Get Bent

I’m sitting with a positively delightful woman one afternoon, a client, and we’re wrapping up the design consultation phase on a metalwork job.  We’ve all but spec’d out the piece she wishes to have fabricated, and I’m feeling very confident about executing the task. when she asks, “Can you contour it to my walkway?”

A pause…then I hear myself saying, “You want me to bend it which way?” 

This unabashed response was a bit out of character for me, as I’m typically somewhat more tactful than that.  But her inquiry caught me so off guard, almost as if she’d asked if I could move a bridge a few inches.

You see, it all goes back to Mr. J.G. Braun.  He and his company defined ornamental iron back in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.  His iconic handrail molding was forged and smelted into the fabric of the American landscape.  If your homes exterior is adorned with metal railings, there’s a good chance its lineage can be traced back to this original elegant design.

But it’s more than just elegant, it is robust…remarkably so.  Take a peek at one of the photos below.  There’s a cross section of inch and fifteen-sixteenths, J.G. Braun handrail molding.  You’ll note that within that cross section, there are four right angles and one very large arc…the strongest geometric shapes known to man, shapes that the Great Pyramids and Roman Aqueducts were based upon.  Those things kinda lasted a while.

Sitting there in my client’s dining room, I explained that what she hoped for, was all but impossible.  Laterally bending hot rolled steel with such rigidity on a flat plane, without bowing, distorting or ruining it would take a very special effort.  She understood, and we both settled on the original design of an arrow straight railing…that is until I returned to my shop.

You see, a brand new challenge had arisen.  I wondered if it was actually possible to do what she had requested.  Never being one to back away from a challenge, I dove right in, and ended up fabricating the very tool the railing was formed on.  It wasn’t easy, but the end result was a seamless, flowing piece.  The client was ecstatic.  The product she received was more than she had originally envisioned.  Another job well done by Bader Art Metal.

Now you must forgive my loquaciousness, as this was actually a very small railing job.  There are angles, there are arcs, there are rises and runs, but upon first glance it’s a simple three post railing.   Yet regardless of the size of the piece, it’s the precision of the process, and the resulting elemental beauty, both seen and unseen, that will forever motivate me and bring a smile to my face.

A wise old man once told me, “Only those who can see the invisible, can perform the impossible.”  Well, I’m no superhero, and I don’t own those comic book X-ray glasses, but I strive every day to see these things, and bring them to life.


Austin F. Bader

Copyright 2011

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