Like for like repair and reproduction.

Reproduction Lantern Rosettes x 16, forged from pure Iron.

Reproduction Lantern Rosettes x 16, forged from pure Iron.

We’ve been very busy and apologies for the blog break.

I intend to make up for it over the next two months, with lots of small blogettes if there are such Inter-web things.

Here’s the catch up. The gates are clean, primed and undercoated. The second to last decorative coats are being applied this week. All the homogenous (weld based) repairs are complete, all of the water leaf repairs and reproductions are complete (there were over 156 to make new and fit). 66 original collars were reforged and fitted, 102 new had to be made and fitted hot. The new 3 pcs rosettes for the boarder panels (48 units) are up to black and will be fitted next week. The drop leaves (64 units) are also black and due to be fitted very soon. 16 large lantern rosettes (pictured above, 2 pcs each) are painted and ready to fit…… and so on! To save you adding it up, that’s 402 new forged items made by our blacksmiths, exactly copying the originals, using the same blacksmith techniques as the original artisans would have. There’s a lot more to add to this list, but I recon you get an idea of our commitment to this project.

Laurel leaf spray, reproduced in Wrought Iron.

Laurel leaf spray, reproduced in Wrought Iron. Front one is new, two behind are repaired using fire-welding.

Its important that when the decision to reproduce in favor repair is made it is for the correct reasons, not just because its the easy choice. A Conservation Blacksmith must retain as much original material as possible and when he/she decides to make a new component (or a partial one for a patch repair) it has to be in a like for like material and manufactured using original techniques. You’d think this would be obvious philosophy and policy wouldn’t you, but many don’t follow this recognized approach.

Garland reproduction for the South 2/3rds pier (self colour) the fixing location still needs to be sculpted on to the bar, the original on right and is in primer.

Fire-welded garland reproduction for the South 2/3rds pier (self colour) the fixing location still needs to be sculpted on to the bar and the final setting needs to be carried out, the original (in primer) is on right.

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New leaves and rosettes.

Flame cleaned Acanthus leaves, ready for priming

Flame cleaned Acanthus leaves, ready for priming

I’m so pleased I had the foresight to commission our weatherproof shelter from SCA, it has definitely paid its way so far in this project, not one day lost to bad weather! Its been such a miserably long winter. Spring officially began last week and the clocks go forward this evening, Oh! and its Easter holiday as I’m writing.  To think this week a year ago,  BLF was basking in the sun at Cliveden House, Berkshire fitting garden architecture and Thames Water were warning that we needed two years worth of rain in the next 9 months to avert a serious water shortage… we should have been careful what we wished for.

The Acanthus leaves pictured above have autumnal feel, but they are in fact flame cleaned, resulting in this beautiful russet, purple appearance. All the paint, muck and corrosion is burnt away, leaving the leaves ‘clean’. They will be lightly brushed and wiped clean before they are brush primed ready for further coats of paint. The rear of each leaf will receive pretty much all the coats they need before they’re fixed to the gates; the backs will always be difficult to access for redecoration.

The gates and main structure, like the leaves, are clean and primed, awaiting the new and original elements to be fixed back on. Its been a long haul and the blacksmiths have worked really hard,  maintaining good spirits despite the dirty and boring nature of this part of the project. Having to put up with the cold too?….. I suppose there is one good thing about flame cleaning, but only one!

Boarder rosettes, Tijou gates

Boarder rosettes for Tijou gates in Pure Iron.

The new work is well underway, near on 150 new leaves and rosettes have already been forged and are ready for installation on the gates, this is in addition to the samples and tooling test pieces we’ve made already. The latter were made in Mild Steel. However the new work is made from Reprocessed Charcoal Wrought Iron (as per schedule) or Pure Iron depending on how it is to fitted into the structure. The original Acanthus leaves above are Original Victorian Puddled Iron for the record.

Burrows Lea Forge takes a balanced and sustainable view regards to materials used in Heritage Reproduction. Reprocessed Charcoal Wrought Iron is expensive and finite resource; I believe it should be used, sensibly and with good judgment.  Burrows Lea Forge’s Conservation and Reproduction policy recommends new components or patch repairs destined to be fixed in homogenous way ( welded, modern welded*), the repair should be on ‘like for like’ basis, using Wrought Iron (Reprocessed charcoal, puddled or other) and where possible authentic component manufacture and fixing techniques too. However, where a new component or scroll work element is fixed via reversible technique such as screws, rivets, tenon fitted or collars we treat it as a stand alone item and it does not warrant the use of valuable Wrought Iron and a next best material choice is acceptable, namely Pure Iron (I advocate use of Mild Steel in specific scenarios, but none arise in this project). No matter the repair or replacement it is important to identify the work or repair through recording and direct identification. I’m confident this is a rational, accountable approach and most importantly, sustainable.

In Heritage Wrought Ironwork, there is (while its available) heated discussion regards to the extent Wrought Iron (Puddled or Charcoal) should be used. Conservation and  Restoration of Wrought Ironwork is complicated enough, let alone when to use traditional Blacksmith verses modern techniques and the minefield of finishing… so add in a sustainable materials argument… it even makes my head swim trying to explain it.

So what is the simplest approach, my trick toward making the right decision is always to take a step back, remember the structure I’m being paid to save and be true to it (and myself).

Reproduction water leaves for palisade

Reproduction water leaves for palisade in Charcoal Wrought Iron.

*Re. Modern welding – sometimes and with the best of intentions, a Blacksmiths Ego to do repairs traditionally can in-effect destroy the Historic integrity of a structure i.e. you don’t pull a gate apart to  repair two tenons, by undoing nine perfectly good ones, that’s common sense… isn’t it? Well you’d think so, but it happens all the time and I could go into the mire of welding, welding types and respective filler rods, but I haven’t the mental endurance to do it here

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Tooling test piece for 'Boarder rosettes', still needs refinement but Ok for a prototype.

Tooling test piece for ‘Boarder rosettes’, still needs refinement but good for a prototype. We need 16No. assemblies.

At last we can start thinking about making new components to replace missing Ironwork and repairing damaged originals.

This is what we do well… its not that we don’t clean, fix and paint well…. but making stuff is what we love doing and why we work as Blacksmiths.

The developments of some of the components have to be done early. Tooling for large numbers of leaves and rosettes have to be considered now, well before the material on order arrives. The tooling and development has to be right, it is important that not one new component (or repair component) is wasted due to a tooling mishap or oversight.

Tooling test prototypes for Acanthus type Drop leaves, we need to make 64 of them! The middle one is an original.

Tooling test prototypes for Acanthus type Drop leaves, we need to make 64 of them! The middle one is an ‘average’ original.

Most important of all, forging processes have to be as economical as we can make them; we can’t afford to ‘burn’ the profits. The tooling is tested and developed using Mild Steel blanks. Mild Steel tends to be tougher to work than Wrought Iron or Pure Iron, so its a good test for set tooling and procedure. Detail can only get better and the tools will last longer. This not a conscious moral decision, rather a financial one; Pure Iron (for standalone reproductions) is roughly at x 4 the price of Mild Steel and Charcoal Wrought Iron( for repairs) x 50 that of Mild Steel, a Blacksmith has to be very careful!

We’re using 3mm thick material (just under 1/8″) for 90% of the Acanthus work on the ‘Tijou’ gates. I’m getting bored of being asked “Why are you using such thick material to replace the leaves, surely you can use something  thinner and cheaper?”….  my reply is “I’m using 1/8″ because that’s what the leaves were originally made from!” We have a ‘like for like’ replacement policy as all Conservation Blacksmith should.

Pier prototype Water leaves in Mild Steel, there are 72 No. to make and fit. These are developed from a 270 x 80mm pattern 3mm thick. Originals on right.

Pier prototype Water leaves in Mild Steel, there are 72No. to make. These are developed from a 270 x 80mm pattern 3mm thick. Originals on right.

A lot on Victorian Acanthus leaves are made from 2.75 to 3mm (7/64″ to 1/8″) and it is wrong  to skimp on material, no matter the original sections, now that is a moral decision.

Working thick material is not a problem for a skilled Blacksmith, Acanthus and water leaves are not particularly difficult to make. But you do need workshop commitment and be prepared to work intuitively. A few specialist tools have to be developed, but that’s about it. Your first leaf or process will be difficult, but subsequent operations will get easier, until it is routine. ‘Practice makes perfect!’ had to be written for a Blacksmith.

Forging water leaves

Forging water leaves


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