3D Printing as useful tool in casting custom door handles

 Casting a custom door handle requires an understanding of the shrinkage that occurs in traditional lost wax casting. When casting in bronze or steel the process starts with a pattern often sculpted by hand in wood or clay but with the advent of 3D printing we are now in some cases able to produce this as a Quick Cast  stereolithographic print (SLA). While these 3D prints are useful in developing prototypes they still need to be finished by hand and are often too expensive to be used as wax substitutes since they too are burnt out and wasted in the lost wax process.

3D prints have their place as prototypes and for custom short run projects where the cost of developing a mold or tooling cannot be amortized over a large enough quantity to make the project cost effective.

Recently we considered 3D printing as a protype tool in helping to create a left and right pattern for a short run project of 4 sets of door handles. When developing a new handle set we often break the design down into component parts and where there is a directional detail this means we must make 2 patterns one for left and one for the right facing section. 3D scanning and modeling allows us to use one carved pattern to create a second mirror image model that is printed in a resin compound. While this reduces the development cost, the digital print often needs to be re-carved so that very fine details like leaf veins and scales can be sharpened by hand.

The picture below of the Hedgerow door lever shows that the branches of this piece are very directional thus requiring a left and right mold, but the canopy is generic to both levers.

Hedgerow lever left right.jpg


One advantage that SLA’s have over wax patterns is that they are not subject to shrinkage. In lost wax casting shrinkage occurs when the molten wax solidifies and when the bronze or steel casting is poured. There are a wide variety of waxes used in this process and their composition effects how they pour, how they solidify and how much they shrink. While a wax pattern may shrink by approximately .6% no shrinkage occurs with the print.


Trying to mathematically predict the exact amount by which the wax pattern and subsequent casting will shrink is difficult when developing a new piece. If the dimension of the piece is critical then we will often create a mold and wax of a smaller section so that we can exactly determine the overall shrinkage and can then re-scale the complete piece making it and the subsequent mold large enough to compensate for this shrinkage.

Art Nouveau and Victor Horta a design inspiration continues

We have just returned from Brussels, home of the renowned Art Nouveau master, Victor Horta and showcase to many of his works. While many of Horta’s prized works are privately owned and not always available for public viewing, Horta’s personal residence and studio are now open to the public as a museum. Located at 25, rue Américaine the museum spans 2 buildings and by walking up the curvaceous fluid carved stairwell from the lower kitchen to family rooms to bedrooms one experiences an intimate view of life in the Horta household. The central staircase is carved in mahogany and the newel post and handrail which begin as separate carvings come together in a dramatic and organic sweep to form one single functional work of art. Alas, the policy of the museum did not permit photography and while the official guide book does contain pictures they do not do justice either to the brilliance of the design or to the outstanding craftsmanship.

Horta House sm.jpg


The museum allows one to experience the completeness  of Horta’s style from hand painted tree friezes, to  whiplash brass hinges, to flower petalled stained glass, all are designed to become a  holistic expression of nature as seen through Horta’s eyes.

As an architect Horta’s studio provided the training ground for others, notably Gustave Strauven who worked as his apprentice before designing maison Saint-Cyr. When we first saw the extravagant façade of this building we mistakenly though it had been designed by Horta but on closer inspection it was clear that the metal filigree lacked the restraint and arguably sense of balance that marks Horta’s work (compare the left  and center images at top of page).

 Bronze Door Set by Horta note the discreet keyed cylinder

Bronze Door Set by Horta note the discreet keyed cylinder

We began our appreciation of Horta many years ago when Martin was commissioned as an artisan to fabricate mahogany archways for basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar but it has been a remarkable experience to see Horta’s work up close.


Art Nouveau a lasting inspiration

We have written about our love of Art Nouveau and are now taking a trip to Brussels in homage of Victor Horta, one of the pioneers and master of this organic and fluid style of architecture. We left England in the 80’s with an appreciation of the French masters in this field but did not become familiar with the Brussels legend until meeting Kareem Abdul- Jabbar also a legend and an Art Nouveau enthusiast. Martin was hired to fabricate the entry door, interior doors and stair rails for his Bel Air residence. When we arrive in Brussels and see Horta’s work in person we will share this experience in a later post. Meanwhile I want to focus on this local residence where the styles of Horta, Guimar and Mucha came together to create a splendid home.



The front door was carved from Honduras mahogany as a collection of over-sized irises in a style reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha’s colorful posters. The interior of the front door borrowed its direction from Guimard but for the main archways and interior doors the whiplash center of the casement molding and tweezed hair design of the corners are much truer to Horta’s work.



Horta’s aesthetic can also be seen in the large interior doors especially where wood meets glass and the birds eye maple panel is bisected by a central astragal carved as a budding tendril.

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The stair rail was made in sections of solid bronze using a cow parsley pattern carved by Martin and based on the floral works of Mucha.

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Drought tolerant plants

Last year in the peak of the Los Angeles drought  we ripped out our sparse lawn and created a drought resistant garden which has flourished while our water bill has declined.

We planted a variety of vines, agave and ornamental grasses to create a colorful easy to manage and easy to navigate garden.

                                                    From flowers to bronze

                                                   From flowers to bronze



We used pink and coral bougainvillea  and red trumpet vines  for our perimeter fence and have been pleased with their rampant growth but would caution against their use in more restricted areas as they may prove  too invasive.The trumpet vine is a shape we have adapted to work as an unusual cabinet pull and one we typically cast in bronze and finish with oil. However, for those looking for a more realistic trumpet pull for interior use, we can create a red patina by heating the casting and applying different oxides.

Ornamental grasses

 The blue festuca ornamental grass has made a great border for the pebble stone paths and it has thrived on minimal amounts of water delivered by a simple drip system. 

Agave and cactus

We splurged on a few golden barrel cacti that have grown slowly and used a lot of agave cuttings from a neighbor to fill in the spaces. The desmetiana  green yellow agave cuttings in one year have grown to be an impressive 3’ tall and are creating a small  succulent jungle.


Focal plants

Native of Australia the aptly named Kangaroo paw has grown to a be a tall 7’ magnificent gem that attracts many humming birds and bees. It thrives on neglect and sandy gravely soil and is a perfect accompaniment to the plumeria whose white and yellow flowers arrive earlier and so keep the garden a constant attraction to different birds.


White Raven Sculpture In Progress

The White Raven was not the intended title of this post but as an avid viewer of Game of Thrones my ears pricked up when replaying part of season 6 and hearing Sansa tell  Jon that a white raven had arrived from the Citadel. In the fictional world of the Citadel, white ravens are purported to be a different more intelligent  species to their black corvid cousins hence their fictional black eyes. In reality as author Carrie D. Miller explains, white ravens have leucism which is a condition that reduces the pigment in their eyes and feathers  resulting in  cream colored rather than  white feathers and  and  blue rather than black eyes. 

When looking for details about white ravens I came across some wonderful photographs taken by Mike Yip and posted on Carrie D. Millers site. You can see more beautiful photographs of ravens and other bird species on the site administered by Mike Yip www.vancouverislandbirds.com

 Photograph Courtesy of Mike Yip

Photograph Courtesy of Mike Yip

 Living in the hills of Hollywood we have the good fortune to see families of ravens on an almost daily basis but only once have we seen a white raven. I can attest that he/she looked perfectly healthy and happy in the presence of his/her darker siblings. The white raven, was as Ms. Miller correctly states more cream and beige in color than white.

 The sculpture was finished at the same time we saw the rerun of this series and so we decided to make a small video showing the piece in white basswood. To preserve the wood as well create a surface that will release more easily from the  rubber mold we have now finished the Raven with a water based varnish. Martin will next  begin making molds so that we can get one step closer to creating this piece in  bronze.

Orchid cabinet pulls - from wooden origins to bronze gems

As any orchid lover knows, these seductive clever plants have over time developed both their beauty and ingenuity to lure pollinators. The color and shape of each family type is used to seduce particular types of pollinators to them, be they bees, birds, moths or flies. The bright colorful orchids use their red, yellow and orange patterned flowers to attract day time pollinators while browner duller orchids use their powerful scent, not always pleasant, to attract nocturnal visitors like moths. Orchid families are further defined by their shape and this too determines the type of pollinator. The Cochiloda family for example has a narrow long lip that is easily accessed by the hummingbirds’ retractable tongue. By comparison the Cypripedium family have a flattened rim to their bulbous lips which makes a prefect landing spot for bees and insects.

Orchid and Black Bee square.jpg

Orchids have always been one of Martin’s favorite plants and back in 1979 he sculpted an oversized 3’ sculpture with an imaginary orchid carved in cherry wood and with a realistic bee carved in ebony. More recently Martin has created a more realistic bronze orchid flower and stem as cabinet pulls. The orchid flower, while relatively small is one of our most difficult and time-consuming pieces to make. Based on the anatomy of the Phalaenopsis family the flower has 3 sepals, 2 petals, a protruding lip and a central column. To do justice to the detail and depth of the orchid, the flower is cast from 3 molds to create 3 castings, one for the sepals and petals, a second for the bulbous lip and a third for the inner column. When making a sprig of orchids a total of 7 individual castings are welded to create this 8” wide pull.

Orchid anatomy.jpg
Orchid construction.jpg

For a more in-depth analysis of how different orchids and their pollinators have adapted to each other over time to create a mutually beneficial relationship follow the link below.

Orchid stem.jpg

Modern Entry Door Pulls and their accessories

The Morphic cylindrical pull, as is the nature of most entry door pulls, is used as a door grip and not as a door lock. While this entry door pull works well both stylistically and practically with the Ergo keyed cylinder and deadbolt trim, the cylinder lock in this configuration has been manual rather than electronically operated. With the introduction of our LED colored version we are now designing a trim set to compliment the fretted lace design of this piece. While the trim will ultimately work with an electronic lock we will be ironing out casting bugs with a trim for a manual lock before deciding which electric locks to make our trim compatible with. As we assess suitable smart locks we will be weighing the advantages of hard wired versus battery operated units and whether to us a simpler keyed cylinder deadbolt versus a more heavy-duty mortise lock. We are open to suggestions so do email us with smart locks that you favor.

Keyed cylinder trim.jpg


The new Morphic keyed cylinder deadbolt is shown below as a concept in two tone polished and satin stainless steel and in 3 powder coated colors. It may be that with the subsequent electric trim we would incorporate an illuminated trim to tie in with color of the illuminated cylinder and if so then we would use an opaque diffuser, we will keep you posted as these concepts take shape. The Morphic and Ergo collections are typically specified in stainless steel but they are also available in oil rubbed bronze.

Baroque carving a training ground for nature inspired door handles

The Willow collection of custom door handles in part owes its existence to Martin Pierce’s early training as a wood carver. On leaving school at 16 he served an apprenticeship as wood carver and finisher and spent countless hours carving acanthus leaves, oak leaves and acorns as decorations for reproduction baroque furniture. The training was invaluable in developing carving and drawing skills and for focusing his awareness on leaf styles and movement in nature.

As a free-lance wood carver, Martin was able to reflect nature in a less stylized manner and he began sculpting trees and leaves with more fluid lines. As an antique reproduction carver Martin’s work was limited by the formality of each period he was copying. As a hardware designer and pattern maker his work is now constrained by the practical needs imposed by door hardware. In this composite shot you can see how the same willow leaves have been sculpted to act as small tight easy to hold knob for door bolts and how the same leaves have been carved as a looser vortex of flowing leaves to make a large entry door knob whose purpose is largely decorative.


The pattern for the center of the Willow leaf vortex  was carved in basswood and then painted with a grey primer to conceal the grain and pores of the wood and too create a smooth surface for reproduction in wax (red image). The wax replica is made by creating a mold from the pattern and it is approximately 4% smaller than the pattern.

Willow Pattern vortex.jpg

Large Exterior Doors Pulls - A Contemporary Style in Demand

The demand for large door pulls as entry statement hardware continues to thrive in the hospitality sector. The Ergo collection of contemporary entry door handles began modestly with the Heroic handle, ergonomically sculpted as left and right handles but still substantial at a height of 19” and girth of 1.75”.

Large Exterior Door Pull

The sequel was aptly named Epic but in the size contest has been relegated to second position with the arrival of Mega which has just been released at a height of 54” and hand friendly diameter of 1.5”.

Mega Ergo is cast here in Los Angeles using the lost wax method of casting and is cast either in solid stainless steel or investment grade silicon bronze. The length, fluid shape and complex curves of Mega created challenges that lent themselves to this method of investment casting. The original pattern was carved by hand in 2 sections that were mirror images of each other, essentially a left and right section that together create a single non-directional handle and one where the bowed central grip can be pointed inwards or outwards depending on door jamb restrictions. The size of  Mega at 54”  is too great a length for the molten metal to flow smoothly without cooling so 2 molds are used to create wax replicas of the left and right half of the pattern. The wax replicas are “shelled” and then  fired to create a hard ceramic casing. The fired pieces are then placed in an autoclave to remove the wax which is “lost” and molten metal is poured into the hollow cavity of the ceramic shells. Once the 2 sections have been cast they are welded by hand to create a seamless fluid handle.

This process is obviously labor intensive and time consuming but as we can make the handle in wax sections we can fabricate longer innovative handles and meet the artistic needs of designers looking for statement pieces for public spaces.






Wood carving made easy- part 2

We are currently making a custom door handle that will be hollow and will be lit by an LED strip which will be positioned inside the cavity of the handle. As the decorative details that form the theme of this will be cut out of the pattern we decided to make the hollow sphere by hand. If the pattern had been a simple and uniform geometric shape then we would have turned to 3D printing and created an SLA resin print from a CAD file. We will be working with 3D printing later to develop a light diffuser but will cover that topic in a subsequent post.

For those who are new to wood carving or are physically tired of laboriously removing large areas of wood from a block of wood then I would recommend using a mechanically assisted wood carving tool. There are several on the market but we use the automach wood carver available from Woodcraft. When we were more focused on furniture we used several of these to help speed up the carving process and they were invaluable in adding textural chip details to our Hedgerow dining chairs.

While the mechanized chisel is useful we revert to hand chisels when adding very fine detail and when we need a larger wider angled blade. We have shown both methods in the video featured here.

If you play the video you will also get a glimpse of the raven sculpture’s feet in the background which is an ongoing video project that we will be adding to soon.

Gecko Cabinet Pulls

We have just completed an order for Gecko cabinet pulls in interesting and contrasting finishes.

Geckos FB.jpg

The bright gecko is an example of brushed natural bronze, a finish created by buffing the gecko on a buffing wheel. The dark gecko is also buffed but to a lower luster and then dipped in a solution of M20 to create an overall black appearance.

The gecko is one of 2 lizard cabinet knobs and forms part of a compete series of lizard door hardware that includes entry door sets and interior door handles.

These 2 pieces serve as a good visual approximation for the industry finishes US4 (satin bronze) and US10B (dark satin bronze) which is described below.

Patina by Conversion Coating

Using M20 by Birchwood Technologies we make a solution using 1-part M20 and 1-part distilled water mixed in a non-reactive dipping vessel. The piece is immersed for 30 to 60 seconds and then neutralized by immersion into another vessel of distilled water.  If upon inspection we see that certain areas have not reacted to the solution and are still bright we re-clean those areas and dip again.


The chemical conversion creates a uniform patina so to accentuate the gecko’s markings we gently burnish selected areas by hand with a fine nylon abrasive pad and thereby re-expose the golden tones of the bronze casting.


To seal the bronze, we use a soft cloth to apply 2 coats of oil and once dry finish with hard wax. There are many products to choose from we have found Sculpt Nouveau’s metal oil and black wax easy to work with.


Mushroom Cabinet Knobs and Pulls

When is a mushroom a cabinet knob and when is it a cabinet pull?  Until last week I thought the question was at best a case of semantics and at worst a case of pedantry, but I stand firmly corrected as the wrong word choice can result in oblivion. I am not alas an expert in the field of SEO but when describing our cabinet accessories my primary focus has been on the design element, in this case mushrooms, with my secondary focus being the shape of a piece, if round a knob, if vertical or horizontal, a pull.

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What had not occurred to me is that the word “mushroom” has on the internet come to mean button mushroom shape and so all manner of cabinet knobs that have no resemblance to a mushroom happily populate the image section for this search term.

Why does this bother me, have I perhaps been eating the wrong mushrooms?  Rest assured my concern has nothing to do with what I have been ingesting but has a lot to do with becoming frustrated with searches that come up short on fungi.


Thankfully there are some very talented and tenacious designers like Suzanne Childress  out there who know a mushroom pull/knob when they see one and who take the time to search through the maze to find the right piece for their client. My sincere thanks to Suzanne for finding our elusive pieces.


Spring Has Sprung the Ladybirds have arrived

We recently visited Idyllwild, a small town with impressive mountains, forests and a prolific ladybird population. On first sight my mind was confused by the sheer number of ladybirds which conservatively numbered into the thousands and which were all huddled together on rocks, tree branches and fence posts.

I have wondered about the curious name of this beetle and visiting www.wikipedia.com discovered that the name originated in Britain where the insect came to be called “Our Lady’s bird”. The beetle it seems is part of the Coccinellidae family of beetle, a name that is derived from the Latin word for scarlet which was a color often used in early paintings of Our Lady’s cloak. In the United States the name was adapted to Ladybug.

Whatever the exact origins of this beetles name it is still a colorful and beneficial addition to any garden as it preys on herbivorous aphids and so helps keep our plants free from foragers.

Lady birds.jpg

We are keen fans of most insects and have been inspired to use them as cabinet pulls, turn pieces and as decorative medallions to cover dowelled joints in our furniture pieces. The cluster of bronze beetles shown here are ones that are used in our Rickshaw lounge chair and they decorate the dowel that joints the chair arm and leg. These small beetles can also be used to decorate holes when a door pull is secured with a through screw or bolts.


Spring is in the Air



Our Netsuke rabbit door knob is taking a break from vegetables and has turned her appetite towards chocolate eggs that seem to be in abundance at this time of the year. So, we hope you will take a leaf out of her book, yes the pun is intended and turn your appetite towards chocolate Easter eggs or maybe some hot cross buns or other delicacy enjoyed at this time of the year.

From us here to you there have a good Easter.

Carving made easy - Raven sculpture video

The title of this post is very much tongue in cheek as this observer and videographer can attest. I have in recent years carved the occasional textural detail on furniture pieces that our company makes but confess that these were mere chips of wood removed with minimal precision to create an interesting tactile surface and not an example of fine wood carving.

For the carvers who may be reading this the major shaping and removal of large areas of wood was done with either a large flat gouge or a flat pairing chisel. The large feathers were carved with a “V” tool and pairing chisel. The small feathers were created with various different shaped gouges which were pushed down into the wood and around the edge of the feather to create a vertical wall and small pairing chisels were then used to remove the tops of the abutting feather to create a step. Describing Martin’s carving was far more difficult and far less informative than making and viewing this video.




Cabinet Pulls in Brushed Steel and Brushed Bronze

We have in previous posts discussed how to create colorful patinas and oil rubbed finishes on bronze hardware, but we are often asked to create more understated finishes and are able to do so by brushing or sand-blasting or polishing the surface of the piece.

While the Ergo cabinet pull is contemporary in design it takes on a jewel like appearance when highly polished and becomes subtler when brushed or sand blasted to a low luster.  As with most of our cabinet hardware this cabinet pull can also be ordered in silicon bronze which is a warmer golden toned alloy. Natural bronze, like stainless steel can also be highly polished for a mirror finish or brushed for a subtler effect.

Brushed Bronze cabinet pull.jpg

Once the right amount of luster has been achieved color and highlights can then be added either by creating textural tones with polished and non-polished areas or by applying colored patinas to all or part of the cabinet pull.

In the group photograph the Ergo pull is shown in 4 quite distinctive finishes. The top view shows this 7” wide piece cast in stainless steel and finished in a two-tone luster with the face highly polished and the balance in a softer fine sand blasted finish that accentuates the shape of the wave design. The bottom picture shows the pull cast in silicon bronze and finely brushed. The center pictures demonstrate how the bronze tone can be developed from a light antique to an almost iron black finish using cold patinas that are sealed in place using with oils applied with a soft fine cloth.

One Feather At A Time - The Raven Sculpture Journal

Continuing the journal of Martin Pierce’s Raven sculpture. 

Following his visit to Big Bear where he was able to see  raven’s up close Martin decided he needed to change the pose of his sculpture to show the raven cawing with his beak open and throat puffed to make the distinctive sound raven’s use when declaring their territory or courting.

Once captured in pencil, the raven’s 3  perspectives  were outlined onto rough wood blocks, one for each section of his body. In deciding  how to sectionalize the raven’s shape Martin had to reverse engineer the sculpture by determining how the bronze would eventually flow, where the  gates for the bronze could best be added and where thereby the bird could best be sectioned.

 Constructing and de-constructing a Raven for lost wax casting

Constructing and de-constructing a Raven for lost wax casting

If Martin had been intending to make only one wood sculpture he would have chosen a wood with more character than basswood and would have sculpted the bird from one block of wood rather than several pieces. However, as this sculpture will be used to create several molds for lost wax casting the sculpture was made so that it could be de-constructed.

The raven will be cast in bronze and will be available as a limited edition. The raven will join his feathered friend the scrub jay in Martin’s collection of bronze sculptures, which as well as portraying birds also portrays insects in fictional settings.

Color Changing Door Handles

We have just changed our profile photo to a collage image of colored door handles taken from our Morphic and Coral styles of door hardware. Our illuminated handles began with the introduction of low voltage LED lights into our Morphic cylindrical handles. To do so we had to solve the problem of how to incorporate a hard wired LED spot into a cylindrical handle the smallest of which has a mere 1.25” internal diameter.  As the cylindrical handle is vertical and as the design is open we could not use a strip of LED lights but needed to work within the confines of a small downward projecting light with a narrow 10 lens that would center rather than diffuse the colored beam.

The cylindrical handles range from 16” to 32” in length and are available either with a single color constant voltage LED spot with built-in driver or a color changing constant current spot.

The profile collage also shows the illuminated Coral handle which is one of 3 panel style door handles These are also color changing handles but are lit using multiple diodes encapsulated in a weather proof flexible strip that fits into the inner perimeter of the handle.

Both types of door pull are made using the lost wax method of  casting and  are available in bronze or stainless steel and are UL listed.

Illuminated door handles.jpg

What determines the direction of a door handle

For many the question of a door handles direction is seen as a question of door handing and not a question that has much to do with design and possibly whimsy.  While it is true that the handing of a door lever is determined by the location of the doors hinges this need not always apply to door pulls or door grips. The answer is further complicated when the designer, in our case, Martin Pierce has a keen sense of what is correct from a natural perspective. This recently came up in a conversation with James Cunningham a photographer who we recently worked with to enhance the background of our Morphic Scroll door pull. The scroll pull is clearly a vertical pull but the curved grip can just as easily face outwards or inwards. Martin designed the piece for the Baha Mar project in collaboration with Mike Hong the projects architect. The   concept drawings have always shown the piece with the curve pointing outwards but this is not how James Cunningham saw it.

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There are some door pulls where it is up to the artistry of the designer or consumer to determine the best direction for a piece.


Then there are the practical aspects to consider - when a door stile is narrow while the width of the grip may fit the space it may be wiser to have the grip face away from the door jamb as this will reduce the risk of grazed knuckles that would occur if the grip direction were reversed.