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What is Brake Die Steel?

Let’s begin this post with two of my favorite words; Ubiquitous; (everywhere, like raindrops during a storm), and, Esoteric; (known by a select small group of people).

What do these mean? Brake Die, Gun Barrel or Rifle Stock, Pump Shaft Straightness, Boat Shaft, Food Service Grade Stainless, Cold Roll, “Ultrasonic Inspect to 388, (and even FDA approved). While they may have a specific meaning to someone (esoteric), they do not have a defined meaning to everyone (ubiquitous in certain industries). In reality these are generic descriptions without reference to defined requirements and properties, at best they are like answering someone’s question regarding the location of your pending vacation by responding; “Up North.”

From my experience, and from a supplier’s point of view, the only real commonality they have is the suggestion of liability. You cannot hope to avoid potential mishap if you really do not have more information on the chemical and physical requirements of the steel the person is discussing.

Brake Die Steel – Generally, a high quality carbon or alloy, appropriate for dies, that may be, or is, hardened. Often an alloy from the 4000 series. Is it pre-machined? Not necessarily. Is it pre-hardened? Not necessarily. Is it oversized square and shiny? Not necessarily.

Food Service Grade Stainless – Generally means it does not contaminate food with residue from the steel and it maintains a clean finish. Most often some grade of stainless. More information is needed.

Gun Barrel and Rifle Stock – Generally a 4000 series high integrity hardened alloy. But, not a specific grade.

Boat Shaft – You really have no information from that term. Could be anything, carbon, alloy, stainless, monel, bronze, etc. Most customers will require specific properties that conform to some sort of Marine Agency such as ABS, etc.

Cold Roll – Not a steel grade but a production method. Need more information.

FDA Approved – A misnomer. FDA does not grant approvals for metals.

Pump Shaft Straightness – The specifics are different for everyone. There are ASTM specifications but many large companies have their own “esoteric” specifications. You need to know more.

Ultrasonic Test 388 – An ASTM test method to determine the internal integrity of steel. Requires more detail such as acceptability and reject-ability levels.

-Howard Thomas, April 22nd 2019

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