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Wrought Iron Gate

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Wrought Iron Gate

Tis’ the season to make gates.

Coming into the gate season once again, the enquiries are coming in thick and fast. Regretfully I had to turn away quite a few in 2013 as we we’re fully occupied  and at capacity with an enormous pair at called the ‘Tijou’ gates at Petworth House. This year we are fully open for designing and making some, big and small. I love making gates!

Gates are pretty useful, they do the obvious! But have you thought a bit more about it? They can be used as focal point to draw your attention to or away from an area, they can extend a view or foreshorten, block and frame. They add texture and colour perhaps. They can definitely make a statement; but be careful with that one, because if you buy one from us the gate will last a very long time. Ultimately if you buy a designed, hand made one they add value and quality!

Its so important to have it designed for you, don’t just buy it because you like the one you see on a website from a bloke 100 miles away, it is unlikely to turn up as it looks on the webpage and it doubtful you’ll get much recourse when things don’t go you way. Make the blacksmith earn his money, because unfortunately they aren’t cheap. Compared to the tinpot ones at the garden centre they are very expensive, but so is a Christmas Turkey compared with a can of chopped tomatoes. Like the analogy, its a treat for a special occasion. You could afford to buy tomatoes most weeks, but they are just……. I’m going away from my point here, I hope you get my drift?

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Wrought Iron gate detail, showing construction and alternative finish

Get your chosen Blacksmith to come out, measure up and talk to you, discussing the possibilities and your options. Remember gates don’t have to have scrolls and spearheads (god help me), some of the nicest and timeless designs are just rails and stiles. Detail is everything, textured bars, mortise and tenon joints, punched bars so that one passes through the next, half lap joints, rivets and sets, curves and corners, perhaps variants on twists (not that old barley twist you have on your fire poker), forged balls, changes of section and good old fire welded detail, mixed media looks good too, try adding in wood, glass or whatever. If your Blacksmith doesn’t mention any of these simple things, please don’t use him. Definitely don’t use him if he doesn’t show you some of his own designs, you know the ones, they are called ‘drawings’…… if he can’t draw, getting across his plans and intentions, its unlikely you’ll end up with what you want or deserve.

The design(s) that arrives with your quotation (why should he/she give an estimate, its a gate?) should reflect your meeting and discussion, taking account of the site situation, house design and all the personal factors that a bespoke service delivers. If you don’t like what you see or the price, just say, most designers and artists have a back up plan for such eventualities, well, I do! And if you do like it but want it tweaked, don’t be afraid to to mention it either.

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Finishing touches to installation of wrought iron gate.

Did you talk about finishing and installation? Well your Blacksmith should have mentioned it, finishing is so important. Your gate is likely to be made form forged Mild Steel, it rusts I’m afraid, and once it starts you are unlikely to stop it. So included in the quote should be a zinc application of some sort Galvanizing is the toughest or Hot zinc spraying gives the best finish, both will protect your investment, don’t confuse zinc powder spray with hot zinc spaying, its not the same.

Then after that it needs painting professionally with a quality paint system. You shouldn’t need to worry about that because the Blacksmith will have included that? Well, I do. There are options of finish, once its protected against rust you can do what you like within reason, graphite loaded paints, phosphated zinc, you name it.

Installation, if the Blacksmith doesn’t include that you should be suspicious; they have gone to all that trouble to design it, make it, finish it…. they not going to let it out of their sight until its up and safe… are they? If they don’t care how its installed they probably didn’t care in the first place. Nuff said!Having the gate installed (and working) by the Blacksmith who made it should be the indicator that the job is done and it time to pay the balance of the bill (you would have paid a deposit to start). That’s it? Well ask about aftercare, quality gates don’t need painting to often, once every 6 or 7 years maybe, they can be washed off in between, maintaining the finish by cleaning off algea etc. don’t use caustic soaps though, Washing up liquid is the worst, car shampoo is OK, or just water!

Any problems, get them back to fix it. Remember you have paid a good price and deserve proper service, a reputable Blacksmith will want you quiet as soon as possible, commending him/her for their speedy attention to the problem.

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Contemporary entrance gates

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Bacchus Gate

In July 2008 the Bacchus gate came to life in a sketch, doodled in crayon (because that’s all I had), in front of the customer on a spiral pad (because that’s all I had).  Ever the professional, I had left my site bag in my other van. I was warned by a very well know Blacksmith friend of mine never to do this as it can look amateur and may commit you to something you might regret. I’m sure he’s right!

But I would disagree on one account, I often find sketching quite liberating and often catches the moment far better than memory ever can. Even a few lines can remind you later of what was happening at the time. I have to work very hard when it comes to sketching, I can technically draw very well and I can do formal drawing without to much trouble, but to do ‘off the cuff’ doodles I have to be careful. But this time it was like a dream, it flowed and as the client described what he was trying to achieve for his home.

Bacchus gate detail.

We discussed Bacchus, the god of indulgence, the Horn of Plenty, grapes, fruit and what too many good times can do to you. So a Horn of Plenty Gate adorned with vines, fruit and a bit wobbly was the result…… perfect as the gate was to be sited at the head of a narrow stair to a wine tasting cellar, against a rustic brick wall and to be seen from a French Provence inspired kitchen.
So I scaled the design up from the folded paper to full size and handed it over to the workshop. They did a brilliant job. It was one of those jobs that everyone enjoyed, the money was right, the design was perfect and there was plenty of scope for free form interpretation. The gate and a small panel were finished in a Slate grey finish that my Friend Andy Quirk showed me how to make up and apply.

I wish that so many other jobs went this way…… the client was also delighted!

Bacchus Gate and Panel

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Manor House Balustrade

The Manor House balustrade

We like a challenge… and with the largest one yet on the horizon (watch this space), I was thinking about some of the ones that have tested us over the years, well the ones I want to remember that is!

We just called it the Manor House balustrade, as I do now, as so not to reveal the site or the client, I had to sign a bit of paper you know! The job entailed making a new balustrade to replace and existing, but to reuse the Cuban Mahogany handrail. How difficult could that be! As it turned out, VERY. The warning signs were there, the previous contractor had walked off, the House

Manor House balustrade corner wreath

refurbishment was nearly complete and the commissioning agent jumped to accept what I thought was a slightly expensive quote, but we carried on regardless.

I’m not going into the surveying or manufacture process we employed because this is a Blog not a technical publication, but in short we had to admit to  learning lots of lessons. Blood, sweat and tears (a lot of tears, yes, blacksmiths are allowed to cry too), we worked though until spring 2004. The gilder had finished. The money had run out, patience and goodwill too! The last screws went in…. and finally it was installed and looked fantastic!

To any young crafts/business person reading, I’d like to reassure you that the saying ‘What doesn’t kill you… makes you stronger!” is true, however in my experience it’s best not to try it too often. I’ve found that no matter how bad it sometimes seems, or you wish you had never started a job…. all things come to an end and reward is often found in unexpected places.

With the latter in mind, the picture (at the top) has endorsed Burrows Lea Forge’s capability and skill to new clients greatly since 2004, so much so the losses of that project have been negated and that single picture still earns us prestigious commissions to the present day.

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The Batsman Gate and Railing, Guildford, UK.

The Batsman gate and railings was commissioned by the Radian Group in early 2012 and installed at the end of June 2012. The Public Artwork commission made up Radian’s S106 planning obligation linked a new housing development opposite Surrey’s Cricket Ground in Guildford, Surrey. Radian had the foresight and trust to offer us an open brief regards to design. Radian gave us a sensible completion date which we dutifully met with time to spare. I’d like to thank Radian’s senior project manager Rob Cummins for the opportunity to create this work and their builders Leadbitter Ltd. for their support enabling us to deliver the project on time and within budget.

I chose to tell a story with our Artwork. The Artwork imagery compromises of a Cricket Batsman caught in the act of hitting a ‘six’. The sculpture tells the story of an incoming fast ball, the skill of the batsman converts the fright of a  fast bowled ball into the delight of a hard hit ball that no-one can field to safety.

The hope was that children and inevitably adults will want to touch and try to ‘pluck’ the ball from it ‘final resting place’ buried in the ‘damaged’ the railing (they won’t be able to of course!) The intent was realized within minutes of the work finally installed, when a member of the public patting the ball ‘lodged’ in the railing as they passed by. The Batsman and stylized cricket balls have a lot of suggested movement in their forms, although I designed the structure to be totally rigid and tamperproof.

The contemporary styled sculpture is made from hot forged mild steel and is reasonably ‘heavy’ in appearance. Hot forging by its nature imparts life, and suggests an organic and natural feel to what is otherwise a dead metal. There’s a contrasting surface textures, smooth rivet heads, heavily mottled textured bars etc. The sinuous, twisting body of the Batsman is at the foreground of the gate, fixed to the front of the gate frame, behind him are (intact) cricket stumps and behind that is the outline of a giant, stitched seam cricket ball. The gate frame copies the twisting action of the Batsman. The layering does not add up much depth, perhaps only 100mm, but compared to an ordinary gate it will appear deep and rich.

Material density also varies, the ‘balls’ (which are hollow spheres) will sound hollow when rapped with knuckles, whereas the batsman and stumps, rigid and unyielding. The artwork is viewed mainly from passing traffic and pedestrians walking past on both sides of the road, so a substantial build is desirable.

The steelwork is hot dipped galvanized and treated with Phosphoric acid, the surface is then cut back with a light abrasive. We then sealed the resultant effect with a hard wax. This is not a permanent process, just one that speeds up the final effect.

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Tree Seat.

Tree Seat

Tree Seat looking out onto the Surrey Hills

Timber and Iron always compliment each other well.

Furniture is the obvious choice for mixed media items, although it works well in gates and fencing too. The Tree seat featured in this article is one we designed , made  and eventually fitted in June 2011. The brief was to design a light looking seat (‘As if floating!’ I think the client said) but to use wood as the seating material, that’s not an easy trick to pull off, timber alway adds visual weight, so you have to offset that with good detailing and light colouring. The Ironwork is fairly simple as is the timber slats that make up the seat and back rest. The seat slats are tapered to match the radial development of the circular bench. The timber was selected and machined perfectly by my good friend James Steer, from Oram Joinery.

As with the Sime Memorial Bench we installed last month, the timber we chose is a tropical hardwood called Iroko, which is a bit like teak. It is very stable and looks great when it is oiled. We use a horribly expensive product called Osmo oil which is organic, so its impact on the environment is minimal.The oil does the job well, although it does take 4 -5 days to dry properly when you first apply it. The metalwork was galvanised and phosphate washed, as a lot of our outside work is, giving a maintenance free finish. The timber will have to be cared for and recoated in the Osmo oil from time to time but thats the difference between wood and galvanised metal!

Tree seats always offer great photo opportunities as you can see, despite being in the shadow of the tree and on an overcast, showery day,  the beautiful coloured timber sets it off a treat. Here’s a photo of the whole thing.

Full view of Tree Seat

Full view of Tree Seat

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A ‘Finished’ Gate

A finished Gate

A finished Wrought Ironwork Gate

This article follows the completed journey of the gate that we were riveting up in the last but one blog ‘Making gates’.

After that video clip was taken, the gate was completely hot riveted up. The locks and fittings were checked for correct alignment and operation and all the ground markers and set up indicators chiselled in.

During the time between that and this article, the gates had been delivered to specialist finishers. The finishers shot basted the metal to clean and create a ‘key’ for molten zinc to be sprayed manually on to the surface to create a cathodic protective layer (Hot zinc spraying). This layer provides electro/chemical protection of the mild steel gate frame….. I’m conscious not to be too technical here.… meaning most of  the zinc has to be corroded away before the mild steel gets attacked by rust.

The gate is then primed, undercoated and top coated in the conventional way, we use synthetic based vinyl paints, but with the cathodic protection in place, you could specify any suitable coloured exterior finish. Whatever the finish, as long as the zinc coating is not exposed too much to the elements by way of a sensible maintenance schedule the Ironwork should unlimited service and exceptionally longer than a painted finish alone.

Time to install the Ironwork, with the paint finish cured and safe to handle, we fitted the gate into its final position as seen it the photo above, in this case we dug holes and concreted the hanging panel and closing post in to the ground. We use a product known as PostCrete, to which we add large aggregate and water, having already spaced and levelled the ironwork ‘tails’ in the holes we hard pack the dryish mix in; within 30 minutes the ironwork structures are ready to accept light/controlled loads. We always ask the client to limit  use during the first 48 hours, so the foundations have a chance to cure properly.

So, why hot zinc spray? We want our work to last as long as economically possible (as do our customers), Hot Zinc Spraying offers delicate or detailed mild steel structures the best balance between protection against rusting and retention of hot forged detail. The last thing we want is our beautiful work covered in a thick coating of ‘whatever’; this may be ‘very’ desirable for lesser craftsmen, but not us! So in short, painted, quality exterior Ironwork where detail and textures are important, always specify Hot Zinc Spraying prior to a paint system being used.

An Important note to Professionals and Specifiers!  Hot dipped Galvanising or Electroplating should not be specified as an acceptable alternative to Hot Zinc Spraying. It should be specified for the reasons in ‘Why hot zinc spray?’ (previous paragraph). Hot zinc spraying is sometimes  referred to as Metalizing and is related to a thermal process known as Sherardizing. Electroplating is a cold process and uses a surface application of zinc to inhibit corrosion on iron and mild steel, but due to the very thin coating of zinc applied it is not suitable for long term exterior applications. There is a limit to  the size and shape that can be treated in Plating and Sherardizing processes and to a greater degree the Hot dipped Galvanizing process,; there is no size  limit to Hot zinc spraying, as the treatment (and its prep-process, shot blasting) is brought to the metalwork opposed to the metalwork being presented to the treatment.

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Swaines Hill Gates, Hampshire.

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The gates installed in Hampshire

This one half of a pair of gates we designed and made last year (2011) and are worth a revisit. The gates are made from very large, solid sections of mild steel and are fully hammer textured. There is extensive hot riveting throughout the construction. Unfortunately the picture shows how difficult it is sometimes to photograph ironwork satisfactorily.

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Media collage of the gates in Hampshire.

So much to say about this project and I promised there would be a specific article, but it never materialised; its on my to do list now so something will happen shortly! Keep checking the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds for more info on this one and others. There are widgets at the side of the article to save you logging on if you just want to see what’s going on today.

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Swainshill Gates, Hampshire, photo taken by Chris Potts, Sienna Earth