What is Wrought Iron? How is Wrought Iron Made?

Wrought Iron: Definition, History, Properties, & Applications
All about wrought iron, with its definition, historical significance, unique properties, and modern applications. Information about its mechanical, physical, and chemical properties and its comparison with other iron and steel alloys.

Wrought iron is a popular material used for decorative and functional purposes in homes and gardens due to its durability, versatility, and timeless aesthetic. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about wrought iron including its history, manufacturing process, uses, care, and maintenance.

What is Wrought Iron?

Wrought iron is a form of iron that has been heated and hammered into shape by a blacksmith. The hammering realigns the metal grain structure and removes impurities, resulting in a final product that is fibrous, malleable, and durable.

Some key properties of wrought iron include:

  • High tensile strength
  • Resistance to fatigue and corrosion
  • Ability to be bent, twisted, welded, and riveted into ornate shapes
  • Retains shape and durability when exposed to weather elements

Wrought iron is different from cast iron which is formed by pouring molten iron into a mold. It has a more uniform appearance with lower tensile strength compared to wrought iron.

A Brief History of Wrought Iron

  • Earliest use dates back over 4000 years to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia
  • Became popular in Medieval Europe for tools, weapons, gates and decorative pieces
  • Reached the height of popularity in European architecture in the 17th and 18th centuries
  • Mass production began in Britain in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution
  • Remained a common architectural material in the US until the early 20th century
  • Still used today for high-end furniture, gates, balconies and ornamental design elements

How is Wrought Iron Made?

Wrought iron is made from iron ore using specialized furnaces and hammers. Here is an overview of the manufacturing process:

1. Smelting - Iron ore, coke, and limestone are smelted in a blast furnace to produce pig iron which contains 3-5% carbon and slag impurities.

2. Refining - The pig iron is refined in a finery forge to reduce the carbon content to 0.5% producing refined iron.

3. Puddling - The refined iron is melted in a puddling furnace where it is stirred and exposed to oxygen to burn off impurities.

4. Shingling - Puddled balls of wrought iron are hammered and rolled into flat sheets called shingles.

5. Reheating and Rolling - Shingles are reheated, stacked, and rolled into final shapes like bars, strips, and sheets.

6. Forming - The wrought iron is heated and hammered into desired shapes using tools like swage blocks, mandrel cones, and other anvils.

7. Finishing - Final products are buffed, polished, sealed, or otherwise finished for aesthetic and corrosion resistance.

Properties of Wrought Iron 

Properties of Wrought Iron Description
Tensile strength Very high tensile strength making it very strong and durable
Malleability Can be bent, twisted and manipulated into shapes without breaking
Resistance to fatigue Withstands cyclical stresses and vibration without failing
Corrosion resistance Naturally rust-resistant, can be further protected with paint/sealants
Workability Easy to cut, weld, rivet and fasten using simple tools
Thermal conductivity Conducts heat well, useful for fixtures around fireplaces/stoves
Decorative finish Dark patina lends a timeless, antique visual appeal
Fire resistance High melting point of 1510°C makes it fire resistant
Sound deadening Does not amplify sound greatly, ideal for fences/railings
Weather resistance Durable against outdoor elements like sun, rain, and wind
Magnetic properties Not easily magnetized, useful for electrical applications

What is Wrought Iron Used For?

Thanks to its versatility, strength, and timeless beauty, wrought iron is used for a variety of architectural, decorative, and functional applications:

  • Gates, fences, railings - Excellent durability for outdoor structures exposed to weather. Can be made into ornate designs.
  • Furniture - Used for tables, chairs, beds, wine racks and other furniture. Provides vintage, rustic or ornate aesthetic.
  • Home decor - Items like candle holders, wall hangings, plant holders and chandeliers.
  • Kitchen and bath - Pot racks, towel bars, sinks, cabinets and lighting fixtures. Provides farmhouse, vintage or modern look.
  • Windows and doors - Security bars, fireplace screens, hinges and handles.
  • Structural elements - Balconies, canopy framing, staircase railings and weight-bearing poles.

What Color is Wrought Iron?

  • Unfinished wrought iron has a dark grey or black appearance similar to cast iron.

  • Wrought iron can be painted or sealed to achieve different looks:

    • Black provides an industrial, vintage or gothic look
    • White or light colors create an airy, beachy or farmhouse feel
    • Vibrant colors like red, blue and green give a pop of color
    • Metallic finishes like bronze, pewter and gold for an ornate style
  • Wrought iron can also be waxed, oiled or lacquered. This preserves the dark grey patina for a more natural, weathered appearance.

How to Clean and Care for Wrought Iron

Proper care and maintenance is key to preserving wrought iron's beauty and durability:

For outdoor wrought iron:

  • Remove loose paint and rust regularly with a wire brush.
  • Apply a rust-inhibiting primer when repainting. Use high quality outdoor paint.
  • Reseal paint every 1-2 years to prevent peeling and cracking.
  • Apply car wax or rust oleate annually to protect from corrosion.

For indoor wrought iron:

  • Dust regularly with a soft cloth to prevent buildup.
  • Clean with mild soap and water as needed - avoid abrasive cleaners.
  • For polished pieces, apply a metal polish weekly to maintain shine.
  • Re-apply protective sealer every few years per manufacturer instructions.
  • Avoid excessive moisture - immediately dry after cleaning.

For waxed/oiled wrought iron:

  • Apply wax or oil regularly with a clean cloth to nourish and protect the finish.
  • Remove wax buildup as needed with a degreaser before reapplying.
  • Avoid harsh detergents which can strip off protective wax coating.

How to Paint Wrought Iron

Painting wrought iron helps inhibit rust and allows you to change its look. Here are some tips:

  • Clean surface thoroughly and remove all loose material with a wire brush and scraper.
  • Apply a primer formulated for metals to enhance paint adhesion. Allow to fully dry.
  • Apply at least 2 coats of quality outdoor enamel spray paint, allowing proper dry time between coats.
  • For a smooth finish, opt for gloss or semi-gloss paint. Textured spray paint can hide imperfections.
  • Use an angled paint brush to neatly paint corners, edges and decorative scrollwork.
  • Allow new paint to cure for 2-3 days before regular use.
  • Repaint every 2-3 years or when you notice cracking/peeling. Lightly sand before repainting.

How to Install a Wrought Iron Fence

Installing a new wrought iron fence significantly boosts curb appeal and security. Here is an overview of the process:

Planning and Layout

  • Have property boundaries and utility lines marked to plan fence layout.
  • Mark post hole locations with spray paint based on desired fence height and post spacing (6-8 feet).
  • Obtain permit if required prior to digging post holes.

Digging Post Holes

  • Dig holes 12"-18" in diameter and 24"-36" deep based on soil type.
  • Fill holes with 6-12 inches of gravel for drainage before inserting posts.

Setting Posts

  • Place posts in holes ensuring proper alignment and height.
  • Fill holes around posts with concrete mix and hold plumb as it sets. Allow to fully cure.
  • For extra strength, rebar can be inserted in concrete filled post holes.

Installing Fence Panels

  • Bolt hinges to posts per manufacturer instructions. Have helping hand to hold panels.
  • Hang fence panels on hinges and bolted to posts.
  • Insert decorative caps on posts to finish.

FAQ about Wrought Iron

How do you tell the difference between wrought iron and cast iron?

  • Wrought iron has a fibrous, inconsistently shaped internal grain structure from being hammered and rolled. Cast iron has a more uniform internal grain from being molded.
  • Wrought iron is malleable and less brittle while cast iron is very brittle.
  • Wrought iron has a dark grey finish while cast iron is more of a blue-grey.

What is the average cost for a wrought iron fence?

  • The average cost for a basic wrought iron fence is $25-$45 per linear foot installed. More ornate custom designs can be $100+ per foot.

How long does wrought iron furniture last?

  • With proper maintenance, indoor wrought iron can last over 75 years. Outdoor wrought iron may last 20-30 years before needing refurbishment.

How thick should wrought iron be for an interior railing?

  • For residential interiors, 1/2 inch diameter is usually adequate for spans up to 6 feet. Go with 5/8" or 3/4" diameter for longer spans or if needing more rigidity.

Is wrought iron good for gates?

  • Yes, wrought iron is an excellent material for ornamental gates thanks to its strength, durability and ability to be fabricated into beautiful designs. It withstands outdoor weather well.

How do you revitalize old wrought iron furniture?

  • Remove loose paint and rust then sand to smooth surface. Apply new primer and paint. For polished pieces, use metal polish to restore shine. Minor dents can be hammered out by a metal worker if desired. Replacing damaged pieces can help restore the look.
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