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Blue Mountain Metalworks will be open on Saturday, October 20, 2012

It’s a big weekend in the High Country; peak leaf season, Appalachian State University home football, Valle Country Fair, and the Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk are all in the mix!  Of course, we want to be a part of it!  So, tomorrow, Saturday, October 12, we will be open from approximately 10 a.m. until 3 or 4:00 in the afternoon.  Blue Mountain Metalworks is located on Hwy 194, also known as “Main Street East”, just half a mile from the stop light at the T intersection in Banner Elk.  Look for our sign with Blue Mountain Metalworks logo.

Dirk will be there giving shop tours, answering questions, drawing up brilliant designs for your next ornamental metal project and selling some intesting smaller items including trivets, hooks, bike sculptures, suns and moons.  Please stop by and visit.  We look forward to seeing you!


Metal work can be fun and fanciful

The days are getting shorter, the stars in the autumn sky are bright, and the kids are asking how many days until Halloween.

At our house, that means it’s time for Dirk to bring out one of his most fanciful creations:
A giant metal spider that we hang on our barn and spotlight for a unique and surprising neighborhood decoration!

The spider first made it’s appearance in fall 2010.  It’s about three feet across and is raised and lowered on a pulley.

Last year Dirk got even more creative; he painted black widow markings and perfected the spotlight system (which is on a timer).










Pretty spooky, huh?

Who knew metal work could be so fun?  Here are a few other examples of whimsical pieces we’ve created at Blue Mountain Metalworks over the past few years.

Steel fish.









5 foot diameter sun wall sculpture .








Moons of all sizes and shapes.








Backlit sun (the shop at night).








And last, but not least, Godzilla riding one of Blue Mountain Metalwork’s trademark mini bike sculptures.








Hope you enjoy!

How do we make it shiny?

One of the things we pride ourselves on at Blue Mountain Metalworks is our ability create metalwork in both contemporary and traditional styles.  Below are two examples of railings built with a clean ultra-modern look.  But how did we make them so shiny???


      Both of these rails are built from steel and have been finished with a “super-chrome” powder coat.  Powder coating is a technique used to paint metal surfaces of all sorts (including bicycle and automotive parts) that results in a highly durable, refined, and consistent finish.  Powder coating can be used to create an incredible variety of finishes (i.e. matte, high gloss, “rust” effect) and comes in a vast array of colors.  As an added bonus, powder coating is an environmentally sound process, emitting little to no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or other hazardous materials.  In addition, excess powder can be collected and reused, so there is very little waste involved.   Overall, it is a much cleaner process than the industrial use of liquid paints. 

Although these railings look like stainless steel, it would be very difficult build them out of actual stainless steel because the material would be scratched and marred during the fabrication process and would require a highly labor-intensive polishing effort to re-create the flawless shiny surface.  Instead, we have achieved the look by powder coating.   This is just one of many finishing techniques we use to create the ideal look and functionality for a project. 

More about other finishing techniques coming your way in a future blog post.  Please let us know if you have questions!

Are you a Facebook fan of Blue Mountain Metalworks?

If you like what you see here on the Blue Mountain Metalworks website, please become a fan (aka “like” us) on Facebook.  You’ll see more photographs of our work and hear the latest news about fresh products and ideas.   We love getting feedback, suggestions, and ideas from an array of people who are interested in what we do at Blue Mountain Metalworks.  It means a lot to us!  Click here to visit our Facebook page and give us a like.  Thanks!

Clearing the Confusion Over Wrought Iron

Is it rod iron? Is it rot iron? Or is it wrought iron?

By Todd Daniel

One of the most confusing terms in the ornamental metals business is the phrase “wrought iron.” However, the confusion is understandable since even dictionaries cannot agree on a single definition The first thing to clear up is the spelling. Many consumers spell the metal “rod iron” or “rot iron.”

Secondly, when the public talks about wrought iron, they could be referring to one of three things – actual wrought iron, hand forged items, or the “look” of wrought iron. Your challenge is to determine what the customer actually wants.

When someone calls your shop and says he wants a “rod iron table,” that person has something clear in mind. Chances are, he’s thinking about an old piece of metal furniture that his grandfather made. The table he envisions is black, full of scrolls, and pretty.

Now could that customer actually want genuine wrought iron? Not likely. Does he want something hammered out at the forge or is he just looking for the silvery black finish characteristic of wrought iron?

In most cases, when your shop receives a “rod iron” call, you may have to play detective to find out what the customer is thinking about. You’ve probably had so many “rod iron” calls that you are used to them, but they are still a little frustrating.

The following is an attempt to clear up some of the confusion about wrought iron by breaking the term down into its most commonly accepted definitions.


Definition 1: The Metal

One reason behind the confusion is that somewhere between the time that grandpa made his wrought iron table and today, the actual metal went out of production in the U.S. During the 1960s, one plant after another discontinued its wrought iron operations until the last plant ceased operations in 1969.

The reason wrought iron was phased out is simple – the process is very labor intensive and costly. In the old days, a laborer had to hold the metal with tongs and “work” it under a steam hammer. In addition, recycling of scrap added downward pressure on the price of steel. According to one estimate, production wrought iron cost nearly twice as much as steel.

Currently, the only way to get true wrought iron is to import it from Europe or find an old bridge, wagon wheel axle, or other antique item. The scarcity of the metal is unfortunate for the ornamental iron industry because wrought iron is an ideal metal to work with. The metal is corrosion resistant, handles stress well, and can accept a thicker finish.

Rather than having the “snap-off” characteristic of modern steels, true wrought is like bread dough or candy taffy [Figure 1].The reason behind the metal’s unusual properties is the addition of iron silicate. This glasslike slag is interwoven in the iron and gives the metal its “dough-like” form [Figure 2]. In a single square inch there may be 250,000 or more of these little slag fibers. By their very nature, the fibers help the metal do a better job of absorbing stress.The slag in wrought iron also provides natural corrosion resistance. Let’s face it, nearly all ferrous metals rust, but wrought iron does a better job at handling it. As corrosion progresses, the fibers tend to disperse the rust into an even film, which gives the metal a natural brownish appearance. This film repels the scattering spotty corrosive attack t that other metals endure.

Because of its corrosion resistance, wrought was the metal of choice in earlier years for marine use, bridges, and girders. In fact, in extremely corrosive areas, an architect may still specify the metal. Another niche where wrought is still alive and well is in the craft of knifemaking.

According to Bob Bergman of Postville Blacksmith, who regularly works with true wrought iron, wrought’s low carbon content makes it easy to weld. “Wrought can stand tremendous heat and is more forgiving,” says Bergman. “It is better structurally for old time blacksmithing.”

Yet another advantage of wrought is that its rough and irregular surface can hold a finish better [Figure 3]. Reportedly, wrought iron can carry a zinc galvanizing coating that is 25 percent to 40 percent thicker than what would be accepted by a smoother metal.

It is no small wonder the word “wrought iron” is still used, even though the actual metal itself is a hard-to-find item. For at least 5,000 years craftspersons have used wrought iron to make functional items and works of art. Some of the world’s most famous metalwork is made of wrought iron.

A 1971 article that appeared in Fabricator magazine made an eloquent defense for wrought iron. Written by William F. Kruse, the column compared wrought iron and steel with Carrara marble and cement. He argued: “Marble does cost more than concrete, but they both have their proper place. Neither really substitutes for the other.” His reasoning was that true wrought should not have been phased out by cheaper substitutes.

He went on to say, “If death could come to a whole ancient and honorable industry as a result of a market erosion brought on by technologically cheapened substitutes, may not a similar erosion threaten the continued existence of the entire ornamental metals industry?”

Mr. Kruse’s prophetic warning may have been a little off base. For one thing, the ornamental metal industry cannot take the blame for the demise of wrought iron. It was the plants that discontinued the metal when they no longer found it profitable. And second, the arrival of cheaper substitutes didn’t mean the industry was “selling out” _ it just means change is inevitable in any industry.


Definition II: Wrought or “Worked”

More likely, when people talk about wrought iron they probably mean metal that is worked. It is generally accepted that “wrought” means any metal that is hammered, twisted or bent into shape, as compared to “cast” which is poured at a foundry. The common vision of the public is of a blacksmith hammering wrought iron on an anvil with a coal forge in the background.

By definition, this form of wrought means “to be forged and formed in a plastic state developing an ornamental effect.” In other words, “wrought” describes both a process of working metal and a type of metal.

Not surprisingly, nearly all “wrought iron” products produced these days are actually made of mild steel. As a fabricator, the only time you may ever need to use genuine wrought iron is if it is specified for reproduction work.

As Bob Bergman describes, “It’s a term that went from steel making to a term now largely used to describe crafts making.”

Technically speaking, any metal can be “wrought,” but the common usage and perception is that “wrought” applies to ferrous metals. Now, the question is: does the client actually want something made at a forge or just the “look” of wrought iron. This leads us to our next definition.



Definition III: The “Look” of Wrought Iron

Actually, you don’t even need to own a forge if all the client wants is the “look” of wrought iron. Achieving the look can be as easy as putting a hammered texture on a mild steel bar. You may also wish to knock the corners off your stock. Better yet, use coarse emery paper to bring out some of the natural silver in the metal. The goal is to rough up the surface so it won’t have the smooth “machine made” appearance of stock metals.

Another way to give steel a “wrought” look is with the finish. In the old days, a blacksmith would finish his work with wax and a little soot from the forge. The mixture would give the metal its famous dull black appearance with silvery highlights.

Wax can still be used for interior applications, but it’s important to instruct the customer on how and when to re-wax the item. Any wax like Miniwax, Beeswax, or Johnson’s Paste Wax will work.

Applying a clear coat is another option for interior work. On outside jobs, a clear coat will not resist the elements as well as a good paint system. If you do decide to use a paint system to give an exterior item a “wrought” look, be careful. If the paint is placed too thick, it will fill in a lot of detail.





As every fabricator knows, good communication up front is a key to avoiding problems later. When the words “wrought iron” come up, proceed with caution. The term has different meanings for different people and a major misunderstanding could mean “eating the big one.” Take the time to determine if your customer wants a forged product or just the “look,” or maybe they would be open to having the item wrought in aluminum. And if a client insists on genuine wrought iron, don’t brush them off too quickly. There are a few applications where true wrought iron is still used.



A “thank you” to Bob Bergman of Postville Blacksmith for his help with this story.

“Wrought Iron on the Scrap Heap?,” Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metal Fabricator, William Kruse, Jan/Feb 1971.

“Wrought Iron – Its Manufacture, Characteristics, and Applications,” A.M. Byers, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1942

Reprinted with permission from the author; this article previously appeared in Fabricator Magazine, a publication of the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association.  Thank you, Todd!


Time to ride the Ghost Train

This weekend, our family is going to the Ghost Train at Tweetsie Railroad — another High Country fall tradition!  The spooky festival runs every Friday and Saturday night until October 27, 2012, with gates opening at 7:30 p.m.  Tweetsie Railroad is located on Highway 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock, NC.  The theme park transforms completely on these autumn nights.  It’s great fun for kids of all ages — adults, too!  Have we talked you into coming for a visit yet? 

Remember to check back here for Saturday openings and other special events at Blue Mountain Metalworks during October and beyond.

When Dirk Brown, owner of Blue Mountain Metalworks, made the jump from wrought iron furniture design and fabrication to ornamental metalwork (i.e. railings, gates, driveway gates), he did so under the tutelage of Ed Powell, a national leader in the ornamental metal field.  Through Ed, Dirk was introduced to the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA), the trade organization for the ornamental metal industry.  The organization was founded in 1958 and currently has approximately 600 members across the United States and internationally.  NOMMA is an invaluable resource to businesses working in the custom ornamental metalwork trade, providing education, technical assistance, networking opportunities, and referrals.  Perhaps most importantly, interacting with some of the most skilled  blacksmith/ fabricator artisans in the world is a constant source of energy and inspiration.   Take a look at the photo gallery of the 2012 winners of the NOMMA “Top Job” competition, and you will see some amazing metalwork!

And here is a picture of Dirk’s very own Top Job gold medal winning gate (from the 2005 competition)!

 Look for NOMMA membership when you are looking for high quality, expertise, and experience in ornamental metalwork.




Plan your fall visit to the High Country now!

It’s fall in the mountains of North Carolina; leaf season is just around the corner, and two of the area’s favorite festivals will be taking place in a few weeks.  At Blue Mountain Metalworks, we welcome the change in season and sense a hint of excitement in the air.  As always, we feel incredibly fortunate to live and work in such a spectacular part of the country where natural beauty surrounds us on a daily basis.

Fall is a marvelous time to visit the North Carolina mountains.  We’ve had lots of crisp clear days recently, and the nights have just started to get cold.  Any moment now, the leaves will break out into their autumn colors.   Biology professors at Appalachian State University have created a Fall Color Map for North Carolina  showing that peak leaf season for 2012 in the Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk area will take place during the weeks of October 1 and October 7.   Their website also tells you everything you’ve always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask, about the science of fall leaf colors!   The Blue Ridge Parkway’s website also provides information and tips for planning a drive along the Parkway to take in the fall color.

During the weekend of October 20 – 21, 2012, you can experience not one, but two, famous mountain festivals:  the Valle Country Fair and the Woolly Worm Festival!  The Valle Country Fair will take place on Saturday, October 20 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Valle Crucis Conference Center on Hwy 194 in Valle Crucis, NC.   This fair features a juried arts and crafts show, fresh-pressed apple cider, and performances of mountain dancing and music.  The Woolly Worm Festival takes place in downtown Banner Elk (just a few blocks from our shop!) and spans both days of the weekend (October 20 and 21).  It features vendors, entertainment and, most importantly, woolly worm races!  Because the brown/ black configuration of the woolly worms is supposed to predict the harshness of the winter ahead, people living in the High Country place a lot of significance on these furry little creatures.  Proceeds from both fairs benefit local non-profit organizations.

Woolly worm.   According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the longer the middle brown band, the milder and shorter the coming winter; the shorter the brown band, the longer and more severe winter will be.



So, come visit the High Country this fall, and stop in to see us while you’re here!  We’re planning to open the shop several Saturdays during the month of October.  Check back here for dates and times.

Two unique projects highlight BMMW diversity

Over the past several months, Blue Mountain Metalworks has been commissioned to create two unusual pieces of metalwork. Both projects resulted in highly functional, artistic items, located in two very different settings.

In early 2012, Blue Mountain Metalworks owner Dirk Brown was approached by fellow artisans Roger and Kristin Brodt of Miters Touch Woodworking about creating ornamental metal fixtures for Boone, North Carolina’s first Jewish temple, Temple of the High Country. The assignment was to design and create door handles that would complement and extend the “Tree of Life” theme embodied in the temple’s sanctuary. This involved collaborating with the project’s architect, members of the Board of Directors, and Miters Touch, who were constructing the woodwork. To ensure that the handles reflected the vision of the temple’s creators, Dirk made several samples and provided examples of different materials and finishes. The final result, made of forged and textured steel finished with a brass-toned paint, was unveiled during a dedication ceremony held on June 22, 2012 and attended by approximately 350 people. Blue Mountain Metalworks is honored to have contributed to this project, which will serve the community far into the future.

Tree of Life sanctuary door handles

The second unusual project resulted from a group of middle schoolers’ enthusiasm for biking and alternative transportation. In spring 2012, Dirk was contacted about designing a custom bike rack for Hardin Park School in Boone. Funds to build the rack had been secured through a Department of Health wellness grant. The kids inolved in the project had already met with the Boone Town Council to discuss their transportation needs and ideas. A new bike rack, which would serve as a showpiece for their initiative, was envisioned as a tangible symbol of their efforts. This could not be just any bike rack! It needed to fit the school campus and include elements that would be representative of Hardin Park School. Of course, as cyclists, we were excited to be involved in this project. Dirk worked with the kids, parents, and school officials to create a suitable design that was endorsed by all. The end product holds ten bikes and features a custom-made, hand-painted eagle (Hardin Park’s mascot) with a wing span of over 8 feet. It was wonderful to see how enthusiastically the bike rack, which was installed in early September, was welcomed by the whole community and to hear that it was immediately put to use and filled to capacity by elementary and middle school bike commuters.

New bike rack — first day in use

These two projects, which, in many ways, couldn’t be more different, illustrate the strengths of our business and what makes us love our work so much: successful collaborations, creative visioning, and the creation of unique, functional metalwork that will be used and appreciated for years to come.

As we suggest in our company tagline, “Imagine the possibilities…”

The showroom gets a facelift!

With spring just a few weeks away, the Blue Mountain Metalworks team has been inspired to transform the office and showroom into a brighter, more comfortable, and more visually interesting space for working and meeting with clients.  Cleaning up the front room and creating new display areas will also allow us to take advantage of increased walk-in traffic by making our retail offerings more accessible. 

Much of the credit for the make-over goes to client and friend Larry Fisk.  Larry, a retired small business owner who lives in Banner Elk with his wife Suzie, has been helping in the shop for the last several months.   We are incredibly appreciative of his good spirits, valuable work, and exellent suggestions for our business.  Larry took the idea of a sprucing up the showroom and ran with it.  We think the results are great.  Here are a few photos of what is still a work in progress.   We hope you’ll stop in and see it for yourself!



 New display board: 

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