Making Tool Steel

I'm reading an interesting novel about the island of Nantucket getting
transported back in time to 1200 BC. (Island in the sea of time) The
residence have to gear their technology back quite a bit, understandably.
One of the first things they do is organize the hobby machinists into an
industry to produce necessities and trade goods. Machine shop heroes! One
big problem looming is the finite supply of tool steel and cutting tools.
How would someone with such limited resources make small quantities of
serviceable tool steel cutting tools? They have plenty of mild steel from
boats and cars.
Reply to
Tom Gardner
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Carburize it and keep cutting speeds very low, like they did a little over a century ago, before high-speed steel was developed.
-- Ed Huntress
Reply to
Ed Huntress
Most production car axles were made of 1040 until 20 years ago; 1050 today. When 1040 was the standard, 4140 was used for high-performance axles. Today, 1541 is used for high-performance axles. Race cars use other grades, including chrome-vanadium types. None of them contain enough carbon to harden over Rc 45 or so at the max. These grades make great hammer heads but they can't be hardened enough for metalcutting tools.
No tungsten. And you'd need a hell of a lot of lightbulbs to get it. The flash chrome on bumpers would require a lot of stripping to get enough to do any good, and chrome doesn't make HSS. You need tungsten or molybdenum.
In any case, you'd face quite a trick to make a HSS alloy without some fancy technology.
Until HSS steel was developed, high-carbon steel (Rc 60 - 65) was used for cutting tools. It works OK. You just have to keep speeds 'way down so you don't wreck the hardness. It doesn't wear as well as HSS, either. So, you just change or sharpen tools more often.
You can carburize low-carbon steel in a charcoal grill with a bellows for blast. You need a boat (sheet steel, or local clay) or a good carbon pack to keep the blast from decarburizing the steel. Bone charcoal makes a good carburizing compound. So, you have to kill something to get some bones. d8-)
There doubtless is some high-carbon steel in cars, but I don't know where. Shock absorbers usually use the same grades as axles. Maybe pushrods or lifters. Valves are made from dandy steel, but I don't think they're sufficiently hardenable, either.
-- Ed Huntress
Reply to
Ed Huntress
What about harold's favorite, Stellite? That was around well before HSS was developed, right? Granted you could not just cook some up on the kitchen stove...
Jim
Reply to
jim rozen
Assuming you could find the materials and had a way to measure them (alloys are pretty strict for the Stellites), you'd need the kitchen stove from Hell to cook it up.
-- Ed Huntress
Reply to
Ed Huntress
Which brings up a problem at least as serious as obtaining the raw materials to make HSS -- the energy required to do metallurgy with refractory metals in a small isolated place like Nantucket. I'm sure there'd be higher priority uses for the limited energy available than making modern metalworking tools.
Ned Simmons
Reply to
Ned Simmons
Driftwood charcoal probably isn't specified in the metallurgy manuals.
Actually, I haven't been there for many years, but I remember seeing orchards there. Maybe applewood charcoal is a little more consistent.
Given the difficulties of coming up with anything better, and the relative ease of carburizing common grades of plain, low-carbon steel, making plain carburized steel for tools looks like the best solution by far. The limitation is that, compared to the 1,000F or so maximum operating temperature of HSS, you have to keep maximum temperature at the cutting edge to something on the order of 350 or 400F.
-- Ed Huntress
Reply to
Ed Huntress
At the risk of being redundant, you'd have to have high-speed machines to really need high-speed steel. I haven't read the book, but I'd assume that the isolated place is no longer on the power grid.
Reply to
Jim Stewart
Try telling the orchard owner facing winter in the North Atlantic that you need a few cords of his firewood to make a drill bit .
And who's in a hurry in 1200BC Nantucket anyway?
Ned Simmons
Reply to
Ned Simmons
Not that I really know what I'm talking about, but wouldn't the coil or leaf spring most likely be 5160 or something similar? Shouldn't you be able to harden one of them to 56-60 Rc? And how about valve springs?
-Will
Reply to
Will
I don't know the alloys that are used for either one. I happen to remember the axle alloys because I looked it up last year.
In any case, valve springs are very small and would be of limited use. I doubt if there's any advantage to using either one for cutting tools, and Rc 56-60 is pretty marginal for cutting steel. It's generally accepted that you need Rc 60 or more. 60 points of carbon isn't enough to do it, unless it's combined with enough chromium to boost the hardening potential of the carbon. I don't think that's the case with suspension-spring steel, although, again, I'd have to look up the alloys used for valve springs.
-- Ed Huntress
Reply to
Ed Huntress
Eh, not too bad.
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melting point 2290°F, though no mention if that's complete fusion or just liquidus or solidus.
For the tungsten, you could raid the welding shop (or golf shop, for tungsten-weighted clubs). I don't know how you'd get it to dissolve though, you'll need a hell of a hammer to bash all the tungsten to a powder. Chromium could come from plating shops, if there's any around. As mentioned, you can't get much from bumpers; plating shops might have some bulk metal or chemical but besides that there isn't much else using it. Cobalt, magnets maybe?
Besides those possibilities, it'll probably take a skilled alchemist to concentrate the materials alloyed in other things. Say...could you melt some alloy steel and run air through it ala Bessemer, burning out the "impurities" as oxides which you then collect and seperate later?
Tim
-- "I've got more trophies than Wayne Gretsky and the Pope combined!" - Homer Simpson Website @
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Reply to
Tim Williams
Thats pretty much the bronze age. Since you like to read, your answer is in "The Mysterious Island" by Jules Verne. Which is something every high-school age male should read anyway.
Reply to
bw
David Forsyth in South Africa has used ball bearing races as a source of metal for cutting tools :-
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Mark Rand RTFM
Reply to
Mark Rand

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