Video Roundup: Our Workshop Through the Years
As more people discover us in context-free corners of the internet, I frequently get questions about overseas manufacturing and assurances that no child labor is being used in our factory. These are commendable questions, but highlight to me that we need to do a better job telling our story.
When we started up in 2011, we were the only US producer of cast iron other than the much larger-scale Lodge in TN. We started describing our products as “hand-cast and finished” to highlight our small-scale foundry practice and the intimate way in which our products are made. Today, John and I still make all of our products in our New York workshop, with the help of our wonderful mold-maker, Cassie. We have an all-US supply chain and do our best to make sure our environmental impact is minimal, as a Climate Neutral certified business.
In the four videos below you can see us charting our path forward and growing our workshop over the years. This is how the sausage is made!
Just watching this video makes my back hurt! Savuer filmed this portrait of our Syracuse workshop in 2013 when the magazine included our 9" Frying Skillet in their 10th Anniversary "Saveur 100" issue, a rundown of the best 100 people, places, items and ideas covered in their 10 years in print - a serious honor for our fledgling company.
While not our first workshop, this is the first iteration of our process that really worked after years of development and frustration. John built all of the major equipment we were using, most notably our waste-vegetable oil furnace, affectionately, The Skilletron. We made our molds out of a mix of sand and bentonite clay, hot-stepping it into a retired industrial mold flask. The vegetable oil furnace took 5-6 hours to get up to 2500°F and held enough iron to pour one mold at a time. It was heartbreaking when the castings didn't work out after a full day of labor.
There's too much to say about this day in 2014 and I promise to expound on it more at some point in the future. We had the extraordinary honor of being chosen by Anthony Bourdain for the premier episode of Raw Craft.
From a process perspective, you can see that we have ditched the enormous clay molds for compact sand and resin-bonded versions. Fresh off of a plane from Madagascar, Tony was freezing in our unheated Syracuse warehouse and I got to spend the day in between takes huddled with him next to the furnace as ~30 people booked it around our small shop setting things up. This was day one for this expensive brand campaign, and even with the pressures of the job with all the brass in the room, he made it a point to connect with me and John and to make us feel like he was truly interested in our work.
Two workshops later and we've arrived in our current location in Owego, NY. (I speak for both of us when I say that I refuse to move all of these machines again. After five moves, we're here to stay.) This profile was produced for us by Monogram, who we worked with on a campaign for their premium appliances.
This video shows a huge level-jump in our process and is close to how we are doing things today. We have the Skilletron on a shelf, and you can see our electric induction furnace here, which is much more efficient and clean-running. You can also see John making our compact molds and recycling the spent sand for re-use. Two months into new parenthood here, I'm pretty sure the editors had to stitch my dialogue together like a ransom note for coherence. (There's an extended cut of the process here, for anyone interested in all the details.)
Eater came out to see us in July 2020 to film this profile during the high-pandemic. The skillet side of things is largely unchanged, but towards the end of the video there's a first look at our enameling process. Here we've modified a commercial spray-paint line for porcelain enamel and are firing the pots and lids in a small shuttle kiln purchased from a tile company in Nashville.
At the time of this post, a mind-boggling 2.7 million people have watched this Eater piece. I frequently get notes asking me where the red pots seen in the video are on our website. Those are our regular black pots, red hot from the kiln! Red enamel contains cadmium to make the color, a significant environmental and workplace hazard. We plan to experiment with new colors in the coming years, a prospect made difficult by the reality that many colorful enamels are made with lead, another material on our no-go list.
We've since traded our small kiln and spray line for more precise equipment, most notably our 54 foot enameling kiln, deacquisitioned from Lenox China in North Carolina, and the largest thing that can be moved on the highway without a special convoy. We're due for a new video - editors, hit me up!