The terms wrought iron railing, wrought fence and iron gate are descriptions that are used every day despite the fact that wrought iron material is hardly ever used today.
The term wrought, which means worked as used to describe the method in which iron was made, dates back to the 12th century. In the 12th century “wrought Iron” was discovered by using a mixture of coke and iron ore and firing it together in a large furnace. A tuyere forced air in form the side, creating even hotter temperatures. The coke burned, heating the ore to melting temperatures of around 2,000°. The iron ore then melted together, forming a “bloom” of semi-molten Iron. This bloom then had to be hammered, worked, or “wrought” to the correct bar size, which required extensive amounts of labor. The bloom had to be worked hot in order to move the desired shape, so it had to be reheated constantly. Imagine the extensive work required to take a 20” dia. bloom of material and forge it to 1” sq. bars to make a wrought fence!
This wrought iron had an inconsistent texture as a result of all this hammering, plus a fibrous structure and almost no carbon content. This texture gave wrought iron it’s distinctive appearance and the absence of carbon is why it does not corrode.
The Bessemer steel process was invented in 1888 and made for stronger, smoother and purer content. This A-36 steel also has a much higher carbon content which is why steel rusts much faster than projects-built hundreds of years ago. It did take decades for the steel making process to become streamlined and cost effectively produced. It was not until the 1930’s that wrought iron eclipsed steel. By 1940, wrought iron was on its way out. Today, it is no longer commercially made.
Here at Compass Ironworks, we have developed a process to create “wrought” material where we take today’s iron or A-36 steel and with the forge and a 100 yr old power hammer. This process recreates the same visual texture on the surface and irregular and inconsistent edges. This material also has its environmental benefit as it is created from 97% recycled content.
A material that we have used with a high level of success is solid aircraft grade aluminum. We can forge it, it is a little more of a challenge. And finished, or powder-coated correctly it is indistinguishable from Iron. We have created new picket fence and were installing it, we were asked “Where did we get the old fence?”. People actually thought and we had a hard time convincing them that It was not old wrought fence.
So a front gate, garden fence, spiral staircase and stair railing can be beautiful visually, it is also beautiful eco-consciously .
We have also created gorgeous driveway gates and utilize a unique patina process to replicate aged bronze with phenomenal success.
For deck railing applications at the shore, normal off-the-shelf castings have a zinc and copper content. When exposed to salt air environment will have a galvanic reaction, similar to a car battery terminal, which will corrode at an accelerated rate of speed. For all shore applications we have castings custom created where we have the zinc and copper content replaced with magnesium. This is alloy 535, the same alloy that the U.S. Navy specifies for all it’s naval applications. The downside of this alloy is then it needs to be poured at a higher temperature, therefore higher cost, but it also picks up residual gases when poured into the mold, resulting in trapped gases within the castings at 600°F for 2 hours to eliminate finishing issues later.
The bottom line is that we can create aluminum fence, driveway gate and porch railings that have non-corrosive properties, but are indistinguishable from old wrought Iron railings.
Another alloy that we use to add depth, contrast and character is brass or bronze. The most frequent use is for interior stair railing or stair handrail at the cap-rail, on top of ornate scrollwork. We have at times used it on exterior staircase, to accentuate forged aluminum deck railing
For a sleek modern visual, brushed or polished stainless can create a stunning visual impact, especially on a floating contemporary staircase.