A cast iron jigsaw puzzle

One of the most satisfying projects we’ve undertaken recently was the restoration of this beautiful cast iron Coalbrookdale Nasturtium bench.

Cast iron is a durable metal and was (and still is) used frequently to make garden furniture, because it can withstand the elements while allowing the designer to introduce a high level of detail and decoration. The drawback of using cast iron is that it is susceptible to cracking if it’s dropped, which is exactly what happened to this particular bench.

Coalbrookdale benches are very sought after these days, it’s possible to date a bench by looking closely at the diamond stamp which were imprinted onto all manner of products. See attached image.

“From 1842 to 1893 products registered with the British Patents Office were given a distinctive diamond mark bearing a code which summarised the material (class 1 for metals), the day, the month and year of registration and the bundle of documents at the Public Record Office where the patent is to be found.”

Cast iron date marks

 

If you are lucky enough to own one of these historic benches, and would like to know more about our restoration service and what it’s likely to cost, please follow this link.

Martin painstakingly recreated this original bench using the myriad of pieces supplied. The pictures below tell the story of the restoration. We’re delighted to say this particular story has a happy ending!

 

Coalbrookdale bench restoration

We have been commissioned to restore a number of lovely Coalbrookdale cast iron benches over the last few months. These items are becoming extremely sought after and are fetching high sums at auction so are well worth restoring. Here are two separate restoration commissions as an illustration of the kind of challenges the restoration team here at Ironart are tasked with.

The 1864 Lily of the Valley bench came in to us in  July 2014. It had already been blast cleaned and previously very poorly repaired. Martin and Cecilie took the old ‘bodged’ welds off and replaced with fresh welds and brackets where they were missing. They added bits of missing leaf work  which were carved from scratch out of cast plate. The bench was then reassembled (reusing the slats it had been sent with) and supplied to our client with a red oxide paint finish.

The second bench is a lovely Fern Coalbrookdale which came in to us in June. We took paint samples as it looked to us as if the original Coalbrookdale green paint was still in situ underneath the new layers. We had it cleaned  which revealed pinholes in the original casting (shown). The centre mount on the back of the bench was broken and there was a lug missing. All fixings had corroded so Martin had to drill and tap and make new bolts. There was a missing front slat mount, and another on the back. The bench was supplied painted and the client replaced the slats themselves.

If you have cast iron garden furniture that could do with some TLC and would like a quote to have it restored, please get in touch.

Ironart in Antique Collecting magazine

Garden antiques expert James Rylands writes in detail about Coalbrookdale garden furniture in the July/August issue of Antique Collecting magazine – an interesting article that’s well worth a read if you can lay  your hands on a copy. The magazine is published by the Antique Collector’s Club www.antique-collecting.co.uk 01394 389 950 We were approached by the magazine to offer advice on the restoration of Coalbrookdale furniture and Ironart’s Martin Smith is quoted in the article.  James Rylands been involved in antiques from 1979 when he joined Sotheby’s. In 1986  he set up the Garden Statuary department in Sothebys Sussex. He is the co-author of a book on garden ornaments and the founder of Summers Place Auctions in West Sussex, which specialises in garden statuary.

For more information on the restoration of antique cast iron furniture, please take a look at the Restoration area on our website, where you’ll find a portfolio of commissions. If you have any questions or want some advice about restoration, please get in touch.

 

 

In the workshop this week…

Some happy snaps taken today showing the diversity of projects on the go here at Ironart in a typical working day!

Jason has made this set of three beautiful forged field gates for a wedding venue in Canterbury, Kent which have just come back from the galvanizers.  Dom was working on some fiddly drop bolts for a customer while Martin has been busy laying out pieces for an amazing ‘found objects’ entrance gate which will grace the entrance of a cool revamped pub on Colston Hill in the heart of Bristol. This project has been commissioned by local interior and garden design firm Woodhouse & Law. We can tell that Martin is in his element working on this project because he’s been singing non-stop since he started work on it. The gate will evolve as it comes together – we’ll keep you posted as he progresses it. He’s also working on two antique Coalbrookdale benches, one Lily of the Valley three seat bench dated 1864 and a huge 6ft long Nasturtium bench – never a dull moment!

 

 

 

Cast iron furniture restoration service

We are frequently contacted by people who own an antique cast iron bench or item of furniture and are interested in having it restored. These pieces are becoming increasingly collectable and can fetch very high sums at auction,* so even though it can be costly commissioning specialist repairs, it’s often well worth making the investment.

To clarify from the outset, our definition of ‘restoration’ is refurbishment not conservation. Our objective with each project we undertake is to bring the item back to as near original condition as possible. We aim to make invisible repairs which give the item the integral strength required to ensure it is useable. (Please note that ‘true conservation’ principles are at odds with this. A true conservationist would simply aim to halt any further decay.)

Cast iron bench repairs (2) Cast iron bench repairs (3) Cast iron bench repairs (7) Cast iron bench repairs (8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately due to the bespoke nature of restoration work it’s very difficult to give an estimate to repair your item without actually seeing it because there is a huge variation in the scope of each project. Having said that, experience has taught us that there are some commonalities which can give you a guide. We thought it would be useful to explain our restoration process and a breakdown of the costs involved. Please note that all prices are subject to VAT.

1) Photograph the item
In order to ascertain the scope of your project we ask you to send photographs of the furniture with close-ups of any obvious damage. From these we are able to give an estimated cost for the repair work required. This is on the understanding that until we are able to see the item first-hand here in the workshop we are unable to give a fixed cost.
Should you decide to proceed with the estimate for repairs/restoration the following costs need to be attributed as applicable:

2) Transportation
Transportation to and from the Ironart workshops with Martin Bros (specialist fine art carrier) to include goods in transit insurance with our insurers costs c. £100 per trip, to cover most of England and Wales. POA for benches from elsewhere.

3) Condition reports
On arrival at our workshops the item is fully assessed and a condition report is recorded with dating where possible.  We carry out a second condition evaluation after your item has been cleaned because it is very common to reveal small fractures in the ironwork which had been hidden by old paint. Only at this stage are we able to contact you with a fixed price for the repair work. Cost for these two evaluations will be £80.00

4) Dismantling
In dismantling the benches it is very common that threads will require replacement. Until we dismantle the bench we will not know how many threads will need to be renewed. Cost per thread replacement is £20 per item.

5) Paint stripping & cleaning
It’s common practice to shotblast cast iron to remove paint. Here at Ironart we use copper oxide as the blasting medium and take a great deal of care when doing so! Copper oxide is a less aggressive medium than other materials offered by shot blasting companies (many of whom may have little idea of the intrinsic value of the piece). Depending on the previous paint types used the blasting time can vary enormously. As a consequence we can only give an estimate of the blasting cost here. Typically for a cast iron bench with cast iron back allow: £200 (2 seat); £300 (3 seat); £100 (bench ends only).

Once the item has been stripped back to the bare casting it is given one coat of primer to inhibit rust forming on the surface of the metal. The primer used will depend on the final paint system to be used so it is necessary to consider the finish at an early stage.

6) Workshop repairs
Workshop repairs are charged at £36 p/h and are carried out by our team of highly skilled historic ironwork specialists. Materials used during the repairs, such as cast iron welding rods are charged in addition.

7) Painting
Typically we decorate the benches with a Dacrylate Vinadac paint system, however we can paint in any conventional paint system. (Please note we do not have the facilities to paint two-pack systems). We keep a variety of stock colours which can be found on our website. The cost to decorate a typical three seat bench will be £320.00. Non-stock colours can be supplied in any colours from the RAL or BS4800/BS381C ranges. Allow an additional £40-50 for this depending on colour.
It is also possible to offer an historic paint analysis and colour matching service if you are interested in seeing your item finished in it’s original colour. Where items have been covered in multiple layers of paint we send a sample off for analysis to specialist paint historian (assuming the original paint is still on the bench). The cost for the historic paint analysis service is: £200.

8) Replacement Oak Slats
We are happy to supply new wooden slats, and to oil and fit them. These are supplied in European oak with a slight rounding to the top edge of the slats. The cost varies depending on length and number but allow c.£170 – £200 for replacement slats.

Depending on the bench style slats are either cut square at the each end or have to be shaped to fit within the cast iron moulding. If the slats are cut square then allow an additional £40 for stainless steel fixings and 3 coats of Osmo UV oil. If the ends are to be shaped then this can be a very time-consuming process depending on the casting allow 4-8 hours @ £36 p/h to include oiling.

9) Final Assembly
Final assembly can vary enormously due to the nature of construction allow 4-8 hours per bench @ £36.00 p/h.

*Please be aware there are many modern copies of original cast iron furniture patterns around. The only way to make an educated guess is to look at the quality of the casting and check your item for a pattern number which will help to date when it was made. Please find an explanation of pattern marks and how they can be read here:

Cast iron date marks

 

 

 

Ironart visit to the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron

Last weekend a group of us headed up to Ironbridge to the Museum of Iron to meet the esteemed John Powell, retired curator of the Coalbrookdale collection. John very kindly gave up his entire morning to give us a guided tour of the collection and to share his knowledge with us. This was of particular interest to Martin Smith, restoration specialist here at Ironart, as Martin is largely responsible for the restoration and repair of all the cast iron furniture within the business. His knowledge is already extensive and we all learnt a lot from the vist. Sadly, according to John, there is only a limited Coalbrookdale furniture archive available in existence as a vast number of the original records from the Coalbrookdale Foundry were deliberately destroyed in a family feud.

Our huge thanks go to John, and to the museum for having us all. We highly recommend a day out to the Coalbrookdale museums, they are very absorbing and the Enginuity exhibition next door is brilliant for kids (big and small!)

 

 

Restoration of a ‘Passion Flower’ bench

The restoration team recently completed the refurbishment of this lovely three seat Passion Flower pattern Coalbrookdale cast iron bench. The bench was missing several sections which had broken off over time, which Ironart’s Martin Smith cleverly recreated. If you have an antique cast iron bench that is in need of repair, and would like some advice about the cost of renovation and the processes we use, please get in touch.

 

Solving a Coalbrookedale mystery…

We have a beautiful Coalbrookedale Lily of the Valley bench in for restoration at the moment. Martin Smith and Ironart’s Conservation Apprentice – Cecilie Robinson have carefully disassembled it in the workshop ready for cleaning.

We are regularly asked what colour these benches would originally have been painted, and have done a fair bit of research on the subject. The Museum of Iron at Ironbridge where these benches were made, have no surviving examples of the original colour schemes so it’s been impossible to colour-match the original paint. In her book ‘Decorative Ironwork’ author and Curator at the V&A Museum Marian Campbell states that Coalbrookedale benches were “originally painted brownish to imitate bronze or green for patinated bronze”.

This bench (yet to be accurately dated) has revealed two shades of dark bluish-green right next to the metalwork – tucked away underneath where it wouldn’t have been bleached by the sun. This is certainly the closest WE have come to being able to accurately specify an original colour.

For more information on Coalbrookedale take a look at the Museums website. To see examples of antique cast iron furniture we have restored, follow this link.

Cecilie restoring Coalbrookedale bench (2) Cecilie restoring Coalbrookedale bench (3) Cecilie restoring Coalbrookedale bench (4) Cecilie restoring Coalbrookedale bench (1)web_Original Bronze Green Colour - Jan 2014