Cut To Length Steel And Random Bar Lengths

Some time ago we posted an article about random bar lengths. The attention from that blog contributed to this follow-up about cut-to-length bars. More importantly, how that term differs from random (rdm) bar lengths.

Random bar lengths can be anything the distributor deems beneficial to his selling of the steel bars in  his, or her, inventory. It is most common in the general steel marketplace to see random bar lengths listed as 10/12ft rdm, stainless bars were often listed as 11 to 14ft rdm. You might say that is more less the default in the industry. However, even that category does not define exactly what might be shipped to you. You may get a 13ft bar, or even a 16ft bar; depending on what the distributor has on the floor at the time. In rare instances you may get an 8ft bar or 9ft bar, although shipping a shorter bar is not all that common. The practice of offering random bar lengths can be a very good thing. You should be able to save money on the purchase, less than the higher cost of requiring a bar to be cut to a specific length. Just make sure you and the seller are on the same page at the point of inquiry.

Cut-to-length bars are just that; bars are cut to the exact length you require. You just need to be clear in expressing your requirements; and include a length tolerance that works for both parties. For many decades “plus 1/8″, minus 0” was quite common, and the default if nothing was specified. It pays to be sure both parties understand the same requirement. Especially if it is a first time order or a new vendor or customer. Your expectations understood by one supplier may be lost on the new supplier.

There are other concerns that may affect your order regarding cut-to-length. You may want to specify “No Mill Ends”, or, “Trim Mill Ends”. Mill ends (the original ends of the bars as they were shipped to the distributor from the steel mill), may have been trimmed at the mill, and just fine. They may also be sheared, in which case there may be a slight taper to the end of the bar. The diameter at the bar end may be a bit undersize. It may not be a square cut. It may be slightly dished, it may have identification stamped into the end. If you have not allowed some trim stock to the length you ordered, this may be an issue. It is not a major issue on most orders, but it is worth mentioning if it could be.

If the type of cut required is to a very close tolerance you may want to specify “Square Cut Ends”, and then the tolerance you require. There may be additional charges depending on how specific your needs are.

Very small diameters (those under 5/8″ Dia.) may require special dialogue or instructions if your expectations are exacting. Can the vendor bundle and cut? Once again, there could be additional charges incurred. Very large diameters (over 10″Dia.) usually require a little extra stock be left on the cut. Depending on the size and the intended use, some people will leave 3/8″ or 1/2″ on the cut. Chromed bars often come with “masked areas” at the end of mill length bars. That is an area that has not been chromed. It may be several inches. If you typically purchase full mill random lengths of chrome bars from one supplier, you may want to insure both you and your new supplier understand the specific bar mults of the finished shafts you intend to make. Discuss “trimmed ends” at the point of inquiry.

Newer saws and better saw blades are able to cut phenomenally close these days. There seem to be blades for nearly every metal and hardness. But, just because the saw and the blade can cut close, does not mean that’s what you will be getting. Communication goes a long way to avoid a mishap. Remember; “When it goes bad, who’s wallet comes out?”

-Howard Thomas, June 21st 2019

Bending Steel

There is a famous saying; “A man must know his limitations.” I am sure it is also appropriate for a woman. So it is with this topic. Some steel grades can be bent fairly easily. And, some steel grades in some conditions should never be bent. Before attempting to bend steel you must fully understand its limitations. If you are one of those who never reads instructions and just charges ahead, then there is another appropriate quote from the same person; “Do you feel lucky, kid? Well, do you…?”

The thing is, bending steel is dangerous, even steel listed as “formable”. Ideally, it should be left to experts. But, if you are going to do it anyway, you must know some things about the metal you are contemplating bending. The grade and internal cleanliness are important. But more important is the hardness and the depth and uniformity of that hardness. Soft malleable (ductile) steel in a very light gage may take a nice bend simply by “hand”. Harder (heat treated) heavier gage steel may require high capacity sophisticated equipment that has built-in protections for the machine operator. Very hard steel may not tolerate even the slightest bend, or even pressure for that matter. To put it in perspective, when you think of very hard steel, think of a pane of glass. You wouldn’t push the center of a large pane of glass to see if it bends. At least I hope not. When hard steel fails during a bending process, it literally explodes! As in, loud noise and a section of the roof leaving the building rather quickly.

Before you attempt to bend a piece of steel say this out loud three times; “This is an angry piece of steel that doesn’t want to be played with, and there is a reason why everyone behind me is stepping back.” Then step into your safety gear, study everything you can about the steel, then call a person who bends steel professionally. If that is just not possible and you are required to bend it yourself, do some serious research before you begin and remember, wear appropriate safety gear. Bending steel is not a job for amateurs. Use certified/qualified expert technicians.

Some key words that may help you discover a bit about bending steel are listed below:

Forming, Press Brake, Rolling, Open Air Die, Bottom Die, Bullnose Die, Arc, Degree of Arc, Knife Die (as in; don’t use this type of die), Degree of Bend, Radius of Bend, Hardness HB, Hardness RC, Decarb Removal, Surface Preparation Steel, Brinell, Rockwell, Plasticity, Plastic Deformation, Spring-Back, Work Hardening, Heat Treating, Surface Hardness, Through Hardness, Gushing Head Wound, Depressed Skull Fracture, Life Insurance

4T, 8T, 12T relate to how many times you multiply the thickness of the steel to determine a suggested minimum bend radius. 4T would require a radius of four times the thickness, 12T would be twelve times the thickness, etc.

And, one more famous quote; “Don’t try this at home!”

-Howard Thomas, June 4th 2019