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Differentiation Within The Metalwork Industry (Wrought Iron And Forged Steel)


Differentiation Within The Metalwork Industry (Wrought Iron And Forged Steel)

As a custom wrought iron and steel product manufacturer, we see a lot of confusion from inside and outside of the industry. When it comes to understanding the difference between wrought iron, steel, forged steel, and forged iron, we have found an individual that pinpoints the very definition of each of these materials. The below content was not created by Exclusive Iron Doors, but by Douglas Bracken, president of Wiemann Metalcraft. We see that he truly understands the “in and outs” of metalwork and from everyone here at Exclusive Iron Doors, we would like to say thank you for sharing this amazing piece of information with the world. 

Metalworkers, Homeowners and Architects, along with everyone else, tend to confuse and misuse these terms, making for a web of ambiguities and misunderstandings in lieu of meaningful discussions. These descriptive terms appear to mean the same thing, and yet they each mean different things, and they are often used interchangeably. Give me a few minutes here, and we can bring clarity to these often inappropriately co-mingled terms of Wrought Iron, Forged Iron and Forged Steel.

Wrought Iron is an actual, but now archaic, ferrous metal alloy. It is the predecessor of modern steels. It's an extremely durable, corrosion-resistant material with a grain similar to wood. Wrought Iron has generally been graded in four classes with the most refined being purchased for the manufacture of decorative metalworks, such as the Canada Gate shown above. In modern language, however, many people refer to any somewhat decorative item that is made from metal as "wrought iron." This description is usually an attempt to indicate that the object was possibly worked by hand or has some look of artistic endeavour.

Many metal structures and historic landmarks were fabricated using Wrought Iron, the alloy, which peaked in production around 1870. Gates and railings, lighting and less glamorous items such as roof trusses, anchor chains and trestle bridges were all fabricated from the metal. Famous Wrought Iron structures include the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty’s original internal support framework. Celebrated architectural blacksmith Samuel Yellin worked in Wrought Iron exclusively. Interestingly, cast iron in the same time period, is often so skillfully produced that it can be mistaken for hand wrought metalwork. This resemblance was intentional and only adds to the general confusion in these terms.

Commercial production of Wrought Iron was discontinued in the 1950s; however, reclaimed wrought iron is still available today from micro mills that turn wrought iron scrap into usable billets for blacksmiths. While it is cost prohibitive to build large projects from this reclaimed material, true Wrought Iron can and should be sourced for special repair or restoration of important projects to maintain the metallurgical integrity of the original artisan's work.

Modern steels, of which there are hundreds of alloys, are the cheap and reasonable replacement for Wrought Iron. Steel is so much less costly to produce, which is the reason Wrought Iron was discontinued. Mild steel, or A36 Steel as it is also known, is the most commonly used ferrous alloy in the production of decorative metalwork. When no steel alloy is specified, a fabricator or blacksmith will almost always use A36 mild steel. Here is where it gets complicated: since the 1950s, someone purchasing decorative work from a blacksmith or similar metal fabricator is receiving forged steel. Forged steel is also known as "forged iron," and perhaps the metal fabrication could also be referred to as "wrought iron" because it was hand worked or wrought by hand. What is not clear in modern language is that the article is NOT fabricated from the alloy known as Wrought Iron. Instead, the product, even when worked by hand, is in fact made from modern steel.

Who cares, right? For my entire professional career, people have been incorrectly referring to all kinds of decorative metalwork as "wrought iron." I used to be among those who might say, "That is a beautiful wrought iron railing!" Someone looking at a cast aluminum project seen here below would likely comment on the beauty of the wrought iron. Afterall, under a coat of paint who can really tell the difference? A Google search for Wrought Iron Fence will drop you into a world of thousands of machine made tubular steel fence products. Is it made by hand or of the alloy? Nope. Is it decorative? Sort of. Well, it must be OK to call it wrought iron? Perhaps, but with conditions.

It turns out that attorneys care very much about language and usage and can find ways to turn the misuse of terms to their advantage in a court of law. In this context, they have successfully challenged fabricators, developers, architects and landscape architects who have carelessly applied the term "wrought iron." I have witnessed one such case that had devastating results for a well meaning builder. Without further detailed definition to the project specifications and invoices, the casual use of the term Wrought Iron can have significant negative impacts for many people involved.

In summary "wrought iron" in contemporary usage refers simultaneously to, 1) Something made using modern steel that was worked or wrought by hand, 2) An article that is made of unknown metal that may have a decorative quality, and 3) Something produced using the archaic alloy, Wrought Iron. In other words, if you or your craftsmen represent wrought or forged steel as simply "wrought iron," it is imperative to clarify whether wrought iron the alloy ($20-30 per pound) or common steel ($0.60 per pound) is acceptable. Clarify what material is being supplied.

What Is The Difference Between Wrought Iron And Steel Doors?

This is a tricky question depending on who is answering it. While Wrought Iron contains the name iron, there are many companies that use steel within their wrought iron products. Because of the forged "wrought steel" process otherwise known as "Wrought Iron", they can label their steel based products as wrought iron.

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