Hello everyone 👋
This is the first update in quite some time - Firstly, I'd like to say a big thank-you to those of you that have pre-ordered. Second, thank you all for your interest, patience & kind words of support from everyone!
I thought I'd start by running through some of the processes that we use to make the castings, hopefully without boring you all too much!
At the heart of an Iron-Mills salt or pepper mill is the iron castings itself. To produce these masterpieces, we have partnered with a local foundry, in the heart of The Black Country. A typical Victorian 1900’s era foundry that uses traditional casting techniques - still, to this day.
The process begins with what's known in the casting world as a pattern. Or put simply – a replica of the object you're going to cast. A traditional pattern is made by a pattern-maker, a skilled tradesperson, with skills in die and mould making. Our patterns have been made to exacting standards and are hand-carved from a single piece of wood.
Sand casting is a metal casting process, where sand is used to form a mould, into which the molten metal is poured. As the metal cools, it solidifies, resulting in a finished cast product. To produce a simple part, the process involves; compacting sand around the pattern and then removing the pattern to create a cavity. A gate system is used to pour the liquid metal into the mould and to control the shrinkage of the metal and how fast it cools. More complex castings require cores to be produced to create hollow sections in the casting (where the salt & peppercorns will live).
The Challenges We've Been Working On
Two cast components make up each mill, the body & the handle. The handle requires a fairly straight forward pattern, which we were able to produce relatively quickly. The body, however, requires a much more complicated split pattern and core-box, which has been a challenge (to say the least).
The main challenge with the mill body casting has been deciding where to put the gate system - which allows the molten metal into the mould. The entrance to the gate system leaves a nasty raised section on the surface of the casting. These have to be filed/ground off with either a manual or machining operation. Firstly, this affects the overall aesthetic of the finished product - so it must be just right. Second, each manual or machining operation adds cost and therefore these operations must be kept to a minimum to ensure the viability of the product.
After a meeting at the foundry earlier this week I am now confident that we are now over the line with the patterns, tooling and processes used to accurately produce the castings at an affordable price.
The mills require an internal & external coating, the external coating is relatively straight-forward and only concerns selecting the desired colour and surface texture. The more complicated problem is picking a 'food contact safe' coating for the internal surface - that provides adequate corrosion resistance to act as a barrier between the salt and the metal.
Through a lot of hard work, we have found a suitable coating that meets our criteria. Unfortunately, the star employee at the company we've partnered with is now off work, recovering from surgery. The bad news is that this may impact our delivery times for those of you that ordered earlier in the year (I will be in touch with those affected).
Each mill has several machining operations that must be completed before they can be coated & assembled. We had a couple of scares this month in regards to the amount of machine time required for each mill and the machine shop that we had agreed to work with deciding that they were unable to handle our volume at a competitive price. Thankfully, we have successfully navigated both issues and found a new CNC engineering company, which is local to the foundry and can handle the work.
When You'll Receive Your Order
There have been some setbacks this month. However, I feel as though we're on the home straight now. All of the hard work has been done and everything just needs stitching together.
I will be in touch with you individually if your delivery date may be impacted and I will give you an updated delivery projection. If you no longer wish to wait, I completely understand and I will offer a full refund with my sincere apologies.
For new orders I have now upped the pre-order lead time to allow for our suppliers shutting down over the Christmas period and to allow some headroom to clear the first wave of pre-orders.
As well as everything above we have been working on a number of other projects that will one day accompany the mills on the website (although they are not quite ready yet). We are working on a solid oak tray, with an inbuilt handle. It has been designed to hold both the salt & pepper mills and make it easier to carry them from the stove to the table. As well as a stainless steel mini filling funnel which will make topping up the salt & pepper much easier!