Does Heat Affect Steel?

This is directed to: steel novices, steel challenged, and people who might otherwise cause harm to themselves, those around them, or pieces of steel.

So, will steel be affected by temperature? That depends. What Temperature? That depends.

Let’s define temperature as “Service Temperature”. That is, the temperature the steel will encounter where it is being used. It is worth mentioning that service temperature may be “Intermittent”, or “Constant”. If the steel is exposed to intermittent temperatures, it is not exposed long enough to thoroughly take upon itself the service temperature. (It just passes in and out of a furnace but not long enough to get as hot as the furnace.) If the steel is exposed to constant temperature, it takes-on the service temperature.

When the steel mill hardens steel to obtain specific properties, it involves heating the steel and cooling it to a very specific formula. If you are now going to expose it to temperatures that approach those used in the original recipe, you increase the chances of changing the original properties (hardness, brittleness, ductility, etc.). That is reason for caution if you are intending to do anything other than drop it or throw it.

The temperature to which the steel was originally heated were specific to the elements that were in the steel. The temperature it was cooled to, as well as the rate of cooling and even the time required to move the steel from one process to another affected the properties obtained.

Heat will affect steel based on the composition of that steel and relative to the past thermal processing that steel has undergone. 

Give or take a country mile; steels will melt around 3000°F. Whereas aluminum will melt around 1200°F. Short of those temperatures, you should not have to worry about your steel leaking off the shelf. Steels will begin to soften, however, at a wide range of temperatures based on their chemical composition and the thermal processing that got them to the current hardness.

Temperatures need not be extremely high to begin to lower the properties of the steel. Some of the very hard wear plates found in industrial applications (near diamond hard) will begin to soften at 280° to 350°F. You can cook a pork butt at 280°F.

In very general terms, if you have a very hard piece of steel that will be exposed to elevated temperatures, there is a good chance it may soften. Conversely, if you have a soft steel and expose it to elevated temperatures, you may cause hardening.

In all cases, with known grades or unknown grades of steel; when heat is involved and the steel you are using may be hardened or may be hardenable, exercise caution. (safety glasses, hard hat, gloves, etc.)

-Howard Thomas, July 5th 2018

Straightness Is Perishable

Bananas turn brown, avocados turn mushy, cars rust. Those are things we recognize as having a shelf-life. They are not permanent. They are perishable.

When discussing steel shafting, especially in the field of maintenance, straightness is an important property. If a shaft is received at the end user’s plant bent, It is not usable. You can’t grind it. You can’t machine it. You can’t install it. In fact, unless you are cutting it into little stubs for pins, or whatever, it is pretty much useless.

So, although we can all agree that straightness is important. We must understand that even if the bar has been straightened, it will not necessarily remain straightened. Straightening, and the subsequent handling, of a steel shaft is a commitment. Think of high school kids being required to carry a raw egg around for several months without breaking it. The exercise is intended to teach responsibility. It is designed to instill a sense of appreciation of the delicate nature of that item in your care.

We should think in terms of that when discussing anything about bar straightness.

Even if you require, or purchase “Pump Shaft” straightness, or, “Pump Shaft Quality (PSQ), responsibility does not end there. From the moment that product was created it began deteriorating. The severity of the deterioration will be relative to many influences. But, probably the most influential of all will be the diameter relative to the length.

A PSQ bar of 4140 Heat Treated alloy that is 3-1/2″ Dia. x 4 ft. long will be much more likely to maintain its straightened condition than will a 1-1/2″ Dia. shaft that is 16 ft. long. Then there is movement around the plant, packaging, shipping, unloading, machining, fabrication, installation, etc. It’s like those little turtles heading for the ocean once they’ve hatched. It’s a wonder any of them actually make it to adulthood.

The point is, if you are judicious, you should be able to solve most shaft problems where straightness is the rub. But know that it is not a slam dunk, just because the invoice says “PSQ”.

-Howard Thomas, May 17th 2018

What is the Length of a “Random Steel Bar”?

While there may be typical answers to that question, it is still a little like asking “What is the price of a car?” It depends on a lot of variables.

The most universally accepted random bar length would be 12ft random. A close runner-up would be 20ft random. The problem that comes into play is relative to the fact that there is no literal interpretation for random bar lengths.

Further, in the steel industry, twelve foot random may imply 10ft to 12ft random; which in reality could actually be 10ft to 13ft, or even 14ft random. If the shaft you are making has a finished length of 12ft, you would not want to order a 12ft random bar without specific clarification. Communication with your vendor goes a long way. Discuss your actual needs (“Finished Length”), with the supplier.

Perhaps, if you consider the cut-to-length price as the standard, or normal, price, then random lengths would be those lengths that are advantageous for the vendor to sell. One vendor may decide to sell 3ft, 4ft, or 6ft random bars. That allows them to utilize their end cuts. By selling “random bar lengths” they can make best utilization of their stock and pass savings incentives along to their customer.

If the customer is actually cutting the bar into short pieces, it is in their best interest to share that information with the vendor. Many times we will end up shipping 26ft bars across the country for years before we finally find out that those bars are being cut into 3″ pieces. Somehow, the total footage required to yield the number of small cut pieces was taken to be the minimum bar length. Shipping shorter pieces represented many advantages to both the end-user, and the supplier, that were unfortunately never capitalized on. Most sellers will cut a long bar in half as a courtesy to facilitate shipping; sometimes they will cut it into three equal pieces, also at no additional charge.

This minimizes potential damage in transit and often results in much lower shipping charges; not to mention potential incentive savings from purchasing end-cuts.

-Howard Thomas, April 2nd 2018

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Howard Thomas

Howard Thomas

Experience

Sr. Acct. Mgr. (US Southwest) / Metallurgical Consultant
Associated Steel Corporation
Jan 2017 – Present

Past Vice President / General Manager
Associated Steel Corporation
Apr 1998 – Jan 2017

Past Vice President / General Manager
Baldwin International
Apr 1974 – Mar 1997

Education

Cleveland State University
Kent State University
University of Denver