Railroad Spike Bottle Opener




Introduction: Railroad Spike Bottle Opener

One of the things I try to do with all of my creations is to use objects and material that someone else no longer has use of. Railroad spikes are one of those things. They can be found alongside tracks all over the country, at the local swap meet, even on Ebay. In any event, they're very easy to procure. 

That makes them ideal for experimenting with and figuring out new things to do with them, repurposing them so that we can get more use out of them 

So I came up with this idea for making a bottle opener. It's pretty easy, not terribly demanding, and is a great way to familiarize yourself with some basic power tool skills. 

And if you're lucky enough to live near a Techshop, I highly recommend checking them out. I made this at Techshop. They have all the tools necessary to make this cool project. 

Step 1: Materials List

But in case you're not near a Techshop, here's what you'll need:

Eye protection/ear protection

Railroad spike


Center punch

Drill press 

C-clamps or vise clamps

A piece of scrap wood

Vertical metal-cutting bandsaw OR Hacksaw


Steel file

Drill bits - metal cutting

Drill bits - chamfering (optional)


Straight edge/ruler

Pedestal grinder

Step 2: Setup

First things first, you need to have an idea of what you're doing. Now remember, the aim of this project is to have a tool that will pop a cap off a soda or beer bottle. So you need a lip that will catch the cap and break the vacuum of the bottle, as well as a fulcrum point against which to torque the bottle opener. 

Before going any further, put on your eye and ear protection. SAFETY FIRST.

The way to do that is to drill a hole slightly offset from the center of the SIDE of the railroad spike. The offset should be closer to the side that will be used to "catch" the bottle. 

In order to drill a proper hole safely, it's important to use a hammer and a punch to set a guide hole that will keep the drill bit from traveling away from the desired point of penetration. 

There are a couple of ways to punch a guidehole, but the best way is to just turn the spike on its side (remember, the spike's head ensures you can't lay it flat against a horizontal surface, like your work table) and freehand the punch. Certainly, you can chuck the spike on in a vise, but that's really not necessary. This is by no means a precision guidehole, and so long as you manage to get close to your intended spot, you should be fine. 

Once you've set your guidehole (it should only take one good swing with the hammer), it's time to move over to the drill press. 

Step 3: Drilling the Hole

You've got your guidehole set. The next step is to actually drill down through the spike, all the way through the thickness of the shaft. The easiest way to do this is to use a drill press. 

Before you start setting everything up on the drill press, unplug the machine. That will ensure that no accidents can happen. Remember, a drill press spins and can easily send a piece of metal flying across the room. Not fun. 

Also, note the drill speed. If you're lucky to have access to a dial-controlled multi-speed drill press, great. But you'll probably more likely have access to a drill press that employs step-down pulleys to alter the gear ratio of the machine. Even though railroad spikes tend to be found made from what is commonly considered low- to mid-carbon steel (25 to 40 points, i.e, 0.20-0.40%, carbon), it is still smart to keep your RPMs low. I prefer to actually use the lowest speed, just like I would with higher-carbon steels. I do this for a number of reasons.

First, low speed keeps your work piece cooler. While it's not a huge deal with low carbon steel, certain steels can "work harden," meaning they become tougher to work with because the steel actually becomes harder under work conditions. So it's just good habit, especially if you work with steel often. 

Second, lower speeds mean less centrifugal force, meaning less danger to the operator. Anytime to can increase the safety of your work, it's a good thing. 

Third, lower speeds tend to prevent wear and tear on both the drill bits AND the drill press itself. 

Lastly, You tend to make fewer mistakes at lower speeds. Don't be afraid to use the "pecking" approach to drilling. It allows you to clear out the hole you're drilling of any potential metal shards that could impair your work process. 

You also have the option of using cutting oil when drilling any type of steel. This has the added benefit of keeping your work cooler (see work-hardening above) and less wear-and-tear on your tools. It's not absolutely necessary for low carbon steel, but it certainly can't hurt. 

Put the desired drill bit into the drill chuck, and use the chuck key (included with the drill press) to tighten the bit into the machine. Be careful not to strip the teeth on the chuck. I am using a 1/4" drill bit here.

Raise the drill table. Set your drill table to the appropriate height such that the tip of the drill bit will travel all the way through the work piece. If you have a drill press that has a hole in the table that allows the drill bit to pass through it, great. If not, you will probably need some piece of scrap wood to buffer the work table.

Center the drill bit on the guidehole you punched earlier. Using the quill lock (if you're lucky enough to have one on your drill press), tighten the drill bit against the railroad spike. Your work should be held in place by friction. If your drill press does not have a quill lock, use the elevation guide to hold the quill in place.

Clamp the spike down onto the table. Also, for added safety, set another clamp immediately beside the spike so that if, for some reason, the first clamp fails, the spike won't start to "helicopter." Unless you've had this happen to you, you probably won't think it's a necessary step. Believe me, it's necessary. Always be safe. 

Now that the spike is clamped down, plug in your machine, release the quill lock (or the elevation guide) and allow the drill bit to rise slightly above the work. Turn your drill press on, and slowly lower the drill bit into your guidehole.

Allow your tools to do your work. Don't force the drill bit. It will potentially break, and could damage your work piece. At any rate, it's just a bad habit, so don't do it. 

As the drill bit removes material, drilling the hole into the spike, you should back the bit out and blow the metal shavings out of the hole and away from your work. 

Continue doing this until the drill bit cuts completely through the spike. Once it has done so, back the drill bit out, raise the drill press to neutral position, and turn it off. You should also unplug the machine at this point. 

At this point, you have the option of using a chamfer bit to dress the hole you just drilled. Follow the same procedure for changing bits and drilling the hole. Just keep in mind that chamfering is just to clean up the drilled hole.

Unclamp your work, clean off the drill press, and prepare for the next step.

Step 4: Cutting the Excess Material

The next step will actually give you a functional bottle opener. 

Grab the scribe and straight-edge, and carefully scribe the cut lines for the upcoming bandsaw/hacksaw work. The first scribe line should be the 90 degree perpendicular to the thin side of the spike (the side that will be open). The second scribe like should be a tangent line to the drill hole. See pictures for clarification.

If you have access to a vertical metal cutting bandsaw, great. If not, chuck the spike into a vise, grab yourself a hacksaw, and go to work. Look at the pictures to see the desired shape you're going for. 

Look at the bandsaw. Make sure it's set to cut "metal." Many of these machines have two gearing sets - one for steels, and one for softer materials, like aluminum. Since the spike is steel, you want the SLOWER gear. The machine needs to be off in order to change from high to low gear. Once you've changed the gearing, and with the blade guide still down, turn on the saw. The saw must be running to change the blade speed. Drop the blade speed down to the appropriate speed for the material. Again, I prefer to treat mild steel like the spike as high carbon steel, for reasons mentioned in the last step. 

Now that you have set the bandsaw speed properly, turn it off and, if possible, unplug the machine. Raise the blade guide so that it exposes only slightly more blade than is necessary to cut the workpiece. Since the spike is approximately 1/2" thick (plus the head thickness) consider exposing approximately 1" - 1.5" of blade. 

Turn the saw on, and begin cutting according to the picture, so that you get that "lip" for opening bottles. 

Once you have gotten through the first cut, turn the saw off and remove the blade from the hole you drilled earlier. 

Next, orient the piece so that you can cut to the tangent point on the drilled hole. See pictures for clarification. Turn the saw on, and proceed to make the appropriate cut. 

When you are done with that, turn off the bandsaw, unplug it, and clean up your work area. 

Step 5: Cleaning Up Your Work

Now that you have the general shape of your bottle opener, take the work piece to the grinder and, using the finer grit wheel, deburr your work. Once you have finished cleaning up your cuts, chuck the piece into the vice and, using the hand file, clean up the lip on the underside, so that the opener will be able to get a clean "bite" onto your bottlecap. 

Test the bottle-opener on a bottled beverage, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Thanks for reading!

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    7 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 5

    Thats Intense!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Do you think the railroad track near me will miss a spike ?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    So long as you are careful, there are more spikes by a typical rail than you can carry. Just walk along the side of the rail (not between the rails!) and pick up any that are just laying around. I pick up all kinds, from relatively unscathed to the terribly disfigured. You'd be amazed at what you can do with these. I will have some new Instructables on that stuff very soon.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Why not keep going on this project? At TechShop, you can sandblast the surfaces clean, and then power coat it!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Well, to be honest, that is the plan. But I know some people dig on the rustic look. So long as you wipe down the steel after use (these railroad spikes are clocking in around 1025-1040 steel - quite mild) they will develop a rather nice patina.

    But yes, you're right. Sandblasting and powdercoating will be pretty sweet, too.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I am probably going to try that myself soon. But it literally takes about 15 minutes from start to finish to make this, so I doubt the mill will cut any time off.

    That being said, using a mill would make it mighty pretty. :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm totally going to make this on a mill. it shall be the manliest bottle opener not made out of an animal!