Wrought vs. Cast: Ironing out the Differences (And Don’t Forget Steel!)

When it comes to antique and vintage ironwork, all metal isn’t created equal. And in some cases, decorative “ironwork” isn’t iron at all. Confused yet?

It’s a perennial topic that bears repeating. We first addressed wrought vs. cast iron in a blog post last year, but the questions keep coming. So in case you missed it, let’s review some lovely pieces from our inventory of hardware, lighting and sculpture as the means for a quick primer—and this time, we’ve added steel into the mix.

Wrought Iron

Another way of saying “worked by hand,” wrought iron is heated so it becomes pliable enough to hammer, twist, stretch and bend into shapes. The type of iron required to be easily forged or welded is non-corrosive, so it works well when used outdoors.

Wrought iron grille
Wrought iron grille
Wrought iron door hardware
Wrought iron door hardware

Cast Iron

Cast iron is headed to a liquid state, then poured into decorative molds to create shapes, patterns and objects of any kind, depending on the skill of the pattern maker. Highly decorative ironwork is most likely produced using cast iron. The types of ores used for cast iron are typically lower quality than wrought iron, because they are melted. As such, pieces manufactured with these ores are best used for interior spaces. Although high quality cast iron is still often seen as exterior ornament and security, as well as in some exterior lighting.

Cast iron grille
Cast iron grille
Cast iron interior door hardware
Cast iron interior door hardware
Cast iron sconce hardware
Cast iron sconce hardware

Steel

Steel is an alloy of carbon and iron, and iron’s natural impurities are removed during the manufacturing process, making the resulting steel extremely strong and hard. (This is why most high-quality knives are made from steel.) These days, steel is more readily available for metalwork than wrought iron, yet it corrodes much quicker, so, like some cast iron, you’ll find it more often used for interior application.

Steel door hardware
Steel door hardware
Steel sconce
Steel sconce
Steel wall sculpture
Steel wall sculpture

If you have any questions about steel, or cast vs. wrought iron, don’t hesitate to stop in to our Adams Morgan row house, where we can show you dozens of examples in person. Before long, you’ll be your own expert.