railroad spike for steel

Discussion in 'Fire' started by Riverpirate, Jan 11, 2017.

  1. Riverpirate

    Riverpirate Supporter Supporter

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    I have an old railroad spike i found while camping and I was wondering if you guys thought it might work as a flint and steel fire starter? I can't seem to find a steel striker anywhere.
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  2. lodge camper

    lodge camper Scout

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    i don't think it will work unless HC-high carbon but even then i don't think there is enough carbon in any spikes. jmo. could make good, long roaster fork out of it tho.
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  3. GreyOne

    GreyOne Elder Lifetime Supporter

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    The HC stamp on the head is the indicator of 'High Carbon" but they are still not hardened. Might heat treat it yourself and see if it works.
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  4. Riverpirate

    Riverpirate Supporter Supporter

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    this is a pre-civil war railroad spike so it may not have enough carbon.
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  5. Riverpirate

    Riverpirate Supporter Supporter

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  6. melbolt65

    melbolt65 Scout

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    Just curious what you meant by this? Wolf Creek Forge (vendor on this forum) makes some top notch strikers. Plenty to be found on sites like Etsy or eBay as well.

    If you meant without shopping online, many people have success with old files from flea markets and what not.

    I've heard Nicholson files specifically mentioned before, I've seen these sold at hardware stores but haven't tried them myself.
  7. T. Pollock

    T. Pollock Hobbyist Hobbyist Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    A piece of an old file works just dandy.
  8. Riverpirate

    Riverpirate Supporter Supporter

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    yea I hate on line shopping...especially etsy and ebay.
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  9. vikingmedic

    vikingmedic Tracker

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    I hit an antique mall near where I live and there's a section with old tools. I bought a file and broke it. I kept one piece and gave the other 2 to friends that wanted to learn. Cheap and easy


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  10. OrienM

    OrienM Scout

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    As stated, RR spikes don't contain enough carbon to make a good striker (or knife, for that matter). A snapped-off chunk of file, with the edges ground smooth, should work as well as any commercial striker.
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  11. teb_atoz

    teb_atoz Guide Bushclass I

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    Only if it is stamped/raised with a RC on the head. Other wise it has to low a carbon content. The RC spikes were used for higher stresses on the reailroac.
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  12. clueless on the delaware

    clueless on the delaware Tracker

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    it's probably iron then. steel didnt come in to play for track components untill the 1870s
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  13. Verkstad

    Verkstad Tracker

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    Fwiw "HC" spikes are standard for all railway easily 50 years or so.

    Anyway,
    Low carbon steel will work, you just need to really whang it just right with alot of force.
    As mentioned, files are about the easiest expedient. But you can get sparks off many common garden tools. Picks, shovels, forks etc.
    Experiment...
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  14. MrFixIt

    MrFixIt Old Jarhead Supporter

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    @Riverpirate , if you don't have any luck finding an old file, PM me.
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  15. 80mtn

    80mtn Banned Member Banned

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    My eating knife is an old file. The back of it has always worked just fine.
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  16. GoodOlBoy

    GoodOlBoy Scout

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    OK the global statement that "railroad spikes don't contain enough..." is horse pucky. Railroad spikes have been made by everybody from local blacksmiths to hundreds of different companies around the world, and just like with government materials they are made by the lowest bidder. Sometimes the bidder has nothing but alot of scrap HC steel laying around, sometimes the bidder has LC iron. In a given mile of track you might encounter spikes from a half a dozen different makers that all look the same because specs are specs. Then you also have old bridge spikes that vary in length from ten inches all the way up to two feet long that were made around the great depression for anchoring to giant hand hewn bridge timbers. Good luck finding one. Collectors will almost fight to the death over them. Spikes in very rocky areas using light service rail tended to have more carbon and tended to be hardened, often on site, so that they could penetrate rock. Spikes on heavier rail main lines tend to be lower carbon and not hardened as your anchor was almost always cross-ties. Again this is all TENDS to be. When a railroad crew was sent out on a fix, patch, or maintenance almost anything could be thrown into a truck, train, handcar, or wagon to go do the work with. Not to mention that fact that railroad spikes were used by anybody putting down rail. From an actual railroad, to a mining company, to timber companies, you name it. Not all railroad rail was put down by railroads. Now yes there are spikes labeled HC, because once upon a time some bean pusher got froggy and was willing to pay LESS for LC spikes. So guess what? Since even the term high carbon has a "range" of tolerance everybody who even remotely made HC spikes stamped them HC to get more money. It was a short lasted movement caused by somebody who knew about as much about railroads and the way they worked as he or she knew about global thermonuclear war.

    The ONLY way you are going to find out if the spike has a decent enough carbon content for your use is to try to find a hardened process that works for that particular spike and then test it afterwards. Some oil harden, some air harden, some water harden, some saltwater harden. Some of them DON'T harden except maybe color-case harden if you use enough bone and carbon in a sealed crucible.

    Quite a few years ago I was going through this myself with several I had purchased at a garage sale. One of them in particular caught my attention as once it hardened it HARDENED to the point you couldn't grind it and make much headway. It was left that way and is sitting in a tool box as one of the best cold chisels I've ever owned. I've cut off more stubborn rusted bolts from farm equipment with it than you could imagine, and it cost me a quarter plus the effort of hardening it.

    Now. Put that spike up on a shelf or on a desk as a paperweight because it's got an interesting story and purchase a good fire steel. Why? Because even if it IS good carbon steel you are going to have to also split it or work it down. Otherwise you are carrying alot of weight for an item that doesn't require alot of weight. This part is just my 2 cents.

    God Bless, and One Love.

    GoodOlBoy
  17. Coryphene

    Coryphene Guide

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    Well stated. +1
  18. tabasco_joe

    tabasco_joe Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    As GoodOlBoy stated above there is a lot of variance in scrap spikes. Why not start off with a file that you already know is hc steel, hardened, and throws sparks? I'd just as soon save the time and frustration?
    You can buy a new file of decent quality for $7 to experiment with. Even delivered to your door. You don't even need to drive to the weekend flea market.

    But if you really just want to get into flint and steel and not play with metal work buy a striker from Lisa at WCF. They are the best strikers going.:D
  19. Usingmyrights

    Usingmyrights Supporter Supporter

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    With files you want the older ones as the newer ones are just case hardened. Look for discoloration near the tang when shopping for them at yard sales and flea markets and get the ones without it.
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  20. OrienM

    OrienM Scout

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    Point taken, I probably should have said, "the particular spikes I fooled with didn't contain enough carbon...". I've made a lot of stuff from scrap steel, but mostly used either vehicle springs or old files.

    The few things I forged from spikes (little tomahawk/hatchet heads, mostly) were quench-hardened in "superquench" liquid (water, salt, and detergent) and left un-tempered for the hardest possible edge. The steel never got as hard as I like, and could still be cut with a file after heat-treatment.
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  21. GoodOlBoy

    GoodOlBoy Scout

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    Good point, you are most certainly going to find better quality steel in old leaf springs, particularly in older trucks. Old files are great to work with as well, and a couple of years back I came across a bucket of them at an old iron yard that I picked up for "nothing" as I was friendly with the yard owner. He traded me pound for pound for some old appliances I was selling him anyway. Still haven't gotten to do anything with them, but maybe someday.

    Those old low carbon soft iron spikes do offer a good opportunity. Take a cutoff of one of those leaf springs, or even one of the files and make a steel bit to forge weld into the spike. Personally my preferred style is to leave the head of the spike as a round face hammer pole, and forge weld the bit into the other end. Oh and if trying to harden the old spikes, if "superquench", plain water, stagnant water, etc doesn't work. Seriously try hardening with old oil. Some blacksmiths use automatic transmission fluid, I preferred "burnt" motor oil. It's been alot of years since I had the equipment and the hands to do any blacksmithing. Maybe someday I will get back to it, I always loved it.

    Anyway God Bless, and One Love.

    GoodOlBoy
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  22. Woods Walker

    Woods Walker Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    That's it. Right there. Why does everything need to be so complex on the internet. I think the OP ultimately wants a striker but dislikes shopping online. The dissertations on railroad spikes were good reads but agree with the one liners who got right to the point.


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Break an old USA made file. Smash some local rocks. Char an old ratty cotton T. Forage some local tinder. Get some Jute. Done....

    [​IMG]
  23. DomC

    DomC Retired Old Scrub Stomper

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    Dude, I've never seen flint nor steel sold in big box or outdoor stores. The internet is the only source I've seen. Take the plunge and shop here. Lisa West @wolf Creek Forge sells the best strikers bare none imo or hit a flea market and buy some US made files and make your own.

    Part of bushcraft is to Improvise, Adapt & Overcome...good luck!

    Dom
  24. GoodOlBoy

    GoodOlBoy Scout

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    I'll tell you why "everything need to be so complex". Because the OP asked about hardening a found railroad spike to make a striker. He didn't ask about a file.

    So a discussion on railroad spike steels started. Which re-reading my answer came out sharper than I meant it to, sorry about that OrienM. No disrespect or hostility meant. OrienM came back to clarify, and had some good information about the quenching he had tried. I responded, and as far as I know we are all good, and good information was passed on in the process.

    By the way, and this is an honest question, were are ya'll finding good NEW American made high carbon files that are not just case hardened over junk metal? I mean what brands? Even the last few new Nicholsons I got turned out to be duds for strikers or knives once they were worn down, and those use to be good file metal. I mean yeah I buy rusted up old high carbon files at junk sales every time I find them, but it would be nice to have new files that could actually have usable metal once they are worn down. Maybe I just got a bad batch last time I dunno.

    God Bless, and One Love.

    GoodOlBoy
  25. Verkstad

    Verkstad Tracker

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    Discoloration of the tangs is simply evidence of the tang being annealed.
    No different than "running colors" when tempering.
    All files have tangs annealed.


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  26. swamppapa

    swamppapa Tracker

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    Generally vehicle springs make good strikers. They are generally >1065 .,65% carbon, old Nicholson files. I carry a piece of flint with me if I find something I try to strike a spark.
  27. Woods Walker

    Woods Walker Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Nothing against you brother and really liked the reads. :dblthumb: The OP said he couldn't find a striker and thinking that's really what this is all about.

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  28. GoodOlBoy

    GoodOlBoy Scout

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    We're good, don't mean to sound like we aren't. IMHO That's the biggest problem with forums and online chats is that you really REALLY can't express tone of voice, or at least I don't do it well.

    God Bless, and One Love!

    GoodOlBoy
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  29. MrFixIt

    MrFixIt Old Jarhead Supporter

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    This offer still stands...

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