Iron doors are quickly climbing in popularity, again. There are great reasons for that. They’re incredibly durable, strong, and mostly self-maintaining. They can also be made in a number of ways to match a vast variety of visual themes.
However, not all iron doors are made the same.
Iron is a complex type of metal that is made in a variety of ways. There are several types of iron used in door construction, and this is something you have to pay attention to when you purchase a door. The behavior and various pros and cons of different types of iron are dramatically different.
Today, we’ll go over what each type of iron used in door construction is, what those types of iron do in terms of practical performance differences, and what we think is the best option for practically everyone.
Let’s get started.
1: Cast Iron
Cast iron is probably the one you’re most familiar with. After all, it is what’s used to make some of the world’s most reliable and time-honored kitchenware.
Cast iron is one of the most basic forms of iron, but it is incredibly resilient, mostly self-maintaining, and gives off that old-timey charm. This is why it has been used to manufacture skillets, Dutch ovens, griddles, and numerous other household staples that are often passed down for generations over the last couple hundred years.
However, is it a great door construction material? Well, yes, and no.
Cast iron is made by smelting carbon, various other metal alloys, iron, and silicon before pouring it into a mold. This type of iron isn’t stamped, pressed, or refined much beyond that.
This leads to some unique visual traits and performance factors.
First, because it’s cast, it’s not going to be the smoothest surface. Cast iron tends to have a sort of rough and rustic appearance. Again, to understand this, you just have to take a close look at whatever cast iron pans you have laying around your house. This rustic appearance can match some home themes and uses, but it’s not going to be great for other things.
Cast iron also isn’t that easy to shape. That’s why it’s poured into molds to make the items you’re used to seeing with it. In door construction, that can be a difficult process to work with, and the results certainly aren’t going to be up to the standards of a modern contemporary home or anything like that. However, it can be made to make rustic gates and parts of doors that give homes a certain visual appeal.
Cast iron is also extremely heavy. Again, just pick up your 50-year-old cast iron Dutch oven. It’s probably the heaviest cooking instrument you own; even if you have a relatively small one.
In terms of performance, cast iron also falls behind for the reason that is evident in cookware. When exposed to water, it does tend to rust fairly quickly. That’s why people who cook with cast iron have to take special care of their cookware to avoid ruining it; even though those items can last for generations, one bad wash cycle and a bit of neglect can ruin them beyond repair.
Cast iron can be decent for door construction, but only in very niche settings. It’s more useful in structural construction when it’s used for various supports or in situations when the molding process doesn’t have to be 100% exact.
2: White Iron
White iron is a form of cast iron. So, a lot of what we mentioned in the previous section is true for white iron, too. The difference, and it’s a big one, is that graphite is removed from the normal cast iron formula during melting.
The result creates some extremely beneficial pros, but it also creates some excessive drawbacks that can hurt the iron’s performance in door construction.
First, let’s talk about the name. White iron is, well, white. This comes from the removal of graphite. This creates some neat visual advantages for white iron. It’s easier to paint because the lighter color doesn’t require as many coats to fully cover, and even if it’s left bare, it looks remarkable.
The one major performance advantage is that it’s basically impervious to wear and tear. White iron is such a hard material that you’re not going to end up scratching it up or denting it unless you really beat it up; before it scratches and dents, you’ll actually have to deal with the cons of white iron.
This is where it takes a plunge in performance, and it’s why we don’t recommend white iron for most doors.
White iron is incredibly hard, and that makes it resistant to wear and tear, but that extreme hardness also makes it brittle.
Now, it’s not so brittle that simply shutting the door is going to turn your iron door into a pile of shards. It’s not glass. However, it is brittle enough that common sources of damage can cause parts to break off, or the door can be broken beyond repair entirely.
Can you imagine installing your iron door, dropping it because it’s so heavy, and watching your investment crack in half? What if someone tries to enter your home, and they’re not worried about making noise? The brittle nature of white iron can create a security problem if the intruder has anything heavy and swingable.
That doesn’t mean white iron can’t be used. It’s great for adding highlights to a door’s visual design, and it can be a unique choice for more decorative doorways that don’t see a ton of action, but it’s definitely not something we’d put at your front entryway or anywhere else that might see a lot of abuse.
3: Gray Iron
Gray iron is yet another form of cast iron. Except, it combines the benefits of white iron and basic cast iron to a lesser degree.
Gray iron has some of the graphite removed, and there are some extra ingredients added to the standard cast iron formula.
This does a number of things.
First, it gives gray iron a lot of the wear and tear resistance that white iron has. Considering that’s basically white iron’s only desirable trait, this is a huge bonus. Granted, gray iron isn’t nearly as hard as white iron, and it’s not quite as resistant to physical wear and tear as white iron is. It just gets some of that resistance.
However, gray iron’s composition gives it some other benefits that put it leagues ahead of white iron and standard cast iron. It’s not a brittle form of iron, it’s fairly resistant to water and oxidation, and it is in a middle point between the two in terms of strength and durability.
In terms of color, gray iron is, as the name suggests, gray. It’s not quite as dark as traditional cast iron, and it’s certainly not white like white iron. This makes it better for painting than traditional cast iron, but it’s going to take a bit more to cover it than what you would need to fully cover white iron. It’s not too bad looking on its own, either. It can match a variety of themes and décor styles with ease.
However, there is a problem with this. It’s basically a lesser form of wrought iron when you start comparing the two. We’ll talk about wrought iron more in the next section, but this is essentially “wrought iron lite,” if you get our drift. It has a lot of the same benefits, just not to the same degree. This makes gray iron a decent option for exterior doors, gates, and other entryways that will be exposed to the elements.
This is why gray iron is often offered as a substitute for wrought iron indoor applications, but it’s certainly not the number-one pick for most customers.
4: Wrought Iron
Wrought iron doors are a step above cast iron for numerous reasons. First, it’s behaviorally a lot like the gray cast iron we mentioned. However, it’s made from smelting pig iron, and it’s mostly pure. The only contaminants in it are microfilaments, and they don’t have any adverse effects on the performance of the iron when used for door construction.
Because of how wrought iron is made, it is best used along with forging and rolling techniques instead of the casting technique that gives cast iron its name. This has some benefits of its own. It can be molded into far more crisp and detailed shapes, and it looks far more “machined” than cast iron does, giving it a crisp look that can match a larger variety of home décor themes.
Besides that, wrought iron has the same benefits as gray iron; except wrought iron’s benefits are much more pronounced. Whatever gray iron can do, wrought iron can do it better. This means that you’re getting a door that can resist water and sunlight with ease, doesn’t scratch or dent easily, isn’t brittle, and is extremely strong. Essentially, it’s the perfect door functionally, and as long as you’re careful with the exact door you choose, it can also be perfect visually. Thanks to the advanced shaping methods used with wrought iron, you can get a door that matches just about any home design.
There aren’t really any downsides to wrought iron, either. It’s mostly self-maintaining. Occasionally, you might want to reapply a protective coating or sand off any minor rust patches you see before they get out of hand, but that’s about it. The door even “lubricates” itself. As the parts that rub on each other develop wear, they develop a “patina” that functions like a natural lubricant. This keeps your iron door opening and closing quietly and smoothly even if you completely neglect it. That is not something that you get with cast iron doors or doors made from other materials.
These benefits are why wrought iron is the most widely used metal for door construction. They all add up to make a door that is capable of not only looking great in an exterior setting but also performing extremely well because the weather has practically no impact on these doors, and they’re excessively secure against intruders as an added bonus. You’ll find wrought iron used to make front and back entrances, gates, fences, stair handrails, and more for exterior settings, and the flexible metal is often used for interior design elements in more rustic homes.
There’s a reason that door suppliers offer gray cast iron doors as substitutes for wrought iron doors instead of alongside them. Wrought iron doors provide everything the best cast iron type can offer but with much more pronounced qualities and even a few bonuses.
Which Type of Iron Door Should You Get?
This article covers different types of iron used for door construction and even other types of construction, but there are others out there. They’re just not commonly used, and there’s no real point in bringing them up in regard to door construction unless you’re an extremely niche buyer.
However, we didn’t really cover which one you should buy for specific situations. Well, it’s safe to say that you should avoid the basic cast iron and white iron types entirely. There isn’t really a reason you need to drop money on an inferior product.
When it comes to gray cast iron and wrought iron, there are some details to consider, though. They both behave similarly, and they can both be used to make high-quality doors. What you really want to look at here is the price.
Gray cast iron is basically a dumbed-down version of wrought iron, but it’s a little cheaper. If you’re looking to buy a gate or throw a secure door on an old shed, gray cast iron might be suitable to help you save a few bucks.
With that being said, wrought iron is going to be better for 99% of situations, and it can match basically any home design. So, we recommend looking at all your wrought iron door options first.