Our company was recently hired by a bank to finish a foreclosed townhouse project. Part of the work was installing handrails on the front stoops. A couple of the units already had wooden rails, but they weren’t much to look at. After considering various options — wood composite, aluminum, glass, stainless steel — we decided simple wrought-iron rails might look the best, given the style of the buildings. We got a quote from a local fabricator, Anchor Iron, and it turned out that wrought iron not only was within the bank’s budget but was priced more competitively than some of the other choices. When you think of wrought iron, you probably envision a sooty-faced blacksmith with large biceps hammering away on a glowing piece of ornate metal. But in fact, except for a small number of craft shops, most of today’s iron work is done by cold bending, welding, and grinding. That black corrosion-resistant material traditionally used in the ornamental-iron business went out of production in the U.S. in the 1960s.
The first step of the job was to make careful site measurements, which were taken by Jim Roberts, the owner of Anchor Iron. He wanted to make sure that the rails would meet the Minnesota building code, which states that a 4-inch sphere should not be able to pass between the balusters, nor a 6-inch sphere through the triangular space under the...
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