Cast Iron, Wrought Iron and Etching

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Many of you here have been blacksmiths for many a year, I however, have just started a few months ago. Nowadays, wrought iron is very hard to come buy as it isn't produced in any scale any more, and as most of what I do is bladesmithing, I've never really forged iron.

I saw a wonderful example of an etched wrought iron crossguard and pommel on the forums, and I'd like to make something similar for a knife I am making. From what I gather, wrought iron is iron that has been folded, welded and hammered many times to get rid of many of the impurities found in cast iron. I have a piece of cast iron I managed to find, so if I were to weld it back on itself many times, I would have wrought iron?

And with the etching, is it just a case of etching the wrought iron as it is? I assume the layering of the iron produces the desired effect and that I don't have to add a different metal to the billet, like with pattern welding steel, to create the contrast?

Thanks!

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Posted · Report post

NO! You have it wrong. It might be possible to make wrought from cast iron but I think you'd need a bloomery... you cannot forge weld cast iron.

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The Real Wrought Iron Company, LTD in Coalbrookdale UK sells real wrought iron otherwise you are at the mercy of the scrap stream where you are at---here in rural NM, USA I picked up a 1" round 48" long wrought iron bolt at the scrapyard Saturday---paid about US$1 for it... Has quite visible striations and so is probably a lower grade---what knifemakers prefer as high grade wrought iron does not show much "pattern" in the etch. (Old wagon tyres are a favorite source of low grade WI out here)

Repeated forge welding of cast iron to get wrought iron is about as accurate as repeated forge welding of glass to get fiber glass---it's not the way it's done! You could puddle your own from cast iron; however that would make the price probably more than *ten* *times* *MORE* than buying it directly. You can also take iron ore and smelt your own wrought iron in a bloomery for expensive small yields---I've done so many of times to learn a fairly useless ancient skill; but except for bragging rights and hour at the local scrapyard can get me more wrought iron than a week building and running a bloomery!

Remember most everything made of iron before the 1850's (Bessemer/Kelly Process) was made from wrought iron or cast iron so old buildings, bridges, ag equipment can all be a source of the real stuff once you train yourself to recognize it!

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Posted · Report post

Thanks Thomas, that was very enlightening! I'll check out the company you mentioned. What is the best way to differentiate wrought iron from cast iron when sifting through scrap? I can't really go around whacking things with a hammer or etching them while I'm there, sometimes the use of the piece can give a hint, I guess, but is there an easier way?

Really, low grade stuff is what I want, the plan is to form it to the shape I want for my knife fittings then heavily etch them for a dramatic look!

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Posted · Report post

I have some.
If you are close by then you would be welcome to a bit.
the real wrought iron co re welds and re roles wrought iron it is very good quality stuff for making decorative wrought iron but lacks the real character of old poor quality decorative iron (in my opinion).

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Posted · Report post

If you are in an area where it is near impossible to acquire wrought iron give eBay a try, there are usually a couple of guys that sell it there in short lengths for the blade smith or jewelry artist. One problem with though and that is it is not cheap. You can also buy already made up billets so you can just grind you own knife.

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Well, especially for the low grades, the striations shown by weathering are a dead give away---how I recognized the 1" dia x 4' long bolt at the scrap yard. I also look for forge welds and items treated like wrought iron---there are some design differences used with it. Also look for the green stick fracture of real wrought iron---many scrap yards will let you hacksaw a corner and break it off.

Can you see the striations in this piece:


Last time I looked around in the UK it was awash with real wrought iron---found pieces in my hosts garden where rubbish had been discarded 100 years ago. Much more common than in the USA where we didn't have nearly the population during the early industrial revolution!

Another way of recognizing WI from CI is what it's used for. Just like CI and mild steel are used for different types of things nowadays; WI and CI were used for different types of things back then---you don't find cast iron Wagon tyres---they would break the first rock they hit!

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Posted · Report post

Some scrap yards have a shop adjoining, and the owners may allow you to use their grinder for a spark test.

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Owen, I'll make it my job to come and visit you as soon as I get some time off school! To have an such an experienced and accomplished bladesmith so close to me without even visiting is a crime! Not sure what I could offer in return that you wouldn't be able to make 10x better, but it would be nice to have a peek at a proper bladesmith's shop and come back with a little bit of loot!

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Posted · Report post

I am around most of the tiem , just email prior to when you want to visit to make sure.

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Posted · Report post

local scrap yard owner flat out refuses to sell his scrap iron/steel to any private person, business's however.... i even found 6 large mining drill bits i was interested in.

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Posted · Report post

There seem to be alot of old wagon tires available. What would the spark test look like if they were WI?

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Posted · Report post

looks like sparks, We tell by the looks of the metals grain, the wood like effect from the slag. please read the thread on spark testing, that is not the way to do it.  another myth.

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Thanks, I just found an old part in my pile that looked stringy, it had been forged welded and threaded. When I ground on it the sparkes looked simular to grey cast but when I bent it after cutting it with a hack saw it delaminated lenghtwise and looked like broken hikory wood.

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Posted · Report post

THAT my brother smith is real wrought iron :)

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Posted · Report post

Good, now I need to do something with it.

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Posted · Report post

And remember to work it at a temp where modern steels would probably be burning!

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