The Wareham

Custom Railings
More than just a barrier.

Creation of a custom hand forged railing presents special challenges. The market is dominated by 'cut and paste' assembly shops, who take standardized factory made elements, made of modern mild steel, and weld them up into frameworks. This is then called 'hand made wrought iron work' even though it is machine produced and most certainly not made of antique wrought iron metal at all! One of the most important factors which will dominate over any creative possibilities are the current Ontario Building Codes, which have specific requirements on size, shape, and materials on structural hand rails. (A short overview of some of these requirements is available as a reference HERE.) All of the past installations seen here most importantly show creative approaches to these limits.
Those interested in an artisan blacksmith's approach to a specific project are referred to the section : On Custom Design .

richards R-M
                          breakers riverdale pease binkert




Peterson House - St Agatha, Ontario
Fence Supports Railing

2012 - 2013

This is a larger project, consisting of three individual commissions:
The first was an extension to the existing board fence, running down the drive and along the street frontage.
The second was a pair of structural supports to replace the original timber work on the front porch.
The third was a railing for the small deck on top of that same porch.
The total is an interesting assemblage, using related, but not identical, organic elements and lines.

Go on for the commentary


Stubbs House - Toronto, Ontario
'Juliet' Balcony


I was contacted in 2011 by a pair of neighbours in the Yorkville area of Toronto. The homes there are late 1800's row houses with small yards. One wanted restoration work done to an original (wrought iron!) front fence.

The other wanted a small 'Juliet' balcony, to extend just slightly outside a pair of narrow double doors leading off her kitchen. The purpose was mainly to offer some restraint when the doors were open in good weather. (Older single person, no children involved.) The new installation was to match the look and feel of a recently installed rear stair. The same clean lines using curved heavy tube was the desire.
The finished balcony has a top rail at the required 42 inches, but is more open than what is called for by the building code. It arcs out to be a bit further from the wall line at the top rail than at the bottom supports. Made as a single piece, figuring out how to hold it into place while mounting it proved a bit of a challenge!

Maxwell & Reade House - Manitoulin Island
Spring 2009 - Fall 2010

A set of railings were required for this custom designed open concept home, winding from basement up to the second floor. This is a large project, involving the creation of over 20 individual panels and pieces. An overall concept was 'Sea to Shore to Sky', with individual segments using a progression of organic designs which integrate thoughout. Because of the duration and complexity of the project, considerable use of internet documentation and video was made over the life of the project. There is a separate detailed description.

Richards House - Toronto
Fall 2009

Originally built in the 1920's in the Arts and Crafts style, the interior of the home is almost entirely original, with wide plank oak floors and trims. The owners have been able to match the architecture with matching Rennie Mackintosh styled furniture. On the exterior, there has been considerable renovating done, most especially the replacing of the old windows with the arch shaped panes. Aging concrete was repaired and caped with ceramic tiles. We all wanted to keep to the spirit of Arts and Crafts : clean lines, obviously forged elements, sweeping curves to pick up on the large curve framing the porch, plus the series of smaller arches of the windows.
On the technical side, the construction of the brick pillars and planters framing the steps meant that (happily) there would not be the usual building code restriction for an upright every four inches or 'no climb'. I was however, concerned about the fragility of the mounted tiles, so wanted to install the finished piece against the existing brick work.

A number of possible designs were considered, the final is seen to the right. Although the lines are clean and relatively simple, all the individual elements are aggressively forged. This quality of the individual elements will be subtle, but immediately visible - in keeping with the subdued good taste of the entire home. The top handrails are from 1 1/2 inch thick walled square tube. This was forged down on the diagonal to create a diamond shape roughly 2 inches wide by 1 inch tall. The final profile remains slightly irregular, a result of the hand forging process. The individual support elements were forged from 3/8 thick by 1 1/2 wide flat stock. Each was first spread out to a tapered wedge on one (or both) ends. Then the bar was drawn out to a long taper (ideally increasing thickness as it reduces width) over its length. In final position, the individual curved elements interlace as they cross over each other.

Individual Commentaries:

Where do IDEAS come from?
November 19, 2009

Don't Look Like Much...
November 11, 2009

Richards House Railing One
December 20, 2009

Richards House Railing - Completed

January 18, 2010

Spreading Heavy Flat Bar - on YouTube

Riverdale House - Toronto
Summer 2007

Yates bracket

I was contacted by a couple who owned a renovated early 1900's home on a quiet street a couple of blocks from the site of the old Riverdale Zoo in Toronto. The newly renovated front deck was of rich western cedar planking and beams, with the roof sheathing of copper sheet. The new extended deck line was cut away in a half circle to preserve a tree planted some years earlier. A primary concern was having a design that reflected the overall natural feeling that the other elements of the landscape and deck had established. Strict adherence to the building codes was less of an issue, but the adult owners did want the railings and handrails to be safe and sturdy. One important factor that had to be considered was maintaining the view from the large and low mounted front window across into the park on the other side of the street. On the technical end, one railing unit would have to be curved in a half circle to fit around the deck cut out for the tree. Also the hand rail on the left side as you face the house had to fit the irregular curvature of the stairs on that side.

The overall project required two stair rail sections, one straight and one curved, each about 8 feet long. There were two flat panel sections, one five, the other seven feet long. The large half circle was fashioned of two pieces, a total measure around the curve was about nine feet. Using a series of thin flat bars, but set on edge to the viewer, makes the uprights almost 'disappear' optically from the inside window. Each upright retains its strength from the 2 inch width of the bar - so the thickness could be reduced to 3/16 inch. From passers by in the street, the railing would be primarily viewed from an angle. With the individual wide uprights spaced for the code required 3 3/4" inch gaps, any angled view creates the impression of a solid wall of metal.
Each of the uprights is created from two pieces, cut to different lengths. Each is folded, split, then opened up again to create a slightly dished oval eye near one end. The two pieces are then woven through each other while hot and tapped flat and straight and are secured with a total of four oversized round head rivets. The uprights are positioned so that the forged weave alternates either above or below the rough centre line of the completed railing. There remains a certain random quality to each of the uprights, as the hand forged eyes are deliberately made all somewhat different in exact shape.

For this project I created a detailed photo essay of the work as it progressed, from initial concept to finished installation.
The series includes a 17 minute movie for download that shows the actual forging process:
A Work In Progress

Yates House Railing - Mono Centre
Winter 2007

Yates rough
Yates pannel
Yates bracket

'Yates House' is an 1800's squared log home that had been extensively renovated to an open concept plan which left the beams and much of the original heavy timbers exposed. Like many of the buildings of this era, the interior was relatively small, so the owner did not want the stair and balcony railings to over power the space.

I had done a set of exterior plant boxes for the first house Lisa had owned in this small village north of Orangeville. She had acquired a set of antique stain glass panels, and wanted a relatively simple framing that would allow these re-finished pieces to become the major decorative element. The upper curves were kept fairly simple so as not to overpower the lines from the simple leading of the stained glass.

For the run of stairs from basement level to ground, then a second run ground to second floor, only a simple tubular hand rail was requested (outside of code at the owner's responsibility). Knowing of the customers love of Celtic art, and having the width of the original hand hewn beams to mount against, the mounts for the hand rail could be quite elaborate. Thick flat bar was drawn, folded and contoured into a set of reversal curves suggested by those common in Celtic Iron Age bronze artifacts. To accent the historic aspects of the house, the metal was finished with satin finish varithane. This protects the surfaces but allows the variations in colour and texture produced by the forging process to remain visible.

Pease House Railing - Toronto
Spring 2005

Pease Right Side
Pease from Street
Pease Left Side

'Pease House' is an 1900's small frame construction home in the East Beaches area of Scarborough. Originally these small homes were built and owned by working class families. The neighbourhood has a range of styles and ages of houses, all fairly small, set closely together with small yards and fairly close to the street. The whole area is going through a real upswing over the last decade, with younger couples and new families purchasing what are inexpensive homes - for Toronto anyway! Almost every house is undergoing renovation work of some kind.

The owners here were no exception. Considerable work had already been done inside. The sagging porch had been removed and replaced inside the original frame space. The deck was close to ground level, with only two steps up from the walk. The customer wanted to set off his front yard, and provide a distinctive focus to what was a fairly plain house.

Right from the start, one factor made a truly original design possible. Because of the low height of the deck, the restrictive Ontario Building Code provisions did NOT APPLY. The project required two side panels at about six feet long plus two front panels, one at three feet and one at eight feet. Working inside a fairly conservative budget, it was decided to reduce the number of individual support elements, but then to increase the complexity of each support. (Instead of many simple uprights, there would be few complex ones.) This allowed for much more aggressive forging to be used when creating the elements. The customer had liked the sweeping curves they had seen in other work I had created. A number of potential designs were generated as thumb nails, with one based on a tubing upright and tendrils topped with a wide flat handrail finally chosen. The finish was a semi-gloss paint (chosen for durability).

I think the result was excellent. The vine like lines of the uprights and the light airy design is accented by the natural plantings in the front garden. The customer was quite pleased with how the new railing attracted attention. In fact at least six passers by commented on how good the railing looked - just in the couple of hours we took to install the pieces!

Binkert & Wiltse House Railing - Toronto
Fall - 2002

'Binkert & Wiltse House' is a 1920's 'cottage style' home in the Avenue Rd / St Clair area of Toronto. Originally the narrow side lane way was built to accommodate carriages, increasingly the size of modern automobiles was making travel down the shared lane difficult. The home owner decided to replace the original wide brick balcony edging. Here the project was to create both railings and support beams for a side entrance porch, with the total width of the new elements to be no more than 4". Consultation with the Client generated about a dozen potential designs for the balustrades. The final design used heavy gauge steel tubing for both structural strength and visual weight. This material would be forged to create an overall 'organic' feel to the completed metalwork. It was also necessary to ensure the completed stair and balcony railing sections would conform to local building codes.

Binkert Railing

The first picture shows the overall project after installation, viewed from the rear. The original brickwork and concrete entry steps have been replaced with the natural stone facing seen here. The hand rails are formed from 1 1/2" tube, flattened or drawn to wrapped tendrils. Individual balustrades are formed from 1" dia. tube with a flattened section which was then twisted.


Second is the original layout drawing for the project. As can be seen, the individual panels are more or less symmetrical right to left. At the same time, the railing elements are formed into sweeping curves. The overall effect is natural rather than mechanical. The main supports for the porch were formed of 1/4" side wall tube - more strength than is required. (Its better to be 'sure than sorry'!). The individual panels actually bolted into place on to the uprights once these had been positioned. Although the irregularly of the stone curb caused some problems during installation, this use of five separate elements made handling the pieces a lot easier. (Each panel was about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, each element weighed about 150 lbs.

Lower Detail

The final two images show closer views of the completed metalwork. On the detail of the lower stair rail, the way the tube has been flattened at curved sections can be seen. The twists on the balustrades was random in direction, and moved along the straight length. Taken together, this caused the twists to form a line that ran in a sweeping curve over the entire assembly, with twist location and directions symmetrical right to left.

Upper Detail

The last detail shows the small panels that were attached to the upper supports and the porch roof. Again the lines of the four triangular panels were similar, but not identical to each other. These were also not 'flat' but intertwined in a slight three dimensional sweep. Each panel was formed of a pair of 1/2" dia. round rods, which mounted into one of two twining 'vines' of 5/8 " tube that was formed around the main support. The use of these small elements allows the design to flow at the upper end, and also enhances the organic appearance of the entire installation.

Lilly Rail

'Lilly Railing'
Spring 2002

This piece was the full sized mock up 'sample' made of an early design I proposed for the Binkert & Wiltse House. (It is my normal practice for large contracts to make a sample to illustrate construction and quality.) Thinking ahead, I had made the piece of a length and angle to fit a location at Wareham - from our upper to lower deck. The piece uses forged tubing elements, with angle iron forged to make the long leaves. I also used decorative paint on the piece - the yellows and oranges highlighting the plant shaped elements.

Pervan House - Parry Sound
Fall 1996

A number of pieces were created for the Pervan House, located on Lake Rousseau. The building was a large one made of round logs - over 5000 sq. ft. I was originally contacted about providing a large candelabra. Eventually the project was expanded to include a circular stair case plus balcony and stair railings.
(The photographs here are during the initial installation, and also scanned from early colour negatives - so do not sometimes give the full impact of the pieces.)

Circular Stair
The first element created was this circular stair case, which proved the most challenging from an engineering standpoint as well. The requirement was to provide occasional access to a loft area over 17 ft above the main great hall area. The challenge was that in a new log construction, the walls could be expected to shrink (and sink) as much as 10" over the first five years. Normally a circular stair case is rigidly attached at the top to provide stability. In this case, all the mounts securing the stair at the top had to be on sliding mounts to allow for the ever reducing wall height as the logs dried out. The solution was to construct the whole think like a series of cheerio's dropped over an upright drinking straw. The main tube is bolted at the bottom to the floor, then the collar attaching each stair was dropped down from the top. Last came the large triangular brackets that keep the upright in place next to the walls. The individual stairs are held in place by the decorative side panels, which in turn bolt to the curved hand rail. The only large rigid elements in the whole construction are the main upright tube and the hand rail. the individual stair treads are made of a single solid block of 3" thick pine. landing
The short section of straight stair is also made of solid 3" pine. It bolts to the wall and the upper loft edge, as well as having a support bracket underneath. Eventually, the lower edge of this stair will come even with the top step of the circular stair. This stair case is finished with a forged railing. The linking section of metal between the two elements is linked together to allow it to change shape as the walls move. diagonal
This is the hand rail for the upper loft, looking over the great hall where the circular stair sits. This portion shows clearly the basic design chosen by the customer. The handrail is a single piece of 1 1/2 " tubing. The main support elements are curved, punched and split 1 1/2 x 1/4" flat bar. Linking the whole thing together are a series of curved round rods, many ending in wraps around other rods. This section was actually designed first, then the basic shapes and methods were modified for use on the diagonal stair rails and on the circular stair itself. alternate
alternate design - not chosen


I was contacted later to make a matching segment of diagonal hand rail used for the section of stair leading to the basement. You can see how the basic design was altered to fit the spaces here. It total there were three sections of straight balcony rail and three of the diagonal hand rail installed.

L section

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All text & images , Darrell Markewitz - the Wareham Forge