FAIRBANKS — Many of the Alaskana scenes that have gone up around metal railings in Fairbanks recently come from the same place: Alaska Ornamental Iron’s workshop off Chena Pump Road.
Bears, moose, miners and mountain climber silhouettes fill a computer file in the workshop of business owner Warren Flynn. The scenes built from these images get transferred to metal sheets by means of a plasma cutter, a tool that cuts through metal with compressed air heated to very high temperatures.
With this tool and with conventional welding techniques, Flynn can make custom projects including ornamental fences, railings, security window bars and — a new product —spinning shooting targets made from rebar.
His work in Fairbanks includes the patio railing of Geraldo’s Italian Restaurant, the fence Golden Valley Electric Association’s Illinois Street office, the railings along the First Avenue bike path and the public art on the new Veteran’s Memorial Bridge on Barnette Street.
Flynn and his two sons did about 100 projects last year, Flynn estimates.
The business recently added a fourth worker, an intern, who learned how to weld on the job in a matter of days, Flynn said.
Flynn has lived in Fairbanks since the 1970s and has long been a contractor.
But his experience with metalwork doesn’t go back that far.
He’d never used a plasma cutter before 2007, when he bought the business from his friend and business founder Chad Dietz.
Dietz started Alaska Ornamental Iron about 10 years before in Ester.
“The work appealed to me,” Flynn said. “The challenge of incorporating both the practical side and artistic part of it. And both my boys have really taken to it.”
His favorite project, Flynn said, was probably also the most challenging.
It was the stainless steel railings behind the Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park.
These railings slope down at varying grades from the visitor center to trails through the tundra behind.
They were challenging because of the remote location.
“It required such accuracy to fabricate those complicated angles,” he said. “If you’re wrong, you’re coming back 66 miles and redoing it. But we got out there and it all fit exactly right.”
Flynn does business all around Alaska, driving his truck up and down the Parks and Richardson highways for installs as far as Valdez and the Kenai Peninsula.
He’s not the only one in the state who does ornamental metal art plates, but describes his business as a niche between big industrial welding shops and hobbyists with small plasma welders.
If his business expands, Flynn said he hopes to expand his two-room workshop. It fulfills their needs now, but painting fills all the space.
He also has ambitions of buying a new plasma cutter that would let him cut through thicker sheets of steel.