What is Wrought Iron Railing?
Wrought iron is an iron alloy that is very low carbon, making it strong and pliable. The carbon content is about .08 percent. This is why most “shaped” iron is a form of wrought iron. Cast iron, on the other hand, is higher in carbon and quite fragile comparatively.
The cost of wrought iron and advancement in production methods has made true wrought iron nearly obsolete. Now, the term is used for basically any iron that is bent, hammered, or twisted into a shape.
Absolute wrought iron is quite rare today and is seen as a valuable commodity. This type of wrought iron is crafted by hand, thus leaving behind irregularities and marks that are considered signs of the “real thing.”
There are still niche craftspeople who forge iron and create wrought iron but they are few and far between, and charge a significant amount for their services.
Wrought iron resists corrosion naturally, is malleable, and has a toughness not seen in other building materials. It is very easy to weld (for those with welding skills, of course), making it a fairly straight-forward installation for professionals.
The term “wrought iron” comes from the method ironworkers used to roll and hammer the iron while hot, resulting in a discharge of molten slag. Wrought iron has been around for thousands of years and while other metals have taken over in some regards (steel), the old iron is still seen as a beautiful building material today.
The Draw of Wrought Iron Railing
Wrought iron is timeless, beautiful, and strong, making it a frequently sought after railing. There are plenty of reasons people love wrought iron, including:
Wrought iron railing is durable and easy to maintain. The properties of wrought iron make it strong while maintaining a sense of beauty. It is long lasting because of its inherent properties.
Wrought iron railing is anti-corrosive by nature, requiring painting every so often (depending on the location, weather, and temperature) to keep it in fantastic shape.
While a rusty wrought iron railing may not be the aesthetic you are hoping for, it is nice to know that even when rust has taken hold, it is still likely to hold up for years awaiting restoration.
Wrought iron railings are safe. While wrought iron is mostly known for its looks, it offers great safety as railings along stairs, lining balconies, or protecting pools and ponds. Its anti-corrosive properties make it unlikely that weak spots will form and create a hazardous situation for children or others.
Wrought iron railings allow the view to shine through. The beauty of the railings themselves need not distract from what lies beyond! Wrought iron allows for clean lines and curves while maintaining an open feeling that allows whatever is beyond the railing to shine through.
Wrought iron railings scream curb appeal when placed prominently on a front porch or stairway. The simple presence of wrought iron railings is likely to pique the interest of anyone interested in high quality design and finishes.
Wrought iron fits right in. There are plenty of design choices that can be a bit intrusive and demand attention. Wrought iron railings do not take away from the surrounding style. It can fit in landscape design and interior decor as well as any material.
Types of Wrought Iron Railing
While wrought iron has been around for thousands of years, the invention of the blast furnace made mass manufacturing of wrought iron railings possible around the 15th century. Iron has been featured in building design and style since then.
Wrought iron railings were initially purely functional and became form over time - evolving into a sign of opulence and then spread as a mainstay in design.
Gothic churches and cathedrals often feature wrought iron railings and gates throughout. Wrought iron balusters combined with wooden railings became popular in the Gothic period and shot wrought iron into popularity in three other periods that are notable for their usage of wrought iron railings.
Features in the Georgian style of architecture include a strong sense of symmetry, standardized proportions, and extravagant decoration and detail. The mathematical precision of symmetry in this architectural period made its way through Europe in the form of square and spiral wrought iron railings that offered elegant uniformity.
The Victorian era ushered in the opportunity for lower classes to experiment with design and architectural experimentation. This led to ornate wrought iron railings popping up around Europe that eschewed Georgian symmetry and welcomed a new style of detail and special metalwork. The “twisted” wrought iron you know and love finds its roots in Victoria design.
The early 1900s came to be known architecturally in Europe as the “Edwardian” period, which invited naturalistic uses of wrought iron that seemingly combined Georigan and Victorian elements in one. This style wrought iron will often use symmetry and harmony with a flair for decoration mixed in.
Modern wrought iron design picks and chooses from these three periods and makes the most of all of them. Wrought iron is often injected into industrial and classic designs to offer an element of diversity.
Beware imitation wrought iron. This is not an attempt to scare you away from budget-friendly wrought iron substitutes. However, there are materials out there claiming to be wrought iron that simply are not iron at all.
There are viable replacements that are easier to handle and afford. Decorative aluminum is often substituted for wrought iron and can be suitable in certain applications. Always remember that one of the main draws of wrought iron is its durability, which cannot be duplicated by any other railing imitation.
The Cost of Installation
We know wrought iron is beautiful, timeless, and durable, making it a sound investment if it suits your design needs. It is expensive, point blank.
Wrought iron railing comes in two forms: manufactured (pre-made) and custom (designed just for you.) Manufactured wrought iron can range up to $40 per foot, which is double or triple some other railing materials.
For those looking for customized railings, expect to pay almost ten times as much - $300 per foot. This is just to create the railing and does not include installation costs. Installation pricing is dependent on the size of the railing, the weight of the wrought iron railing, and where the railing will be located.
Wrought iron railing installation is almost always labor intensive and will require a high quality professional to do the job right. See the section below called, Using a Professional Installer for Wrought Iron Railing, for more information about the pros and how to find one using our convenient tool.
The Pros and Cons of Wrought Iron Railing
As with almost every building material, there are pros and cons of wrought iron railing. Each pro and con should be considered when making your decision about a wrought iron railing installation. In any case, wrought iron is beautiful.
- Durability: The production of wrought iron lends itself to durability, for a long lasting railing material. It is strong and very difficult to break. Durability is a big “pro” because it does offset one of the biggest “cons” - cost.
- Easy Maintenance: Wrought iron does require maintenance, especially in cases where the railing is painted. A simple coat of fresh paint will keep your wrought iron looking fantastic while protecting it from corrosion.
- Customizable: From the production phase to the finishings like shoes and knuckles, wrought iron railings can be customized in many ways. The makeup of wrought iron makes it a malleable metal, making true customization possible (at a cost).
- Cost: We might as well get to the elephant in the room. Wrought iron can be expensive. A full, customized wrought iron railing is a costly investment. These railings are not simple to manufacture and customization is pricey.
- Weathering: Outdoor wrought iron railing installations are vulnerable to the elements. Corrosion is a possibility and it can be difficult to maintain outdoor wrought iron railings in a way that prevents all corrosion. The very same slag that makes wrought iron so beautiful is what leads it to be so susceptible to corrosion outdoors.
- Regular Maintenance: While the maintenance is usually simple (a coat of paint in many cases), it is required frequently. Outdoor wrought iron railing installations will require annual or biannual touch ups to ensure the coating stays anti-corrosive.
- Lacking Privacy: Wrought iron railing offers little privacy for outdoor spaces like patios, decks, or balconies.
How to Install Wrought Iron Railing
We will not be so naive to say that anyone can install a wrought iron railing. The installation can be extremely challenging and is often best for a professional. Here we will outline a more reasonable DIY project: replacing your wooden railing balusters with wrought iron.
This project can instantly upgrade a bland staircase in your home and make it a point of pride. First, let’s cover some terminology.
Baluster: Short pillar or column that, in our case, supports a rail. Typically found in series.
Shoe: Decorative component that fit around the top and bottom of the baluster to cover any holes and provide a nice finish.
Knuckle: Decorative embellishments that are typically affixed to the middle of the baluster.
Step One: Select Your Design
Yes, wrought iron is often found in a matte or polished black finish and most of it looks somewhat similar. However, there are so many options when combining the balusters, shoes, and knuckles!
You will quickly see that choices abound and you might have a hard time narrowing it down. See our A Buyers’ Guide to Finding the Right Wrought Iron Railing for some tips on what to consider while making your selections.
Step Two: Purchase the Parts
Balusters, shoes, and knuckles, oh my! Not all wrought iron railing balusters come with or require knuckles, but you will want shoes to cover the holes your old wooden spindles come out of.
Step Three: Cut the Balusters
Get rid of your old wooden balusters and remove any other hardware like nails or screws that once held them to the railing. Typically, wrought iron balusters require a slightly deeper hole than the one left by the wooden spindles. You will need to use a drill bit to deepen the hole.
Set the wrought iron baluster into the hole on the bottom of the wooden railing and mark a good spot to cut the wrought iron. The new baluster should be long enough to hold into the railing without falling out but not so long that it will not fit between the top rail and bottom.
Use a jigsaw or reciprocating saw with a good metal cutting blade attachment to make your cuts.
Step Four: The Installation
Put the cut baluster into the bottom hole then make sure it fits into the top hole. If it does fit appropriately, remove the baluster and thread the shoes and knuckles onto the baluster.
Your wrought iron shoes will likely need to be hot glued to the railing. You can use a different construction adhesive but hot glue does the trick while allowing for some mistakes to be made. Use the hot glue on the tips of the balusters before inserting into the railing holes for extra security.
Hold everything until the hot glue sets and dries, then tighten the shoes and knuckles with the appropriate hardware.
Just like that you have changed your boring wooden balusters with new, high-end looking wrought iron. For projects that are more complicated, we recommend considering professional installation (see below).
Using a Professional Installer for Wrought Iron Railing
The installation guide above is a very basic installation that covers a DIY baluster replacement project. If your project is much more complicated than that, it might be time to consider a professional installation.
As we know, wrought iron railing is not the most inexpensive option and doing things the wrong way can be a wasted investment. If you are looking for a full wrought iron railing installation, use our convenient tool to find a qualified, well-reviewed contractor in your area. Let us do the work of finding quality installers and getting estimates!
A Buyers’ Guide to Finding the Right Wrought Iron Railing
There are three main things you should consider when searching for your perfect wrought iron railing - cost, privacy, and style preferences. While wrought iron carries itself well in almost any setting, you will want to make the perfect choice for your needs the first time.
Set a budget first. This will help keep you from being lured into choosing an option that breaks the bank. Wrought iron is notoriously more expensive than other railing materials, however, it is longer lasting.
Remember the maintenance needs of wrought iron, as well, when setting your budget. Can you afford to paint your railing as needed once it is installed? Will you want to keep up with that kind of maintenance? Some costs are not necessarily financial.
Wrought iron railing is sought after for its open, airy feeling while maintaining a sense of strength. The downside of such openness is the lack of privacy it affords to any spaces that the railing surrounds. Any balconies, decks, or porches will be on full display behind wrought iron railings.
There are two angles to consider when it comes to style choices - your current aesthetic and your preferences.
If your home is currently very modern with lots of glass and stainless steel, it might be hard to find a way to incorporate wrought iron. Alternatively, if you already have a gothic or Victorian aesthetic, wrought iron would fit right in.
Wrought iron is a statement railing. It is not a material that goes unnoticed. It is important that you are comfortable with the look before having it installed, as it is meant to be a long lasting fixture.
The choices abound when it comes to wrought iron, despite its relatively standard look. Keep cost, privacy, and your stylistic preferences in mind as you choose for a design that will last.