Analysis of Steel
Richard A. (Woody) Hanson © 2007
Foreword: It’s a dreary, cold, miserable, snowy day in
Caveat Emptor: That is Latin for “Buyer Beware.” The fact that that warning was translated from Latin should tell you something. That something is “crooks have been around for a very long time.” I know you think you can spot a con man a mile away. Well a mile away he can’t do you much damage, but when he gets up close he will be in your pocket, have your money and be gone before you can blink.
Lately there have been several people who have purchased pieces of steel on EBay and then decided they need to know if what they got was what was advertised. Well DUH, you got what you got, too late to do anything about it now. Now we all know that everybody that sells on EBay are stellar individuals, just like all them guys from
If you believe everything sellers on EBay tell say, you will probably also be interested in the little piece of land I have down by the swamp. IT’S A BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF PROPERTY, ONE SIDE FACES THE WATER. The top! IT HAS AN ABUNDANCE OF WILDLIFE. At least one den of water moccasins, plenty of leaches and the occasional alligator. IT ALSO HAS A SPATICULAR VIEW. In most places the water is less than eyeball deep. THIS PROPERTY ALSO HAS A COLORFUL HISTORY. Rumor has it the Mafia has been dumping bodies there for years. Ya’ll getting my drift here? People will take advantage of you and the internet allows them a degree of anonymity heretofore unimagined. Sure if you get burned on EBay you can send a message to EBay and put a “black mark” or whatever they call it against the seller. So what if the seller is using the computer at the local library, a yahoo email address and he gave EBay a phony name and address. Do you think EBay has time to check out the validity of everybody who sells there? But you have put a “black mark” against that seller and you have wounded him so grievously that he will cry all the way to the bank, but those tears are tears of laughter. Why you ask? Well I will tell you why, because at P.T. Barnum said, “there is a sucker born every minute” and to this guy’s way of thinking you took care of about an hours worth.
Example: Once I was checking into a motel in
My neighbor lady’s Ex was a gunsmith. She was cleaning out a storage shed and came across several small pieces of steel. There are all cold finished in thickness from 1/8” to ¼”, width from ½” to 1” and length about 18 inches. I accepted this steel graciously because it was clean and shiny. Hey I am a sucker for shiny things especially when offered by attractive ladies. I spark tested the stuff and it is steel, to be doubly sure I checked it with a magnet. I was thinking steel from a gunsmith, Hummmm, must be good stuff. I already had visions of the knives I would make from it. Then I took a piece of it, heated it to non magnetic and quenched it in oil. (That’s pronounced ALL if you are anywhere South of St. Louis). Alas when I tried it with a file, I found that it was just mild steel. Now I could take pictures of it, advertise it on EBay as O-1, D-2 or some other high quality knife steel and sell it for a pretty penny. If you want documentation as the type of steel, I am sure that with my computer through the magic of Print Shop or some other program, I could come up with an authentic looking certificate. It’s only useful purpose would be to help you start the fire next time you light your forge. And, what if you complain to me? I can simply say it must have been something you did in the heat treating process. As sure as my name is Dewey Cheatham that stuff is S-7 I am not responsible for what you do after you buy the steel. Hey, ya’ll quit looking at me that way, I had my shots, and I don’t get scruples or ethics. I would make a good crook if I wasn’t so honest.
By now you are probably totally lost and wondering what point I am trying to make. The truth is, I am not sure I kinda got lost myself, but we will eventually get there. TRUST ME!
Act in haste and repent at your leisure! So you bought some mystery metal on EBay that is supposed to be high quality steel. The excitement of the auction is over and now reality is setting in and you are being haunted by the question: Did I get what I paid for? Lacking a complete metallurgical laboratory, you resort to other less costly means of identification which hopefully will accomplish the same goal with the same degree of unfailing accuracy.
There used to be a guy around, who could sense the carbon content and alloy of steel my merely touching it. Handy fellow to have around, I don’t know what happened to him, I think he wandered into the “
Magnet: First test it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks it’s steel. If it don’t it may still be steel. Some of the grades of stainless steel are non magnetic, these are mostly the mild steels of the stainless group. 304, 308, 316.
What was it used for: If you can determine the original use of the steel, you can consult the various “junkyard steel” lists or Machinery’s Handbook and get an idea of what type of steel you have. If it was a jackhammer bit, it is probably one of the shock resistant steels, S-5, S-7. Note that I said probably. If it is just bar stock, then its primary purpose was probably to separate you from your money and it has already done that.
Get on the internet and ask a group of blacksmiths that you have never met: There is only one problem with asking a group of blacksmiths a question. You can ask 6 blacksmiths the same question and get 6 different answers and all of them are right! You don’t believe me, ask 6 blacksmiths to what color they heat steel to forge weld. To me welding temperature is a bright orange yellow that has a wet look to it, but that is just how I see it, the “actual” color may be different. For even more fun ask them to interpret the photo of a spark test you have done.
Spark Test: This is going to involve moving machinery so be careful, safety glasses at a minimum, better yet goggles or a full face shield. This involves feeding the steel into a grinder or belt sander and observing the sparks that are produced, then comparing what you saw to the sparks produced by a known sample of material. This will give you a good idea of the carbon content of the steel, and may help to determine some of the alloy components but that’s about the limit. If this sort of testing were all that accurate, the major steel manufacturers would do away with their chemists, metallurgists and analytical labs and start issuing certificates of spark test instead of certificates of analysis.
Destructive Testing: This won’t give you any indication of the type of alloy, but it will give you an idea of the carbon content. This involves heating the metal to non magnetic then quenching it. Now clamp it in the vise and try to bend it. If it breaks it is high carbon, if it bends it is not. You can also heat and quench then try to cut the metal with a file. If the file skates across the metal, it is high carbon. If it cuts the metal, it’s low carbon. How low? Who knows?
Alchemy and Witchcraft: One can resort to Crystal Balls, Ouija Boards, Tarot Cards but they are not noted for their accuracy. If you must use these methods, be careful that you do not make disparaging remarks in the presence of the practitioners least they put a curse upon you that will not only cause any future attempts at forge welding to end in dismal failures, but will also cause your horn to stick as you pull up behind a group of Hells Angles stopped at a red light.
However, if you bought some “
After word: If pedigree is important to what you are doing, buy virgin steel from a reputable