View Full Version : "Mild Steel"..... It's NOT 1018 any more

Ed Caffrey
06-24-2004, 03:56 PM
I started to post this on my forum, but figured it might get more viewing here. Recently while I was at the Northwest Hammer-In, I was surprised to find that there are still many folks out there who believe that when they purchase "Mild Steel", they're getting 1018........not so. About the only way you can get your hands on actual 1018 or 1010 is to special order it, and the price is more than most of the steels we use for blades. Any of the "mild steel" you purchase in hardware, or farm/ranch stores these days is A-36 hot roll. What is this stuff? Put plainly it's junk steel.......literally. The only specification that it has to meet is 36,000 tensile strength. The steel companies, wanting to streamline things and make as much profit as possible, came up with a use for all of the leftovers at the bottom of a crucible after filling an order. They simply dump all the leftovers into one crucible, no matter what's in it, and then pour/roll it into the most commonly used sizes for construction work....... called A-36 hot roll.
This stuff contains who knows what! From titanium, to tin, and just about everything in between. Try this sometime with a bar of "mild steel" from your local outlet. Heat to critical and quench in water. You'll get hard and soft spots all over the piece, scale will "blow" off in very strange patterns, and sometimes you can even make out shapes of objects such as screws, bolts, or various other items that became apart of the bar you purchased.

Is it any good for knifemaking? Only as fittings, and even then there are finishing problems due to the wide variety of alloys you run into. It will not make a knife blade, nor would I even think about mixing it up in Damascus.

Over the years tolerances on steels we often used have also widened to the point where there are some that I won't even bother with any more. One of these is 1095. Looking at tolerances from 10 years ago and from today, it's a crap shoot as to whether you'll even get this steel to harden! I have data from 1990 that puts the carbon specs of 1095 from .092-.097. Today it depends on who's specification sheet you look at.......some have a range of .080-1.05! The other elements contained in steels have had their boundaries widened in a similar manner. About the only forgable steel that hasn't changed is 52100, and after speaking with two different producers, they tell me that because many bearings are made of it, their customers will only accept very tight tolerances on it's makeup. Moral of the story? Make sure your getting what you paid for.........and the only way to do that is to insist on an anaylsis sheet with your order.

J.Arthur Loose
06-24-2004, 05:03 PM
When I first started making damascus I was making blades with 1095 & 1018. The failure rate was ridiculous due to exactly what you mention, nevermind the carbon migration. I actually got the specs on the "1018," I'd been purchasing and it sure was a long list of elements! My 1095 was from a common blade supplier and it also had a very wide variation in qualities. I shy away from it as well.

I'm just going to start making my own steel. ;)

Ed Caffrey
06-24-2004, 06:45 PM
I hear ya J! I keep waiting for someone to call me up and tell me that a bunch of folks are pooling thier funds and having a batch of steel poured to their specs........if that happens you can bet I'll be in for a bunch!

Chris Daigle
06-24-2004, 06:45 PM
Ed, thanks for that review. Interesting also what you've said of 52100. Would it be correct to quess the same quality control of O1 considering that it is used where tollerances should be held closely?


06-24-2004, 07:39 PM
Ed said:
I keep waiting for someone to call me up and tell me that a bunch of folks are pooling thier funds and having a batch of steel poured to their specs........if that happens you can bet I'll be in for a bunch!

Count me in also Ed! That would be really cool. Thanks also for the info on the 1018. For the life of me I thought every time I went to the local steel yard here I was getting 1018. I'd LOVE to find one of those bolts or screws embedded in the metal. Wonder what those guys would say then. Maybe you should start designing the "perfect" forging metal for us. Something that will forge nicely, HT and temper easily, have good edge holding qualities, and I don't care if it rusts :o) I wonder what a minimum order would be, 500 pounds? Divided say 15 or 20 ways? I don't have a clue, but I'm in!

Ed Caffrey
06-24-2004, 10:17 PM
I'm really hoping that we can come up with a bunch of folks who would like to get a batch of 1084M (modified) made. Basically 1084 with about 1-2% Vanadium. Problem is that most outfits smallest run is 22,000 lbs. I do rememeber at the Crucible seminar in Eugene this year that they would make runs as small as 7,000 lbs. If someone doesn't step up and do it, I may check into it more and contact Crucible to see what they will actually do. Then if it works, I'll solicite over on my forum for interested parties.

06-25-2004, 01:34 AM
you could count me in on that custom order Ed even though I'm still a lowly newby. I think does custom melts. I don't know what the minimum is though. Just let me know.

~Matthew Lomas

06-25-2004, 07:42 AM
7,000 is a lot of steel, but I think we'd find buyers, even worldwide. I'm betting that it would be a hit Ed. I like your formula, all we'd need would be a small choice of sizes to be available, or at the very least rounds that we could forge into bars. I think I've read an old post about something like this before on the forums, glad it's being considered again. One main consideration is that no one gets stuck with a huge bill up front for the 7,000 pounds, hopefully the company that makes the mix can stand to offer it out till it's depleted. Count me in for sure!

Ed Caffrey
06-25-2004, 08:33 AM
The whole trick to having a custom batch of steel produced is that it must all be the same must all be the same finished size, and it must all be paid for in advance (at least from the producers standpoint.) So, what I see being the difficult part is getting everyone to agree upon the makeup of the steel, and the size(s) of the finished stock. I think that's why we've not done it yet........too many makers have too many different wants/needs.........but on the other hand, it sounds like a lot, but 7,000 lbs of steel isn't as much as you think. Especially if your talking about 1"+ round stock. We'll see what happens :)

Gene Chapman
06-25-2004, 12:06 PM
1018 is readily available around here and is known as cold finish steel or cold rolled. Round, flat hex, and square bar is made. Pacific Machinery and Tool Steel Co in Portland Or has it in their catalog as AISI C-1018. I buy it from a local steel and welding supply who gets it from a Tacoma, Wa steel yard cheaper than I can buy it as they buy in quanity.

In the industrial shops where I worked we kept a supply of it for motor and shafting key stock and other uses.

Sometimes my supplier is out of a particular size of hot rolled mild steel so I use cold rolled, it's more pricy.

06-25-2004, 01:30 PM
I don't believe the specifications have been ammended. The oldest text I have 1944 SAE Handbook calls SAE 1080 .75 - .88C SAE 1080 Spec Today .75-.88 C
SAE 1085 ( 1944 ) .8-.93 C SAE 1086 (Today) .8-.93 C
SAE 1095 ( 1944 ) .9-1.05 C SAE 1095 ( Today) .9-1.03
SAE 1018 specification has not changed in 60 years that I have reference of its the same.

"Mild Steel" has always been construed to mean A-36 or 44W if your Canadian. Not 1018 When we say "Low Carbon" its construed to be SAE1018 or 1020. This is true as far as engineering slang is concerned.

I think its wrong to say the specs have changed much and its an SAE specification or an AISI specification not a "Steel Company Specification".

ASTM A-36 is a specification for a structural Steel with 36,000 psi yield. This steel is not specified by chemistry like the SAE designation does and never has been. A-36 has never been recommended for impact, notch sensitive applications or low temperature use. In fact A-36 specification warns against using this steel in such applications. It was tried in knives because we didn't know any better.

You could try a PVQ or A285 or 516 alloy they are low carbon high strength alloy steels for impact resistance, PVQ would be "Pressure Vessel Quality". Its closely regulated. Find and old Propane PIG and try it as a replacement for your SAE1018 in Damascus. Max carbon would be .3 . A rail car would typically be a A572 type of steel. Look for that stuff at the scrap yards. A-572 is a high strength low alloy steel. Companies/steel users are getting away from Chemistry Specs they are buying steel based on Physical performance specs if a lot doesn't meet those specs its still falls into the chemistry spec.

So what is changed?
Steel companies adjust their practices based on raw material available and the customers use and demand. So when 1085 was used for springs it had some other elements added to optimize it for use in springs and control Martensite formation ( Cracking trouble on quench etc ) which would make a spring brittle. It wasn't just SAE 1085. The additional specifications elements or processes would have been specified by the customer ie Ford, GM, Chrysler etc. More than likely the 1085 surplus available at the time was similar to that steel and met the other specifications. Knife makers liked it because it had some ferrite toughener's added about twice the Mn which helped him out when he heated it to non magnetic and dunked it into "whatever" and turned out satisfactory results. More than likely the "whatever" has changed also and gives a different quench rate thus different microstructure. But we never blame ourselves do we.

For example :SAE 1075 conforming to ASTM684 ( Spherodized annealed ) for use in springs will have .9+ Mn while just SAE1075 will have just .4-.7Mn typically. You will get exactly what you ask for, Mn is expensive so it will be closer to .4 if you let the steel company decide. Which will be fine for wear plate application or or someone just wanting the higher yield strength the higher carbon affords like a dent resistant cover.

What else happened? Purchasing Depts at big companies !!!!!! Steel company A, "you will reduce the cost of our steel by 10% per year if you want company "F , G or C's" business". Company F,G or C may also give themselves a discount for just being good customers to you. Which led to alot of Steel Companies on the downward spiral, not updating equipment etc eventually going out of business. Steel prices 6 months ago were down to what they were 20 years ago, now they are enjoying high demand low supply, deserved to some extent. To bad I cannot go to a car lot and give myself a discount.

Look out for copper especially if your heat treating you can end up with little soft spots in the steel. Its coming from the scrap companies not getting enough money to take the wire out of the cars.

As a knife maker today you have to really know your steel when it comes to what you want and then figure out how to get it. Most try to find a similar use alloy today and utilize it thinking its the same or will work and blaming the "quality of the Steel ". You have to know exactly what you want and how to find it.

A suggestion would be to get an organization like the ABS etc to come up with some knife steel specifications, get together and develop a relationship with a steel company. As many of you are suggesting by purchasing your own. Make sure you specify what you want and also don't want in the steel. I have seen cutlery alloys advertised by steel companies although they are typically stainless.

The other way is to find a commercial part like a large chipper blade etc something that would be a similar application to your use. Find out what alloy it is an who's producing the alloy. A chemical analysis runs about $20-40. A good example is the bearing steel example 52100 found in larger bearing races. Know which ones are??? 52100, "shaker screen" or "rail car" bearing races are 52100 steel.

As far as a steel order of 7,000 lbs goes Good Luck and I'm sincere when saying that.
The company I work for buys 800,000 lbs per month. We are having great difficulty getting steel. Do you honestly think an order of 7,000 lbs will be placed in front of ours. Gentleman we are considered small.

I really enjoy these forums and the help I have recieved. Please forgive me if my response is somewhat jumbled. I write this stuff as I have time throughout the day.

Robert Washburn
06-26-2004, 11:12 AM
Ha ED,I think I`ll keep using the 6150 at least I KNOW WHAT IT IS. ROBERT

Kevin Dennis
06-27-2004, 04:59 AM
I am very new to making knives.
In fact I have never made one from a known steel.
The two blades I have made recently were from a 10" circular blade I found in my sheet metal shop while stationed in korea. They looked like a large version of those round razor blades used for cutting fabric. I have no idea what kind of steel they are but they started out sharp and were obviously used for cutting something so I thought they might make a good knife.

Sorry I am rambling a bit here I will try to get to the point directly please bear with me:D

I am going to order some real blade steel very shortly probably from admiral steel.
I was leaning towards using 1095 because from what little I understand I think I can heat treat it with my equipment . ( small fire brick forge with a reil type venturi burner)

Ed are you saying 1095 is not a good blade steal or am I just in way over my head here?



Ed Caffrey
06-27-2004, 09:21 AM

I'm not telling anyone to NOT use 1095........what I'm saying is that I've had enough probelms in my shop, along with enough others complaining about it for me to use something else instead. My main point is that with the current world market, and what it's willing to acccept, we as knifemakers need to pay close attention to the materials we purchase and the quality of it. Not only for the sake of repeatablility, but also for the quality of our finished product.

SamLS: On the amount issue, I'm only going by what the Crucible folks told us during their seminar at this year's Eugene show. I've not spoken in depth with them about this, but think it would be wonderful if they would do a 7,000 lb run to specs. Do I think they would do a 7,000 lb run in front of an 800,000 lb run? If both were being run in their specialty dept. my answer would be no, but I doubt that your comapany is ordering 800,000 lbs of S30V or the other speciality steels they produce. I think when they told us that, they were referring to thier specialty dept. But, until I get off my duff and talk more with them I just don't know.

06-27-2004, 10:30 AM
i did my first few batches of 1095 last month(trying for a decorative hamon) it was a pain in the butt for me to heat treat. i had problems with warping and cracking. in the end with advice from other makers here including Ed i got it done right and the knives ended up being decent blades but unless i have to i am going to avoid this steel in the future.

for "torch" treating i like A2 the best so far. 01 is my favorite oil hardening steel to do. for a newbie doing their own heat treating i would recommend one of those over 1095 for ease of heat treating. imho

-Jason Aube

06-28-2004, 09:11 AM
ED and others,

My comments regarding 800,000 lbs of steel are somewhat tongue in cheek. If the raw materials are dedicated to keeping the larger customers up and running. I should have said expect a long long wait. Low to High carbon steels are getting difficult to find. Stainless steel seems less affected. The industry has changed in the last 6 months. We are having great difficulty getting steel as with many others. Many Steel companies are booked thru the middle of next year and that production is essentially sold. We are quoted prices good for 24hrs. Its not just steel either, the larger readi-mix and concrete operations have been placed on Cement rations. I'm told China has quit importing Cement to the US.

As far as 1095 is concerned SAE 1090 the Mn is between .6-.9 and SAE 1095 the Mn is .3-.5 the 1084 and 1086 have similar differences. The kicker is a single piece of steel could be either. It would be interesting to know if one is more troublesome than others. I have noticed springs made from carbon steel with higher Mn upwards of .9-1.3 I suspect Si also plays a role as well. There are some ASTM specifications for materials used in springs. I don't have them at hand.
Anyone by chance tried the Chromium-Vanadium alloy spring steels ( Cr 1; V .2; C .6 ) or ( Ni .5; Cr .5; Mo .2; C .6 ) or silicon-manganese ( Si 2; Mn 1 )

Kevin R. Cashen
07-02-2004, 10:53 AM
To the original subject of the thread, I bacame aware of this A-36 issue some time back and have ahd to be very careful to specify 1018 when ordering materials for my testing and special projects. It is good to bring this to the attention of others Ed.

07-02-2004, 01:16 PM
I too would be interested in going in on a custom order. And I'll agree that 7,000 lbs is not a lot. It's small to a steel company, and it won't look as big a pile as most of us imagine when it's a pile sitting on a trailer. I learn that every time I visit the scrap yard and have to weigh the meager pile that I load up. I still do more - a lot more - general smithing than blades, but as I do more and more, I'm amazed at the quantities, both volume and weight, that I use. I buy more feet of stock than I would have imagined only a year ago, and I'm consistently surprised by how small the pile is sitting on the trailer, and by how much the stuff weighs.

All that to say that I'd be interested in participating if we ever do get together a big group order. I'm not picky about stock size, either. Offhand I'd say 1/2 and 5/8 round, and 1/4x1, 1/4x3/4 would be my first choices. But I'd also imagine that 1/4 or 5/16 by 1-1/2 or 2 might be popular with the crowd?


Christopher M
07-02-2004, 03:19 PM
I get all of my steel from Admiral and it has worked out fine.While the various 10xx series steel doesn't always fall within the official specs ie, the 1080 I've been getting specs at .72%C at least they provide a spec sheet with every order

07-02-2004, 04:02 PM
Howard Clark did order a custom batch of 1086M a while back. I too believe that bladesmiths should pull their resources and order a batch.

07-03-2004, 05:22 PM
I just typed out a LONG reply to Ed about A36. I was the Chief Metallurgist for a small steel mill and commented about why A36 is the way it is. However, during my long reply, I become UN-LOGGED lengthy reply was lost.

I have quickly tired of being booted out after logging in to every forum. I think I gotta go with Jim Hrisoulis and bid theforum a fond fairwell.

09-21-2004, 10:30 AM
I am a maker of martial arts weapons. I have been using A36 for many items that I produce commercially. I was told that it has the same properties as 1018. Not knowing I accepted this as truth. Until I came across this posting. Can someone please share with me the hardening capabilities of A36 vs 'real' 1018?
Now I am in a heated argument with my supplier about this. Is there any source on the net or expert that would be willing to forward me information regarding A36? I am upset because I am afraid that this may affect the quality of what I produce commerically and that is my reputation which is very good among my customers. My supplier will be happy to sell me another type of steel and I will happy to use it providing it has the qualities I seek. I would prefer that someone please contact me via email at to pass along sources of the info that I have seen here.


Ed Green
Budo Weapons.