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Publication Date: 2015-06-04

Design Insights

Hand Forged

Mac White shares the merit of collaborating with artisans and craftsman

Iron in the furnace

Pulled from the fire and coals of the forge, a gloved hand carries the orange-red hot iron to the anvil, the smith thinking about how it will be shaped – of what it will become as he selects his first tool. As the hammer strikes and sparks fly – what started as an image or memory in the architect’s head and was transmitted to paper first in a sketch and then refined in more detail – is now taking its first step towards the finished piece that will make its future placement more than just an object well-appointed home or building. The relationship between the designer and the craftsman, in this case the ironsmith, is what make objects take on added dimensions – where we trust in their ability to make something from hand, apply their artistry to the material and imbuing the work with the spirit of their trade – often something learned through the generations of family and at the hands of the master craftsmen that they follow.

The ironsmith’s tools
The ironsmith’s tools

The ironsmith’s shop can be a place that is hot and noisy, with the bellows stoking fires and a variety of tools banging away. It can also look like a treasure trove of ornament as work pieces are in process, samples and studies of elements line the shop’s walls, drawings are laid open on desks, twists of metal hammered to fine curls of folding leaves and chiseled details bringing the metal to life.

Images from the shop at Iron Age Studio

There are times when working the metal is just all about the texture, getting a hammered finish that you will feel as your hand drags along a railing or seeing the subtle variation of light reflecting in the hammer marks. Then there is the finessing of this simple hammered bar into a finished element – like as a railing with pickets piercing the cap and hammered flat, or in a strap around a stone column that anchors the rail.

Hammered iron bar
Railing cap pierced by pickets with heads hammered flat
Iron railing strap wrapping a limestone column

At other times it is about the shape and the ironsmith using his tools to transform the metal from basic stock materials into decorative elements – bending into scrolls that have tongues hammered flat, shaping iron into a faceted ring that, in the hands, you can feel the weight and the detail chisel marks that have incised a pattern into the surface, or combining hooks and rings to hang simple, yet well-crafted rustic chandeliers.

Ironsmith at work in the shop of Rheme Custom Iron Work
Iron chandelier

Well-crafted architecture is often accented by the artistry and ornament, and it is here where the craftsman’s true passion shows through. This is often achieved in utilitarian elements like hardware – where a door latch and throw are embellished by the designer and the hand of a talented craftsman.

Conceptual sketch by Brandan Moss
Realized door hardware at a west Texas ranch

Inspired by the naturalistic patterns of William Morris, the design of an iron screen for a wine room intended to capture the shapes and forms of the local Texas landscape. The initial design defined the elements and pattern, but the initial conversations with the ironsmith opened the door to a more artistic interpretation. The palate of elements became more defined to include thistle blossoms, oak leaves and acorns, persimmon fruit, and hanging wild grapes, with the occasional bird sitting perched among the branches. As these forms were hammered out and mock-ups tested, the artist’s handiwork was becoming more apparent. Ultimately realized in a waxed iron finish, it captures the spirit of the original concept, the client’s love of their local setting and the room it frames.

Craftsman at work in the shop at Hererra Ornamental Iron Work
Detail of ornamental iron screen in progress
Iron screen set in wine room

We are always thankful to these great artisans, who with fire, anvil, hammer and chisel, bring added dimension, character and vitality to our work.


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