Cast Iron versus Wrought Iron

This is one of those blog topics that really deserves a book unto itself. Washington DC—and in fact many Eastern US cities—has a wealth of decorative ironwork that frequently goes unnoticed in our hectic day-to-day world. What’s the big deal—-iron is iron, right?

Not so!

Referring to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, cast iron is:
“a commercial alloy of iron, carbon and silicon that is cast in a mold and is hard, brittle, nonmalleable and incapable of being hammer-welded but more easily fusible than steel” .

Alright then, what about wrought iron?

“a commercial form of iron that is tough, malleable, and relatively soft, contains less than 0.3 percent and usually. less than 0.1 percent carbon, and carries 1 or 2 percent of slag mixed with it”.

Those great old iron porches and stoops you see around Capital Hill and Georgetown? Those are cast iron, although some have railing components of wrought iron with cast elements applied to them, especially where the railing had to be curved to suit the installation.

BlogIronwork003 (3)
Those pretty old fences around the front yards around DC are usually constructed of wrought iron hoops alternated with cast iron spikes, with the addition of smaller cast iron decorative elements applied here and there. Rarely you will see an entire front fence made up of cast iron panels with a decorative cast iron gate.

BlogIronwork001 (3)

There is a natural tendency to think of cast iron = thick and heavy, while wrought iron = thin and light, yet such is not always the case. We have a few sets of ornate door hardware made of cast iron with a very delicate ornate decoration that is the visual equal to finer bronze sets, especially where the original bronze plating is still good on the iron.

Conversely, we have a lovely arched wrought iron grill that has acanthus leaves and tendrils that, although hand-forged, are quite as heavy as similar cast iron components would be. Today it’s tempting to say that fine ironwork is no longer being made. While this is true as it applies to things like burglar bars over windows and doors, there are in fact many ironwork artisans creating beautiful works for the home—-for a price. One way to get lovely ironwork for the home is through buying existing antique ironwork elements and having them *skillfully* adapted to fit the given installation. Such was the case when our shop needed a specific iron grillwork installed over the glass of an entry door. Two smaller antique window guards were combined to fashion one grille that decoratively and effectively covered the glass of the door. Be sure to see other examples of re-use of great old cast and wrought iron on our pages devoted to “A New Way to Define Art”.