If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:
A MERGER OF ART AND MACHINE:
After the Industrial Revolution, styles of metal furniture and accessories originally handcrafted by artisans, inspired the mass-production of metal furniture and accessories in broad price ranges through the use of different metals and technology. This became a format for the democratization of many everyday home products.
The 20th Century introduced mass-production of flat and tubular steel furniture. The first tubular steel chair made in 1925 is cited as the beginning of modernism.
Enchanted by the golden sheen of Chianti Country while driving to my appointment
at a metal furniture factory—a bend in the road suddenly revealed an Industrial Park—home to the furniture factory.
In an office filled with international awards, the factory owner revealed many facts about the ‘global-consumer’ for whom this affordable metal furniture is made.
My factory tour began in a hangar-like space—housing diverse steel tubing for both capital and labor intensive production.
A craftsman bends a single hollow steel tube into a perfect chair frame.
An identical single hollow steel tube is bent by a mechanical robot
—into the identical perfect chair frame—in less than one minute.
Mechanical robots enable increased production to meet demand for styles that continue to be made in the factory by craftspeople. Selling large quantities of a style affords better technology for greater efficiency —while maintaining quality. This marketing practice is called ‘economy of mass’.
Good quality tubular steel furniture demands ROUNDNESS
of hollow tubing is maintained —especially at corners.
Tubing—flat when turning corners,
and frames made of joined pieces of tubing,
indicate inferior production.
After steel tubes are bent into a chair frame, tubing ‘ends’ are soldered together. This creates oxidation which is polished away before frames are chrome plated.
Some styles of bent tubular steel chairs are original
—others are influenced by the ‘classics’ as Thonet’s bentwood chair.
Steel furniture can be brushed, polished, chrome plated or painted.
Leather seats and backs, sewn by a leather contractor,
complete a popular design.
In a cavernous part of the factory–steel tables and chairs,
hanging from conveyor belts suspended from the ceiling—
fly slowly through a journey of rust proofing and very hot air.
Brilliant colors of paint are sprayed on the furniture by ‘masked-men’
and baked with very hot air for maximum durability.
MY FILM WAS BAKED, TOO.
METAL FURNITURE SUMMARY
IDENTIFY THE METAL:
Iron, brass, steel, aluminum, chromium.
Iron, brass and steel furniture is currently mass-produced in a broad range of price, quality and style. If we understand differences in metals and basic artisan and mass-production techniques, we can choose with confidence, tables, chairs, beds and other metal furniture at prices we can afford.
Brass furniture components are cast, hand-hammered or cut from
hollow brass pipes.
Iron furniture components are cast, hand-forged or cut from hollow
Flat steel furniture components are cut from flat steel.
Tubular steel components are cut from tubular steel and shaped by bending.
Shaping flat or tubular steel furniture requires capital-intensive
machinery to bend very hard metals.
Mass-production of cast metal requires labor-intensive tasks performed by skilled workers. There must be no mold markings —nor visible seams where components are soldered together. Surfaces must not have pits caused by impurities in the molten metal.
Expect variations in hammer marks—but sloppy soldering is unacceptable.
The beauty of hand work is lack of uniformity—not lack of standards.
Chairs of any metal must be perfectly balanced so they won’t easily tip over.
Sit down and attempt to rock back and forth; chairs should resist.
Quality metal furniture has heft so it won’t blow over on a windy day.
Solid brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Harder than copper, brass usage began in the 16th Century.
Make sure furniture is solid brass—not plated. Avoid lacquered brass;
it inevitably peels. Solid brass usually requires polishing once or twice a year.
Iron is second to aluminum as a common element found in ore. It was first used by early man for weapons and later, for utilitarian and ornamental objects. Iron is soft, ductile and malleable. Cast iron is an alloy of iron and carbon —added as a hardener.
Steel is 85% iron alloyed with other elements. High carbon steel is 12% carbon. It is similar —but harder than cast iron.
Stainless steel is stain less-–not stain proof. An alloy of iron, chrome and nickel, stainless steel was developed in England in 1913. Different formulas have varying tensile strength; 18/8 or 18/10 means iron is alloyed with 18 parts chrome and 8 or 10 parts nickel. 18/10 is superior. Stainless steel resists corrosion.
Examine all corners of tubular steel furniture to assure roundness of the tube. All joinery of tubular steel must be invisible and all endings of flat steel must not be sharp (as bottom of legs).
FLAT & TUBULAR STEEL chairs are relatively heavy and won’t tip over easily. Tubular steel is often CHROME PLATED for a durable and bright finish.
Many styles of hand-forged iron furniture are copied using aluminum—a smooth, strong, hard grey surface which is less expensive and lighter in weight than iron.
Aluminum, the most abundant of metals, was not isolated until the 19th Century. Second in usage to iron/steel, it is lightweight and easy to shape. Anodizing is an electrolytic process that thickens the natural skin of aluminum to create a smooth, strong, hard grey surface.
Chromium (chrome) discovered in 1797—was commonly alloyed with iron, nickel or cobalt for hardness and strength. Chromium is 8 to 10% stainless steel. Because of its’ brilliant shine, hardness and corrosion resistance, chrome is often electroplated on metals requiring a durable finish.
CARE FOR ALL METAL FURNITURE :
• Follow all care directions on manufacturer’s labels.
• If solid brass is not lacquered, brass polishes can be used.
• If wrought or cast iron furniture or railings need painting: use rust-proof paint.
• Chrome plated tubular steel and flat or tubular steel requires only dusting.
Soap and water will remove sticky hand-prints—but dry thoroughly.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
My next post: NATURAL WICKER FURNITURE