail and when there's enough of them tight against the ties the rail won't scoot along or "creep along" from train traffic.
Actually the dangged rail on single track territory shifts back and forth but still scooting on the "tie plates" is bad for a bunch of reasons. Rail anchors are spring tempered steel and a spark test will be needed to find the carbon content but I'll bet it's something in between the rail at 1075 to 1080 (like a cold chisel) and an HC marked spike. Guys at Enderes wrote me a letter and told me their punches and chisels are made from 1078 so that's a known sample for all of us.
Automotive springs are a jillion different alloys but boil down to one catagory-> "a low alloy medium carbon steel" might as well figure them to be 5160. Somehow I always figured (never spark tested them for some odd reason) creepers to be about 1045-1060.
You spark test yours and then we'll both know. :)
That's what I use but it's all homemade.
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Did you ever cool it quickly?
If it happens to have some alloying in it, it could be partially air hardening in the thinner sections but that's a stupid wild-ass guess and doesn't really mean anything. :/ There's not enough information to know what's going on, sorry. :/
Like the other poster said -grinding wheels-! :)
Cool. :) But is it a new file? :/ Big difference sometimes in just the sharpness of the file or the pressure applied.
My guess is straight medium carbon steel... spark testing needed. :/
I'll see if I can round up a few samples to spark-test too.
Sorry, I'm not a flat grinder... :/
When you figure out how to grind something flat without a special machine to hold and guide everything... let me know ok? ;) I can hollow grind a knife blade until it's paper thin but never have made a good looking job while trying to make a flat-sided knife! :)
Well there's the "clunky old magnet method;) you know about that one already? ;)
I use the "arrest point method". :)
Those are -my- names for them not sure what others call them.
Spark testing will tell you more, for sure, faster, than anything else... no kidding on that... even if you first have to learn to spark test, it'll still pay better than experimenting blind.
Never-ever seen that. The wornout track tools were supposed to be cut up before they were thrown in the scrap pile but weren't most of the time.
The "work train" picked up scrap metal with a magnet and 39' and 78' rails were loaded with the magnet too but they did a pretty good job of keeping all the different kind of parts separated into different cars. It was worth more that way? Colorado Fuel and Iron didn't have to mess with it so much to prepare it for recycling into the same parts again? what I always figured.
They just dumped the stuff into "gongs"... "gondola cars".
Then there was the "ribbon rail train" that unload new rail in 1/4 mile pieces and then later came by and picked up the old ribbon rail.
What I'm really into is making knives from power hacksaw blades. I've got a stack of used blades that I started collecting right after I first watched a test of the new chopsaw/"friction saw" made from a chain saw.
If you talk to the guys working along the tracks (not the trainmen) you might even get a few of those high speed steel power hacksaw blades or maybe just used chopsaw blades? :/ It takes a brand new blade to finish cutting through a rail so "small pieces" aren't any good to them really ...but for free they are plenty good for most every other kind of material you're going to want to cut. And they'll have extras to spare.
Nope. I don't have a chopsaw I use a hand grinder. :/
Alvin in AZ
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----- Original Message ----- From: 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.
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
Reply to
Instead of working on my old pickup today I went out and played on the railroad tracks. :)
I read where the spikes were supposed to 1035 but I think the ones I collected are higher carbon than that at about 1050-1055 but prob'ly not 1060.
I have a bunch of cold chisel some really old ones too but of the "modern" ones the RACO brand one was just barily higher carbon content than the spikes (1060?) and the Proto brand was higher (1070?) and the Enderes one was highest and is 1078.
(RACO, railroad accessories corporation)
I'm guessing what you have there is a spring clip for cement ties.
It's easy as anything (if you have cement ties in your area) to confirm that guess. :)
I didn't find any lying around today so I can't say what they are yet.
I never worked with cement ties, SP hadn't got around to using them yet when I retired. Saw some cement ties today, the UP is into them big time and what's funny as anything to me is no "rail-anchors"!
How they keep the rail from running is with those clips, I guess. There are so many of them, I guess it works from quanity and each one is quality looks like. :) Holding the rail alot better than a spike hammerd in wood I'd say. :) What's weird too is how the rail doesn't "pump" as the train goes by either the tracks are solid.
Anyway I bet that's what you have and it's prob'ly pretty close to 1095 is my wild-ass guess at this new point. :)
I found two types of rail anchors (creepers) today and if a blacksmith were to straighten any of them out they'd be about a foot long. All rail anchors are a J shape.
First one has a 3/4" x 1" cross section and spark tested at about the same as the Proto cold chisel guessing 1070-1075. I remember the track guys thinking those creepers were a waste of time and effort. :/ You could hammer them on too hard and ruin them by spreading the lower J part and loose their grip. :/
The other is a ~5/16" thick sheet of metal that's bent into a channel like U shape then, bent into the J shape. They spark tested at close to 1095 I'd guess 1090. I remember those creepers as tricky to get on since there is no center to hammer against they want to go sideways on you. Some track guys didn't like them but all aggreed they held good. :) Spike maul's face was too small for me to get those on (I wasn't a track guy just helped them out since I had to be there when they were changing rail out) I had to use a regular sledge hammer and catch both sides at once or forget it. ;)
I remember well at least one more that was everybody's favorite it has a T cross section. They held best and went on good both. Didn't find one of those today tho.
I don't know yet but I'm working on it. ;) Do you think it's a cement tie, rail-holding clip? (don't know what they call those since I never worked with them:)
Alvin in AZ
Reply to
I've seen some rails laying around in South Florida as well. I would like to try making a knife blade. What do you use to rivet the hadles on ?
Reply to
Joel Stolarski
So I figured that a picture is worth a thousand words. Check this out
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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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Try this again to group... I have another post with links to pictures on my web site. Check it out.
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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
Reply to
Jonathan Ward

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