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Railing placement issue - should I cut off & re-weld or leave as is?


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Hello - I'm having some cast iron spindles installed in my front garden and they've been welded at the wrong height, so I need to decide what to do. Can anyone offer their opinion?

The first attached picture shows the issue. The spindle finial bottoms sit about 55mm above the rail, and the tops are perfectly level with the (original Victorian) post finial. At first I didn't notice anyone wrong with this, but now I can see that the spindle finials usually sit much closer (~25mm) to the rail & a step below the post finials (see second attached pic for examples).

I didn't specify the height before welding & my blacksmith is being patient with me, so I'm not annoyed really. I just want to make the right call now - before the gate is forged at before I paint them etc.

I have just two options: do nothing; or have the finials cut off and rewelded at the correct height. (Removing the spindles isn't an option as they're welded solidly to the rail, albeit not fixed to the coping stone yet.)

My blacksmith is happy to do either, but he's warned me that because these are cast iron the weld won't be as strong as the original base metal (seems to be true: https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/can-you-weld-cast-iron ). He couldn't give a precise estimate for the strength, but said it might be about 70%. Basically he said snapping off is a potential concern if they were hit with heavy force (though he added that the same holds for cast iron generally, as it's quite brittle). Separately, I guess there's also a risk of slight misalignment when the finials are re-attached (there's 60 of them!)

What would you do? How concerned would you be about reduced strength Vs aesthetics?

I can be a bit OCD so I'll find it hard to 'unsee' what I now know is a mistake in the placement. And I really did want these to look as original as possible. But at the same time, I'm worried about pursuing a fix that actually causes more problems...

I'm all ears if anyone can offer an opinion! Cheers

20220110_122210.jpg

other egs.jpg

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1 hour ago, railingspotter said:

I can be a bit OCD so I'll find it hard to 'unsee' what I now know is a mistake in the placement. And I really did want these to look as original as possible. 

I think this answers your question. Given that these are not likely to be subject to an enormous amount of stress (and any stress that would cause damage would probably take out the cast finials anyway), any reduction of strength from cutting and welding is probably going to be inconsequential.

As for the alignment issue, the finials could be wired in their proper orientation to a properly sized board, which would hold them in place during welding and removed after.

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Just curious to know why the discrepency came up so late in the project.

Did the client look at a detailed plan and/or approve the design ?  A sad case of measure once, cut twice. 

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This ones entirely on you, bummer. Next time have your blacksmith take a look and measuring tape / stick to the job before you specify it. Part of the problem is obvious from how you worded this post, obvious to someone who's been trying to interpret technical questions / statements made by folks who don't speak the language. Your pictures don't even show the relation with the top of the end post. Not so helpful.

I've had to read and look at the pictures a few times to figure out what you did wrong. Next time instead of telling a story which as in this case obfuscates the facts, tell us the facts. JUST the facts. Something like this. The cast iron finials on my fence were welded on 30mm. too high. I want them to match the original height, my mistake. (My mistake statement is more than necessary but doesn't confuse the issue.) The finials are cast iron is it feasible to cut, shorten and reweld them without the being too weak or brittle?

Short, concise, easy to understand. Make sense? 

Cut them off flush with the top rail, drill a short distance in the center of the location in the top rail. trim and scarf the finials. Weld them on with a good quality multi-metal welding rod, usually a nickel alloy, AT THE CORRECT HEIGHT!

Clean up any spatter and paint to match.

If I got the particulars wrong and you need to raise them 30mm. it's more difficult but not terribly and strength will be more of an issue but not terribly so.

If the looks bothered me I'd have it done, especially if friends or neighbors noticed. 

Frosty The Lucky.

 

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It would actually be less work in my opinion to remove the rail and replace it with a different one. I don't mean to do it delicately either. Just torch the rail off, grind what is left on the upright down flat, and install into the new rail. Done.

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I have welded cast iron before, and it is a process, not just running some beads. It can be strong with the right rods, but here in the States the right rods can be $50 a pound on up in cost.  The right rods even have a great color match unlike the nickle rods most use.  The problem with  arc welding cast iron is the coefficient of expansion of the cast is so different than the metals used to weld them. The weld bead cools and shrinks so much faster than the cast that it tears away at the edges of the bead.  This is where peening the weld bead comes in.  I weld short 1" or so beads that are still red hot when I finish. As soon as I stop welding.  I start running an industrial pneumatic inline needle scaler over the weld bead. As the needles impact the hot bead they spread the weld out and keep it in contact with the cast iron so that it does not pull away.  Repeat as necessary.  When done welding, the item is heated up and placed in gray wood ashes to make sure the welds cool down as slow as possible overnight.

 

Now, a different method is brazing, and it is the go to for working every time it is used. BUT, the main issue with brazing is the yellow braze will show unless painted.  Brazing is also labor intensive as it is applied with a gas torch instead of arc welder. It can be done with a MIG using silicon bronze wire, but it is expensive wire.

 

This why I say just sacrifice the rail, and chop it off by whatever method is available; saw, torch, danger disc, plasma cutter, etc.. Then grind what is left flush with the upright. Install the new horizontal rail at the correct height and weld with the MIG.  The time savings will pay for itself.

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Take your points @Frosty, but in my defence I'm a customer - not a blacksmith - and my only mistake here was assuming that they'd opt for the *standard* height. I literally can't find any other examples of such a large gap between the rail and the finial - and you won't be able to either if you look online. They've made a bad choice and I'm just trying to work with them to fix it, even at my own expense. This wasn't a subjective judgment though - there's a single, correct, standard height for these finials to sit (visible all over the Victorian city I live in - Edinburgh) and they've just not followed it.

Should I have double checked the height to rule out any possibility of a mistake being made? Yes. Am I the one who actually made the mistake? No. This is an objective restoration project - not a custom project guided by personal preference. But I'm not interested in a fight so I just want to move forward.

From the replies & wider reading it feels like this is definitely fixable, but the quality of the repair will vary based on methods used & time taken. That's why I'm biting the bullet & I'm willing to spend more - even though I obviously feel a bit annoyed at their poor judgment.

My big concern is alignment. I find it hard to see how they will align each finial perfectly above each spindle (it's complicated by the fact I'm on a hill, and the coping wall / rail slopes with the road). JHCC mentioned using a board and I've also seen a post-to-post string mentioned elsewhere. There's 50 spindles in total... does anyone have an opinion on how long it'd take to execute this repair to a high standard? Is tacking in-place an option before the final weld? And does the weld set solid immediately or can it be adjusted slightly while cooling if necessary?

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My brain is somewhat Covid-fogged so I probably shouldn't post, but I will anyway. 

One issue that is not clear is the material we are working with here. Typically, only the finial is cast, and fitted onto a mild steel vertical. Your blacksmith statement that welding cast results in lower strength is true, but if you use Frosty's suggestion you are only cutting and welding the mild steel section. If the entire vertical is cast iron, that puts a different spin on it. The entire rail is pretty weak (IMHO) if that is the case, but there may be reasons for it to be so.

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@Purple Bullet Sorry yes it's one continuous vertical - the finial & spindle came together as one unit, all cast iron. The rail is steel.

@BIGGUNDOCTOR I don't think removing the rail would achieve anything as the spindles would still need to be separated from the finials (as just clarified, they're one continuous vertical). Thanks for walking me through the process though - that explains a lot! 

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I don't understand - the horizontal rail is welded to each spindle. If he chopped off the rail, he'd be taking 20mm of each spindle with it. Then he'd have to lower the rail fixing accordingly & there'd still be the alignment issue - i.e. making sure that each finial is positioned perfectly above each vertical (correct placement & correct angle - they're not standing perfectly vertical - the spindles seem to slope slightly down with the road, albeit at a much shallower angle)

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Just remove the horizontal, and leave the entire cast upright spindle as it came. OR is the horizontal part of the casting? Is it all cast iron from the horizontal up and lower steel vertical added to the bottom of the cast iron horizontal?

From what you said earlier I am imagining the finial and the entire vertical came as a unit like a spear that you cut to length.. If it was a horizontal casting of the rail and finials, that changes everything. What that would mean is the casting ordered was the wrong one

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OK, I'm going to take a different perspective here.  When I looked at the photos I didn't see anything esthetically "wrong" with the top of the upright finials aligned with the end post finials.  Even if others in the neighborhood are different I don't think many, if any, folk would notice.  My suggestion would be to either raise the end finials or learn to love it as is.  I don't think trying to lower 50 finials 20mm each would be worth the time and money involved.  It seems to be a pretty minor issue to me.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand." 

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I think what BigGunDoc is suggesting is  salvaging the verticals by destroying the horizontal (again assuming this is mild steel) and starting over. The lower seems to be set in mortar. While this seems a radical solution, it is probably the most cost -effective and structurally sound way to accomplish your goal. I agree with George that is way over the top for the benefit. If there is no absolute requirement otherwise, learn to love it. Yours is distinctive! Perhaps a little more regal in stature than most fences.

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biggundoctor That isn't possible sadly. Each spindle has been welded in place in its respective hole in the 20mm rail. You could cut off the rail at either end but you'd then have to cut into each hole to separate it from each spindle. That'd then cause damage in the spindles that would be visible when you eventually drop them down. We tried cutting out the welding on one spindle but it's deep into the 20mm hole - just not budging. (The spindles aren't fixed to the stone yet btw)

George N. M. I hear ya. For sure no one else would notice the mistake, but it's all I see when I look at them now. I know my personality & I feel like the money would be well spent to remove the mental irritation! You're not wrong though... the best fix would be mind over matter.

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You use the term 'mistake' based on what the other kids on the block are doing. I look at as a design decision that looks perfectly fine to me. Don't compare the work to what everyone else has- look at the work as it is. To my eye, the shorter examples look kind of stubby, the longer length seems a bit more elegant. Just sayin'.

Steve

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@BIGGUNDOCTOR no the cast iron is the spear shaped spindle+finial units that are one continous vertical unit. But they've been slotted into the holes in the horizontal steel rail, and then each (oversized) hole has been welded shut, filling the gap and forming a joint with each spindle. If we could ditch the rail and start again that'd be ideal, as the spindles aren't even fixed in the stone yet. But the only way to do that would be hacking away at the welds joining each spindle to each rail hole. That would cause a lot of damage to the spindles and it'd be very time consuming anyway. See pic.

@Stash you're right in a sense and tbh I want to avoid blame anyway. It's my job so the buck stops with me and if I want a fix I have to chalk it up to experience & pay for it. My aim has always just been to replicate the Victorian originals as closely as possible (including the gate), which is just why I'm struggling with this one. They just didn't do it this way unfortunately (and I can see why, as personally I think the finials look best as 'toppings' rather than continous elements of the spindle).

 

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Torch the horizontal off and sacrifice it.  Just take a cutting torch and cut around the weld. With a cutting torch you can actually blow the weld off the cast iron and preserve it. I have done this with cast iron exhaust manifolds with broken studs. Heat the stud and hit the oxygen. That burns the steel and leaves the cast iron in perfect shape. You just want to do it as fast as possible so the cast dos not get too hot, so tip size is important. Even if you mar the cast a little I have found running a needle scaler over it blends the cast beautifully.  Don't overthink this. The mild is far less expensive than the time cutting, trimming, aligning,and welding the cast.

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Ahaa.. OK that's really interesting, thanks   Biggundoctor This will be the first thing I ask about tomorrow then. If it's going to be both quicker and avoids damaging the spindles/finials then its surely the best option. I'll post an update on what's agreed :)

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Railingspotter: Do you have a name, nick name, handle, etc. we may address you with, your login  is pretty cumbersome.

To the point Bigguns is right, a man good with a cutting torch can blow the welds out and leave the cast in tact. We used to cut nuts off bolts leaving the threads usable. On what's left of course. Torching studs or bolts out of nuts and leaving the threads is harder but doable.

Even if the man can't cut the welds cleanly s/he certainly CAN cut the horizontal bar close enough it'll only take a little grinding to clean up. 

This is a bench job, aligning the finials is just a matter of competent fabrication. Have the professional take it down, take it to the shop, match the measurements, bring it back and install it. This isn't something in your skills sets, all you see is a mistake. Those of us who have done this kind of work are shrugging our shoulders or selecting how we'd correct it.

Had I known from your description that the entire picket is cast iron I would've suggested removing the horizontal bar as the only reasonable solution. 

If your customer selected a railing that doesn't match then this mess is on them, not you. Leave it as is, if they want it changed they can have it changed or corrected.

If it bugs you every time you drive by then take this as a lesson. Before you undertake a project you are unfamiliar with ask a professional.  Whatever you do, DO NOT beat yourself up over this.

Frosty The Lucky.

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