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Head Markings and Carbon Content of Railroad Spikes

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by hcambron, Apr 16, 2005.

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  1. hcambron

    hcambron Banned by Moderators

    Apr 14, 2005
    I have been reading the postings on railroad spikes through the various knife forums and found that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to carbon content and head markings. I have been looking for the answers to a couple of questions: are there low and high carbon versions of spikes, what do the heads markings mean, and does “HC” really mean High Carbon?

    I did a search on Google for railroad equipment and came up with the names of the major railroads and companies that supply them. I must have sent out over 20 e-mails asking for information on spikes. This is what I found:

    Spikes purchased by the major railroads conform to the standards set down by the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association. A.R.E.M.A. was formed in 1997 by the merger of the American Railway Bridge and Building Association, the American Railway Engineering Association (A.R.E.A.) and the Roadmasters and Maintenance of Way Association along with certain functions of the Association of American Railroads.

    Through one of my e-mail contacts, I obtained a copy of the A.R.E.A. manual chapter that deals with Track Spikes. In essence, it identifies two versions of spikes, one soft-steel and one high-carbon. Soft-Steel spikes contain anywhere from a minimum of 0.06 to 0.20 percent carbon (reference sec. 2.1.3). The head of Soft-Steel spikes are marked with a letter or brand indicating the manufacturer (reference sec. 2.1.11). High-Carbon spikes contain anywhere from a minimum of 0.20 to 0.30 percent carbon (reference sec. 2.2.3) The head of High-Carbon spikes are marked with a letter or brand indicating the manufacturer and also the letters “HC” (reference sec. 2.2.11). If copper is added to either version, the head will be marked with the letters “CU” (reference sec. 2.1.11 & 2.2.11). I have a .pdf version of this chapter which I will post on my web site once I work out some bugs.

    Gerdau Ameristeel is the largest producer of spikes in North America (http://www.gerdauameristeel.com). They offer six variations of A.R.E.A. spikes, and can produce, on request, 14 other variations. Their brand mark is similar to the dollar symbol, ($) an S with a line through it. One of the variations that they produce is a Medium Carbon Spike which has a minimum of 0.25 percent carbon and is marked “MC”. This 0.25 percent of carbon is within the range that they use for their High Carbon spikes so I believe that knives made from them would be near the performance of a HC spike knife.

    I have some photos of the various spikes that I have found while walking old rail beds near my home. I will post those as soon as possible.

    For those who might be interested, the following companies sell spikes:
    Harmer Steel (http://www.harmersteel.com).
    Birmingham Rail & Locomotive Co. (http://www.bhamrail.com).
    Pohl Corp. (http://www.pohlcorp.com/Spk_trk.htm).
    Railroad Tools and Solutions, LLC (http://www.rrtoolsnsolutions.com).
    McMaster-Carr (http://www.mcmaster.com). Look for item # 97897A779.

    And you can obtain a copy of the current 2005 A.R.E.M.A. manual from their web site (http://www.arema.org).
    Kickaha likes this.
  2. Kickaha


    May 11, 2004
    Wow! Very informative - great post. Thanks hcambron.
  3. misque


    Jul 9, 1999
    Welcome to Bladeforums, hcambron!

    We have a knifemaker's section here where all the grinders and pounders come to share and BS. It's found at the top of your screen where it reads "Makers". If you get hold of other juicy knifemaking info like this first post, go post there and we'll eat it up! :D I think this post would be right at home over there where it can have it's maximum info impact.

    Moderators, think we can move this thread over to Shop Talk? ;) :D
  4. rebeltf


    Jan 29, 2005
    I have a question , I have seen a few folks on here have gotten ahold of a small section of rail , usually from someone else , my boss has a 3 foot section that he got from his dad , so where do you get a hunk of rail ? hehe.
    I would love to make a little anvil. Anyone ever seen a hunk of rail laying around while walking for spikes ?.
    Thanks , Todd
  5. severtecher

    severtecher Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 24, 2002
    Got my rail from a relative in the business. Was picked up as scrap from a retracking job. Lots of spikes too.
  6. Cougar Allen

    Cougar Allen Buccaneer (ret.) Platinum Member

    Oct 9, 1998
    Welcome to Bladeforums! I'll move this thread to Shop Talk for you.
  7. Blue Sky

    Blue Sky Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 16, 2002
    Great first post, glad you found us!
  8. crex


    Oct 4, 2002
    Welcome aboard Henry. Good stuff, very informative. Glad you found the place lots of great folks and information here.
    Got your email.
    Also got a stack of schedule 60 rebar in various sizes for you to play with when you get tired of the spikes. Your's whenever you want them.
  9. Erik Fritz

    Erik Fritz

    Aug 6, 2002
    I work for a large railroad and i have used the hc marked spikes(i have an unlimited supply) and they still suck as far as being a decent knife cant seam to get them hard enought to hold an edge.
  10. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    To get spikes and rail sections,go to the railroad maintenance yard (there is one near every city with rail service).Go in and talk to the supervisor(go early in the morning,they get out on the track early).He will usually give you all the spikes you can use,rail cut offs,and all kinds of neat stuff in their junk pile.Take a knife you forged along in the car,if he asks,show it to him.Many of those old guys remember some great stories about blacksmiths (and love to tell them).
  11. tmickley


    Apr 4, 2001
    Gotta like this guy coming right in with his first post citing sources and facts about something that gets kicked around every 6 months. Welcome to the forum, glad to have you....
  12. hcambron

    hcambron Banned by Moderators

    Apr 14, 2005
    I was finally able to fix the problem with my web site. Here is a link to a couple of photos of CU and MC spikes and there is a link at the bottom of the page to the .pdf copy of the A.R.E.A. chapter. http://worldclassknives.com/spikes/.
    Thanks for all the kind words.
  13. rshalf


    Feb 12, 2014
    [email protected]I am in Ashland Virginia, where the old Richmond Fredericksburg and Potomac RR (now CSX) tracks run through the middle of town. We have a museum and a caboose for people to tour. Under the caboose, we found a bucket of railroad spikes, probably left over from when they brought the caboose in and installed it on a bed of gravel, ties, and rail in the 1980s. We recently cleaned them up and discovered something odd. They appear to be hand made--not rolled out and smooth. They have regular marks on all sides like they were hammered. Is this an early manufacturing method? I cannot find anything online about how spikes were made. Maybe I am not asking the question the right way. Can you help?
  14. Bo T

    Bo T

    Feb 12, 2011
    I read somewhere that the earliest RR spikes were made out of iron. As such they may have been cast and then hand forged into shape?? Also if the spikes were too large, for whatever reason, hand forging may have been a method for fitting them.
  15. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    rshalf - Welcome to Shop Talk.

    However, this is a NINE YEAR OLD THREAD. Please look at the date on a thread you find in a search before posting. If you have new discussion or more questions, it is best to start a new thread. You can link the original thread for reference in the post.
    Thread closed.
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