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Inexpensive/easily found tool steel.

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Redmech

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#1
What are some good high carbon tool steels available? Or maybe something not too expensive on eBay.

I’d like to make a set of 1-2-3 blocks, and a few other projects. 1” thick type items.

Thicker spring steel is one that comes to mind. Of course old files,

I’m open to ideas.

Thanks ahead of time.
 

T Bredehoft

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#2
Files? You're going to forge them? or cast them? If you can find springs 1 1/4 or so thick, that could work. Remember when you heat treat them to keep them at temp for an hour per inch of thickness, ditto annealing them. I annealed mine in a seal-peal pot over night.
 

Wreck™Wreck

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#3

Ray C

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#5
Consider using 4140 or 4145 and heat treat to RC 58. FYI: Many of the reference books I have classify the 414x series of metals as medium grade tool steel. If you look at the various application charts for tool steel, you'll see that 414x is somewhere between the A and S series tool steels.

Technically speaking, 414x is a tool steel but, it's so common, nobody thinks of it that way.

To make something out of tool steel, first you machine to size taking warpage into consideration. Once it's hardened, you grind it to final size. Be careful with some tool steels because their heat-treat (austentizing) temperature is upward of 1800 to 2200 F. Many ovens cannot reach those temperatures. Mine only goes up to 1700. FYI: 414x only requires 1525F.

Ray
 

Redmech

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#6
Thank you Ray C. That’s good info. I’m for sure just looking for something that I can make a bit harder than mild steel, not wanting stuff to make cutting tools out of, just stuff to make 1-2-3 blocks, angle blocks, v blocks, maybe small grinding vises, or sine plates or bars.

This afternoon I’ve been playing around with my surface plate and my import 1-2-3 blocks, and they are very very parallel, within a tenth to maybe the worse sport two tenths, I don’t have a surface grinder, but I’d still like to get some decent metal to make a few shop made tools out of.
 
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Robert LaLonde

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#7
If you only need limited quantities one of the few sources that will supply cut lengths with published pricing is McMaster-Carr, expect to pay a good deal more then the length price. If you buy a great deal of material on a regular basis from one supplier they will often cut to size for you.
Alro is a good example, http://www.alro.com/divsteel/metals_comp.aspx?comp=TS&n=TOOL STEEL&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIq7X2xMSK2QIV3ISzCh2aYwX5EAAYBCAAEgJcAfD_BwE
Alro smokes on some steels if you buy a lot, but my local metal vendor does better on other stuff and is always better on single bar pieces of alloys they stock on hand locally.
 
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Robert LaLonde

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Any steel that hardens nicely, and grinds nice will make blocks. Even chromolly.
 

Ray C

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#9
Thank you Ray C. That’s good info. I’m for sure just looking for something that I can make a bit harder than mild steel, not wanting stuff to make cutting tools out of, just stuff to make 1-2-3 blocks, angle blocks, v blocks, maybe small grinding vises, or sine plates or bars.

This afternoon I’ve been playing around with my surface plate and my import 1-2-3 blocks, and they are very very parallel, within a tenth to maybe the worse sport two tenths, I don’t have a surface grinder, but I’d still like to get some decent metal to make a few shop made tools out of.
First, You're welcome...

Couple things to consider:

Any kind of medium alloy (like 4140) or high alloy (tool steel like M2 etc) in it's normal "soft" state (aka annealed state) will not be noticeably harder than say 1030 or 1045 in it's annealed state. The only way those kinds of steels get hardness, increased strength, impact resistance, scratch resistance etc, is when they are hardened to their maximum state then, tempered down to some lower hardness so it won't fracture easily. Working on really hard metal presents a lot of challenges.

If you want to make some useful tool, I think you would love to try some 1040 or 1045 and make some adjustable indicator holders and bases. As-is, that metal is fine for most simple shop tools, shafts, general fixtures etc. It's great stuff. For the indicator holders, don't try to turn the shafts on a lathe but rather, go on eBay and get some TGP (turned, ground, polished) rod stock in 3/8 or 5/16 (or whatever your indicator adapters call for). You can get it in 303 stainless and other materials as well. Those are great projects to learn and you'll have tools to be proud of.


Ray
 

MrWhoopee

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#10
I agree with Ray. Without a surface grinder, you're not going to be making any precision, hardened tools. V-blocks, 1-2-3 blocks etc. require greater precision than can be accomplished with a mill, and unhardened tools will not be precision for long.
 

SSage

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#11
I've been getting my tool steel from McMaster lately, in small quantities their pricing is the best I've found.

I buy flat bars in O1, I think the smallest length they sell is 16" or so. I get my steel in 36" lengths, so not too heavy. A 1x2x36" bar is fairly easy to handle. They have oversized or precision ground in various popular types of steel. The variety of sizes is vast, I usually can find steel close in size for my projects. My last O1 precision bar was perfectly sized and 3/8" thick turned out to be 3/8" thick, didn't need to use my surface grinder.

The shipping is fast and so far reasonable for the weight. Small orders shipped cheap to me and it's next day delivery in my location. Like four 36" long 5/8" round bars ship for $8, I couldn't drive to my nearest steel seller for that in fuel cost.
 

cathead

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#12
For inch + material, I like truck or car axles. They are dirt cheap at the scrap yard and yield a lot of metal for a couple bucks.
 

SSage

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#13
I recently ordered steel bars from Midwest Steel and Aluminum. Better prices than McMaster on some heavier items. Although McMaster is still my source for O1 rods. They sell 1045, 12L14, A36, 1018, 4140 etc. They don't have O1 from what I saw, but the prices are are competive on most other steels. Shipping calculated before you order too. https://www.midweststeelsupply.com/store/index.php?logout=1
 

EmilioG

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#14
1" or more of tool steel starts to get very expensive. I've found some pretty good deals on Ebay for Starrett O1 ground flat tool steel, but finding the size that you need can be difficult on Ebay. Making 1 2 3 blocks from tool steel is an expensive project, and having a surface grinder is a definite advantage, so I just bought them. Moore Tool or Suburban Tool make the best 1 2 3 blocks, IMHO, but making your own is a satisfying project.
 

MattM

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#15
For inch + material, I like truck or car axles. They are dirt cheap at the scrap yard and yield a lot of metal for a couple bucks.
Second that. I have a friend who has an auto repair shop. He gives me all the old axles and tie-rods I can use. I have no idea what type of steel they are (does anyone know?) but they machine easily and beautifully.
 

cathead

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#16
Second that. I have a friend who has an auto repair shop. He gives me all the old axles and tie-rods I can use. I have no idea what type of steel they are (does anyone know?) but they machine easily and beautifully.
Usually axles are 4140 or something close to that, induction hardened. I don't know about tie rods but probably similar. For softer
easier working metal, I will anneal axles in a wood fire and cool slowly. Then I machine and reharden by quenching in oil and reheating
to the desired hardness. At times I will machine an axle hard using a carbide insert.
 

MattM

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#17
I've used carbide and most of the time found them easy to machine. Some times seems like the splined ends are hardened. I have produced some amazing finishes on this old "junk".
 

RobertHaas

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#18
You know decent 123 blocks can be purchased from import distributors for less money then you will pay for the raw materials.

Just sayin'
 

Redmech

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#19
You know decent 123 blocks can be purchased from import distributors for less money then you will pay for the raw materials.

Just sayin'
Yes, I own 2 sets of them, and they are very square, parallel, and within a tenth of stated size. But, I’d like to make some of my own.
 

Ray C

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#20
Yes, I own 2 sets of them, and they are very square, parallel, and within a tenth of stated size. But, I’d like to make some of my own.
In many (possibly most) of the projects I post here, the metal is heat treated. I always give step-by-step write ups and describe the heat-treat process and machining processes afterward. Look at some of my projects if you so desire. The thread on bull nose live center is a good example. It's not really advanced stuff but, should give some insight on what to do.

Anyhow, when the hardness of metal gets near 50 RC and above normal/manual machining processes become problematic. Even mid to high 40's RC can be a struggle depending on the desired features. Cutting tools dull and break quickly and most homeshop machines do not have the rigidity or motor horsepower it takes to do "hard machining" effectively. Traditionally, such work is done with grinding equipment. I had a surface grinder but, for a variety of reasons, removed it from the shop. Now I do really small grinding operations on an old cutter/grinder and am OK with holding tolerances inside of a thou.

Not trying to discourage you but, just trying to convey that ultra-precision work takes specialized equipment.
 

Ray C

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#21
Here's an example of 1045 heat treated to the maximum and tempered just enough so it doesn't break like glass. ... Kinda... One of the pieces did chip as you can see.

I just made these about an hour ago and would estimate their hardness at RC 56-58 which is about as hard as 1045 can go. These pieces are too small to test with a Rockwell impactor or Leeb tester. I know they're hard because not much happens to them when you drag a file over them. They were turned about 1.5 thou oversize, heat treated then, used emery cloth wrapped around small pieces of metal flatstock to "grind" the surface to final dimensions. These pieces are for an experimental side-project of mine and are very tight tolerance.


IMG_20180214_212925.jpg


This one didn't survive the heat treating and it cracked/chipped. -Happens when I don't pay attention.
IMG_20180214_213015.jpg

The point is, you can do a lot of fine work on small pieces like this, using common metals like 1045 and/or 4140. Tool steel has specific applications and I believe there are 4 basic types -and each has a specific purpose (hot working, cold working, impact resistance, temperature resistance). Then, there are super-alloys which have combined features of the 4 basic types.... You just don't need all that for home hobby work.

Ray
 

Joncooey

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#22
Can you get enough material for a 1-2-3 block from an earlier cast iron V-8 Cylinder Head? Shouldn't be too expensive.
 

cjtoombs

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#23
If you have the means to provide enought heat long enough (forge or foundry furnace) you could just use mild steel and surface harden it. Machine it to near finished state, put it in a vessel with some carburizing compound (charcoaled leather works) and heat for a while. The Clickspring guy did it to make some files on a recent YouTube video, I thought his method was something I might try. You should be able to use aquarium charcoal if you have some Cherry Red to mix with it. Then you can grind to final size. As stated above, 1-2-3 blocks are pretty cheap, but 2-4-6 blocks are not so this might be a cheap way to make some of those, as well.
 

Redmech

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#24
When I took machine tool in vo tech, we surface hardened parallels made out of cold roll, we took charcoal briquettes, crushed them to a powder, if memory serves me correct the powdered charcoal was put in a metal box and lid put in heat treat oven for about an hour with parallels “soaking” absorbing carbon on the surface then quenched. That would harden them up a bit to where a file would skate across them.
 

benmychree

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I made 1-2-3 blocks back when I was an apprentice back in the '60s, out of 0-1 leftovers from a die job, I heat treated them in the shop's Johnson furnace packed in peach pit charcoal to avoid decarburization, and tempered them in a molten nitrate salt bath (50/50 mixture of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate), which will stay liquid down to a bit over 300 deg. F. (and also is used for nitrate bluing) I then ground them to size, or a bit over, and reground them to nominal size many years later when I had my own surface grinder. Junk steel is cheap, but tool steel is fine grained and with proper heat treatment is dimensionally stable over time, this may not be true with junk steel. I have two other sets of blocks, imports, but the ones that I made myself are "special" to me. I also made two sets of parallels back then too, these drilled for lightness, as are the 1-2-3 blocks.
 

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#26
A good source of chunks is buying SOLID 123 blocks. Shars has like 5sets for 30 bucks if I remember correctly. Large chunks are harder to come buy as scrap. Unless you find a honey hole machine shop and get the drops.
 

benmychree

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A good source of chunks is buying SOLID 123 blocks. Shars has like 5sets for 30 bucks if I remember correctly. Large chunks are harder to come buy as scrap. Unless you find a honey hole machine shop and get the drops.
Likely they would be hardened and require annealing before they could be machined, not real convenient.
 

Mark Fogleman

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#28
What kind of steel are the bars from a weight set? I see them at yard sales and on Craigslist/FB marketplace for cheap/free.
 

Cadillac

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#29
Usually a cast iron for the ones I’ve seen.
 

Bob Korves

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#30
What kind of steel are the bars from a weight set? I see them at yard sales and on Craigslist/FB marketplace for cheap/free.
They are often nearly impossible to machine because of hard spots from being chilled in the mold, and also sometimes have voids in them. They are made as weights, not machining metal. Sometimes they cut great, sometimes not at all. Same with bed frames. Sometimes the tooling burned up and broken messing around with that stuff can cost more than good and known metal would have cost.
 
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