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RR-rail anvils and fuller tool

Tools from

Jock Dempsey
anvilfire guru

March 29, 2000
(Update 2011)
-guru This demo is on making tools out of RR-rail. Most of this is stuff for the beginner or the scrounger. There may be some ideas for the rest of you.

Modern Rail road rail is a medium to high carbon steel (aprox 1075). Pre 1860's rail is lower quality and some is actually wrought iron.
-guru Small railroad rail anvil for making Horseshoe Nail Rings Small RR-Rail anvil for making Horseshoe Nail Rings
-guru This little 6" anvil is made from some old pre 1865 steel. It has a spring steel top plate welded on. The bushing that fits the round hardy hole is made from a 1/2" bolt. It has a through hole and impression to support a #6 Capewell nail for putting initials on the faces of the head.

The entire anvil's purpose was for making horse shoe nail rings. In general RR rail makes a lousy anvil. We will get into that latter.
  Two views of a fuller cut from RR-rail Cutting the fuller from the rail.  
An Anvil Fuller
-guru Heavy rail has about a 3/4" web and is great for the beginner making anvil tools to fit a small anvil (100 to 150 pounds).

Actual rail and finished fuller. This fuller was sawn off the end of a piece of 140# rail.

Note that rail is measured in the pounds per yard, not per foot like structural steel. So a one foot piece of 140 pound rail weighs 46.7 pounds. A one foot piece of more common 120 pound rail weighs 40 pounds and when cut to "anvil" shape maybe as little as 30 pounds.
  Upsetting Fuller in Anvil Tapering fuller by forging.  
-guru Very little forging is required to make a fuller from rail. A little tapering and dressing of the corners, then grind or file smooth.

For more about fullers and fullering see Fullers and Fullering I and II

Rail is just high enough carbon that if water quenched while overheated it will crack. So I oil quench tools made from rail.
  Swage cutting diagram Anvil Swage made from rail.  
An Anvil Swage
-guru Other anvil tools can be sawn or torch cut very close to shape.

After shaping the rough tool it can be heated an a bar or shape sunk into it. Such tools can be flat with sharper corners than the anvil, or dressed to a dome or radius shape. Anvil tools do many of the jobs of a swage block with less expense.
  Bench Anvil Large and Small RR-rail anvil After cutting two fullers off the opposite ends of a short piece of rail I had a handy bench anvil.

Notice the difference in the rail sizes.
  Junkyard Power Hammer Ram Rail can make a relatively low cost power hammer ram. The steel is hard enough not to need a separate die. However, the tapered flange must be machined or ground parallel to the back.
  Rail Stake Anvil Rail Stake Anvil Plan The carbon steel in rail is excellent for making stakes. Here a stake is made out of the top section and welded to a piece of mild steel shafting. 
  Earlier I said that rail makes a lousy anvil. Any of you that have tried it know that it is very springy and the curved face can take a LOT of work to dress. The springiness is due to the designed in flexibility of the rail.
  The original Axial (on end) RR-Rail Anvil
The Original Axial RR-Rail Anvil
If you turn a piece on end and weld it to a flange it is easy to get 9 to 12 inches of rigid MASS under your hammer.

This is such an efficient design that since describing this style anvil years ago many bladesmiths have started using anvils made form 3" to 6" diameter piece of steel shafting.
  With a little welding and grinding that small target can be improved. A small anvil built this way gives you the kind of rigidity you expect from a 100 pound or more anvil at 1/5 the weight.
  This final image is a little armorer's anvil with a dishing bowl carved into the stump. A handy combination setup.

One caution when working with rail. Used rail often has cracks and almost always has cold shuts where the surface has been extruded over the original surface from years and years of heavy freight rolling of the rail.
-guru For more RR-rail anvils and tools see Making RR-Rail Anvils and Gallery of Railroad Rail Anvils
Any questions, suggestions or comments?
SmithingScout Can you make a hardie like you did the fuller?
-guru Yes, it would be a very similar process, just more forging. You would want to upset the base a little more or start with a slightly thicker cut and draw the shank down a little. The steel will harden plenty well for a hardy.
Ten-Hammers You mill the anvil face, or grind Guru?
-guru Grind it with an angle grinder and or a belt sander.
dimag Should you anneal the rail surface before attempting to cut it Jock, will it be work hardened from the wheels of the train?
Jim-C Can rail be cut in a band saw?
-guru I cut mine with a band saw with a good quality blade and had no problem. Unless you did a first class job heating the piece to anneal it you would be likely to make it worse.
SmithinScout How would you cut the groove on the swage block?
-guru Scout, you heat up the swage, drop it in the hardy hole and pound a piece of round bar into it. You can make round, square, or special cross sections this way.
Leah Guru, what kind of oil do you use for a quench? Do you use warm oil?
-guru I prefer either vegatable oil or clear mineral oil. Warming is recommended but is not always done. See our quenchants FAQ.
SmithinScout When making a small anvil like the first example, would the curve of the rail allow a groove to fill with weld to weld a top plate onto the top of the rail?
-guru Scout its alsmost impossible to weld all the way accros. This was a little light duty wire bending anvil.
SmithinScout OK, Yeah it would be a lot of welding hehe kind of impractical.
ironman213 guru, while your talking about railroad track, I've seen it welded on the tracks before and I heard they use a thermite substance to weld it, would this work for welding large pieces or cutting them around the forge?
-guru Thermite was used extensively by the rail roads but it was also used in foundries for repairing large castings. Thermite is only good for welding, not cutting (expept in military demolition which is not looking for clean or controlled results).

For details of Thermit rail welding see SOFA 2008 News
Steve-C Guru do you know how you identify the difference between the different years (carbon) content by sight?
-guru No. I would have to spark test or try to harden a piece. The old wrought iron rail I have is easy to tell. Looks like a piece of wood and torches like a stack of rusted plate.
Bill-Epps Jock I have made sevrel small anvils from switch track (7in tall) that came out real good ended up about 40 lbs with 1/2 sq. hardy hole

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