Railroad Spikes

The spikes used to fasten T-shaped railroad track to wooden ties have an L-shaped head and a square shank. The tip is wedge-shaped, not pointed. The wedge is driven into the tie across the grain, that is, parallel to the track.

Its square cross section gives a railroad spike much higher holding strength than a fastener having the same amount of metal but a circular cross section has; roughly speaking, about 50% more. A spike with the wedge driven across the grain will have about twice as much holding power as one driven with the grain. Early experiments showed that pulling out a 9/16″ × 9/16″ spike driven 4¼" inches into dry cedar required on average a force of 857 pounds. In seasoned oak, another experimenter needed 4,281 pounds.

HC on a railroad spike does not necessarily mean high carbon, it may mean highway crossing, and these spikes need to be stronger for this part of the track. The HC means .40% -.45% carbon not the .80% that we would usually call high carbon. The spikes are barely heat treatable and won't hold and edge very long. With this in mind, be aware of a higher carbon content and work with the material accordingly. (The Tuyere, newsletter of the Illinois Valey Blacksmith Association)

Many people enjoy taking uncommon objects and making practical tools out of them. One such object that you may not have thought much about is the railroad spike. Railroad spikes, which have been used on railroad tracks for more than 100 years, are collector's items for train enthusiasts and historians. Railroad spikes can be gathered from old tracks, purchased in antique shops or purchased from train enthusiasts, and they are turned into a variety of useful and creative tools.

Where do I get RR-spikes?

Most folks pick them up along railroad beds. The railroad companies don't like it, it is ILLEGAL (tresspassing, theft). Damaging railroad tracks (i.e., picking up railroad spikes) is a federal offense (classified as a "terrorist act") now thanks to Homeland Security. Sometimes you find them at fleamarkets and such. McMaster-Carr carries them in two sizes for $1.48 – $1.71 US (look under spike).

Railroad spike hook

This one has a brass-brushed finish.FORGEMAGIC By: Brian C

Georgia oyster knifeGeorgia Oyster Knife™

The Georgia Oyster Knife™ is made from treated, mild steel with a decorative twist that is inspired by Savannah's historic ironwork. The one-piece, steel design with additional bottle-opening bar is the strongest oyster knife ever made. The open design of the handle allows the knife to be cleaned, stored or carried easily.

railroad spike snakesRon Reil

Steak Turner

C. Thomas Knives

tasting spoonTasting Spoon

Spoons of various lengths and capacity can be forged by flattening and cupping the head of the spike and drawing out the shank.

trowelsRailroad Spike Garden Tools

Blacksmith Forged Hand Trowels by PTreeForge
This would make a great gift for the gardener you know. A rake could also be forged by splitting the tapered end of the spike into three tines, drawing it out, bending the tines down approximately 90°, and twisting the handle.

Vise Jig for holding railroad spikes

Far West Forge

Railroad Spike Bottle Opener

This unique bottle opener sold at Vat19.com features a twisted handle and claw shape cut from the pointed tip of the railroad spike. The claw shape is used to open the bottle and the twisted handle allows for a good grip. It is a sturdy and decorative tool, and costs less than $20.

bottle openersRailroad Spike Bottle Openers

These bottle openers are made from railroad spikes salvaged from a WWII Army base in East Texas. The are a high carbon steel and will last a lifetime without bending. Each one is individually forged, so slight variations are always evident. Two different styles are shown here, both work fine, it's just a matter of personal preference.

railroad spike hammerRailroad Spike Hammer

This do-it-yourself hammer uses the spike end of the railroad spike as a handle and the anvil end as the hammer head. You can wrap the spike end in leather for a better grip. For greater leverage, you can attach a wooden handle to the middle of the rail spike, with the spike perpendicular to the handle. The handle can either be attached with leather binding or by cutting a notch in the wood, laying the spike in the notch and drilling a pin through the wood and spike. An extended handle gives you more power, and it also gives you an additional pick tool--the point of the spike.

railroad spike knifeRailroad Spike Knife

This is a popular use of railroad spikes, in which the spike end is melted down and formed into a sharp knife, according to LA Metal Smiths. A custom handle also can be either welded into the spike or made from additional material and attached to the spike. Railroad spike knives can be purchased from numerous antique-and-collectible websites.

This railroad spike knife has a rubick's cube twist to the handle. For more information on the Rubick's Cube twist visit my twisting page.

Railroad Spike Business Card Holder

Something different, this business card holder is sellable and doesn't require the sharpening and hardening that a knife does.

Early 20th Century American Railroad Spikes

Length under head Width of shank side Number in a 200# keg
5½" 916" 360
5" 916" 405
4½" 916" 460
5" ½" 505
4½" ½" 535
4" ½" 605
3½" ½" 670
4½" 716" 690
4" 716" 780
3½" 716" 890
4½" 38" 780
4" 38" 1025
3½" 38" 1250
3" 38" 1380
2½" 516" 1650

ASTM A65-01. Standard Specification for Steel Track Spikes.

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"We all do better when we all do better."
       - Paul Wellstone, US Senator from Minnesota (1944-2002)

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