Full Chisel Blog

June 28, 2008

Price of Iron and Steel in the Nineteenth Century

Filed under: Laid Steel Tools — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:55 pm

After the recent comment made by Matt on Laid Steel Blades giving the value of steel as being 5 times that of iron at the time of the American Civil war, got me to thinking, and you know where that can go.  I realized at that point that the price difference was not great enough to be of significance.  And as he pointed out the manufacturing costs add up.

Well a friend of mine, just today, gave me some information from a book published in 1868 or 1869 about the History of Industrial Production in America from 1610 to date.  I will get the title to quote it exactly, but knowing I am interested in the price of metals in the nineteenth century, gave me some facinating information.  (I am hoping I can scan the complete book).

He mentioned that they lamented in 1820 that the price had falled from $140.00 a ton for iron bar in 1818 to a price of between $100.00 and $120.00 a ton.  That means it dropped from $0.07 a pound to $0.05 to $0.06 a pound, if my math hasn’t failed me.  Now using the 5 times ratio, let me sharpen my pencil (Invented by a Conneticut cabinetmaker in 1822) that would mean:

In 1818 the price of Steel would be about $0.45 cents per pound.  By 1820 the cost of steel would have dropped to approximately $0.25 to $0.30 per pound.  The drop in price is from advancements in iron and steel manufacuring and competition.  So.

Let say a plane iron contains a half a pound of iron $0.03 and lets say the steel is 2 ounces (remember it is just a thin veneer of steel on the large wrought iron blade) at a cost of $0.0375.  Now I don’t do well with that new math but I think I got the numbers right.  So a plane iron might have $0.07 to a dimes worth of material, then the cost of charcoal (or green coal or coke) for forging, the three heats, the labor, if the blade was made of steel it would cost $0.15 in material, without the cost of laying on the steel.

The economy explaination just doesn’t hold (wait, that is just too gentle, the economy theory is just exactly wrong), they did not put the steel on in a thin veneer to save money (where is the savings?), they put it on because they could make superior blades, pure and simple, do the math.  (Lets not forget the smoking gun: the brine quench).  I have a friend that is a statisician and I am going to have him analyze some plane irons and chisels to determine the exact ratio of steel to iron in these tools.  I do believe I will have more to say on this particular subject in the future.

But, for right now I am just basking.

Stephen

2 Comments »

  1. […] was done because of economy; steel is more expensive than wrought iron. In the nineteenth century steel costs 5 times that of iron and the steel on these old tools is usually less than 10% of the blade. Then […]

    Pingback by Why laminated [laid] blades are better. « Full Chisel Blog — August 16, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  2. […] was done because of economy; steel is more expensive than wrought iron. In the nineteenth century steel costs 5 times that of iron and the steel on these old tools is usually less than 10% of the blade. Then […]

    Pingback by Why laminated [laid] blades are better. | Woodworking Projects and Woodworking Plans — August 22, 2010 @ 12:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress