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 an 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 Railroad Spikes?

Most folks pick them up along railroad beds. The railroad companies don't like it, it is ILLEGAL (trespassing, 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).

What tools do I need to work with railroad spikes?

Vise Jig for holding railroad spikes by Far West Forge.
This works better than trying to work on an anvil with a
hold down struggling to keep the spike from moving

My goose-neck railroad spike tongs. By far my favorite.

My new Aspery-style tongs.
They hold the spike well on one side, not both.
I haven't tried forging with them yet, but will soon.

These are my kit tongs for holding mini-railroad spikes.
The are also available for full size spikes.

Railroad spike tongs made from old farrier's knippers

A real heavy duty "persauder" to
encourage the spikes to bend

What in the world can I do with a railroad spike?

Railroad Spike Hook

Another style of hook

An interesting hook made by splitting
the head of the spike and then forging

Tack hook rack or coat rack, buyer's choice!

Shelf bracket
railroad spike snakes
Ron Reil's railroad spike snakes<

Steak Turner
tasting spoon
Tasting Spoon. Spoons of various lengths and capacity can be forged by
flattening and cupping the head of the spike and drawing out the shank

Garden Tools and other Miscellaneous Items

Blacksmith Forged Hand
Trowels by PTreeForge

Weed digger
bottle openers
Railroad Spike Bottle Openers
railroad spike hammer
Railroad 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 business card holder
by Dancing Frog Forge

Kitchen utensil set

Railroad Spike Knives

railroad spike knifeOne every popular use for railroad spikes is knife making. The top forms a natural pommel and the chisel-shaped tip makes pointing the blade end even easier.

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 knife with an alligator twist handle. To learn
more about the alligator twist visit my "twisting" page.
Georgia oyster knife
Georgia Oyster Knife™

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.

    Gee Mom, look what else I've found!

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