If you have searched the internet for gates, railings etc, you should have noticed there is a lot of choice out there. When you do enough research as i do for comparing my prices to the competition. It becomes noticeable that the same designs pop up with the same pictures on different internet sites. Its certainly not by accident either, many are just retailers rather than makers. They sell a product made by someone else, and there is nothing wrong with that. Most come from one or two manufacturers in the UK and some are from Abroad. Most don’t even keep stock, its dispatched directly from the manufacturer. In a modern age its an efficient method of selling.
What you should have noticed is that these gates or railings are available in a limited range of sizes and only available in one colour usually a satin black. There is a good reason for that.. If you limit your sizes then you can make tools to increase production speed and reduce costs. A Jig being one such tool that can save a fortune in time. Simply put a tool for holding something in place whilst it is made. No need to measure anything, no need to work out bar spacings (see bar spacing for more details) etc. Just drop the cut material in place and weld it up. Super fast and super efficient get the job done in half the time. Trouble is each jig will only work for a given size and usually a given design. To make a good jig costs a lot of time, and usually requires a much higher level of skill than just a welder. Which is really all it takes if you have a Jig, someone that can weld the product together.
As a jig takes a lot of time investment, this means you are going to limit the number you have. After all it would be kind of crazy to make a jig for a gate that is 3ft and 1 inch wide. When you might get asked for that size twice a year. Then of course you have to find somewhere to store it and then find it when you need it. Hence why most mass produced gates come as 2ft 9 inches, 3 foot and 3 foot 3 inches. Simply 3 jigs cover the most common sizes. Also by just covering 3 gate sizes it means less stock. All you need to do is just keep in front of the orders coming in. Having just enough for immediate dispatch and the ability to quickly replace those sold. Its also why one colour only, more choice means more stock to hold..
Another advantage to mass produced is the ability to hold limited steel stock. if you specify 25mm x 8mm for the frame and 10mm round for the uprights. That’s the only stock you need to hold. If you argue with the steel supplier on price for a tonne of each, you will get a much better price, that you would for two tonnes of mixed assorted steel of different sizes. The vast majority of mass produce is pushed to the limits of durability, it other words its made as light as possible. As steel relies on thickness for strength light weight is never good if you want to build some that is going to last. Cost of the steel being one factor why they are kept as light as possible but one of the other reasons is speed. The thinner it is the quicker it is to cut and the quicker it is to weld. stupid as it might seem, but a 10mm round bar requires a weld that is 32mm long to go all the way around the bar. Where as a 16mm round bar has just of 52mm required.
Assuming you are making to order, with a lot of customer freedom of choice. You are hand making the gate or railing to the specific size. You are not going to make Jigs, like the mass manufacturers. because they just wont get used and take to long to make. First of all you are going to need a drawing, with measurement of what is required. Someone has to produce that drawing, with accurate measurements of spacings for the bars etc. If its something simple then chances are you don’t need a drawing. Just a calculator and note pad and work out all the measurements on the Fly. But again that takes time. Each bar will have to be measured to ensure its in the correct place and then welded. by time you have done this you could have made two gates in a jig. It really is that big a difference in time,
If your offering choice in material specifications, it means you need to hold a much bigger stock of material. Customer asks for square uprights instead of round, 16mm instead of 12mm, A thicker material for the frame. Unless you are asking the steel supplier for a large quantity of one size you chances of getting a better price becomes a little more limited. Then of course you have to have the climate controlled storage space for the steel. As most Bespoke suppliers tend to be smaller outfits they usually lack the space for storage. Ending up ordering what is required on a job by job basis or at least trying to get several jobs together to order a tonne or so at a time and get a smaller discount from the steel supplier than you would on a bulk rate, Of course because you never know what you are going to be asked for, you can never really keep stock. Pointless having 20 gates in stock of different sizes and a customer asks for a size you don’t have.
But it does have its advantages. You can make what is needed to the correct size, something that actually fits. Rather than a couple of bits of wood packing out the hinges to try and fill the gap. The ability to make custom designs that vary, so that your house is unique. Your gate isn’t the same as the neighbours or a few doors up the road. Even just a colour difference if its painted rather than powder coated. In many cases the build quality of a bespoke gate or railing is usually higher than that of mass produced. Because if you have gone to all that effort to make something unique that fits. You are going to go that extra mile to spend more time, cleaning the welds and softening any edges. And just make a far better job of it than anything mass produced.
Sadly due to the time and effort involved it will never be as cheap for a custom made gate or railing, as it will for something that is mass produced. Depending on what you are making its likely to take 50% more time to make than mass produce and sometimes 3 times as long One of the great things for me is that yes i might be making a little garden gate this morning and another one this afternoon but, its highly likely they will both be different. So it keeps things interesting.