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Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Wrought Ironwork

The Craft of Wrought Ironwork

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The great precision of the blacksmiths, with their profound understanding of puddled iron, created a wealth of durable, intricate art over the centuries. Today wrought ironwork is made more accessible through the use of less expensive mild steel.

Origins of Wrought Ironwork

Wrought ironwork is an ancient craft which flourished as far back as the Roman occupation of Britain. In medieval times local blacksmiths were skilled, producing all sorts of wrought ironwork from pots and pans to jewellery and snuff boxes.

The blacksmiths work over the centuries was partly determined by periods of war and peace - in times of war the blacksmith was diverted from religious, domestic and agricultural works to the need to forge weapons. The late 19th century saw a revival of interest in the craft and some beautiful examples of wrought ironwork date from this time.

Today, the craftsperson normally uses mild steel, which is less costly than traditional puddled iron. But the term wrought ironwork is nevertheless used to describe items worked (not forged) in mild steel. The art of wrought ironwork lies in the use of heat to work the metal into your chosen shapes and to then form a bond between the appropriate surfaces.

Basic techniques of Wrought Ironwork

The basic techniques of wrought ironwork - sawing, filing, drilling, shaping and bonding the metal - are straightforward to learn.
The craftsperson begins by making a full scale drawing of the design to serve as an accurate guide while the work is in progress.
The metal parts needed to make up the design are cut to accurate lengths. This is done either by hand using a hacksaw or with a special machine.
Using heat, the metal parts are now worked into chosen shapes and then bonded together - this is usually referred to as forge work. The metal is shaped in a furnace or fire which should be fuelled by coal or coke. There is a range of tools, many of which have remained unchanged for centuries, used in combination with hammers and chisels to achieve the right effects.
There are also two, more modern, techniques for welding metal. The gas method, known as oxyacetylene welding, uses a flame produced from oxygen and acetylene. The other method, known as arc welding, uses an electric current to weld the surfaces.
Once the metal parts are shaped and welded together, the piece may be given a decorative finish. Simple methods of finishing a work include using hammer and tongs to form the metal ends into neat square or round points. Skilled practitioners of wrought ironwork can produce extremely intricate work at this stage, from leaf and flower motifs - acanthus leaves and roses, for example - to scrolls.
Wrought ironwork can be dangerous - please do not attempt unless you are properly supervised or trained.

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