The Maintenance and Repair of Architectural Cast Iron

By The Old House Web

John G. Waite, AIA Historical Overview by MargotGayle Parts of this story: What is Cast Iron?~~ Maintenance and Repair ~~ Deterioration~~Condition Assessment ~~ Cleaning and Paint Removal~~ Painting and Coating Systems~~ Caulking, Patching,and Mechanical Repairs ~~ Duplication and Replacement~~ Dismantling and Assembly ~~ Substitute Materials ~~ Maintenance ~~Summary ~~ Reading List The preservation of cast-iron architectural elements, including entirefacades, has gained increasing attention in recent years as commercialdistricts are recognized for their historic significance and revitalized.This Brief provides general guidance on approaches to the preservationand restoration of historic cast iron. Cast iron played a preeminent role in the industrial development ofour country during the 19th century. Cast-iron machinery filled America'sfactories and made possible the growth of railroad transportation. Castiron was used extensively in our cities for water systems and street lighting.As an architectural metal, it made possible bold new advances in architecturaldesigns and building technology, while providing a richness in ornamentation. This age-old metal, an iron alloy with a high carbon content, had beentoo costly to make in large quantities until the mid-18th century, whennew furnace technology in England made it more economical for use in construction.Known for its great strength in compression, cast iron in the form of slender,nonflammable pillars, was introduced in the 1790s in English cotton mills,where fires were endemic. In the United States, similar thin columns werefirst employed in the 1820s in theaters and churches to support balconies. By the mid-1820's, one-story iron storefronts were being advertised inNew York City. Daniel Badger, the Boston foundryman who later moved toNew York, asserted that in 1842 he fabricated and installed the first rollingiron shutters for iron storefronts, which provided protection against theftand external fire. In the years ahead, and into the 1920s, the practicalcast-iron storefront would become a favorite in towns and cities from coastto coast. Not only did it help support the load of the upper floors, butit provided large show windows for the display of wares and allowed naturallight to flood the interiors of the shops. Most importantly, cast-iron storefrontswere inexpensive to assemble, requiring little onsite labor. A tireless advocate for the use of cast iron in buildings was an inventiveNew Yorker, the selftaught architect/engineer James Bogardus. From 1840on, Bogardus extolled its virtues of strength, structural stability, durability,relative lightness, ability to be cast in almost any
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multi-storied exterior walls ofiron. One ofthe cast-iron walls was loadbearing. the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. Milwaukee. this corner row of small four-storywarehouses that looked like one building was constructed in lower Manhrattanin only two months. Charles Hotelof 1851 at 60 N. the former Louisiana StateCapitol. Framingwith cast-iron columns and wrought-iron beams and trusses was visible ona vast scale in the New York Crystal Palace of 1853. along with some applied ornaments. consistingof multiples of only a few pieces -. tested for fit. The use of iron in commercialand public buildings spread rapidly. at once ornamental and structural. Third Street is the oldest iron-front in America. side. Begun in April 1850 by Bogardus.). Louisville. many public buildings display magnificentexposed interior ironwork. Philadelphia. and interior bearing walls were ofbrick.Remarkable examples have survived across the country. In addition to these exterior uses. the Brock Stores. the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.C. machined smooth. and use of identicalinterchangeable parts. supporting the wood floor joists. mass production. He also stressed that the foundry casting processes. Theinnovation was its two street facades of selfsupporting cast iron. In the second half of the 19th century. Its rear. the United States was in anera of tremendous economic and territorial growth. bywhich cast iron was made into building elements. were thoroughly compatiblewith the new concepts of prefabrication. Regrettably. several iron-frontswere begun in 1850: The Inquirer Building. and especially New York City where the SoHo Cast IronHistoric District alone has 139 iron-fronted buildings.a large proportion of iron-fronts nationwide have been demolished in downtownredevelopment projects.Rochester (N. including the PeabodyLibrary in Baltimore. witharchitect Robert Hatfield. and hundreds of iron-fronted buildingswere erected in cities across the country from 1849 to beyond the turnof the century. and the PennMutuai Building (all three have been demolished). Known as the Edgar Laing Stores. Outstanding examples of iron-fronts exist in Baltimore.sills.Galveston. New Orleans. There they were hoisted intoposition. and finally trundledon horse-drawn drays to the building site. panels. then bolted together and fastened to the conventional structureof timber and brick with iron spikes and straps The second iron-front building erected was a quantum leap beyond theLaing Stores in size and complexity.Doric-style engaged columns.Y. Tweed Courthouse in New York.D. The St. In 1849 Bogardus created something uniquely American when he erectedthe first structure with self-supporting. above all.the fire-resistant qualities so sought after in an age of serious urbanconflagrations. Each component of the facades had been cast individually in a sandmold in a foundry. the fivestory Sun newspaper building in Baltimorewas both cast-iron-fronted and cast-iron-framed. Richmond.. the floor framing consisted of timber joists and girders. and plates. In Philadelphia.shape and.and the state capitols of 2 . especially since World War II. the former City Hall in Richmond.

but also large facades could be produced with cast iron atless cost than comparable stone fronts. cast iron was the pioneer. Michigan. in Baltimore. L.Nonetheless. Ornamental cast iron wasa popular material in the landscape as well.especially construction on an altogether new scale that was made possibleby the use of metals. Its increaseduse is one reason why building with cast iron diminished around the turnof the century after having been so eagerly adopted only fifty years before. Jackson. cast iron continued to be used in substantial quantities formany other structural and ornamental purposes well into the 20th century:storefronts. With such widespread demand. What is Cast Iron? Cast iron is an alloy with a high carbon content (at least 1. Badger's Architectural Iron Works inManhattan.7%) that makes it more resistant to corrosion than eitherwrought iron or steel. bays and large window frames for steel-framed.7% andusually 3. of course. lampposts. marquees. cast iron contains varyingamounts of silicon.. Mott. as well as knowledgeof metal shrinkage and other technical aspects of casting. CornellBrothers. Not only was it a fire-resistant material in a period of majorurban fires. and iron buildings could be erectedwith speed and efficiency. gates. fountainswith statuary. In addition to carbon. meritsrenewed appreciation and appropriate preservation and restoration treatments. the world's tallest skyscraper when built in 1890 by WilliamLeBaron Jenney. orcookstoves added architectural iron departments. completed during the Civil War. Hecla Ironworks in Brooklyn. although itsperiod of intensive use lasted but a half century.California. Winslow Brothers in Chicago. and Miltenberger in NewOrleans. sulfur. Cast iron was the metal of choice throughout the second half of the19th century. Of these. masonry-cladbuildings. the Shakspeare (sic) Foundry. Major companiesincluded the Hayward Bartlett Co. and Daniel D. These calledfor patternmakers with sophisticated design capabilities.Y. including subway kiosks. bank safes. N. Wood & Perot of Philadelphia. and enclosuresfor cemetery plots. and street and landscape furnishings. and James McKinney in Albany.0 to 3. The 19th century left us with a rich heritage of new building methods. And it is iron. manganese. Tennessee. and phosphorus. J. The largest standing example of framing withcast-iron columns and wrought-iron beams is Chicago's sixteen-story ManhattanBuilding. James L. gazebos. Georgia. however. By this time.and was structurally more versatile and cost-competitive. iron pipe.Leeds & Co. andTexas. appearing as fences. Now the surviving legacyof cast-iron architecture. steel was becoming available nationally. 3 . urns. that forms the great dome of the UnitedStates Capitol. many Americanfoundries that had been casting machine parts. much of which continues to be threatened. furniture.

with less than 1% (usually 0. because it is more rigid and more resistantto buckling than other forms of iron. flashing. and air holes. Mild steel is an alloy of iron and isnot more than 2% carbon. and heattreatment. are potentially dangerousand should be carried out only by experienced and qualified workmen usingprotective equipment suitable to the task.02 to 0. Wrought iron can be distinguished from cast iron in several ways.particularly those relating to cleaning and painting. which account for the brittleness of cast iron. and contain evidence of rolling or hand working.it is best to involve a preservation architect or building conservatorto assess the condition of the iron and prepare contract documents forits treatment. and drawing.Slag varies between 1% and 4% of its content and exists in a purely physicalassociation. however and fails undertensile loading with little prior warning. The characteristics of various types of cast iron are determined bytheir composition and the techniques used in melting. which is strong but easily worked in block oringot form. cast iron is easily poured into molds. that is. making it possibleto create nearly unlimited decorative and structural forms. Cast iron is relatively weak in tension. and graphitecarbon. casting flaws.tough. Mild steel is not as resistant to corrosion as either wroughtiron or cast iron. cementite. it is not alloyed. fatigue-resistant.While molten. Compared with cast iron. Mild steel is now used to fabricate new hand-worked metal work and torepair old wroughtiron elements.03%) carbon. Castiron often contains mold lines. and readily worked by forging. Cast iron with flakes of carbon is called gray cast iron.rolling. it can withstand great compressionloads. pearlite. Unlike wroughtiron and steel. However. cast iron is too hard and brittle to be shaped by hammering. This gives wrought iron its characteristiclaminated (layered) or fibrous structure.It is almost pure iron. bending.grainy appearance of its broken edge caused by the presence of flakes offree graphite. malleable. This brittlenessis the important distinguishing characteristic between cast iron and mildsteel.toughness. 4 . Maintenance and Repair Many of the maintenance and repair techniques described in the Brief. In all but the most simple repairs. Wrought-ironelements generally are simpler in form and less uniform in appearance thancast-iron elements.Cast-iron elements are very uniform in appearance and are frequently usedrepetitively. wrought iron is relatively soft. casting. Metallurgical constituents of cast iron that affect its brittleness. and strength include ferrite. whereaswrought-iron pieces are either riveted or forge-molded (heat welded) together. Cast-iron elements are often bolted or screwed together. or pressing. The "grayfracture" associated with cast iron was probably named for the gray.

soils. occurs in the presenceof acid precipitation or seawater.such as sea water. and time. As the iron corrodes.leaving nothing but rust. acids. Oxidation. particularly with cleaning techniques or painting materials. or alternative treatmentsor materials adopted. a less common problem. suchas water containing salts or hydrogen ions. As a result. once a rust film forms. The severity of thegalvanic corrosion is based on the difference in potential between thetwo metals. occurs rapidly when cast iron is exposed to moistureand air. Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical action that results when twodissimilar metals react together in the presence of an electrolyte. acid precipitation. their relative surface areas. If this process isnot arrested. usually the only solution is replacementof the damaged element. Deterioration Common problems encountered today with cast-iron construction includebadly rusted or missing elements. If there areconflicts. impact damage. which in turn causes further corrosion. and somesulfur compounds present in the atmosphere. damage to connections. the deterioration of the baser metal will be muchless significant. Whereextensive graphitization occurs. metal. The minimum relative humidity necessary to promote rusting is65%. Cast iron will be attacked and corroded when it is adjacentto more noble metals such as lead or copper. the deterioration of the baser metal willbe more rapid and severe. structural failures. Rusting is accelerated in situations where architecturaldetails provide pockets or crevices to trap and hold liquid corrosive agents. the work must be preceded by a reviewof local building codes and environmental protection regulations to determinewhether any conflicts exist with the proposed treatments. and loss of anchorage in masonry. Graphitization occurs where cast ironis left unpainted for long periods or where caulked joints have failedand acidic rainwater has corroded pieces from the backside. its porous surface acts as a reservoirfor liquids. brokenjoints. the cast-iron element retains its appearance andshape but is weaker structurally. If the more noble metal(higher position in electrochemical series) is much larger in area thanthe baser. it will continue until the iron is entirely consumed by corrosion. which act as catalysts in theoxidation process. Graphitization of cast iron. or rusting.then waivers or variances need to be negotiated. salt air.Furthermore. the porous graphite(soft carbon) corrosion residue is impregnated with insoluble corrosionproducts. If the more noble metal is much smaller in areathan the baser metal. but this figure can be lower in the presence of corrosive agents. Testing andidentification of graphitization is accomplished by scraping through thesurface with a knife to reveal the crumbling of the iron beneath. 5 .As with any preservation project. or less noble.

If the work involves more than routine maintenance. identifies problems of repair. Removal of select areas of paint may be theonly means to determine the exact condition of connections.and intersections or crevices that might trap water. and failed caulking. Condition Assessment Before establishing the appropriate treatment for cast-iron elementsin a building or structure. Damage to a primary structuralmember is obviously critical to identify and evaluate. along with itspresent condition. An investigation of load-bearing elements.a qualified professional should be engaged to develop a historic structurereport which sets forth the historical development of the property.Brittleness is another problem occasionally found in old cast-iron elements. a close physicalinspection must be undertaken of every section of the iron constructionincluding bolts. Through this processthe significance and condition of the cast iron can be evaluated and appropriatetreatments proposed.or cold shuts (caused by the "freezing" of the surface of themolten iron during casting because of improper or interrupted pouring). The nature and extent of the problems with the cast-iron elements mustbe well understood before proceeding with work. such as columns and beams. the propertyowner may be able to undertake the repairs by working directly with a knowledgeablecontractor. and provides a detailedlisting of recommended work items with priorities. contract documents can range from outline specificationsto complete working drawings with annotated photographs and specifications. Typically. metal fasteners. or for single components of a buildingsuch as a facade. cracks. such as air holes. an evaluation should be made of the property'shistorical and architectural significance and alterations. Depending onthe scope of work. If there are major problems or extensive damage to the castiron.Castings may also be fractured or flawed as a result of imperfectionsin the original manufacturing process. it is best to secure the services of an architect or conservatorwho specializes in the conservation of historic buildings. 6 . To thoroughly assess the condition of the ironwork. flaking paint. fasteners. a similar but less extensive analytical procedure shouldbe followed. For fences. attention shouldnot be given only to decorative features.will establish whether these components are performing as they were originallydesigned. and cinders. documentsits existing condition. or the stress patterns have been redistributed. scaffoldingor a mechanical lift is employed for close inspection of a cast-iron facadeor other large structures. and brackets.such as surface corrosion. Areas that areabnormally stressed must be examined to ascertain whether they have suffereddamage or have been displaced. If the problems are minor. or of chillingduring the casting process.It may be a result of excessive phosphorus in the iron.

photographs. Whether minor or major work is required. as well as the disposal of materials. sothat modifications or treatments that may turn out to be harmful to thelong-term preservation of the iron can be corrected with the least amountof damage to the historic ironwork. the retention and repair ofhistoric ironwork is the recommended preservation approach over replacement.and it allows the iron to be cleaned in place. diagnosis of itsproblems. when possible. and written descriptions. Before selectinga process. and economical. chipping. copper slag should not be used on iron because of the potentialfor electrolytic reactions. However. and other workplace safety conditions.All repairs and restoration work should be reversible. such as wire brushing and grit blasting. thorough. cracks. The techniques availablerange from physical processes.protective clothing. Many of these techniques are potentially dangerous and should be carriedout only by experienced and qualified workers using proper eye protection. they do not remove all corrosion or paint as effectivelyas other methods.to flame cleaning and chemical methods. The aggregate can be ironslag or sand. and recommendations for its repair should be recorded by drawings. and wire brushing are the most common and leastexpensive methods of removing paint and light rust from cast iron. or object.The condition of the building. to aid those who will be responsiblefor its conservation in the future. Low-pressure grit blasting (commonly called abrasive cleaning or sandblasting)is often the most effective approach to removing excessive paint buildupor substantial corrosion. The selection of an appropriatetechnique depends upon how much paint failure and corrosion has occurred. structure. Some sharpness in the aggregate is beneficialin that it gives the metal surface a "tooth" that will resultin better paint adhesion. test panels should be prepared on the iron to be cleaned todetermine the relative effectiveness of various techniques. andcorrosion that have not been obvious before.the fineness of the surface detailing. The cleaningprocess will most likely expose additional coating defects. the rust and most or all of the paint must be removedto prepare the surfaces for new protective coatings. Grit blasting is fast. Experienced craftsmen should carry out the work to reducethe likelihood that surfaces may be scored or fragile detail damaged. The use of a very sharp or hard aggregate and/orexcessively high pressure (over 100 pounds per square inch) is 7 . Local environmental regulations may restrict the optionsfor cleaning and paint removal methods. There are a number of techniques that can be used to remove paint andcorrosion from cast iron: Hand scraping. and the type of new protective coatingto be applied. Cleaning and Paint Removal When there is extensive failure of the protective coating and/or whenheavy corrosion exists.

field application of alkaline paint removersand acidic cleaners is not generally recommended. However. Wire brushing is usually necessary to finish the surface after flamecleaning. This methoddoes not damage the surface of iron. must be protected to prevent damage. Following any of these methods of cleaning and paint removal. such as methylene chlorideor potassium hydroxide. it can be very effective on lightly to moderately corrodediron. Wet sandblasting reduces the amount of airbornedust when removing a heavy paint buildup. and is expensive and potentiallydangerous. These agents are often availableas slow-acting gels or pastes. or hydrochloric acid-based products.any surface rust that has developed should be removed with a clean wirebrush just before priming. If priming is delayed. Chemical rust removal. oxalic acid. This time period may vary from minutesto hours depending on environmental conditions. residual traces of cleaningcompounds on the surface of the iron can cause paint failures in the future. Because they can cause burns.unnecessaryand should be avoided. Adjacent materials. the newlycleaned iron should be painted immediately with a corrosion-inhibiting primerbefore new rust begins to form. For these reasons. protectiveclothing and eye protection must be worn. Therefore. it is generally not consideredan effective technique. but disposal of effluent containinglead or other toxic substances is restricted by environmental regulationsin most areas. Wet sandblasting is more problematic than dry sandblasting for cleaningcast iron because the water will cause instantaneous surface rusting andwill penetrate deep into open joints. Some local building codesand environmental authorities prohibit or limit dry sandblasting becauseof the problem of airborne dust.and glass. by acid pickling. Chemicals applied to a nonwatertightfacade can seep through crevices and holes. providing that the iron is neutralizedto pH level 7 after cleaning. Other chemical rust removal agents includeammonium citrate. can be an effective alternative to abrasive blastingfor removal of heavy paint buildup. If not thoroughly neutralized. such as brick. because the rust prevents good bonding betweenthe primer and the cast-iron surface and prevents the primer from completelyfilling the pores of the metal. is an effective method of removingrust from iron elements that can be easily removed and taken to a shopfor submerging in vats of dilute phosphoric or sulfuric acid. resulting in damage to thebuilding's interior finishes and corrosion to the backside of the ironcomponents. stone. wood. 8 . Flame cleaning of rust from metal with a special multi-flame head oxyacetylenetorch requires specially skilled operators. Chemical paint removal using alkaline compounds.

Before removing paint from historic architectural cast iron.Old paint that is tightly adhered may be left on the surface of the ironif it is compatible with the proposed coatings. Calledpaint seriation analysis. and application methods. painting should not take place when the temperatureis expected to fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit within 24 hours or whenthe relative humidity is above 80 per cent. All loose. a microscopicanalysis of samples of the historic paint sequencing is recommended. and grease. as well as volatile organic compounds andsubstances (VOC or VOS). water-soluble salts. For the paint to adhere properly. while even moderately pricedpaints can be effective if applied over well-prepared surfaces. where historically appropriate. and manufacturers continue to change product formulations tocomply with new regulations. and other conditions. state. Unless the paint selected is specifically designedfor exceptional conditions. such as whether the paint was matte or gloss. 9 . and whether the buildingwas polychromed or marbleized. flaking. and deteriorated paint must be removed fromthe iron. The analysis will identify the historic paintcolors. and local regulations that prohibitor restrict the manufacture and use of products containing toxic substancessuch as lead and zinc chromate. the metal surfaces must be absolutelydry before painting. many cast-iron elements werepainted to resemble other materials. Occasionally. It is advisable to consult manufacturer's specifications or technicalrepresentatives to ensure compatibility between the surface conditions. The retention of old paintalso preserves the historic paint sequence of the building and avoids thehazards of removal and disposal of old lead paint. paint should not be appliedwhen there is fog.primer and finish coats. Selection of Paints and Coatings The types of paints available for protecting iron have changed dramaticallyin recent years due to federal.Painting and Coating Systems The most common and effective way to preserve architectural cast ironis to maintain a protective coating of paint on the metal. Traditionally. this process must be carried out by an experiencedarchitectural conservator. Thorough surface preparation is necessary for the adhesion of new protectivecoatings.whether sand was added to the paint for texture. such as limestone or sandstone.features were faux-painted so that the iron appeared to be veined marble. mist. oil. or rain in the air. Availability of paint types varies from stateto state. as well as dirt and mud. Paint can alsobe decorative. Poorly prepared surfaces willcause the failure of even the best paints.

the latex paint will cause oxidation of the iron. 10 . alkyd paints are very widely used and have largely replaced lead-containinglinseed oil paints. Latex and other water-based paints are not recommended for use as primerson cast iron because they cause immediate oxidation if applied on baremetal. if not impossible. At least two slow-dryinglinseed oil-based finish coats have traditionally been used over a red leadprimer. in most areas.At least two coats of primer should be applied. followed by an epoxy base coat. zinc oxide. They dry faster than oil paint. Today. Red lead has a strong affinity for linseed oil and formslead soaps. and a thirdfor flashings or substitute materials. and this combination is effective on old or partially deterioratedsurfaces. alkyd finish coats are recommended. These coatings typically require highly clean surfaces andspecial application conditions which can be difficult to achieve in thefield on large buildings. can be used on cast iron to provide longer-lastingprotection. such as zinc-rich primers containing zinc dust. but if the primer coats are imperfectlyapplied or are damaged. One particularly effective system has been first to coat commerciallyblast-cleaned iron with a zinc-rich primer. These coatings are used most effectivelyon elements which have been removed to a shop. or blast-cleaned cast iron.Traditionally. with a thinner film. Vinyl acrylic latex or acrylic latex paints may be used as finishcoats over alkyd rust-inhibitive primers.and two urethane finish coats. Theseprimers are suitable for previously painted surfaces cleaned by hand tools. red lead has been used as an anticorrosive pigment forpriming iron. followed by alkyd enamelfinish coats. This is a concern sinceiron exposed by imperfections in the base coat will be more likely to rustand more frequent maintenance will be required.Therefore. which become a tough and elastic film impervious to water thatis highly effective as a protective coating for iron. One primer may be needed for surfaces with existing paint. A key factor to take into account in selection of coatings is the varietyof conditions on existing and new materials on a particular building orstructure. and zinc phosphate. or newly cast iron. Alkyd rust-inhibitive primerscontain pigments such as iron oxide. the use of paints containing lead is prohibited. chemically stripped. all three followed by compatiblefinish coats. Today.and modern epoxy coatings.Epoxies are particularly susceptible to degradation under ultraviolet radiationand must be protected by finish coats which are more resistant. High-performance coatings. Some epoxy coatings can be used as primerson clean metal or applied to previously-painted surfaces in sound condition. anotherfor newly cast.but they do not protect the metal as long. Field touching-up ofepoxy paints is very difficult. There havebeen problems with epoxy paints which have been shop-applied to iron wherethe coatings have been nicked prior to installation.except for some commercial and industrial purposes.

and other blemishesin the metal. Cracks reducethe strength of the total castiron assembly and provide another point ofentry for water. are also acceptable fillers for small holes. Joints between pieces were caulked to preventwater from seeping in and causing rusting from the inside out. it is typically crumbledfrom weathering.Patching. may be effective. requiring the addition of iron particles to ensure compatibilityand to control shrinkage. epoxy-repaired membersdo have some strength. Filler compounds containing iron particles in an epoxy resin bindercan be used to patch superficial. or destroyed bymechanical cleaning. Thewater may freeze. as well as the effective filling of pits. it is important that cracks be made weathertightby using caulks or fillers.and are effective for subsequent coats only on large. 11 . Historically. Water that penetrates the hollow parts of a cast-iron architectural elementcauses rust that may streak down over other architectural elements. even the bolt and screw heads were caulked toprotect them from the elements and to hide them from view. and Mechanical Repairs Most architectural cast iron is made of many small castings assembledby bolts or screws. The use of spray guns to apply paint is economical. It provides good contact between the paint and theiron. Rollers should never be used for primer coat applications on metal. nonstructural cracks and small defectsin cast iron. For best results. cracks. depending on the width of the crack. To fully cover fine detailingand reach recesses. For good adhesion and performance. The appearanceof spray-applied and roller-applied finish coats is not historically appropriateand should be avoided on areas such as storefronts which are viewed closeat hand. Although oldcaulking is sometimes found in good condition. airlesssprayers should be used by skilled operators.Application Methods Brushing is the traditional and most effective technique for applyingpaint to cast iron. The thermal expansion rate of epoxy resin alone is differentfrom that of iron. Thus. causing the ice to crack the cast iron. Polyester-based putties. cracked from the structural settlement. used in conjunction withbrushing. flat areas. spraying of the primer coat. but doesnot always produce adequate and uniform coverage. Caulking. Although the repaired piece of metal does nothave the same strength as a homogeneous piece of iron.the seams were often caulked with white lead paste and sometimes backedwith cotton or hemp rope. such as those used on autobodies. It is essential to replace deteriorated caulking toprevent water penetration. an architecturalgradepolyurethane sealant or traditional white lead paste is preferred.

In rare instances.or where repairs would be only marginally useful in extending the functionallife of an iron element. it is an inappropriate treatment thatcauses further problems. Occasionally. In some cases. Brazing or welding of cast ironis very difficult to carry out in the field and should be undertaken onlyby very experienced welders. Screws with stripped threads and seriously rustedbolts must be replaced. nonstructuralelements using intact sections of the original as a casting pattern. Large elements andcomplex patterns will usually require the skills and facilities of a largerfirm that specializes in replication. and other elementsshould not be filled with concrete. new patterns of wood or plastic made slightly larger insize than the original will need to be made in order to compensate forthe shrinkage of the iron during casting (cast iron shrinks approximately1/8 inch per foot as it cools from a liquid into a solid). 12 . Small elements can be custom cast in iron at small local foundries. In extreme cases. In extreme cases. new holes may need to be tapped. deteriorated cast iron canbe cut out and new cast iron spliced in place by welding or brazing. leavinga space between the concrete and cast iron.Where cast-iron elements have been previously filled with concrete. Cast-iron structuralelements that have failed must either be reinforced with iron and steelor replaced entirely. statuary. The internal voids of balusters.a matching replacement can be obtained from the existing catalogs of ironfoundries.it is frequently less expensive to replace a deteriorated cast-iron sectionwith a new casting rather than to splice or reinforce it. Sometimes it is possible to replace small. theyneed to be taken apart.often at a cost comparable to substitute materials. major cracks can be repaired by brazing or weldingwith special nickel-alloy welding rods. thus promoting further rusting. Forlarge sections. the concrete and rust removed. However. mechanical repairs can be made to cast iron using ironbars and screws or bolts. and the interiorsurfaces primed and painted before the elements are reassembled. decorative. The corrosionof the iron is further accelerated by the alkaline nature of concrete. Water penetrating this spacedoes not evaporate quickly. Duplication and Replacement The replacement of cast-iron components is often the only practical solutionwhen such features are missing. A wobbly cast-iron balustrade or railing can often be fixed by tighteningall bolts and screws. To compensate for corroded metal around the boltor screw holes. newel posts. or damaged beyond repair. new stainless steel bolts or screws with a larger diameterneed to be used. it shrinks. severely corroded. As the concrete cures.

unlike mostsands they must be moist. The molds are then stripped from the casting. whereas an open-top mold producesa flat surface on one side. When parts do not fit.the pieces are machined to remove irregularities caused by burrs. All of the components should be laid out andpreassembled to make sure that the 13 .Each piece should be numbered and keyed to record drawings. The castings are shop-primed to prevent rust. or arerejected and recast until all of the cast elements fit together properly. which makes the sand cohesive even when themold is turned upside down. in the exact order of original assembly.while some small ornamental parts may be left assembled. and ragged edges (called "burrs") on the castingare ground smooth. a third patternand mold are required for the void. The molding sand is compacted into flasks. or cope and drag) is used formaking a casting with relief on both sides. becauseof the difficulty of supporting an interior core between the top and bottomsand molds during the casting process.The cope is then lifted off and the pattern is removed. and laid out and preassembledat the foundry to ensure proper alignment and fit. care needs to be taken to avoid fracturingthe iron elements by uneven heating of the members. Many hollow castings are made of twoor more parts that are later bolted.Extreme care must be taken since cast iron is very brittle.The Casting Process Architectural elements were traditionally cast in sand molds. as much as possible. Dismantling and Assembly ofArchitectural Components It is sometimes necessary to dismantle all or part of a cast-iron structureduring restoration. heated to a temperatureof approximately 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. Both new castings and reused pieces should be painted with a shop-appliedprime coat on all surfaces. Dismantling should follow the reverse order of construction and re-erectionshould occur. is poured into the mold and thenallowed to cool. screwed. The qualityof the special sands used by foundries is extremely important. A two-part mold (with a top and a bottom.Most larger pieces then are taken apart before shipping to the job site. or forms. Foundries have their own formulas for sand andits admixtures. such as clay. if repairs cannot be successfully carried out in place. especiallyin cold weather. Molten iron.the tunnels to the mold (sprues) and risers that allowed release of airare cut off. leaving the imprintof the pattern in the small mold. For hollow elements. When work mustbe carried out in cord weather.Dismantling should be done only under the direction of a preservation architector architectural conservator who is experienced with historic cast iron. around the pattern. or welded together.

although itsuse is restricted in many areas. After assembly at the site. Galvanic problems can also occur with the use of aluminumif certain types of electrolytes are present. Special care must be taken in the application of paint coatings. or stone chips. FLASHINGS In some instances. Many ofthe original bolts. nuts. resinous materials which can bemolded into virtually any form. and glass fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC). these require more frequentmaintenance and are less durable. the epoxy is usually mixedwith fillers such as sand. galvanic corrosion does not occur. epoxies.alignment and fit are proper. The most common have been aluminum. it may be necessary to design and install flashingsto protect areas vulnerable to water penetration.particularly for ornatelydetailed decorative elements. a misnomerbecause no 14 . and less brittle than cast iron.careful analysis is required whenever aluminum is being considered as areplacement material for structural cast-iron elements. however. Copper and lead-coated copper are notrecommended for use as flashings in contact with cast iron because of galvaniccorrosion problems. joints that were historically caulked shouldbe filled with an architectural-grade polyurethane sealant or the traditionalwhite lead paste.particularly in the field. Substitute Materials In recent years. because it is dissimilar from iron. its placement in contact withor near cast iron may result in galvanic corrosion. glass balloons. Since it isnot a metal. thermo-setting. Aluminum is lighterin weight. The most durable material for flashing ironis terne-coated stainless steel. White lead has the advantage of longevity. Epoxies are two-part. although they were not used historicallywith cast iron. Flashings need to bedesigned and fabricated carefully so that they are effective. a number of metallic and non-metallic materials havebeen used as substitutes for cast iron. reinforcedpolyester (fiberglass). When mixed with sand orstone." Cast aluminum has been used recently as a substitute for cast iron. and screws may have to be replaced with similarfasteners of stainless steel. When molded. more resistant to corrosion. as well asunobtrusive in appearance. Factorsto consider in using substitute materials are addressed in PreservationBriefs 16.However. which emphasizes that "every means of repairing deterioratinghistoric materials or replacing them with identical materials should beexamined before turning to substitute materials. it is often termed epoxy concrete or polymer concrete. It is often difficult to achieve a durable coatingafter the original finish has failed. Other compatible materials areterne-coated steel and galvanized steel. Because aluminum is weaker than iron. and thus should beavoided.

as well as minor items such as failed caulking. Because of its rather flimsy nature. However. and colorof the paint should be noted in the log. Sinceit is not a metal. known as GFRC. is similar to fiberglassexcept that a lightweight concrete is substituted for the resin. Water and detergents or non15 . Thick grease depositsand residue can be removed by hand scraping. laminateshell formed by pouring a polyester resin into a mold and then adding fiberglassfor reinforcement. Records should be kept in the form of a permanent maintenance log whichdescribes routine maintenance tasks and records the date a problem is firstnoted. Regular inspections and accurate record-keepingare essential. it cannotbe used as a substitute for structural elements. cannot be assembled likecast iron and usually requires a separate anchorage system. Non-ionic detergents may be used for the removalof heavy or tenacious dirt or stains. Glass fiber-reinforced concrete. GFRC elementsare generally fabricated as thin shell panels by spraying concrete intoforms. Also. wood. manufacturer.cementitious materials are included. GFRCelements are lightweight. damagedpaint. Superficial dirt can be washed off well-painted and caulked cast ironwith low-pressure water. Because GFRChas a low shrinkage coefficient. It is unsuitablefor locations where it is susceptible to damage by impact. In its most common form. Reinforced polyester. it is not possible toachieve the crisp detail that is characteristic of cast iron. and surface dirt.and stone. inexpensive. Epoxy elements musthave a protective coating to shield them from ultraviolet degradation. Usually a separate framing and anchorage system is required. is often used asa lightweight substitute for historic materials. The same information also shouldbe assembled and recorded for caulking. fiberglass is non-corrosive. including cast iron. commonly known as fiberglass. Like epoxies. Epoxies are particularlyeffective for replicating small. ornamental sections of cast iron. include the identification of major problems. occurring ideally in the spring andfall. GFRC is very different physically and chemically fromiron.They are also flammable and cannot be used as substitutes for structuralcast-iron elements. it causes corrosion of the iron and willhave a different moisture absorption rate. If used adjacent to iron. molds can be made directly from historicelements. rigid. but is susceptibleto ultraviolet degradation. when it was corrected. Maintenance A successful maintenance program is the key to the long-term preservationof architectural cast iron. Painting recordsare important for selecting compatible paints for touch-up and subsequentrepainting. and weather resistant. andis also flammable. and the treatment method. such as missing elementsand fractures. fiberglass is a thin. after testing to determine that theyhave no adverse effects on the painted surfaces. galvanic action does not occur. Biannual inspections. The location of the work and the type.

Preservation Briefs 16: The Use of SubstituteMaterials on Historic Building Exteriors. Printers. The long-term preservation ofarchitectural cast iron is dependent upon both the undertaking of timely. Portland. 1974. David W. 1988."The Journal of the Association for Preservation Technology. Reading List Ashurst. Preservation AssistanceDivision. Park. Badger'sIllustrated Catalogue of Castlron Architecture. Replacement of deterioratedcaulking. Sharon C. as well as the selection of appropriate repair. and Nicola Ashurst with Geoff Wallis and Dennis Toner.. Oregon: Binford & Mort. Gayle. 1980. it is necessary to undertake majorrepairs to individual elements and assemblies. U.Inc. 5.1988. with a new introduction by Margot Gayle.appropriate repairs and the commitment to a regular schedule of maintenance. New York: Dover Publications. Gayle. Vol XIX.S. cleaning. Before repainting. The Grand Era of Cast-Iron Architecture inPortland. "Architectural Cast Iron: Design and Restoration. Department of the Interior. Waite. Part II. it should be carefully removed and the protectivecoating of the iron renewed in the affected area. Margot. 5155.causticdegreasing agents can be used to clean off the residue. AIA. A Historical Survey of Metals. C. and Edmund V. Jr. John.. in some cases badly damagedor missing components must be replicated. William John III. Daniel D.C. Department of the Interior.Practical Building Conservation: English Heritage Technical Handbook: Volume4 Metals. Hants: Gower Technical Press. Scott. J. and repair or replacement of failed flashings are also importantpreventive maintenance measures. Deteriorationand Methods of Preserving Metals.New York. 1976.As soon as rusting is noted. Summary The successful conservation of cast-iron architectural elements and objectsis dependent upon an accurate diagnosis of their condition and the problemsaffecting them. U.. Margot. Number3 (1987). D. National Park Service. 1981.. Castlron Architecture in NewYork: A Photogrnphic Survey. Frequently. The primary purpose of the maintenance program is to control corrosion.oil and grease must be removed so that new coatings will adhere properly.: PreservationAssistance Division. Hawkins. pp. Aldershot. Washington D. Howell. Badger. reprint of 1865 edition published by Baker & Godwin. and John G.. New York: Dover Publications Inc. Look. 16 . National Park Service. Washington. Metals in America'sHistoric Buildings: Part I. Gillon.and painting procedures. AIA.

17 .Robertson. Technical Preservation Services (TPS). Architect and Cast-Iron Consultant. NY: Mount Ida Press. Ornamental Ironwork: An Illustrated Guideto Its Design. William Hawkins. Cast-Iron Decoration: A WorldSurvey. 1978.and other educational materials on responsible historic preservation treatmentsto a broad public. and Joan Robertson. Heritage PreservationServices Division. 1991 This publication has been prepared pursuant to the NationalHistoric Preservation Act of 1966. McMathHawkins Dortignacq. 1977. Washington. wlhich directs the Secretaryof the Interior to develop and make available information concerning historicproperties. Graeme. Diana S. National Park Service prepares standards.Charles Fisher was project coordinator and editor for the National ParkService. Susan and Michael. and withpartial finding from the New York State Council on the Arts. III. and Diana Waite. guidelines. Robinson Iron Company. as amended. and Use in American Architecture. Elizabeth Frosch. New York. Godine. The followingindividuals are to be thanked for their technical assistance: Robert Baird. D. New YorkCity Landmarks Preservation Commission. J. Joel Schwartz. FAIA. Kim Lovejoy was project coordinator and editor for the Conservancy. Mount Ida Press.Facade Consultants International. Albany. Mesick Cohen Waite Architects. October. History.C.William Foulks. Southworth. E. Willcox Dunn. Maurice Schicker. Boston: DavidR. Schwartz and SchwartzMetalworks. Acknowledgements This Preservation Brief was developed by the New York Landmarks Conservancy'sTechnical Preservation Services Center under a cooperative agreement withthe National Park Service's Preservation Assistance Division. Scott Howell. Ornamental Ironwork: Two Centuries of Craftsmanshipin Albany and Troy. 1990. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.Historical Arts & Casting. Waite.

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