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Metal Fabricating
Tuesday | 21 October, 2008 | 3:02 am

Something to lean on

Lux Ornamental Iron Works has five-decade history of providing commercial and residential railings

By Lisa Rummler

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Lux Ornamental Iron Works has five-decade history of providing commercial and residential railings

Few businesses can likely claim a TV show as their namesake. But 1950s-era pop culture inspired the nomenclature for Lux Ornamental Iron Works, Pittsburgh.

"The company was founded in 1955 by my father, Frank, and his partner, Angelo DeCiantis," says owner Bob Riccardi. "They decided on the name "Lux" because at the time, my father had immigrated to the country from Italy about a year or so before, and there was a show called "Lux Playhouse" on TV at the time. He thought it was an easy name to spell, given his limited English, and with a recognizable name with Lux soaps, they decided to use that name for the company."

Riccardi says the company only produced residential and commercial railings, with an emphasis on the former, until the early 1970s, when it branched out into fire escapes. For the next two decades, Lux's business was divided nearly evenly between railings and fire escapes, but in the early 1990s, the company decided to get back to its roots.

If there's a rail, there's a way
Slowing demand and more restrictive building code requirements for fire escapes spurred the decision to refocus on commercial and residential railings, as well as window guards and interior steel stairs. About half of the railings are for residential jobs, and half are for commercial, and the company primarily serves Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

"Our commercial customers are usually general contractors for either remodeling or new construction, especially more in office spaces--you're not seeing an awful lot of residential homes being built with a lot of railing on them required," says Riccardi. "If I had to break it up, maybe 80 percent of our residential railing goes to existing homes, and the remaining 20 percent would go to new construction."

Shifting tastes play a role in the demand for steel railings in residences, he says. Currently, although there's a niche demand for interior steel railings, the spotlight is on another material.

"That's sort of cyclical," says Riccardi. "For interiors, sometimes ornamental iron is "in," and sometimes it's not. It seems like more of the interior railings are wood, although there seems to be a little bit of a trend where they want steel."

Lux doesn't prefabricate any railings, making the work it does highly specialized. And although the shop has the know-how to create highly decorative, ornate work, Riccardi says he prefers to focus on more basic products.

"Everything we do is custom," he says. "We buy the raw material from the mill, we cut it to size, lay it out specifically to the size required, punch it and weld it. Some shops are more ornamental or artistic than other shops--we have some competitors who still have in-house blacksmiths, so they can get into more artistic work.

"I would say we're a little bit more bread-and-butter or meat-and-potatoes. We can make ornamental railings if we can buy these decorative, ornamental castings, which we do in a lot of cases from a foundry, then we can incorporate that into our railings."

In an approximately 2,800-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility (with office space, the total facility is about 3,200 sq. ft.), Lux's six to 12 employees use electric arc welders, band saws, propane cutting torches, a hydraulic pipe-bending machine and a Buffalo Ironworker[from Buffalo Machine Tools of Niagara Inc., Lockport, N.Y.] to fabricate railings.

Riccardi's father fabricated the machines the company uses to twist pickets, an integral component of the railing-making process. For one of the machines, he used an old truck transmission and adapted it to do twisting, says Riccardi.

Market conditions
Although he thought prefabricated aluminum and vinyl railings might give him a run for his money, Riccardi says he no longer worries about unhealthy competition from these products because steel railings tend to last longer and require less maintenance. What does concern him, however, is the overall economy and its potential effect on the business.

"There's still a healthy supply and demand for our product, even though the prices have increased," says Riccardi. "I haven't heard too many people complain about pricing because I think they understand what's happening now, with gasoline and steel prices increasing."

Additionally, Riccardi says he's confident there will always be a market for Lux products. Today, the company is replacing railings Riccardi's father installed 40 to 50 years ago. Frank Riccardi still manages to put in some hours at the company he co-founded, and he shares his son's satisfaction with where the business stands.

"My father is semiretired, but he comes in a couple of days a week for a half a day," says Riccardi. "He'll go out and make two or three sales calls for me, just to help take some of the load off my back. I think at one time, he thought we would get into bigger things--maybe a little bit of structural work and things like that. But right now, we're pretty happy with where we are. I can't complain." FFJ

Last modified on Wednesday | 22 February, 2012 | 4:19 pm

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