How to Clean a Railroad Spike

To clean a railroad spike, first remove rust with a wire brush and then wipe the surface with WD-40 or vinegar. Ensure proper safety gear is worn during the process.

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Railroad spikes, the large nails used for securing rails to railroad ties, often become collectors’ items or materials for metalworking projects. Over time, these iron spikes can accumulate rust and debris, necessitating a thorough cleaning. A clean railroad spike not only looks better but is also easier to handle and work with for those who repurpose them into knives, hooks, or art pieces.

The importance of using protective gloves and eyewear cannot be overstated, as cleaning involves materials that can be harmful if proper precautions are not taken. This introductory guide will walk you through the essential steps of effectively rejuvenating a railroad spike, ensuring it retains its structural integrity and historical charm.

Introduction To Railroad Spike Maintenance

Railroad spikes are crucial in securing rails to the wooden railroad ties. Over time, these metallic fasteners can accumulate rust, debris, and other contaminants. Proper maintenance is essential to ensure the longevity and safety of railroad infrastructure. In this guide, we’ll explore how to clean railroad spikes efficiently and effectively.

Understanding The Importance Of Cleaning Railroad Spikes

Keeping railroad spikes clean is more than just a cosmetic concern. Clean spikes are crucial for the stability of the tracks and the safe passage of trains. Dirt and rust can weaken spikes, posing a safety hazard. Routine cleaning and inspection can prevent potential track failures and prolong the useful life of these components.

Identifying The Common Types Of Debris And Corrosion On Spikes

Railroad spikes can suffer from a variety of contaminants. Here’s a list of common issues found on these spikes:

  • Rust and Oxidation: Water exposure leads to red or brown flaky coatings on the metal.
  • Grease and Oil: Lubricants from trains can deposit on spikes.
  • Environmental Debris: Leaves, soil, and trash can gather around the base.

Depending on the environment, spikes may also encounter chemical corrosion or impact damage. Knowing what type of debris or corrosion is present informs the best approach for cleaning.

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Preparation For Cleaning

Before diving into cleaning a railroad spike, proper preparation is crucial. This ensures a safe and efficient cleaning process. From gathering the right tools to setting up a clean workspace, each step is important. Let’s get your items ready and your space prepared for a thorough cleaning job.

Assembling The Appropriate Cleaning Tools And Materials

Gather the necessary tools and materials before starting. You’ll need:

  • Wire brushes to scrub off rust and debris.
  • Steel wool for finer cleaning.
  • White vinegar acts as a natural rust remover.
  • A container large enough to soak the spike.
  • Baking soda for neutralizing vinegar and rust.
  • Protective gloves and safety goggles for personal protection.
  • Mild dish soap and water for the initial clean.

Ensuring Safety: Protective Gear And Precautions

Never compromise your safety. Always wear:

  • Safety goggles to protect eyes from rust particles.
  • Thick gloves to prevent cuts and scratches.
  • Dust masks if working in a dusty environment.

Ensure good ventilation in your workspace. Keep a first aid kit on hand for emergencies.

Setting Up An Appropriate Workspace For Cleaning

Select a well-lit and well-ventilated area. Make sure the space is:

  1. Free from clutter to avoid accidents.
  2. Resistant to spills; use a tarp or plastic sheet if needed.
  3. Equipped with a sturdy table to work on.

The Cleaning Process: Step By Step

Clean a Railroad Spike: A Step-by-Step Guide

Railroad spikes have historical value and decorative appeal. Their restoration requires careful cleaning and preservation. This guide outlines each step to transform a rusty spike into a polished piece of history.

Start by removing surface dirt on your railroad spike. This step prepares the spike for more detailed work.

  • Use a stiff brush to loosen debris.
  • Wipe the spike with a cloth to clear away loose dirt.

Rust can damage your spike over time. Chemical solvents help remove rust without harming the metal.

  1. Choose a rust remover suitable for iron.
  2. Apply according to the product’s instructions.
  3. Wear gloves to protect your hands.

For stubborn rust, mechanical methods offer more control. Proceed with care to preserve the spike’s integrity.

Tool Method
Wire brush Scrub gently in a circular motion.
Sandpaper Use finer grits for a smooth finish.

End with polishing and protective coating. These steps maintain the spike’s appearance and prevent future rust.

  • Buff the spike with a polishing cloth.
  • Apply a clear lacquer to seal the surface.
How To Clean A Railroad Spike


Post-cleaning Conduct

After cleaning a railroad spike, proper conduct ensures it remains in good condition. Knowing how to handle the spike after cleaning is crucial. Follow these steps to maintain the integrity of the spike and the environment.

Proper Disposal Of Hazardous Waste

Cleaning spikes might involve hazardous materials. Never throw chemicals in the trash. Here’s what to do:

  • Seal leftover chemicals in containers.
  • Find local hazardous waste facilities.
  • Follow their guidelines for disposal.

Maintenance Tips To Prevent Future Corrosion

A well-maintained spike resists rust and corrosion. Use these tips:

  1. Keep the spike dry. Moisture leads to rust.
  2. Apply a protective coating. Oil or wax works well.
  3. Inspect regularly for signs of wear and tear.

Storage Solutions For Cleaned Railroad Spikes

Storing spikes correctly prevents damage. Consider these options:

Storage Type Benefits
Padded Boxes Prevents scratches and impact.
Sealable Plastic Bags Keeps out moisture and dust.
Desiccant Packs Absorbs any excess humidity.

Real-world Applications And Creative Uses

Welcome to the fascinating world of railroad spikes, where these sturdy pieces of metal not only serve their traditional roles in railway construction but also inspire creativity and preserve history. In this post, we will explore the importance of cleaning spikes for safety and how they can be transformed into works of art or treasured collectible items.

The Role Of Clean Railroad Spikes In Track Safety

Keeping railroad spikes clean is vital for track safety. Dirt, rust, and debris can hide cracks and defects, which, if ignored, could lead to dangerous track failures. Here’s how maintaining clean spikes contributes to safety:

  • Easier Inspections: Clean spikes allow for quicker and more accurate visual inspections.
  • Preventive Maintenance: Regular cleaning can help identify issues before they cause accidents.
  • Long-Term Durability: Removing corrosive substances extends spike and track life.

Repurposing Cleaned Spikes For Art And Craft Projects

Clean railroad spikes become versatile materials for artists and DIY enthusiasts. From practical to decorative, these are some projects they star in:

  • Knife Handles: Spikes can become robust, rustic knife handles.
  • Coat Hangers: Fashion them into unique coat hangers for your entryway.
  • Garden Stakes: Label your garden beds with hand-crafted, spike markers.

Collecting And Displaying Historical Railroad Spikes

Railroad spikes can be collector items with compelling stories. Here’s how enthusiasts display them:

  1. Clean Gently: Preserve historical integrity by cleaning without harsh chemicals.
  2. Mount on Plaques: Show off the spike’s age and origin on a custom wooden plaque.
  3. Informative Tags: Attach tags to provide context about the spike’s historical significance.
How To Clean A Railroad Spike


How To Clean A Railroad Spike


Frequently Asked Questions Of How To Clean A Railroad Spike

Is It Ok To Pick Up Railroad Spikes?

Picking up railroad spikes from active tracks is illegal and dangerous. Always obtain permission from the relevant authorities before removing any railroad artifacts. Collecting from abandoned lines may be permissible, but confirm local laws to avoid trespassing or theft charges.

Why Can’t You Scrap Railroad Spikes?

Scraping railroad spikes is illegal because they’re often stolen property. Railroads own them; unauthorized removal can lead to charges of theft and endanger public safety.

Can You Heat Treat Railroad Spikes?

Yes, you can heat treat railroad spikes. This process improves their hardness and strength for crafting or metalwork projects. Always follow safety procedures while performing heat treatments.

What Are Old Railroad Spikes Made Of?

Old railroad spikes are typically made of carbon steel, which provides strength and durability for securing rails.


Cleaning a railroad spike can be a straightforward task with the right tools and methods. We’ve covered the steps to remove rust and restore the spike’s original luster. For DIY enthusiasts and railroad collectors, regular maintenance is key. Remember, with patience and care, that well-worn spike can shine once again.

Keep preserving history!

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