Cast Iron Fences VS. Wrought Iron: What You Should Know About Metal Fences

Metal fencing is an elegant option designed to enhance the look of a property while also providing a level of protection. While the original metal fencing was wrought iron, that material is rarely used today due to its prohibitive cost. Today’s metal fence alternatives are generally steel or aluminum, and each option has pros and cons to consider when selecting an option for your home.

What is Wrought Iron Fencing?

Before modern metal processing, wrought iron fencing was the metal of choice for fencing. However, each piece of wrought iron had to be created by a blacksmith who heated the metal and worked it carefully to create the shape and size fencing property owners ordered. The process was time-consuming and expensive, which meant only the wealthiest property owners could use wrought iron fencing.

Maintaining wrought iron fences was also a major headache, as rust developed quickly. Frequent painting was the only solution to preventing rust from destroying the material. That meant the cost of keeping the fencing in good condition was prohibitive, so many older fences ended up deteriorating. Although wrought iron fencing built by a blacksmith was typically quite beautiful, it wasn’t always practical.

While many examples of original wrought iron fencing survive even today, they still require regular maintenance to keep them serviceable. As in the past, modern blacksmiths can duplicate older styles to ensure those antique fences continue to survive, but the cost of doing so is high. That’s why modern metal fences use steel and aluminum rather than true wrought iron.

Understanding Cast Iron Fencing

Cast iron is another older option that’s still seen in some parts of the country today. Unlike wrought iron, cast iron cannot be worked into unusual ornamental shapes. Instead, molten metal is poured into molds to form their shape. The process isn’t as elegant as creating wrought iron, and the resulting fence materials are heavier and less attractive than those commonly seen with wrought iron.

However, cast iron had a significant advantage over wrought iron: price. Since cast iron fencing could be mass-produced in factories, the initial costs were significantly lower than wrought iron, which meant many more property owners were able to install decorative fencing that, while not as beautiful as wrought iron, was still attractive. Cast iron fencing was quite common during the Victorian era, and many of those fences survive and are in use today.

The downsides of cast iron fencing are similar to wrought iron. The material rusts easily, so regular maintenance is a must to ensure the fencing isn’t damaged beyond repair. Because cast iron fencing was more common than wrought iron, salvage yards around the country are likely to have replacement panels when significant repairs are needed. However, the materials won’t be cheap, and buyers may still need to provide significant repairs before the salvaged fencing can be used.

Today’s Metal Fencing: Is it a Viable Option for Modern Homeowners?

Homeowners continue to explore their options when choosing a fencing material. Metal fencing is still sought after when property owners want a decorative, rich-looking fence. Three materials are commonly used instead of older wrought iron or cast iron options: solid steel, hollow steel, and aluminum. Knoxville Fence Company experts routinely explain the advantages and disadvantages of those choices to area property owners so the best option is selected. Here are just a few considerations homeowners must make when selecting metal fencing.

Hollow Steel

Hollow, or tubular, steel is one option that’s frequently touted as a metal fence option. One significant advantage is cost, as hollow steel is less expensive than solid steel or aluminum materials. However, that’s just about the only real advantage of hollow steel. This fencing material isn’t nearly as strong as the other two options, and rust is still an issue. Even though powder coating is commonly used as a finish, corrosion is still inevitable. Even minor scratches must be touched up quickly to minimize corrosion.

A major downside of hollow steel is its lack of style options. Property owners are limited to a few decorative styles, as the tubes cannot be shaped to form intricate shapes. While this type of material may work with a modern, industrial-styled home, the lack of character acts as a deterrent to owners of homes with more traditional styles.

Finally, hollow steel doesn’t offer the strength of solid steel or aluminum options. Even minor damage can ruin the look of hollow steel components, which means property owners may find themselves replacing damaged sections rather than simply touching up some paint damage.

Solid Steel

Many property owners look closely at solid steel when considering a metal fence. Indeed, solid steel is a viable option and is likely to remain so in the future. As with hollow steel, though, the disadvantages should always be considered. One factor every property owner must look at is a lack of color and style options when compared to aluminum. While several options are readily available, most homeowners quickly discover that black and bronze are the only colors commonly offered by manufacturers of steel fencing.

Again, owners must also consider the cost and maintenance requirements for steel fencing. As with hollow steel fencing, solid steel materials are usually powder coated, which requires far less maintenance than wrought iron or cast iron fencing. However, as with hollow steel, scratches must be repaired quickly to reduce corrosion. Leaving a damaged surface will result in significant damage that requires more than a simple touchup to repair.

Aluminum Fencing

The last option considered here is aluminum. In recent years, aluminum fencing has become most property owners’ go-to metal fencing option. There are several reasons that’s happened. Arguably the most important is cost, as aluminum is generally less expensive than some comparable steel options. The cost differences are due to the way the two options are manufactured. That’s not important to most property owners. They want to see an attractive fence erected at a reasonable cost, and aluminum accomplishes that objective.

Even if a similar steel fencing material is available at the same initial cost, the long-term cost of ownership should always be considered. Remember that aluminum never rusts, but even powder-coated steel can rust eventually, especially when surface damages are not repaired quickly. In other words, aluminum fencing, even if it’s more expensive initially than a specific steel fence option, will be less expensive in the long run.

The next factor that enters the equation is maintenance. Since aluminum doesn’t rust, owners are far less likely to need expensive maintenance, even when minor damage occurs. That’s a major advantage, and homeowners are intrigued by the fact that little or no maintenance is required for many years. Of course, touching up minor scratches keeps the fence looking its best, but even if those repairs are neglected, the fence won’t deteriorate.

Property owners also expect their metal fencing to stand up to abuse, and even residential-grade aluminum fencing is designed to stand up to hard use. If extraordinary circumstances suggest a fence might see abnormal abuse, property owners can upgrade to industrial-strength options that are stronger.

Installation Options

Most property owners understand that installing any fence, but especially a metal fence, isn’t easy. A great deal of preparation is needed to ensure the project is successful. That usually means taking a DIY approach is not generally recommended. Remember that a typical metal fence will include many individual panels, and even minor measurement errors can ruin the final look of the fence. Given the cost of materials, that’s not an outcome property owners want to see.

In cases where a homeowner insists on trying a DIY approach, the best fence material is still likely to be aluminum. That material is lighter and easier to handle than steel, which means fewer people are needed to complete an installation. However, installing any metal fence is complicated and cannot normally be handled by a single individual. Taking a DIY approach to installing a metal fence is not recommended, as specialized skills and tools are required. Always consider using a professional installer when erecting a new metal fence.

Is a Metal Fence the Best Option for Your Property?

Metal fencing is often the best choice when owners are looking for a decorative fence that’s strong, long-lasting, and attractive. However, choosing the best metal fence material may not always be simple. That’s why understanding the differences between wrought iron, cast iron, and modern metal materials is crucial.

Wrought iron and cast iron fences are still options, but most property owners will want to keep their costs lower, which means those historical options are unlikely to be the first choice. Completing the repairs makes sense when an existing wrought or cast iron fence is in place and needs restoration. However, the excessive cost involved when installing an entirely new cast or wrought iron fence means most new installations will be steel or aluminum. When it’s time to decide on a fence material, contact a fencing professional to evaluate a property and recommend the most practical solution.

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