They are mild steel although I suspect the best material should be based on what material I turn in the lathe. I'm guessing a harder material might be a better choice. Some have suggested brass but I think harder is better. My Logan steady rest fingers are steel but I need to check the hardness. It works fantastic.
I think you have got it right, I have two sets of fingers for my fixed steady, Tufnol and bronze. It largely depends on the material being turned, the softer the pads the more potential damage to the work surface. I plan to fit roller bearings soon as all the industrial lathes I have used seem to be fitted with these.
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