View Full Version : Industrial Production of Wrought Iron Videos

12-11-2012, 11:36 PM
In the "I've always figured they had a way of doing this, but I never really thought of what it was" department, I just found these videos of production machines making wrought iron ornamental pieces. (http://www.core77.com/blog/object_culture/hebos_production_machinery_for_wrought_iron_24005. asp) Seems silly not to think that they have machines to do this, but I always just assumed they had a bunch of slave laborers in low wage countries hammering the stuff out.

12-12-2012, 08:21 AM
Wrought iron is very popular here in Turkey, too. Even with the labor costs a tenth of North America, there are lots of factory made scrolls and assorted ornamentations available available from catalogs. There are a few shops still pounding out parts by hand though. I got some work done at a local fab shop. There was a guy standing at an anvil cold forging the decorative dents on square bar by hand.

The weekly Bazaar in the nearby towns usually have obviously hand forged tools for sale. Just down from the knife maker's table. Round the corner from the fish market at the end of the fruit and vegetable street.

FWIW, I've seen some very intricate cast iron grillwork.

The most amazing was the stone grillwork in the Hagia Sophia 50% open - no member thicker than 2". And olive oil jars for lamps 5' high 4' in diameter cut from solid stone with a mirror finish. The opening in the top would pass a 150lb man with no problem. The jar would hold 3 or 4 similar sized bodies.

12-12-2012, 09:10 AM
Technically speaking that would be ornamental iron. Wrought iron is a particular alloy of iron that has not been produced anywhere in the world for decades except at the Victorian Village near Ironbridge in England. A commonsource of wrought iron is old anchor chains.

12-12-2012, 09:11 AM
Are they still using iron or just mild HRS?

12-12-2012, 09:53 AM
Technically speaking that would be ornamental iron. Wrought iron is a particular alloy of iron that has not been produced anywhere in the world for decades except at the Victorian Village near Ironbridge in England. A commonsource of wrought iron is old anchor chains.

It's a fuzzy definition. Wrought also just means 'worked', so an Iron that was malleable and could be worked (as opposed to a cast Iron) was considered wrought Iron, but it can also refer to an object made by processing or manipulating a material. Silver and Gold arr often referred to as wrought and you can have wrought silk.

What made the material wrought Iron special was the way it was made. The Bloom removed from the smelting furnace contained a lot of slag and this would be removed by repeated hammering and heating. Not all the slag was removed and as a bloom was lengthened out into a bar there would be 'fibres' of slag along the length. When cold bent sharply, wrought Iron can split revealing a stucture very like a green stick. It's a complete joy to work, the included slag acting like a lubricant and allowing it to mold like butter. It aslo fire or forge welds easily. When wrought Iron became scarce and replaced with low carbon steel, many older Blacksmiths retired because of the increased effort required. I used to know a Smith who'd managed to buy a whole load of military surplus Halberd heads and would use them for more difficult shapes, or especially for repairing elaborate gates.

12-12-2012, 10:07 AM
As blacksmithing is one of my other avocations, I can tell you that wrought iron is a lot easier to forge that HRS or CRS, which are pretty much the same once they are hot as long as the carbon content is the same. Blacksmiths don't really care about the difference between 1018 and A36... once its hot it all moves to our will...( insert evil laugh)

Many old bridges were made of wrought iron, which is nearly pure iron (ie very low carbon content) with strands of silicate fibers running through it. It has a definite grain structure, forge welds very nicely and electric welds like crap. Gas welding is only mildly better. It is softer than mild steel and machines poorly, kind of gummy, and threading is prone to tear-out.

There was a product called 'Pure Iron' available a while ago, which forged very nicely, but did not have the silicate grain structure, just very low carbon content.

Most all of the ornamental and architectural forging these days is done with mild steel. Frankly, most of the blacksmithing community would have a problem using wrought iron, as it must be treated differently for many operations. It will not tolerate a 90 bend with hard corners. If you examine older wrought iron ornamental work you will see that many of the features, like the smooth flowing lines, were necessary rather than desirable. It's not bad, just different.

The smooth stuff looks like it does because it had to. Not that it's unpleasant to look at, it's just that the hard corners were not practical to make.

The Beyers company was one of the last US manufacturers of wrought iron. It was still commonly available in the piping industry as late as the end of the 1960's. The pipe, both black and galvanized, was identified by a barber pole like red stripe that ran the length of the pipe. It was a PIA to thread, but the black pipe is a good source of wrought iron if it can be found around a demo site.

Are they still using iron or just mild HRS?

12-12-2012, 10:20 AM
I stand corrected "ornamental iron" it is. Does the term ornamental iron include the cast iron grillwork?

The local smiths (yes there are still smiths making a living here) use any iron/steel product that comes to mind - even rebar. There is lots of scrap rebar around as these people have a penchant for concrete and brick buildings - even some of the poles for electrical services are concrete as well as over half the fence posts.

12-12-2012, 11:05 AM
Are they still using iron or just mild HRS?

It's mild steel. I use real wrought iron for knife guards, san mai blades, etc, and it's relatively rare -- it hasn't been made in 100 years. I pay about $4/lb for it.

There's also a very wide variation in quality in wrought iron. The most common source of wrought iron I run across is antique wagon wheels, but a lot of that is really crappy stuff with a lot of slag inclusions.
If the seller is knowledgeable, they'll usually have a piece broken to show the wood-grain structure.

12-12-2012, 12:42 PM
By the way, that gate in the first picture is very nice! They're cheating -- they're using hydraulic bending machines, and the frame looks welded (not riveted), but very nice work!

Ian B
12-15-2012, 06:15 AM
Out of interest, how do these Hebo machines provide the torque? What's the drive mechanism in there? It obviously provides a lot of torque, it's easily reversible and seems to be variable speed. Hydraulic drive, geared down with a hefty bullwheel?


12-15-2012, 01:24 PM
I have had a Hebo in my shop for about ten years now.
Its an amazing tool, but, like any tool, will only produce work as good as the user. It can crank out crappy, ugly parts by the hundred, or be used to make amazing things.

these machines are german- in germany, there are lots of local laws requiring period correct ironwork (steel ornamental iron) on the outsides of buildings, and germans in general are just more traditional and conservative, so there is a large market there for high quality ironwork, and many small german towns will have a local ironshop that is incredibly high tech by our standards, with a Hebo, angle rolls, swivel head bandsaws, ironworkers, forges and power hammers. All in a one or two man shop, quite often.

The basic Hebo is a very stout framework and 1 1/2" thick tabletop, with 5hp or so low speed, high torque electric motor, with cnc controls that allow precise braking- my Hebo turns at a final output speed of about 8-10 rpm, and is controllable to a preprogrammed one degree of rotation. That is, you can program it rotate 36 degrees, exactly, and then stop, at full torque, enough to twist 1 1/2" square hot rolled steel cold. Actually, you would program it to twist 38 degrees clockwise, then twist 2 degrees counter clockwise, to account for springback.
Accessories are available to make scrolls, fish tail ends, texture 20 foot lengths, roll small circles, roll big circles, make basket twists and compress them, and horizontal bulldozer benders.
Its like a cross between a swiss army knife and an erector set.

All made very well, as you would expect for the price (not cheap).

This was twisted on the Hebo.
The Round is 1 1/4", machined first then twisted hot.
The Square is 1", again machined first, twisted hot. The degree of control, and pure torque, with the Hebo, means I use it all the time even just for one offs. If you twist it too far, no problem, just untwist a bit.

12-15-2012, 02:58 PM
Beautiful work Ries, as usual. I especially like the twist on the right side of the first picture.

Neat factoid about the German government requiring traditional ironwork on state buildings. Around here, the cheap Chinese ironwork lego pieces have all but put traditional blacksmiths out of that business, save for custom work for mansions.