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Steel Questions
October 19, 2011
8:57 pm
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zacharycbernard
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Any advice anyone could give on this subject would be greatly appreciated. I have only a general understanding of what types of steel are best for any given application. Since my apprentice ship was done on an historic farm we didn’t get into the classifications of the steel. We just used “mild steel” for most things and left it at that. I have come to think that this was probably 1018.
When we used “tool steel” it was not any of the readily available alloy steels, as these were not appropriate to the time period we were portraying, so I am confused as to what we would have used. On that note, what special safety precautions should be taken when using alloys that contain toxic elements such as chromium?
Probably the most important question I have would be: what steel can or should I use to make tools (edged and otherwise) that does not have toxic elements and would be appropriate for period blacksmithing? Would something like 1050 be hard enough for an edged tool? Is something with more carbon (1080-1095) more appropriate? Is it available?

Thanks all for any help.
-Zach

October 20, 2011
3:39 am
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Mills
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Straight carbon steels are historic, alloys have been around for sometime though. The history of it isn’t my thing so I won’t address that.

1050 would make a good hammer but only a fair knife, depending on the qualities you seek. Higher carbon makes for better edges. Best advice is choose one or two steels and learn them before going into a broad range of alloys.

I really like sucker rod, it is approx. a 4140 alloy and for a hardy it has worked very well after I handled/ sharpened correctly. it is really best for punches and fullers though.

For toxicity concerns, not to much problem til you overheat the stock then you are releasing some vapor. So your hi alloyed steels will be the greater concern. From your post sounds like you’ll be staying away from that anyway.

October 20, 2011
4:31 am
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Lee Cordochorea
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Hi, Zach! Welcome!

Which “period” are we discussing here? Just past bronze age? Just prior to WWII? Tokagawa’s reign? Something else?

Depending on the “period” the “tool steel” could simply be low or medium carbon steel, with the “not steel” being wrought iron. Or tool steel could have been wootz. Or it could be made in China by a version of Huntsman’s process, which they were using about 2000 years ago. Or it could be early Egyptian cemented steel.

I always figured “period” was something to end a “sentence” with. :bounce:

There are no additional precautions required for steels containing chromium or other common alloying elements. Follow the same safety protocol as for mild steel.

No matter where you go... there you are.

October 20, 2011
6:11 pm
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zacharycbernard
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Thanks so much for the information. The period in which I worked was about the mid 1860’s. What constitutes overheating for alloy steels? Are we talking about the temperature at which the carbon burns out?

October 21, 2011
5:52 am
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Lee Cordochorea
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If an alloy steel is overheated, the alloying elements can begin to segregate out at the grain boundaries. The steel can take on a spongy appearance and be ruined. How hot is too hot depends on the alloy in question. Rule of thumb is to reduce temperature as carbon content increases. This chart is for hypoeutectoid plain carbon steels. How it changes based on alloying elements other than carbon gets pretty complicated pretty fast.

12723=3847-tempcht.gifImage Enlarger

When using a new source of “mystery steel,” I like to burn up a piece on purpose so I know roughly where the “ceiling” is.

1860 predates by 15 years the first attempt to standardize steel industry terms and nomenclature. Predated by 18 years is the Gilchrist cousins’ improvement to Mr. Bessemer’s furnace – an improvement which finally made steel as economical as wrought iron.

In the 1860s, steel was still costly compared to wrought iron. This was especially true in America. England may have been churning out crucible steel since 1742, but the process was not sussed out in America until 1849. (Although it only took three years for the Americans to figure out how to make ingots more than twice the weight of Sheffield’s.) Still, in 1865 the American crucible steel industry was just getting ready to take off.

Sir Henry Bessemer invented his process in 1855. Cast steel, but not crucible steel…

Shear steel, of course, was still in use. Re-enacting with that would probably require making one’s own.

Even after Commodore Perry’s visit, the Japanese were still making sen, hocho, jami, chigusa, and ewa – all via the tatara process. Steel was exported from Toledo at the time. Wootz could still be had, but it was not the quality of a century earlier. All of these would require making one’s own, or trading with someone like David Lisch or Greg Obach.

Also, look up the Siemens Regenerative Furnace, which Mr. Seimens first used in 1865. (Also cast steel.)

Given the above, I humbly submit any plain carbon or low alloy steel as suitable for re-enactment. It is unlikely the end-user knew the metallurgy of their “tool steel.” Junk yard steels are therefore quite appropriate to late Victorian era re-enactment. Call them “cast steel” and you won’t be very inaccurate. The greater inaccuracy is using 1018 or A36 instead of wrought iron. Of course, wrought iron is $3 or $4 per pound these days…

No matter where you go... there you are.

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