People innocently ask this question feeling they make a simple inquiry. Blacksmiths and metallurgist see the answer as quite complicated. The physical material, wrought iron, was produced in increasing quantity for perhaps 5000 years but it is no longer produced industrially. The iron that was smelted from ore with heat and flux was poured into very hard and brittle ingots which contained about 4% carbon. This material is known as cast iron and it can be remelted and poured into elaborate molded shapes but it does not yield to forging.
When the ingots were repeatedly heated and worked under huge hammers much of the carbon burned out and the repeated folding produced many thin layers of silica impurities. The resulting metal contained only about .02% carbon. This was wrought iron and could be forged easily and readily fire welded.
Modern techniques replaced this old process and resulted in a material called mild steel with a little more carbon, about .18%. This is the primary material worked by modern artist blacksmiths. Lacking the silica layers it is less resistant to rust and does not forge weld as easily. Some blacksmiths today salvage old wrought iron pieces and use it for restoration projects.
Interior ironwork is commonly finished with a wax or linseed oil based finish or a clear polyurethane or acrylic coating. My preferred finish would be natural iron color coated with Permalac, a clear lacquer. Occasional light waxing should maintain the piece indefinitely. Exterior iron work will eventually rust if a surface coating is not maintained. Various methods of protection can be used such as priming and painting, hot dip galvanizing or powder coating.
Remember the natural finish of iron is rust. Iron of sufficient mass standing exposed to the elements acquires a rust coat that can protect the interior for several lifetimes.
Traditional can refer to either or both process or design. Traditional processes usually suggests working and joining iron in ways used prior to the development of modern gas and electric welding techniques and the wide availability of dimension stock. Traditional design refers to producing forms associated with a recognized period or style, classical, colonial, art nouveau, art deco, etc. Contemporary can mean about any imaginable design that doesn't conform to some other defined category.
Forging refers to moving metal by striking with some variety of hammer while it is very hot to produce the desired shape. Often it is very difficult to look at the finished piece and imagine what the original piece of metal looked like before forging. In fabrication, unworked stock material, such as round bar, angle iron, square tube or cast elements, is assembled, often with modern welding techniques, to produce the finished product. It is not uncommon for iron projects to incorporate both forging and fabricating processes to accomplish what the client desires.
Custom forged ironwork is labor intensive and requires considerable skill and risk and time. A considerable investment in the studio and equipment adds to the overhead. Hand crafting cannot match the economy of scale automated production delivers. The low price of automated production products well serves those who don't mind having something that is the same as what a lot of others have.
We will certainly try to help you locate another artist or fabricator who can accommodate your needs.