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Old 12-21-2013, 10:19 PM
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Knifemaker96 Knifemaker96 is offline
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: North Idaho
Posts: 27
steel identification

I have a LOT of scrap steel laying around and I would like to know what types I have before trying to make a knife out of them. Is the spark test accurate? If so is there a good guide on what the sparks mean? Or is there a totally different method that is more accurate and/or easier? Some of the steel I have might not even be steel it could be iron. How can I know the difference?
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Old 12-21-2013, 11:23 PM
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NorCal Nate NorCal Nate is offline
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Kneeland, CA
Posts: 374
Your best bet is to not use any of that steel and get some through Aldo or one of the supply houses. You have no way of knowing what kind of steel it is. Each specific type of steel we use has a specific heat treat "recipe". it's best to just start with a known type. I as well as everyone here will suggest some 1084 or 1080 to start with. They both make great knives and are forgiving when it comes to heat treat....heat just past non magnetic and quench in warm oil.
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Old 12-21-2013, 11:27 PM
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NorCal Nate NorCal Nate is offline
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Kneeland, CA
Posts: 374
And just to add , you'll save time money and headaches buying some new.. Ask me how I know!
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Old 12-22-2013, 07:44 AM
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ATalley ATalley is offline
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Greenwood IN
Posts: 325
Knifemaker96, here's my 2??

If you're anything like me (I'm cheap!) Take all that unknown metal to a scrap dealer and sell it, buy known steel. Its been hard enough to learn the basics of knife making without making it more difficult on myself by being cheap!

Finding out where to spend cash appropriately can be hard, but I've always been told to "buy what you want the first time, so you don't have to buy it again" I've applied that to tools, and materials in my effort to learn to become a knifemaker.

On the other hand, experiment. Buy some 1080 or 1084 and spark test it as a control. Spark test some scrap until you find the same results. If you can have someone take good pictures while you do it, post them. I for one would like to see your results, and maybe others would too.

All this and $1 will buy you a cup of coffee...

Good luck


"We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends." Shel Silverstein
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Old 12-22-2013, 07:51 AM
jmccustomknives jmccustomknives is offline
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Alabama
Posts: 554
As someone who has their fair share of scrap lying around, it's become a game for me. First, you want to make sure you have a lot of it. You'll burn up a lot of belts and time experimenting with heat treating to get it right. ***IT'S ALWAYS BEST TO BUY KNOWN STEELS TO WORK WITH!***
1. forge or get a thin section and heat it up past non-magnetic then quench in cold water. did it crack? could you break it? (wear safety gear) or did it bend.
if it bends, it didn't get hard and it isn't knife material.
If it got hard and you were able to break it then it might be knife material. If it breaks in the quench it could be a higher alloy (oil or air quench).
The spark test is just a test, not necessarily accurate. (I've got some wrought that sparks like steel other than color.)
Again, it's always better to buy known steels. Nates suggestion of 1080/1084 is a good start. I like 5160 as it's also a forgiving steel.
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Old 12-22-2013, 08:46 AM
Ed Tipton Ed Tipton is offline
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 352
A spark test will give you some idea of the carbon content of the steel, but will tell you nothing beyond that. Also, accurately interpreting a spark test is largely dependent upon the experience of the person doing the testing. The differences can be slight and difficult to interpret. As to the type of steel, nothing short of a complete spectrum analysis will provide that...and those are usually expensive. Buying a single piece of 1080 for example and doing a spark test on it to get an idea of what to look for is not a bad idea...but using mystery metal is not a substitute for using a known steel. If you have a lot of scrap iron lying about the chances are good that some of it would make a decent knife...but it is still mystery metal, and getting help if needed will prove to be difficult.
My suggestion is to buy some 1080...which is relatively inexpensive, and work with that until you have a good handle on how to HT it. Once you have that down, you'll have plenty of time to work through your scrap iron. Your scrap iron is not worthless. Using scrap iron is great for developing your forging techniques and your hammer skills...but it is what it is.
Working with scrap iron can be very challenging if your objective is to make a quality knife, and is something that even experienced smith's can be frustrated by... and it most definitely is not recommended for beginners.
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Old 12-22-2013, 11:02 AM
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mete mete is offline
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: NY State
Posts: 777
Instead of 1080 which is fine , get the better 1084 from Aldo.
The spark test is just an approximate test mostly for carbon .Some alloying elements can show up like tungsten - a deep orange spark. But the best is to have known steels to compare to.
Proper chemical analysis ,spectrographic , costs something like $50 IIRC.
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