Fine forged ironwork can deliver beauty and functionality and has a satisfying feel in addition to its visual appeal. Custom hand-made iron work is more expensive and, of course, more personal than machine production work.
Most people have some intrinsic sense of what appeals to them; but evaluating any form of art in a systematic and sophisticated way requires cultivating a vocabulary and a
|deeper appreciation of how the work was designed and executed. When the economy of mass production came to dominance in the last century, blacksmiths nearly disappeared in America so many persons today do not have much exposure to any hand-forged ironwork. Since the vast majority of smithing was devoted to making very necessary but prosaic items blacksmith art was always relatively rare.
The past thirty years have brought a resurgence of interest in artistic “high end” hand forging especially in more affluent areas. Many new fine homes incorporate well-crafted and expensive architectural ironwork in their design; however, for most people, smaller accent art pieces fit the budget.
Due to its intrinsic beauty and durability, art ironwork has enduring value. Depending on the piece, it can be passed on as an heirloom or it can add an architectural focal point that really “sells” a home.
One of the things that gives old forged ironwork its unique appearance is that it was “fully worked." In the very early days of the iron age only amorphous lumps of crude iron were available for forging. The blacksmith often began work on a piece of iron that had no apparent resemblance to the final product. Repeated heating and hammering gradually brought forth the form and in the process the parent stock was fully and radically changed in shape.
As the iron smelting industry developed the making of billets for distribution became an industry in itself. In the 1800’s iron became readily available in sheet, flat and round
bar and wire. Today there is a very large inventory of nominal stock to choose from when designing a project.
It may seem that it would be best to begin with stock that is closest in size to the desired final dimension. This could result in minimal working of the material that would not render that “fully worked” appearance that gives forged work its unique appeal.
Each piece of forged work will vary a bit in shape and texture since the extreme regularity characteristic of automation is not intended here. Surface hammer marks resulting from forging can be diminished or accented to produce the reflection quality desired. Artist blacksmiths must exert artistic control for the work to show intentionality as well as the
subtle variation characteristic of hand work. They must also be willing to exert the considerable effort required to move the “stubborn metal” and also deal with the
risks of the heat and the force.