Building an Ornamental Iron Door: A Novice Blacksmith’s Guide
A wrought iron door can be sturdy, functional, and highly decorative, and can be used as a distinctive entrance when compared to standard pre-manufactured doors. Wrought iron doors lend themselves well to applications ranging from home use to doors for larger formal buildings, such as churches, libraries, and courthouses. An ornamental iron door works as a fine accompaniment to traditional masonry construction. Using a process called stipple etching, an ironworker can give a utilitarian metal door a far more ornate appearance than is normally found in wrought iron.
- Draw the outline of the door’s structural components, such as the two side beams and three cross beams of a standard square door, while marking the locations for pre-fabricated rivet holes using a mechanical pencil on the graph paper. Be sure to include holes for the heavy-duty door hinges that will be required to support a solid iron door. Use the geometry set to ensure that the drawing is made at an easily convertible scale. Finalize the door or structural design by adding numerical distance measurements based upon measurements of the doorway that the metal door will hang in, and ink the lines with the drafting pen. Once the ink has dried, use a white eraser to remove the pencil lines.
- Draw the decorative stipple design on the graph paper on a new page, using a mechanical pencil. When a pleasing aesthetic design is ready, finalize the drawing by inking the lines with the drafting pen. Allow the ink to dry before erasing the pencil lines with the white eraser.
- E-mail a copy of the structural design diagram to the nearest metal fabrication shop after securing a contract for fabrication work via the telephone. For the ease of the shop personnel, make sure to include an itemized list of parts and their dimensions, as well as where the pre-drilled rivet holes need to be located for the door to fit together. To obtain a digital copy of the hand-drawn diagram, either scan an image using a computer scanner or use a high-quality digital camera in good lighting conditions to create the digital image to send to the fabrication shop.
- Assemble the door pieces on the concrete shop floor, running the heavy rivets through the proper rivet holes to reach the final desired shape of the door. Use the metal C clamps to secure the areas where the siding crossbars meet. Use wet folded newspaper to provide a heat resistant buffer between the concrete floor and the iron door to avoid scuffing the metal while hammering the rivets. Place a copper shim block between the shop floor and the rivet to provide a solid backing while hammering the rivet in. Heat the protruding end of the top right corner rivet with a propane torch until it reaches a glowing orange color. Hammer the protruding end of the rivet with the ball-peen using the flat striking face. Hammer until a tight joint is created and the protruding end is rounded down. Repeat the process until all of the rivets are secured and the door structure is complete.
- Draw a series of dots on the surface of the iron door with the black permanent marker, using the draft image of the stipple ornamental design as a guide. Strike every place marked with a black dot with the dot punch by striking the punch firmly with the flat surface of the ball-peen hammer. Eventually, the dots will form a decorative image. When adding a stipple design to a metal surface, it is common practice to repeat the same smaller design multiple times to achieve a larger decorative effect, though elaborate pieces that form actual pictures rather than simple designs are possible in the hands of a skilled craftsman.
Things You’ll Need:
- graph paper
- geometry set
- mechanical pencil
- white eraser
- drafting pen
- scanner or digital camera
- prefabricated iron door components
- heavy steel or iron rivets
- copper shim block
- propane torch
- ball peen hammer
- blacksmithing vest
- safety glasses
- fire extinguisher
- dot punch
- If you are unfamiliar with the process of stipple drawing, you can opt to hire an artist to create the stipple image for you at a resolution that matches the actual door itself. From there it is a simple matter to print out the design on one page at a time, tape it to the finished door structure, and use the printouts as a template to show the metalworker exactly where to strike with the dot punch.
- Skilled metal workers can take the time to work the iron themselves straight out of raw iron ingots or sheets; however, this will add a significant amount of time to the project, meaning that pre-ordering custom fabricated pieces is the way to go for the craftsmen who value their time.
- Combining the process of cloisonné –glass enameling – with the stipple engraving process on a piece by piece basis before assembling the entire structure can lead to fantastically beautiful works of craftsmanship the likes of which are rare in the modern era.
- If during the design phase you suspect that the door will be too heavy using an entirely iron design, consider using a high-quality hardwood for the interior panels as opposed to iron plates. This saves on weight without substantially compromising structural quality.
- Wear safety goggles and a blacksmithing vest at all times when working metal to prevent injury.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case, since the propane torch can lead to unexpected fire mishaps.