A guide to metal work

Metal work is an ancestral craft which covers a wide range of work – from large ships, bridges and oil refineries to delicate jewellery and instruments. Metal work plays a vital role for most industries, and it is also used on a smaller scale to decorate both the outside and inside of properties. In order to help you finishing and furnishing your house, metal workers can provide a diverse range of products from curtain hold backs to the supply and installation of steel framed structures. They will usually design, manufacture, finish and install to your own specifications. They can also work with your architect or with your own designs.

Uses of ornamental metal work

Ornamental metal work gives a classic look to the exterior of a period property and a crisp look to a new property. Railings and garden gates are amongst the most popular addition to many properties. The main products of ornamental metalwork are:

  • Staircases
  • Metal railings
  • Internal balustrades
  • Doors
  • Gates and security grilles
  • Kiosks
  • Fireplaces
  • Small decorative items: curtain hold backs, table bases, lamps, candelabras, plant supports, weighing scales, stands, trolleys, hoods, work surfaces, etc.

Amongst the materials used for ornamental metalwork, you can choose between aluminium, stainless steel wire, wrought iron, cast iron, brass, bronze and copper.

What is wrought ironwork?

Wrought iron is one of the oldest materials used in architecture and house decoration. Today, wrought iron is usually produced in industrial quantities, much to the disadvantage of the hand made craft. The commercial wrought iron is actually simply “bent work,” for example mild-steel bars, tubing, or strips that have been cut, heated, and bent. The term “wrought iron” should normally be applied only to iron that has been worked by the crafted hammersmith, when he heats the metal to make it flow and then reshapes it into the desired form. Craftsmen also provide restoration services for wrought iron, using materials similar to the original.

In both traditional and commercial industries, metal workers use a technique called welding to create finished metal products.

What is welding?

Welding is a joining process that joins together two separate components with heat, pressure, or a combination of both to make one new part. It is one of the most economical ways to join two metals permanently. Welding is used to make nearly everything we need in our daily life (like coffee machines or computers) and also for products of an industrial scale - for example, oil drilling rigs, trains, automobiles. In construction, welding is used to extend subways, build bridges and aircrafts, etc.

There are many different types and techniques of welding, and a wide variety of energy sources can be used for welding, including gas flame, electric arc, laser, electron beam, friction, and ultrasound. There are over 70 welding processes, the most commonly used being:

  • Gas welding: this process entails heat being applied to the metal by the flame from a torch in which a gas, such as acetylene, is burnt with a supply of oxygen or air. Gas welding has the advantage of involving equipment that is portable and does not require an electric power source.
  • Arc welding: for this technique, the source of heat is an arc struck between the metals to be joined and an electrode. The electrode normally melts, which contributes to the molten pool between the pieces being joined.


For manual welding methods, labour costs generally make up the vast majority of the total cost. As a result, work is more and more concentrated on high productivity welding using automated machines and robotics as often as possible to reduce costs and increase productivity.

Real wrought iron is very expensive as it requires a fair amount of skill, labour and time for its production. In comparison, the wrought iron you will find in a DIY shop is much cheaper because it is mass produced. For example, you can buy an already made iron gate for £40-50 but it will be of a poor quality, will rust, and will probably not last long.

Crafted metal workers can create one-of-a-kind hand-forged pieces. A wrought iron gate, designed, built, sprayed with coat paint and installed will cost you an average of £900 + VAT. It takes about a month to design and install this type of gate. Costs can vary a lot according to the scale of the work, the material and techniques used.

What qualifications/accreditations should you look for?

There are no official standards for wrought ironwork, and metal workers are not generally certified. However, you can refer to professional associations such as The Welding Institute, the British Artist Blacksmiths Association, and the online newsletter Metal Web News for guidance and list of metal suppliers. Always ask for a free quotation service.

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