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Decorative iron, more commonly called wrought iron or ornamental iron, is pure iron that is mixed with a small percentage of slag, which is the byproduct of smelting ore to purify metals. The addition of the slag to the iron is responsible for creating some wonderful qualities of decorative iron that cause it to be the preferred metal for ornamental use inside and outside of the home. Because of the slag, decorative iron is corrosion-resistant, very malleable and can accept a thicker finish. The metal is also easily welded because of its low carbon content.
The word “wrought” is descriptive of the type of iron and the process of working the iron. The term is believed to be an old English past tense of the verb to work. The iron is worked by twisting and hammering it into shape. The decorative iron of the past differs from the decorative iron of today by composition.
Unfortunately, true decorative iron is very scarce throughout the world. It is still made in some locations in Europe, but has not been made in the United States since 1969 or Britain since 1974. During the 1960’s, wrought iron plants were phased out because the process of “working” the iron was much too costly and the use of steel was a cheaper alternative.
During its peak, decorative iron was responsible for numerous works of art and architectural accents. When iron is spoken of in Western history, they are speaking of decorative iron or wrought iron. Decorative Iron dates back to the time of the Roman Empire and can be found worldwide. For example, there are wrought iron gates surrounding the Westminster Abbey in London. True decorative iron may also be found in many antique items or old wagon wheels. In addition, decorative iron was the chosen metal for marine use, bridges and girders because of its corrosion resistance caused by the addition of slag to the pure iron.
Today when someone speaks of decorative iron or wrought iron, they are more than likely speaking of mild steel that has been worked. Decorative iron is used to make multiple types of outside ornamental iron pieces including, but not limited to staircases, fencing and balconies. Additionally, home décor items such as bakers’ racks, wine racks, pot racks, bars and others can all be made with decorative iron. The only time a fabricator may use pure decorative iron today is when it is specified or when doing a work of reproduction.