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Steel stock for newbie ???

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Ian Richards 410/09/2020 20:14:45
11 forum posts

Appologies for such a basic question, but we all had to start somewhere !

I know my question is rather vague, but ...

My interest is in steam engines, both full size and model and I'll probably be working with Imperial measurements.

I've looked without success for advice on what sort of steel stock I should have in my workshop.

A little clarification what types and suggested dimensions would be really helpful.

Rather than buy the odd piece when needed, it would be great to have an assortment available and more cost effective too.



Edited By Ian Richards 4 on 10/09/2020 20:24:35

JasonB10/09/2020 20:22:01
19113 forum posts
2102 photos
1 articles

An idea of the type of work you intend to undertake may help as someone building small aero engines will need different materials to someone making a 1/2 size traction engine or another restoring motorbikes. Also are your preferences metric or imperial.

Ian Richards 410/09/2020 20:25:36
11 forum posts

Good point.

Initial posting now updated.

Thanks for pointing that out.

SillyOldDuffer10/09/2020 20:48:00
6447 forum posts
1421 photos

As always depends on what you're doing. I only have 4 types of steel:

  • For machining on a lathe or milling machine EN1A-Pb. (Or EN1A if Pb isn't available.) They are both free-cutting mild steels, easy to cut and get a good finish, but a little weak. They can't be welded.
  • For general purpose, work EN3B in Bright and Black form. Machines reasonably well, but inclined to tear. Cheap, and can be welded. Bright is finished, which saves time but it can warp when machined due to inbuilt stress. Black is unfinished, and doesn't warp when cut. Bright is slightly stronger.
  • Silver Steel and Gauge Plate are heat hardenable steels. In the US known as drill rod, which is a clue. They're used to make punches or anything else that needs to be harder than mild steel. Good for small objects that can be heated with a blowlamp.
  • Piano wire is a hard steel used to make springs.

Silver steel is easy to use but expensive. If a large quantity is needed, cheaper hardenable steels are available but are trickier to harden. A big blowlamp or forge plus a certain amount of skill.

I only do general purpose work in Brass, Aluminium and steel where strength, toughness and hardness aren't a priority. If you're into safety critical work like motorbike axles, the steels I've listed are unsuitable. Ask again! Likewise, certain jobs need stainless steels, which are different again. . There are thousands of different steels available for specialised purposes, most of them not used much in home workshops though they might be.

What sort of work do you intend doing?

Rather than lay in a huge stock, my strategy is to buy what I need when it's needed in various sizes plus extra if it's remotely likely to be useful in future. It's not so much different types of steel that make stockholding expensive, its the variety of shapes and sizes needed - rod, plate, angle etc, all in Bright or Black form. Again depending on purpose, you may find certain sizes and shapes are far more used than others. The advantage of stocking metal close to the right size is it dramatically reduces the amount of cutting needed - and cutting is a waste of time and money. Not a good idea to turn a 6" block of steel down into a 4mm diameter bolt, or to spend hours sawing small lumps off a 12" girder.


Lainchy10/09/2020 20:52:30
248 forum posts
98 photos

I'm a relative neewbie Ian, but have made a start on Juliet II.

I bought my small lathe last year, about this time and I made a big mistake buying from a local steel stockholder.

What I tend to do now, is buy from Kennions... usually in 1ft sections. I would suggest, as many others will follow no doubt, but I would suggest some EN1 leaded, in 1", 1/2" and 1/4", and some flat bar, maybe 3/32, 1/8, 1/4 etc. Try a piece of EN8 too (about £1.60 per foot? maybe), which is of course harder than the leaded en1. The flat bar will likely be EN3.

£20 will buy you a nice selection. Their prices are very reasonable. I found that buying off eBay was a bit of a mine field too, and everything was plus postage. Kennions prices are very reasonable, and P&P can be done in one go.


Edited By Lainchy on 10/09/2020 20:53:05

Ian Richards 410/09/2020 20:57:21
11 forum posts

Thanks Lainchy, that's exactly what I needed to hear.

Thanks to Silly Old Duffer too.

Best wishes from a slightly more informed newbie.


Ian Richards 410/09/2020 21:07:50
11 forum posts

OK, I've had a look at Kennions, what a great selection.

I'm a little confused as to whether the EN1 leaded is the same as EN1A and which is the EN8 you are referring too.

Thanks for all your help.


Phil Whitley10/09/2020 21:12:39
1269 forum posts
147 photos

I am not a model engineer, but the things I make and repair vary from the very small to the very large, and I grab any shape or size of any metal that comes my way. It gets catergorised into strip, bar, tube, angle channel etc for steel, and for all non ferrous, it is sorted by metal type. As new and better stuff is found, I send the less good quality stuff to the scrapman, or give it away to anyone who wants it. If you are going to build a project, just order the stuff you need, to the nearest round amount, and start your metal stores with offcuts and remainders. All you need to know is, is it machinable, is it hardenable, how hard can it be made, and could it be case hardened and be adequate? Most hard steels can be softened, worked and machined, and then rehardened, and old tools are an excellent source of hardenable carbon steel, especially files!

Ian Richards 410/09/2020 21:14:22
11 forum posts

Such good advice.



Bill Davies 210/09/2020 21:48:44
200 forum posts
11 photos

Strictly, Ian, the EN series is obsolete (introduced during WW2), but EN1A is the weakest of the mild steels. It is offered with and without lead, and the leaded version must not be welded or brazed, as it formed a weak joint. Both machine well, especially the leaded variety.


Mark Rand10/09/2020 23:38:34
927 forum posts
6 photos

EN1A machines easily, but the lead (Macready's do a tellurium doped version with similar benefits) makes it rust if you even look at it cross-eyed. It is also VERY soft.

Worth bearing in mind if you are making anything that won't be in a protected environment.

EN8 is 0.4% carbon steel and a bit tougher. Can be hardened fairly easily and isn't quite britle as silver steel when not annealed. Also not as hard. Good for wearing parts as opposed to tools. Much like EN3 in the annealed condition, machines like treacle unless you can use high speeds.

EN16 and EN24 can be very useful if you are making gears, nuts/bolts, IC engine cams etc. but by that time you'll have a better idea of what you need.

If you are planning for the long haul, check on the prices for longer lengths of stock. It''s upsetting to find that you could have bought a 3 metre length of bar from a supplier for twice the price that you just paid for a foot of the same from a different supplier.

Paul Lousick11/09/2020 00:00:23
1579 forum posts
594 photos

When I first set up my workshop, I purchased a lot of steel stock, some of which is not used after many years.

My advice is to make an inventory of what you intend to build, go thru the drawings and make a cutting list of the materials that you will need for the build and add a bit extra for each of the sizes that you require. That way you will have spare steel in the sizes that you actually use.

When you buy the steel, ask if they have an off-cut of the steel section you require but a bit longer.  It is often sold at a discounted price.


Edited By Paul Lousick on 11/09/2020 00:08:38

duncan webster11/09/2020 00:29:09
2846 forum posts
43 photos

EN1A is now 230M07

En1A Pb 230M07 Pb

EN3 070M20

EN8 080M40

in the last 2, the first 2 digits refer to the manganese content, te last 2 to the carbon content, thus 070M20 is roughly 0.7% manganese, 0.4% carbon. A lot better information than an EN number

Old School11/09/2020 06:04:15
360 forum posts
30 photos

I buy my metal from a company called M machine, they have a big range of material and it’s all sold by grade, I like to know what I am buying. Plus they are very helpful.

Thor11/09/2020 06:43:27
1291 forum posts
39 photos

Hi Ian,

Much good advice given in the previous posts. I too buy materials from Kennions and M-Machine. If you want to make steam engines you can of course buy sets with castings and you will get all (or most of) the materials you need. If you want to make your steam engines from stock material you may also need some Cast Iron, Brass or Leaded Gunmetal (LG2) for making the cylinder, glands, Steam Chest and so on. For steam engines mainly running on compressed air I use Cast Iron for the cylinder and piston. For steam engines that I run on steam I use LG2 for the cylinder and makes the piston and piston-rod from free-cutting stainless steel (303), I also use the same material for the slide-valve and rod. Reduces the chances of corrosion. Good luck with your engines.


JasonB11/09/2020 07:17:15
19113 forum posts
2102 photos
1 articles

I mostly buy my imperial stock at shows so that tends to be 12" lengths but if ordering tend to go for the suppliers that do 2ft lengths. I like to keep the following steel in stock and before a show will go through what I have and list what I'm getting short of. I also keep a piece of paper and write down anything that I'm getting low on as I use it up so check that too.

EN1A, 1/16, 3/32, 1/8, 5/32, 3/16, 7/32, 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, 1, 1.5 and 2

303 stainless 3/32, 1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 3/8

Silver steel 3/32, 1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 3/8

EN1Apb Hex 1/4, 5/16, 3/8

EN3 flats 1/8 x 1 & 2, 3/16 x 2, 1/4 x 1 & 2, 3/8 x 1 and 1/2 x 1

As mentioned above at the start of a new project a good way to get to know the drawings is to work through them listing what material is needed, also think about how you will hold and machine the part so enough length can be allowed for that.

For metric stock I tend to buy on line as not many of the ME suppliers stock metric materials, upto 12mm dia I tend to buy 3m lengths (posted as 3 x 1m) as it works out a lot cheaper than short 300mm length, upto 25mm by the meter and 500mm lengths above that. I keep a slightly larger range of metric than equivalents above as that seems to be what I'm using more of at the moment on stationary steam and IC engines.

Ian Richards 411/09/2020 08:16:30
11 forum posts


I'm overwhelmed by not only the quantity, but quality of the advice given.

Many, many thanks


derek hall 111/09/2020 08:32:04
109 forum posts

This is a good example of why this forum is so good!

Btw it may be a good idea to introduce some sort of colour coding to the different types of steel that you intend to get, it can be difficult determining one type from another if they all get mixed up

As mine have........... (unhappy face)

Regards to all


Jim Nic11/09/2020 10:18:10
279 forum posts
164 photos

A point to bear in mind is to buy material from a known supplier, to a particular specification if necessary, and not to use bits of metal of unknown spec from unknown sources such as skips or scrap merchants. There have been a few posts on here over the years from newbie modellers asking why they can't get an acceptable finish on a piece of freebie material.


IanT11/09/2020 10:41:46
1669 forum posts
161 photos

I have good stocks of mild steel "scrap" the majority of which is (fortunately) free-cutting. A small stock of this for general use would be useful - it is certainly the material to use when starting out turning/machining steel.

However, some times I either need to be sure of the material type or need a specific size - and this needs to be purchased as required.

So my advice would be if you can get it for free, then do so but just be mindful that you can only really guess what it is (unless the source offers certainty) but otherwise purchase as required.

Quite often you will need to buy more material than you need anyway (longer lengths etc) - so your scrap bin will grow anyway (just be sure to mark the off-cuts so you can remember what it is).

So, in general, I wouldn't buy stock on 'spec' - but if you can get some good freebies - then why not?



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