Friday, November 21, 2014

The artistic soul of a railroad spike

Have you ever known one of those people who has a luminous artistic soul.   You can see it under the soul crushing upbringing and layers of equally soul crushing life choices.  Each encounter makes you wish there were a way to free that inner force.  Perform an existential transformation.  With people that isn't possible.  The artistic soul is trapped.  Even a Disney marathon can't free it.  This is not to say that one can never break free of these constraints, it just takes self awareness and courage, and maybe a soupcon of confidence.  Not something that comes from without.  So the sad crushed artistic soul ends up searching desperately for an external salve for that internal yearning, and we look away...
...because there are things that we can transform.  Railroad spikes for instance.  Yeah, I know.  You wondered where I was going with that.  Listen, I try to give a little insight into the human condition with my tips and techniques.  Heavy on the human condition.  Light on tips and techniques.

Anyway, railroad spikes have an artistic soul.  This is in spite of the crushing they have endured at the hands (wheels) of trains.  At this point I must remind you that all railroad spikes no matter where you find them are the property of the rail companies.  So don't go running out to gather them like asparagus in the spring just so you can free their inner beauty.  That my friend is a crime.  Also, no pennies on the tracks.  THAT IS NOT FUNNY.

Can you see the inner beauty?
I had some spikes that came from a railroad on Mars I'm pretty sure.  Because Union Pacific doesn't own those.  They were given to me by a spiky haired Martian.  His name was Buck.  Anyway, they were begging me to free them.  So I did.

Martian spikes from Buck

There are, I suppose, a couple of things that you should know about railroad spikes.  First they are a very low carbon high carbon steel.  They are tool steel generally.  Particularly if they have a HC stamp, but you can do a spark test and tell if they are high carbon.   The other thing is that they all belong to the railroad companies.
The reason the carbon content matters is that the higher the carbon content to a point, the longer the edge will last when properly heat treated.  Lower carbon tool steel won't hold an edge for very long, but railroad spikes are so darn romantic that nobody cares that they actually make crappy knives.  Until you move in together and find out how dull they can be.  Also they never clean up after themselves.  What is that?

Mid process
Bringing out the beauty of a spike is fun.  It is one of those pleasures that is hard to articulate. You need raw power to hammer out the blade and if you let your hammer sing, the blade takes on a life of its own.    It forms itself.  It reveals its luminous artistic soul.  The handle hints at its desires as well.  The spike will guide you and reward you for your effort.  It naturally finds its form.  Truthfully, it is an easy blade to polish as well, because it is just barely tool steel.  With most blades, heat treating is somewhat complicated and, if you do it in a forge, fraught.  Railroad spikes are relatively easy to temper and don't need a lot of annealing.   

I wonder about the pictures I take sometimes.

Fun and satisfying.  
What more could you want.  
Ya know, except for maybe longevity.

A slightly more prettier picture.

Back to work


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