Railroad track knife blades – worth a try?

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Jan 23, 2018
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I happened upon a promotional piece about a Korean knife and toolmaker that states they use repurposed railroad tracks exclusively for their kitchen knives. In general, does railroad track steel provide the properties, e.g., superior edge retention, ease of sharpening, resistance to chipping, suitable for quality cutlery?
 
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From what I can find on-line, railroad track steel is typically 1084 or equivalent hot rolled steel. This is a medium carbon steel with 0.7% to 0.8% carbon and 0.7% to 1% manganese. This type of steel is great for heat treating. It's tough, through-hardening, and forgable.
 
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I wouldn't spend money on that product. Looks like someone used angle grinder on it. Would look elsewhere, like the knife makers exchange here.
 
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Some years back there were swords coming out of China made from railroad tracks. Supposedly the hot summers, cold winters and the pounding of the heavily loaded trains over the tracks somehow instilled or tempered the steel so it made superior swords. John
 

CWL

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The Japanese used railroad tracks from Manchuria & Korea to make their ShinKen (WW2 military) swords from. This steel was considered the best steel for their swords.

That reputation has remained for good quality carbon steel cutlery in Asia.

I'd use one of those knives pictured (after putting my own edge on it).
 
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While the steel used is perfectly acceptable, being 1084 or something akin to it, I'd be prepared to spend time working on a knife like the one linked.

It looks very crude, as Sergeua said.

That said, if you can find a piece of Railroad track, I'm sure you can find half a dozen makers who would be happy to forge it into a blade for you, and probably a MUCH nicer one for not that much extra money.
 

Zulus

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Modern rail steel looks that way :
Carbon% Manganese% Silicon% Phosphorous% Sulfur% Aluminium% Nitrogen%
0.65 to 0.82; 0.70 to 1.25; 0.15 to 0.58, .025 max; 0.025 max; 0.005 max; 0.010 max

Not bad, but
BUT
old "repurposed" rails are from XX, XIX Centuries - not modern !
Who knows what kind of steel it is, or was ??
 
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DMG

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We have used railroad track to make smaller anvils. It is heavy and hard and the different curves are good for shaping metal. Also made a gravel drag for our road that turned out to not work very well. This was rail from the old glass factory where out Makerspace is housed. The landlord told us to take some if we wanted it. It wasn’t from a real railroad, just a spur line running into the factory.

My takeaway it that it is pretty tough stuff to cut and isn’t really knife shaped in any way. I would much rather start with a retired sawmill blade or leaf spring that is already shaped a little bit like a knife and is probably better steel to begin with.
 

Lodd

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Some years back there were swords coming out of China made from railroad tracks. Supposedly the hot summers, cold winters and the pounding of the heavily loaded trains over the tracks somehow instilled or tempered the steel so it made superior swords. John

This is fake marketing mumbo-jumbo. If anything it'll be more damaged and cracked. I work in the railway sector, and they regularly ride around with special trains for ultrasonic measuring to find these hidden defects to prevent the rails from breaking. And that's just one kind of possible defects.

Old pieces of rail make great little anvils though. Or you can drive em into the ground, put a plastic sewage pipe around it, fill it up with concrete and get a cheap but sturdy pole/post out of it. We did that in my previous job with a lot of big machines riding around, they'd occassionally hit one. And it's easily replaced.
 

Zulus

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DMG - You are right - piece of rail track is very nice as small handy anvll !
I got one since decade+
Can stay all year outdoor :^))))
 
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skyhorse

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I have a piece of track I use as an anvil and have used RR spikes to forge hoof picks. Imho if you’re going to the effort to forge a knife , there are far better options.
 

herisson

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The problem here is not the steel (although, all the stress inflicted upon railroad tracks could induce micro-fractures). The problem I see, is that the finish of the blade, and the knife, is very crude. At this price you can have an absolutely flashy knife (with premium steel) from our Knife Makers' Market. I can recommend (because I have several knives from each of them) : Stefan Strömberg, Paul Baleta, John Kapnisis, Stoil Manchev, Daado, limonad. You should also consider the (very relative) hassle of using a carbon steel blade in the kitchen. I deal with it anytime but I find myself reaching more and more often for a stainless blade for a quick slicing an' dicing job.
 
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The only advantages to railroad track steel are that it is going to be easily available and cheap/free. There's nothing that will make it perform any better than conventional knife steels, and because the steel type isn't well known it could result in sub-optimal heat treating. Just stick to makers who use known steels and do them well.
 

USMCPOP

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I have a piece of track I use as an anvil and have used RR spikes to forge hoof picks. Imho if you’re going to the effort to forge a knife , there are far better options.

At best, modern rail spikes may be .25 to .30 Carbon. I found one by a track yard that was bent 180 degrees, no cracking or anything.
 
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