If you are considering a wrought iron baluster pattern, you may be wondering whether you should choose a full iron balustrade with handrail, posts, and balusters or a combination of wood stair parts with wrought iron balusters.
For interior balustrades, where sun and weathering are not an issue, first consider the stylistic aspect as a whole and then delve deeper into the individual components.
First, let us consider a full iron balustrade which includes handrail, balusters, and newel posts. Wrought Iron has been used for decorative purposes since the middle ages (prior to that it was used primarily for tools and weapons). In the early 1900’s, true wrought iron was gradually replaced with “mild steel,” which is less expensive and easier to produce. Mild Steel has many of the properties of wrought iron and is what virtually all wrought iron stair parts are made of today, despite the fact that the term “wrought iron” was erroneously retained presumably due to marketing considerations: “wrought iron balusters” sounds more appealing than “mild steel balusters”. If the architectural style of your home harkens back to an earlier period to which you want to remain true, then a full wrought iron balustrade may be the obvious choice. Wrought iron balustrades in interior spaces are stronger and will last indefinitely. Of course, this may only apply to the structural capacity; aesthetically, it may not be true. A perfect example is the wide-spread use of wrought iron during the late 60’s and 70’s, primarily for cost purposes, that often seem dated today. They were typically cheap designs that made little or no attempt to stand on their own creative or artistic merits. While full iron balustrades are not nearly as common today as wood and iron combinations, there are many situations in which this style is preferable. These include maintaining an authentic theme in a home where wrought iron is perfectly matched or in contemporary designs such as modern or semi-industrial, using horizontal iron balustrades.
Full wood balustrades are comparatively more recent in their popularity and are suited for specific home styles such as Craftsman, Traditional, and Victorian. Wood balustrades are typically more bold because of the larger components as required to insure their inherent durability. For example, a ½” wrought iron baluster with an intricate “basket” component would fall apart if made from any wood species, so the wood components are typically larger and have more subtle differences.
Combining wood and wrought iron is another option for your balustrade. This is the most common type of wrought iron based balustrade system built today, and for good reason. Wrought iron balusters offer the widest range of design possibilities. Where a single wood baluster is often just repeated through the balustrade, several wrought iron balusters are combined to expand on the individual baluster design into extensive patterns. For those wanting a more unique and visually larger impression, iron balusters are definitely more versatile. The use of wood handrails and newel posts is often preferred over their wrought iron counterparts for two reasons: wood handrails are typically much larger and warmer to the touch than steel, and they create a more substantial top boundary to the balustrade and may help integrate the balustrade with other wood components of the home, such as hardwood floors, moldings and doors. Wood newel posts are available as turned or box newels. They are substantially larger, stronger, and are visually more commanding; this is the largest architectural feature of the balustrade. For interior use, wood and wrought iron combinations are often the best of both worlds: the combination can be used to create varied intricate and unique baluster patterns with larger handrails and bold newel posts that add warmth and contrast to the balustrade. Additionally, wood stair treads, skirtboards, and moldings can help further the integration of the stair and balustrade with the other architectural features of the home.
The final consideration is cost. The difficulty with this is that there is so much overlap that there is now clear differentiation between full iron and wood and iron combinations. If you intend to have your balustrade professionally installed, have your project bid both ways. If you are a DIYer, your skill-set may determine the direction. Wood and iron combinations are relatively simple for anyone with basic woodworking skills. Full Wrought Iron, on the other hand, requires welding, grinding and, if you are dealing with curves, rolling the steel.