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Tuesday
May112010

material world: angle iron

photo: flickr.com: While iron is a chemical element—atomic number 26, Fe in Mendeleev’s periodic table—steel is an alloy or a mixture of various elements. Sometimes the names are used interchangeably since they’re both heavy metals, but they are different.

Steel often contains carbon for hardness and strength, carbon steel, which is actually stronger than iron.

Efficient mass production techniques were developed in the 1800’s and steel production moved from the town “smithy” or blacksmith, to large smelting factories.

The industrial age dawned as stronger, more durable metal was used instead of wood to build taller buildings, larger ships, longer bridges. Train tracks were laid across the country opening up the west.

As industrialists provided the fundamentals for progress, architects’ imaginations went wild with bold ideas to use these newfound materials.

For example, built as an entrance for the 1889 World’s Fair which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower was originally a temporary structure. Today it’s a communication tower broadcasting radio and TV signals—via 120 antennas—not to mention one of the most instantly recognizable structures in the world.

Using Bessemer steel beams, steel cages became the framework supporting the weight of skyscrapers. Previously, buildings were only a few stories tall because the outside walls could only carry so much weight—back then, all the weight of a building.

Today, steel is one of the most commonly used materials in the world for buildings, bridges and tunnels, tools and weapons, automobiles and machines, appliances and household goods—including refined industrial furniture.

Construction grade angle iron is actually steel that’s formed into an “L” shape which further increases its strength. It’s not only the functional framework for the bolt dining table, it’s also the form with raised lettering and exposed hardware, details of this architectural material.

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