One topic that beginner blacksmiths often get hung up on is where to find enough steel to practice with. While it can quickly become expensive and time-consuming to find high-quality steel on a consistent basis, this isn’t always the case.
Basic Rebar steel you might have lying around is great to practice with. However, it leaves much to be desired for higher-quality projects. At the same time, beginner smiths need to be careful about heating up certain types of rebar, especially if its galvanized, as the fumes from any galvanized metal are quite dangerous.
But if you’re careful, Rebar can be an excellent way to hone your blacksmithing skills before you begin taking on more serious projects that require higher quality steel. Let’s go over some of the details of what exactly is rebar, the different types, as well as when you should or shouldn’t use it.
What is Rebar?
Rebar steel is most commonly used in construction sites, and as such, wasn’t designed to be used as a blacksmithing metal. Whereas regular steel comes in different grades (such as low, medium, and high carbon steels), Rebar can be made up of a number of different types of metals mixed together.
This means that rebar can be unpredictable to work with. It’ll be inconsistent, often quite brittle and difficult to rely on. On one hand, rebar can be extremely strong, used in places like skyscrapers, bridges, and nuclear reactor containment vessels. On the other hand, there’s tons of low-quality rebar from steel companies just trying to shuffle off the last bits of miscellaneous alloys left behind. This inconsistency makes rebar quite difficult for newer blacksmiths trying to get some more practice. The same piece of rebar could be brittle, while the other might fail to harden at all.
As you can imagine, there’s also many different types of rebar out there, each differing from each other. Here are a few different types of rebar and how they are different:
- Epoxy-Coated Rebar: This type of rebar is extremely resistant to corrosion in comparison to other types. This black rebar has an epoxy coating which makes it hundreds of times more resistant to corrosion then regular rebar. However, the coating is quite delicate and easy damaged.
- Carbon Steel Rebar: This is the most common type of rebar and unlike epoxy-coated rebar, it can erode quite quickly. Once erosion starts, the concrete around it begins to crack and break. This is one type of rebar that beginner blacksmiths can use fairly safely.
- European Rebar: Another quite common rebar type if European rebar. One of its main ingredients is manganese, which makes European rebar one of the least bending-resistant types out there. For beginner blacksmiths, this is a good thing as the more bendable a metal is, the easier it is to manipulate it into the shape we want.
- Galvanized Rebar: If there’s any type of rebar out there that you should avoid, it’s this one. Galvanized rebar might be more resistant to corrosion than regular rebar, when heated up it produces fumes that can be toxic to anyone nearby. Galvanized rebar is also quite a bit more expensive than other types of rebar. Stay away from this type if you can.
- Stainless Steel Rebar: While it’s unlikely that you’ll find this type of rebar out there, it’s worth taking a moment to write about stainless steel rebar. It’s easily the most expensive type out there, around eight times as expensive as epoxy-coated rebar. However, there’s nothing wrong with using stainless steel rebar if you can find it or have some lying around somewhere.
Why Experienced Blacksmiths Don’t Use Rebar
While rebar is cheap and abundant, experienced blacksmiths wouldn’t recommend it besides practices your hammer skills. If you’re literally a complete beginner and you want to start banging away at something, go ahead. However, this isn’t going to get you very far in terms of your blacksmithing skills.
What’s important is to learn how to handle the different types of metals. High-grade steel, low-grade steel, iron, all of these respond differently. Banging away at rebar on a pair of tongs or a marshmallow stick might be good practice once or twice, but afterwards it doesn’t make much sense to continue using it when you’ll become a better blacksmith simply by actually trying it for real with high-quality materials.
Not only that, but there’s no telling how long something made out of rebar will last. Rebar is inconsistent, with some might having enough carbon by chance to harden. Other times you’ll notice it will get brittle and break if you’re blacksmithing something with an edge. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the same piece of rebar go from brittle on one end to struggling to harden on the other.
When Should You Consider Using Rebar?
Are there times when you should consider using rebar? Yes. Like I’ve mentioned before, rebar is good to just play around with. Whether that means you’re just practicing for fun or mulling over an idea of what to smith, using rebar instead of a more expensive alloy is a good way to familiarize yourself with a potential project beforehand. You can follow the steps of a YouTube video to smith something more complex using a piece of rebar as a test piece.
If you’re just starting to learn how to smith, rebar is great as a way to practice a variety of techniques, such as curling, twisting, widening, squaring, etc.
You can also use rebar for really basic projects, such as making a pair of tongs, fire pokers, or hooks. If you really want to impress your friends and family and are a bit more experienced, try making a snake out of rebar for a fun little project as a test of your skills.
There are Better Ways to Find Quality Blacksmithing Metals
If rebars all you have right now and you just want to practice a bit, that’s fine. However, there are plenty of ways to find cheap sources of high-quality metal for you to use. Stay tuned for a future post where I’ll go into detail on where exactly you can find high-quality metal for cheap prices (if not FREE).
Until then, feel free to play around with rebar for practice. Just remember there’s a point when you’ll need to graduate to higher-quality metals.