By: Ivan Smith
Architectural iron work came into being when the first nail was used to join two pieces of wood together to form some kind of primitive protection from the elements. From there to the angle iron that could join angled pieces of wood to hinges, latches, bolts, locks, framework, whether vanes and much more, architectural iron work has come a long way.
The basics of architectural ironwork have not changed much from the days of the village blacksmith. Metal is still heated until it becomes soft and malleable and then beaten into the desired shapes. Modern productions techniques have dramatically increased the speed and quantity in which architectural ironwork may be produced.. But be it hand crafted or factory produced work, architectural ironwork adds beauty to any building.
Today, architectural ironwork is seen not so much as part of the construction process, but as part of the ornamentation needed to add beauty and character to a building. Unfortunately, this is possibly the last part of the construction plan to be examined and by the time it is, budgets are often depleted, leaving little money for this kind of ornamentation. While budgets and financial constraints can not be ignored, what is often overlooked is the value that architectural ironwork adds to a structure. The end result is often many times more that the actual cost of the fabrication and installation of the ironwork itself.
Nearly all construction material, from concrete to steel and wood is either cast, carved or rolled. Only ironwork is created by a process of heating the raw material and working it into shape. Most people think of architectural ironwork as wrought iron fittings and fixtures. However, architectural ironwork has many forms and knowing the difference will allow for the proper use of the right type in the right place.
Wrought iron is iron that is bent into shapes. The most common examples of this are wrought iron garden furniture. In architectural use, it is found where artistic appeal is most important such as in filigree work around garden fences and gates, grills or in wall mounted light fittings.
Forged works are those where the metal is heated till it becomes malleable and then is beaten into shape. This may be a preliminary operation to iron being wrought or a complete process in itself. Forged item are usually strong and have great load bearing capabilities. They are used for applications where the architectural iron work has a dual function of decoration and supporting of heavy weights.
Cast iron is created by melting iron until it reaches a liquid state and then pouring it into moulds from which it will take its shape when it cools and returns to its solid form. Cast architectural iron work is comparatively cheap to produce since the molds may be reused enabling mass production of the same design. Looking for ready made cast works to include in an architectural design is more economical that having forged or wrought pieces specially made to order.
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