The quickest way to gauge the value of a railroad spike is to check current retail pricing:
However, it may be difficult to compare the pricing of these spikes with other sources of steel stock. Therefore I did some quick napkin math for you down below:
(note:these figures were done in 2019, and may not stay up to date through time due to inflationary pressures.)
If you buy them online, used railroad spikes cost ROUGHLY (it will fluctuate) $.80/spike to $1.30/spike – this doesn’t include shipping. Buying in bulk will get you a lower per unit price and will generally save you money on shipping.
How much is that per pound of steel? Again it depends on what exactly you buy. In my experience, a 6.5” spike will weight about .76 lbs. 1/.76 = 1.3158 spikes per pound.
For the lower range we can calculate $.80/spike * 1.3158 spike/lb = $1.0526/lb.
For the upper range we can calculate $1.30/spike * 1.3158 spike/lb = $1.71/lb
So if you are an absolute value hound, buying bulk orders of railroad spikes CAN BE marginally cheaper than small orders of steel stock – as small orders generally cost significantly more on a per lb. basis.
However buying bulk orders of mild steel rods and bars is waaaay cheaper on a per lb basis.
So basically bulk orders of railroad spikes can be a money saver for at home hobbyists.
If you are a business and a bulk producer forget it, you can buy higher quality steel at lower prices by buying in bulk.
But this all assumes you are a buyer of rr spikes. If you plan on salvaging or scrapping them, you will basically get a small fraction of the above values. Just be careful, there are a lot of laws concerning railroad equipment. Railroads own the land surrounding the tracks, so if you see spikes that are “discarded” on the side of the tracks, these ARE NOT FREEBIES. Stealing them is equivalent to walking into someones workshop and helping yourself to their stuff, it’s not cool and could get you into a lot of trouble.
But it’s not all price vs quality of the material. There are other benefits to using railroad spikes…
Railroad spikes are often used as stock material by beginning blacksmiths. Used/old railroad spikes can be bought very cheaply, and are often the perfect size for knives and small tools. This allows newbie smiths to
practice their skills cheaply without being excessively burdensome as they don’t need to waste lots of time on stock removal or cutting stock down to size.
In addition, I find that railroad tracks can make great practice stock for practicing various twists.
On a less practical and more artistic note, railroad spikes are a symbol of industry and technological growth. Many metal working artists incorporate railroad spikes into their work as the symbolism of the railroad spike is very powerful…and it looks cool!
Things people make out of railroad spikes:
- Bottle Openers
- Coat/Hat hangers
- Door Knockers
- And so much more
Now I don’t want to oversell the value of railroad spikes. They ARE NOT the perfect stock material for all projects. In fact they are quite inferior for many purposes such as making punches or chisels or other things that should be made out of higher quality steel.
If you spend time on youtube and pinterest, you will see many projects made out of railroad spikes that would have been better had the creator used a higher quality material…
And this is OK, these creators are just exercising their creativity and playing with the restraints of the material. I just don’t want newcomers to the craft thinking they should use a RR spike for everything. Railroad spikes are good cheap stock material, but don’t use them for absolutely every project or you will slow your progress as a smith and metal worker.
If you are looking to buy railroad spikes online, US Rail sells them in packages of 25-300 spikes online. As with most things, you will get much better deals if you buy in bulk. The larger sizes are actually pretty economical for new smiths, and can be great practice material.
Remember they come in the perfect size for many hand tools, allowing you to focus on more interesting techniques than stock removal. These will be rusty, and will require some work to remove the surface rust. However rust removal is pretty easy work, and it is good practice for anyone who might one day want to work with antique materials.
If you have even the slightest interest in working with rr spikes, you might as well just satisfy that interest by getting some here.
What Are Railroad Spikes Made Of?
There are standards for this sort of thing. For example, the astm has the A65 standard. Sadly, like all astm standards, it costs a pretty penny unless you get the information through your local library.
If I could just share the facts and figures with you, I would. But I expect they don’t take kindly to random bloggers sharing their information for free. I’m sure there is a process for this sort of thing, but I have no idea what that process is, and frankly I’m too lazy to figure it out at this moment…maybe I will come back and edit this section once I know for sure.
But since I can’t give you official figures, I can share some personal experience. Having run the spark test on many railroad spikes, most spikes, to my eyes, seem to be pretty low carbon. I have occasionally come across some higher carbon spikes, which makes sense, because railroads DO USE several varieties of spikes. But the vast majority of spikes are cheap low carbon steels.
Railroad Spike Art
There is an intangible beauty to railroad spikes, as such they are often used as stock material by artists. I think part of this popularity is due to how many things a railroad spike can represent. It can be a symbol for technological progress, american expansion, or the labour of the everyday blue collar man who originally built the railroads.
Railroad Spikes For Blacksmith’s
I have kind of already touched on this, rr spikes are popular among blacksmiths and blacksmith content creators as they are cheap and about the right size for many small hand held tools. They are not a perfect material but it’s a lot of fun to make tools out of rr spikes and I recommend all aspiring smiths try working with these spikes at least once.
Types Of Railroad Spikes
There are a number of different types of railroad spikes. The two most common are:
- Dog Spike
- Screw Spike
Railroad Dog Spike
These are the most common type of railroad spike, and the vast majority of forging art projects are done with this type of railroad spike. They feature a L-shaped head that slopes off slightly.
Railroad Screw Spike
These are the second most common type of railroad spike – although they are not seen as much in the online blacksmithing communities as the dog head spike. These are used to fasten concrete rail sleepers. While there isn’t a lot of variety amongst dog spikes, there are many different types of screw spikes all with small variations in lengths, thread profiles, and drive heads.
Less Common Screw Types
- Ss series sleeper screw
- Square head screw spike
- Hexagon screw spike
- Double-head screw spike
While I would love to give you an in depth appraisal on all the above screws, I think that’s a bit out of scope for this article. In addition, I’m not really that much of an expert on this kind of thing, most of the info above I
got from http://www.railroadfastenings.com/railroad-spikes.html, a very niche site if I have ever seen one!
Title Image Source