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I Forge Iron

Looking for Licensing Advice

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Hello, I came from an art school background and became involved with blacksmithing as a way to make sculpture. Increasingly I have been looking further and further into treating my artwork as a business. I get commissions every now and again, and have increasingly been getting requests for larger things, such as railing.


I'm am now thinking about preparing for the future and wonder what licensing and certifications I should obtain. I currently have a seller's permit listed under a business name. This allows me to do my taxes separately, use a resale license, attend fairs, and that sort of thing.


At this point in time I have not registered my business name because the only advantage I can find is that I can open a bank account in the name of the business. It appears that right now it's not legally required anyway.


I have years of experience, but have just now decided to go for my certifications.


I was also looking into licensing for doing in home contracts. For California there is something called a C-23 Ornamental Metal Work License. It requires that you have 4 years of experience performing/supervising construction work. I have never been a construction worker and don't if my work in a smithy qualifies. There are also written tests involved and a lot of construction schools to prepare you for said tests. I plan to work for myself as a small business. Do I need this license? Is it advisable to get one?


How many of you have these sort of licenses? Is your small business registered? Do you have insurance for yourself under your business, or do you use your own personal insurance?


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Hello and welcome. As mentioned this sort of question is location specific, and can even vary by locality in the same state. It would help if you'd list your location in your profile so we always know where you are at a glance.


I think EVERYTHING in Cali is regulated in some way shape or form.  I'm not sure that "ornamental" license would be required for sculpture. It's probably geared more towards decorative fencing, burglar bars, security doors,  iron railings and so on.  If that's not the direction you are looking to go, you may not need that. Your local governing agency will have the last say however. I've had inspectors tell us we needed permits and all sorts of stuff, whether we actually needed them r not, simply because they thought or said so. You generally can't win those arguments. Even if you "win" you typically loose in the long run as they'll make it their job to make your life miserable.



In PA anything that you do that you install at a customers residence requires you have a state contractors license. So if you build a railing and install it, you have to have that state issued contractors license number. If you install that same railing at a rental property however you don't need one.Same goes if all you do is fabricate the rails and someone else does the instal, you won't need the license... In theory it was to simplify the hodge podge of local licenses, but in reality each municipality still has it's own regs and such you need to adhere to.

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Celeste, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a chat with your insurance broker, and possibly a lawyer after all you live in the ''I'll sue'' center of the world. There may be more sense in a limited liability entity etc. It's not just the local inspectors and their ilk that can be a pain in the rump. Also if you get bigger gigs then you might need help getting into the realm of workers/employees insurance etc. There is often merit in finding guys that specialize in installations to give that part of the job to.


It seems like a minefield but it's best to 'know' and plan from there.

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If you plan to do a bunch of railings and hand rails, you'll need to be up on what codes call for. There are certain basics that are easy to figure out, but there are a lot of things that some times seem to conflict with others. For example, you need a hand rail if a set of stairs has more than 4 risers up to say a landing, but the landing doesn't need rails unless it's more than 30" off the ground if I'm remembering right.  A set of hand rails on a short set of steps may not need balusters, but you'd need them on a taller set of stairs.  Most railings and pool fences can't be "climbable", so a design for a garden fence may not work around a pool or you may not be able to do a porch railing to match the gate design without doing some changes.



Every time I need to do railings I have to look up what is required since I don't do them often enough to remember all the details. Also some local municipalities still use some of the older building codes and what I can get away with on projects in their area may not be acceptable in another area that is using a newer code. Pool fences are a good example. I looked into doing a fence for one customer. Around here codes can call for pool fences to be 4', 5' or 6' tall depending on which  township you are in, and some places you can still get away with the older 3' fences if the pool is old enough and grandfathered in before the new regs went into effect.

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A couple of points based on my experience. For whatever thats worth....

  1.  When it comes to architectural ironwork, fabricating and installing, its more important to have liability insurance(cover your butt) than a state contractors licence. A general buisness licence is never a bad idea anyway. Most blacksmiths fall into a gray area of specialization that most state agencies have no idea what to do with. (wait till you try and find workers compensation insurance if you ever need it..)
  2. When it comes to BOCA codes, they might vary from state to state but are generally uniform when it come to commercial installations and there isn't much wiggle room there either.  You can get away with "straying" from code if its historic or a private residence and does not require a final inspection from the local municipality. This being said, the end user should be aware of these issues. 

    On occasion we have installed code compliant "temporary Ironwork" usually some stock grillwork with pickets at the right spacing, hand rail height and generally ugly.  Once the building inspector gives the final CO to the homeowner, we rip out the temporary stuff and put in the real art/ironwork. 
  3. The only folks that really seems to care about anything is the tax man. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row there because i have seen more than one buisness go under because they thought they could get away without paying their taxes

Good Luck And Cheers to You!

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