Punchcutting materials: Steel

Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 838
edited May 2017 in Punchcutting
As the first post in the Punchcutting room, I thought I was a good idea to start with one of the first questions we have when attempting to cut punches by the first time: Which steel to use and where to buy it?
References from classic literature (Fournier and Moxon) seem to be too old to be useful and the steel that seems to have been preferred by punchcutters in the 19th and 20th century (Huntsman's Steel Yellow Label from Sheffield) is AFAIK not available anymore (I might be wrong).
The few modern punchcutters nowadays seem to be using a kind of steel usually referred to as "High carbon tool steel" either water or oil hardening (this seems not to be 
relevant, although I am not completely sure.)
After the advice of Bart Overeem, a Dutch metal engraver friend, I purchased steel bars from ABRAMS PREMIUM STEEL in Germany (http://www.premium-steel.eu). The exact kind was the following: PREMIUM DIN 1.2510 (It's 0.95% carbon Tool Steel oil Hardening).

Here I chose the steel bars:

This is a data sheet for 1.2510 tool steel:

The 500 mm bar was delivered very quickly from Germany to the Netherland and I chose to cut it in pieces myself because they charge about 10 Euros for this.

The steel comes annealed but I re-annealed anyway after reading Fournier and Moxon, trying to let the metal cool as slowly as possible inside a casing of fire bricks, covering the blank punches with ashes and embers.

I've been working a punch in this steel and I find it relatively easy to file. Graving is a much more challenging task, but consider I am just doing my fist steps and leaning how to sharp and use the gravers.
I haven't quenched it yet.

So, now, what steel are you using and where are you ordering it?


  • Here in the US tool steels are usually identified by an alphanumeric code.  So "O1" is an oil-hardening steel, "A1" air hardening, "S7" shock-resistant, etc.  In Stan Nelson's punchcutting class last year, we used "W1" water-hardening tool steel.  This is a relatively simple alloy, though its carbon content is allowed to vary over a wide range (different suppliers quote different values, but 0.95% carbon seems typical).  W1 is often cited as easier to machine than some other tool steels, but subject to distortion on quenching.  (Indeed, the punch I cut in class cracked on quenching.)  It's probably carried by most steel suppliers, but the easy way to get it in small quantities is to order it online from McMaster-Carr:  www.mcmaster.com

    I've thrown together a list of US suppliers for many of the tools found on a punchcutter's bench, but it's a little long for a posting.  I can't seem to find a "files" section for this forum, so I've put it up in some online space of my own (viewable by anyone, but not linked-to by anything and excluded from well-behaved search engines), at:  http://galleyrack.com/punchcutting/sources-for-punchcutting-supplies-notes.txt
    It gets a bit long, but I'll recommend two things from it in particular:  Call MSC industrial supply to have them send you a copy of their catalog (they call it the "Big Book" - it is indeed big, and is an excellent reference to what is available).  Also, download the Glardon/Vallorbe "Jeweller's Catalog," which contains their files and gravers.  They are the makers of the tools formerly sold under the "Grobet" trade name.

  • At the Imprimerie Nationale we worked with the steel available and with new steel.  The specs where handed over, and i hope i can download the technical sheets.  Comments on the sheets are still in my notes but recent activity's with the punch cutting and matrix engraving days here in Antwerp have prevented my from writing everything down just as yet.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,966
    edited May 2017
    Have you contacted Fred Smeijers about this? He talks about new vs. old steel for punches in Counterpunch.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 838
    edited June 2017
    @James Puckett The references about steel in Counterpunch are either quotations from classic literature or information to vague to be useful. I love Counterpunch but it's not a manual.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 838
    edited May 2017
    @"David MacMillan" Thanks a lot for this text file! It's plenty of very useful information.
    Also thanks a lot for your webpage Typographical Punchcutting in Steel by Hand (http://www.circuitousroot.com/artifice/letters/press/typemaking/literature/punchcutting/index.html). It is the most complete collection of online information and resources on punchcutting.

    @Patrick Goossens If I remember well from our mail exchanges, you told me at the Imprimerie National they had stock of old steel that was good and that they had purchased a new batch that was not as good as expected.
    Well, in your Flickr images I see two kind of steel specs: Fagersta D61 and C35E  from Weber Metaux. These 2 steels have very different compositions, can you tell us which is the new one they purchased at the IN?

    The Fagersta D61 composition is virtually identical to the tool steel I purchased in Germany. See comparison:

    C: 0,95 | Mn: 1,10 | Cr: 0,60 | W: 0,60 | V: 0,10

    Fagersta D61:
    C: 0,90 | Mn: 1,20 | Cr: 0,50 | W: 0,50 | V: 0,10 

    My guess is that the new one tried at the IN was the Weber Metaux C35E and that its low carbon content made it a bad performer.

    C35E (Weber Metaux):
    C: 0,32-0,39 | Si: 0,40 | Mn: 0,50-0,80 | P: 0,0035 | S: 0,0035 | Cr: 0,40 | Ni: 0,40 | Mo: 0,10 | Cr + Mo + Ni: 0,63
  • Dear Ramiro,

    sorry about the continuous delay in checking my notes but the Benton engraving is currently taking up all my free time.  Plus i have a friend here, @prototypepress casting a series of B-36 matrices.

    The 'bad performer' steel was not so bad as it sounded, i think the issue was that the hardening was different from what they where used too. Also other issues like a new oven made things  different from the protocol they used before.

    I hope to relate more about all this later.

    Fact is that the punch from that steel got hardened, did strike three matrices of which two are justified, and typ got cast from it. 

    more soon


  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,966

    sorry about the continuous delay in checking my notes but the Benton engraving is currently taking up all my free time.  Plus i have a friend here, @prototypepress casting a series of B-36 matrices.

    You should install a camera and make time-lapse videos of your work.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 838
    edited July 2017
    @James Puckett
    Ops! You were right about the passage on steel in Counterpunch. Somehow I skipped the paragraph on page 103 and I though the only mention of steel for punchcutting was in page 91.
    "Today I use C-45." wrote Smeijers.  
    This is interesting because C-45 is a tool steel with half the content of the carbon (0.45%) than the tool steel recommended by Stan Nelson (W1, O1,DIN 1.2510 = 0.95%). Nelly Gable also sent me the specs of a 0.95% Carbon steel (Fagersta D61)
    C-45 (DIN 1.1730) is probably more maleable but not as hard as W1 after quenching. I will give it a try. 
    Also available at: https://shop.premium-steel.eu/en_eu/tool-steel-ii/1045.html?___store=en_eu

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