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Steve Maxwell: Black iron pipe an economical, distinctive home improvement material

If you’re the kind of person who wants to make your home special in a heavy duty, rustic, industrial sort of way, you should consider black iron pipe. It’s widely available, economically priced and relatively easy to work with. I’ve used this stuff for years. It makes strong and attractive railings for stairs, landings and balconies, plus light fixtures, handles, holders, dispensers and posts. Black iron pipe threads together with fittings such as elbows, tees, end caps and unions and is one of my favourite metal materials. It might become yours too because this stuff looks so good and can do so many things.

What is black iron pipe?
This stuff is actually made of steel not iron. It’s an uncoated commodity product that comes in common diameters from a half-inch to two inches and lengths up to 21 feet. Home Hardware is the best Canadian retail source of black iron fittings and pipe that I have found so far, but when I have a big project in mind, I order 21-foot lengths of pipe from a plumber friend who gets them in bulk.

Common black iron fittings include everything you’d expect when it comes to pipes: 45-degree and 90-degree elbows, couplers, unions, tees, Ys, four-way fittings, valves and plugs. These fittings thread onto each other and to the pipe itself. Pipes and fittings usually come with threads already cut on the ends, though working with factory-cut threads is not the only way to go. Re-establishing threads on the ends of pipes after factory-threaded ends have been cut off is one of the more advanced techniques that can be used with black iron pipe. You don’t necessarily need to be able to work to do this yourself to enjoy the benefits. Any skilled handy person you’d hire for jobs around the house should be able to make things for you with this material.

Working with black iron pipe
The easiest way to begin is by using only standard lengths of pipe with pre-cut factory-threads on the ends to thread into fittings. Retail supplies of pipe come in lengths from two inches long to 21 feet, with pipes increasing incrementally in length by half-inch and one inch for lengths up to 4four inches, and every foot beyond that.

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