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PhillyDeals: At Amish ironworks, a matter of mettle

Visiting the blacksmith who shod horses for his family's farm, young Amos Glick was inspired: "You put a piece of metal at the forge, heat it and beat it, and you get a completely different shape."

Visiting the blacksmith who shod horses for his family's farm, young

Amos Glick

was inspired: "You put a piece of metal at the forge, heat it and beat it, and you get a completely different shape."

As a teenager he worked at the Pequea Machine Inc. plant in Lancaster County, building manure spreaders. At 22, with marriage pending, and funds from his father and the local Mennonite bank, Glick in 1998 started Compass Iron Works in Chester County, refitting an old sawmill among cornfields a few miles past suburban Philadelphia.

"I saw this need for this very specialized ironwork," Glick told me in the scuffed conference room at his 17,000-square-foot plant south of the lone stoplight in the village of Compass, Chester County.

"High-quality, high-end, attention-to-detail ironwork. To serve that client base, that architect, that builder that really wants this - they've got the taste, they've got the resources to pay for it."

Compass Iron Works has gained those clients. "Spectacular," said Donald Kotchick, of Glenwood Builders in Bryn Mawr, as he walked behind the Flemish bond-brick, eight-bedroom mansion John Torrey Windrim built in 1901 in Devon. Kotchick was checking Glick's crew as it installed a patio fence designed and built based on an ornate original upstairs balcony rail that Compass had cleaned and reinstalled.

"They have this ability to create or re-create anything you want, in cast iron or aluminum," Kotchick told me. "What they do never goes out of style."

Suzanne Manlove, owner of Arlington Home Interiors in Virginia, tapped Compass to copy railings from her clients' Main Line mansion and place the railings at their second home in Virginia.

Manlove was hooked by the smooth Compass website: "They gave us a quick education. I had not specked ironworks before. So it was important for me that they have a lot of experience. We talked a lot."

But Manlove had no idea Glick was Amish until she met him - wearing suspenders, trim straw hat, flowing jawline beard. Glick was joined by his seven hatted and bonneted children.

The family's Amish affiliation means the German-descended Christian community avoids the electric grid, the driving of cars, and some other worldly distractions. So Glick's crew, most of them Amish, rebuilt and modified electric forges with liquid fuel, compressed air or batteries. Two "English" (non-Amish) workers handle creation of the company's website and its computer-aided designs, as well as driving the Amish to their jobs.

Self-reliance and sustainability have raised the company's profile among green-focused building designers and clients, and Glick has begun presenting his methods to Philadelphia architects and at National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association meetings.

"They've developed a way of doing ironwork that's very compatible with the [style of] the shore," Cathy Van Duyne, of Van Duyne Builders of Ventnor, told me. "They've made a lot of effort to accommodate to the conditions here, which are harsh.

She first hired Compass 10 years ago.

"Dealing with the salt environment is crucial," she said. "Minor details can make a system fail. They combine craftsmanship with artistic flair, which is unusual."

A salt-spray tank in a clear-topped 55-gallon drum outside the Compass building tests the iron-magnesium combinations Glick uses for construction at the Shore.

"It's almost a culture shock from some of the high-rolling estates that we do work for," Glick said. One client had 30 sports cars. "Never having driven a car, I really can't appreciate," Glick told me. "Now, if he had 12 nice driving horses, I might say, 'Ha!' "

In his office, Glick stacks books displaying Compass' work, as well as ornate Newport mansions adorned by unknown immigrants, and early 1900s jobs by Samuel Yellin, whose West Philadelphia shop hung iron in 41 states.

"Everyone knows the architects," Glick says.

But before Yellin, who stamped his work with his name, "no one can tell you who did the ironwork."

Glick's work is stamped COMPASS.