Cold Drawn – a Process Not a Material 

Cold Roll or Cold Drawn bar is often requested from a supplier as if the term indicated a grade of steel. Those terms refer to production methods not chemistry or grade. I point this out not to be stuffy, but to try to eliminate potential safety problems in the field.

Cold Roll, Cold Drawn, or Cold Finished bars may be made from 1018, 1020, 1045, 8620, 4140, etc. While most often they would be annealed (soft), there is the chance a cold drawn bar could be supplied in a hardened condition. The real problem is somewhat related to geography. In certain parts of the country, Cold Roll (Cole-roll), is most often produced as 1018 or 1020. Elsewhere, in other mills, the preponderance of production might lean toward 1045. The 1045 grade is hardenable; 1018 and 1020 are not. Expecting a material to be ductile in all circumstances could lead to significant problems should that steel turn out to be brittle.

Cold Drawn or Hot Rolled – When?
Cold Drawn steel materials may be used for various types of rails in heavy industrial applications. Hot Rolled Hardened wear bars may also be used for types of rails. If smooth and accurate travel along a rail is a concern, or if a finished cam/wheel is riding on it, you will probably want Cold Drawn, Cold Rolled, or Cold Finished (all the same) bars. If the application is “Big & Ugly”, let’s say a large heavy tank car is rolling over the rails and the rails eventually fail due to gouging, deforming, weight and wear, think Hot Rolled and Hardened. (Q&T).

Basically, a flat bar (cold drawn or hot rolled) is referred to as a rail when it has undergone some machining, and/or, hardening, or is used in an application where something is conveyed along it, or guided by it. A roller cam or trolley may ride along any surface of the flat bar, whether the bar is lying down flat, or is positioned up on end. Product may simply be slid along one surface of a flat, with no cam to assist movement. In the case of sliding, you will want to review “galling”.

If the application is “Big and Ugly”, such as moving bins of molten metal in a steel mill, the rail may be just hardened hot rolled bar stock. Pay close attention to the “out-of-square” allowable tolerance on hot rolled hardened mill bars. It is much more open than the tolerance of cold drawn bar.

Where the configuration is not sensitive to smooth uninterrupted movement (such as is required in an automation facility), hot rolled hardened bars may be used. These could be sizes like 3/8” x 2 ½”, or 5” x 8” depending on the weight of what is travelling the rail.

Generally, these types of rails will be welded or bolted to a substrate. Even Big and Ugly rails may require precise hole locations on the bars for alignment to pre-drilled holes in the substrate. When this is a requirement it is important to measure the holes centered on the length of the rail. So, you would not measure from the outside length dimension of the flat bar. You would find the center of the bar length and index the holes from that point radiating out in both directions. Otherwise, if the length was a bit oversize or undersize, the holes would not line up. The same goes for the width of the flat bar.

Our next post will focus on fabricating finished “Rails”; specifically impediments to fabrication and subsequent service-life. The third, and final post on CD bars will be an introduction to the trade-name rails produced and marketed by Associated Steel.

-Howard Thomas, May 9th, 2022

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