||The term ironwork
refers to any structure or object that is fabricated
out of iron. This can include rails, grates, utensils,
artwork, weapons, and architectural features. The ways
in which iron has been used have changed over the course
Iron is broken up into two categories: wrought iron
and cast iron. Wrought iron is a type of iron that is
easily welded and forged. It is made up of a mixture
of metallic iron and siliceous slag, which makes up
one to three percent of the mixture. Cast iron is a
nonmalleable iron-carbon alloy. It is hard and brittle.
To shape cast iron, the metal must be cast. Cast iron
contains anywhere from two to four and a half percent
carbon and anywhere from half to three percent silicon.
It also contains smaller amounts of manganese, phosphorus,
When working with wrought iron, a blacksmith forges
the iron using an anvil. Cast iron, conversely, is produced
in a furnace that has been stoked with alternating layers
of coking iron, which is then poured into molds. In
both instances, iron must reach a desired temperature
in order to be shaped appropriately. A trained individual
who knows how to work with iron and creates ironwork
is called a blacksmith.
Cast iron was first used in the 15th century in Europe.
Initially, cast iron was used decoratively to create
plate for wood burning stoves and firebacks for stoves.
By the later half of the 18th century, cast iron was
being used architecturally for balconies, banisters,
railings, and garden furniture.
Wrought iron has a lengthier history than cast iron.
The earliest known uses of wrought iron date all the
way back to 3500 BC, when meteoric iron was used. Smelted
iron was later used in Mesopotamia. The techniques used
in both instances were not the same as what is done
today, however. The techniques of smelting and purification
that are used today were first recorded as being used
around 2000 BC by the Hitties.
Wrought iron worked its way through history, with recorded
instances of its use existing from the Middle East,
Greece, and the Aegean region. It reached Europe by
approximately 600BC. Unfortunately, because of rusting,
many of these earlier pieces do not physically exist
By the 1600’s, wrought iron was very popularly
being used in architecture, particularly in Europe.
Railings, balconies, and stairways made of wrought iron
became increasingly popular in Europe in the 1600’s,
first in France and later in the rest of Europe. In
fact, the reason that New Orleans traditionally has
as much ironwork as it does is because of the French
influence in the area. Before the 1600’s, ironwork
was considered somewhat utilitarian. However, as it
began to be used in more decorative manners, it was
seen as ornate, timeless, and desirable.
As time went on and ironwork became more popular, it
began to be used for smaller items in addition to architectural
elements. Common applications for iron included (and
include, today) stoves, grates, locks, and cooking utensils.