At Quality Castings
Andrew Hudson, Master Caster
Quality Castings has occupied a string of old buildings alongside the Regent’s Canal in Haggerston for the last thirty years but, now the property has become more valuable for residential use, the company is transferring their business to Hackney Wick this summer. So Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I decided to pay a visit this week and record this celebrated endeavour in familiar surroundings before they move out to a new factory further east.
Our guide was Alan Factor, a soft-spoken Welshman with twinkly eyes that cast an air of alchemical mystery upon preceedings, even as he revealed to us the plain reality of the lost wax process. “We do precision casting in aluminium, brass, bronze, silver, gold, platinum and palladium,” he explained, clasping his hands proudly when we met him in the tiny white cubicle of a reception room without windows. “Jewellery’s gone to the Far East,” he revealed, “So we do more for engineering and industry now. We are a service industry, we replicate other people’s products.”
In wonder, Alan told us about a conceptual artist who melted down celluloid film stock to remove the silver and cast a chewed pencil with the metal extracted. He told us about the husband who brought a dried rose that had sentimental meaning for his wife and asked to have it cast in a precious metal. He told us they made the handles for the Queen’s Gold Cup at Ascot, that she presented to herself when her horse came first. “She won her own cup that year,” Alan confided with a chuckle, showing us a picture of the famous cup.
“We make a lot of different things,” he assured me, widening his eyes with promise as he led us through into the workshop, which reminded me a little of a school science laboratory. In the far corner Paul Prowse, Master Mould Cutter, was packing rubber around a small piece of jewellery in a frame the size of a tobacco tin. Then he placed it in a heated press that would melt the rubber and compact it into a mould. Taking out a mould that had already cooled, he set to work with a sharp knife like an expert fishmonger, inserting the blade and cutting through to fillet out the object at the centre and leave a clean mould for casting.
Next to Paul, Precision Waxer Geoff Luke was holding the completed rubber mould up to a hot wax injection machine, to create a replica of the original. Once the rubber mould was filled, he placed it upon a refrigerated surface to harden the wax before opening it up to remove delicate wax facsimiles of intricate jewellery and, using a paintbrush, dust them with talcum to prevent any sticking in the plaster mould. Across the room, Chris Walsh, another Precision Waxer was working with a heat gun, attaching the fragile wax forms onto a central core, arranged dextrously in a spiral to create a curious tree-like filigree effect.
Along the corridor, Alan led us through another door where we met Andrew Hudson, Master Caster, lurking in his own lair – a dignified industrial environment. Andrew places the frail wax ‘trees’ into cylinders which he fills up with plaster to create the mould that receives the molten metal. These cylinders are baked overnight in ovens to melt away the wax and leave a void into which the metal is poured. Thus, when these moulds are finally broken open, replicas of the original items are revealed – having travelled a strange journey through mutability, becoming negative, positive, negative and finally positive objects again.
Hundreds of orders stream through, mostly turned round in a week with repeats occasionally turned around in a day. It is an ancient process that has not lost its magic even when it is done with such apparent effortless efficiency and accomplishment, as at Quality Castings.
In the mould-making workshop
Placing the rubber in the heated press where it will form a mould as it melts
Paul Prowse, Master Mould Cutter of sixteen years experience
Removing the original from the mould
A selection of rubber moulds
Geoff Luke, Precision Waxer of seventeen years experience, fills the mould with wax
Geoff dusts the wax replica of a gold ring with talcum to prevent it sticking in the mould
Chris Walsh, Precision Waxer
Trees of wax replicas – on the left you can see parts of a watch
One hundred and fifty thousand moulds in the store room
Andrew Hudson, Master Caster
The trees are surrounded with plaster to create a mould for the casting
The moulds sit overnight in the ovens to remove the wax
Crucibles for hot metal
The crucible sits in the upper canister and the molten metal runs down into the mould
Finished castings ready for despatch
Alan Factor joined the company as General Manager twenty years ago
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
Quality Castings is currently at 2-4 Orsman Rd, N1 5QJ but will be moving this summer to Victoria Park Industrial Centre, Rothbury Rd, E9 5HD
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