artistic door knobs

Custom door handle spindles for very deep doors


Our door handles are made to order here in Los Angeles. Once a door handle set has been cast and before any patina is applied the pieces must be machined and assembled according to the door specifications. While previous posts have explained how back-sets and handing affect the choice of components little has been said about how the thickness and material of the door can impact the choice of door spindle.
In the context of door handles and accessory door hardware the spindle is a metal rod that passes through the door and can be used to perform different functions;
a. Act as a connector to connect the 2 knob/levers of the handle set and to turn the tubular latch.

b. As a connector to a turn piece that will pass mid-way through the door to turn or throw a latch bolt.

c. To connect door knobs/levers where there is tubular latch that can be locked or unlocked using a pin that is pushed in or pulled back. In this instance, one half of the spindle swivels so that when turned the knob or lever will unlock the door typically from the inside as would be the case in a powder room. A half swivel spindle also enables a door to be opened where a mortise lock is used, in both these cases only half the spindle swivels otherwise the door could be opened from both sides. As a side note to keep the knob or lever on the swivel end taught an auxiliary spring is trapped at the end of the spindle and placed under pressure part way into the center of the spindle, this keeps the knob in place despite the frequent rotation of the spindle.

spindles swivels and stationary.JPG

I am reluctant to ever use the word “standard” in any hardware context, but interior doors are often 1 3/8” or 1 ¾” deep and we would use respectively a 2 ½” and 3 ½” spindle.
A Hedgerow passageway knob set has just been ordered for a 5” thick door and so we are making 2 custom spindles, one at approximately 8” for the knob set and the second at 6” for the turn piece described above which is shorter as it will only be passing through half of the door. The door is unusually thick as both sides will be upholstered adding a pliancy element to the equation that may impact the final door thickness. As the upholstery is likely to contain soft padded material the installer may need to shorten the spindle, so the fabric is compressed slightly around the escutcheon so that the knobs are sufficiently tight.

Dragonfly beauty with efficiency

We now have a water feature at home so Martin spends a lot of time taking shots with his zoom lens of insects that it attracts and this weekend he was able to capture 2 mating dragonflies and the resulting beginnings of their progeny.

Martin uses a 28-200mm zoom lens and the details he caught of this dragonfly couple were not fully seen until they were uploaded onto his iPad. The couple mated on the wing for a brief couple of minutes and then the female dipped her ovipositor into the pond to disperse her eggs. The speed of the mating and egg deposit took us by surprise and we are impressed by the staggering efficiency of this reproductive cycle.

When the pictures were uploaded on Martin’s iPad we could appreciate the intricate beauty of this flying red wonder. The wings look like fragile window- panes

Having mated the female hovered over the pond and selected a location to lay her eggs.

She then deposited her eggs into the pond with her ovipositor which she also used to disperse her eggs.

Click and enlarge to fully appreciate the intricate detail of these window-pane wings that we cannot see with our naked eye.

Our bronze dragonfly maybe a poor facsimile of nature but we have tried to capture as much detail as possible in our bronze cabinet knob that weighs a hefty 2 ounces and that is colored with a hot red brown patina.


What is the best medium for door hardware patterns

There is no correct answer to this question, but your choice will depend on your method of designing and your skill sets. The broad choice is between creating a pattern using traditional carving or modeling techniques versus 3D designing and printing.

Traditional techniques -

You can create a solid pattern by modelling the design in clay and by adding and removing clay to obtain the desired shape. We are sculptors by training and create our patterns using wood or jewelers wax or high-density rigid foam. Basswood carves well as it is a close grained soft wood but the grain is distracting, and its directional nature means you have to be an adept carver changing direction with your chisels as you follow the grain. When the wood pattern has been carved, we typically coat it with a matt grey primer which both fills the grain and helps us see any imperfections that need to be carved out and sanded. While Jewelers blue wax is dense and one can achieve good detail it is not as strong as basswood and is more brittle which makes it less ideal when creating fine deep lines. Moreover, even though free of grain it has a uniform color that has a pronounced sheen both of which make it difficult to see what has been carved.

As both wax and wood have drawbacks, we find ourselves increasingly turning to high density rigid foam a product often used in the film industry by set designers to create props. This medium is light weight, dense, grain-less and matt and carves beautifully. It is available in blocks and easy to cut and glue and moderately priced.



The Hawaiian bird pulls were ordered recently by designer Christina Hilt in Florida in warmer tones to compliment the golden burl wood in her client’s closet. A dark patina accentuates the detail in a piece but if the pattern is carved with a deep relief carving then these details will still be seen even where there is minimal patina and minimal tonal contrast as was the case with Christina’s order.

Pattern in high density foam with foam block

Pattern in high density foam with foam block

Contemporary 3D pattern making

 If you are adept in digital designing, then you would begin by designing your pattern in illustrator or Painter or other 3D program. On completion the design would need to be output as a STL file which could then be printed as an SLA print which is a photo polymer

















Nature inspired cabinet pulls

The yellowjacket wasp was the model for our open and closed wing wasp cabinet pull and was originally designed for the Ascot Highboy a furniture piece made by our sister company Martin Pierce Furnishings. In keeping with the yellowjacket we finished these pieces with a yellow oxide which we burnished along the wing veins to expose the golden bronze beneath.

The Ascot tallboy was a limited edition of 100 which was closed at number 78 in 2013. The piece was made using quartered English brown oak, selected for its rich brown amber hues and for it’s dark “leoparding” a term that refers to the darker spotted figuring. The open and closed wing wasps were patinated to compliment this distinctive wood.

Several years ago, on a road trip to Idaho, we stayed at Lake Pend Oreille and came across the bald-faced hornet which is a relative of the yellowjacket but being much larger it is referred to as a hornet. The black and white markings of this insect are why it is referred to as bald-faced rather like the way we refer to the “bald” eagle.

Our memory of the hornet’s markings influenced a recent order that called for a simpler black oxide patina. By restricting the black patina to the head and thorax and by burnishing the wings we were able to create a dramatic statement using a simple patina on a small piece.

The wasps are cast in solid silicon bronze and are part of our insect and animal collection of cabinet knobs.

The Design Process for Door Handles

Creating door hardware is a balancing act where artistic inspiration is balanced and refined to meet the practical demands of functionality.

Continuing from last weeks post I want to share some of the initial designs that were submitted to designer Debbie Zylstra for her client’s home in Kailua-Kona. Debbie was in the process of designing a home entertainment center in Koa wood and wanted to incorporate dramatic door pulls for sliding doors. The cabinet was grand in scale at a height of 9’ and the lizard heroic handles were considered as a possibility. These pieces are extremely realistic, and the client wanted something more stylized and original but in the reptile family so, pencil in hand, Martin sketched out the iguanas. Martin designed 2 interlocking iguanas which give the illusion of being 2 different pieces, but which use one iguana that is inverted to create a pair. To get a sense of proportion he then reduced the scale and inserted the design into a scaled drawing of the cabinet. The body and head of both iguanas project out from the cabinet door by 4” and the underside of each projects 1 ½” so that there is enough clearance for the hand to grab either the head or tail of each iguana to slide the pocket door open. The angle of the head, legs and tail were made so that the pair would interlock comfortably but leave sufficient space so that fingers would not be pinched.

Iguana Door Pulls situ.jpg
Iguanas copy.jpg

Below are the original sketches for the first large reptile sculptures that are the central pieces in the Lizard collection. Given their realistic design Martin felt he needed to create a left and right facing lizard so that he could more naturally capture the movement of a pair of lizards. The pair was designed so that the head of the right lizard protrudes beyond the slate back-plate allowing the thumb to then be extended to depress the butterfly thumb piece and thereby release the door latch.

Lizard sketch.jpg




Polynesian Inspired Cabinet Knobs

I recently stumbled upon early drawings that Martin Pierce did when commissioned to create a series of Hawaiian door and cabinet pulls for a residence in Kailua-Kona. In this post I will focus on how he developed the Double Headed and Single headed bird knobs.

Hawaiian bird knob designs.jpeg
Double headed bird down view.jpg

When commissioned the scope of design for the cabinet pulls was to create 2 types of knob one 6”W x 2”H for the drawer fronts and the other 2”W x 2”H for the cabinet doors in a style loosely described as “nature based Hawaiian”. There were no other parameters which left the creative field open for birds, fish, people and plants as design starting points. Martin decided to proceed in 2 directions with a plant theme and a bird-animal theme, the former resulting in the orchid collection and the latter with 2 bird head knobs. For the bird knobs Martin turned to surfing the web looking for examples of Polynesian folk art and what he came away with was an image of highly stylized geometrically detailed work. With these thoughts he focused on the heavy beaked Takahe bird found in New Zealand, the most southern point of geographic area that makes up the Polynesian islands. This ground living bird has a rather thick head and thick beak and using this as the end of the drawer pull he designed geometric semi circles spreading out from the eye to depict swells of feathers that also look like breaking waves.

Bird Knob.jpg


With the cabinet knob the beak and eye remain the focal point of the design but here a spiraling sea shell is used to form the birds tail.

Double headed bird side.jpg

Luxury Door Hardware is Defined by the Details

By choosing the lost wax method of casting and by casting only in silicon bronze or stainless steel we have by virtue of the casting method and type of alloy created door handles that are expensive. However, our focus on hand finished details from “chasing” the bronze castings to skillfully and slowly adding patina justifies the price tag. As a case study I have photographed the wine grotto door handles that I mentioned in a prior post.

When assembled each escutcheon plate with lever weighs 4lbs and measures 4” W x 14”H and all of it is silicon bronze not a precious material since it is not exactly rare, but certainly an expensive quality metal. Bronze is an alloy that flows well, and this makes it a perfect medium to capture the fine details and undulations of vine tendrils and leaves of this back-plate and lever. Once cast the bronze pieces need to be refined by hand to remove any debris or surplus metal that has attached to the surface and this done by using metal chisels and grinders through a process called “chasing”. After the larger imperfections have been removed the entire back-plate and lever are buffed with series of buffing tools with the grit of each becoming progressively finer until the bronze is free of abrasions and tool marks. The pieces are then ready to be immersed in a cold patina which reacts with the bronze to oxidize it and turn it black. The degree of darkness is determined by the length of time the piece is immersed and once achieved the piece is then neutralized in water to halt the chemical process.

Marked in Green Areas to be Chased Final piece after refining and with patina

Marked in Green Areas to be Chased Final piece after refining and with patina

Now the true artistry begins as we rework the piece to create highlights by buffing the surface in select areas thereby sanding through the patina to re-expose the golden bronze.

Painted Lady Butterflies and Their Influence on Door Hardware Designs

Painted Lady Butterflies and their influence on Hardware Designs

Like so many in Los Angeles we have been stunned and are “gob-smacked” at the multitude of Painted Lady Butterflies that we have seen this week. These small pretty insects are everywhere but only once has my iphone been to hand to snap a couple of shots.

While the monarch butterfly is sadly in rapid decline, for this year at least, the Painted Lady population is booming with billions passing through on their way north from the Mojave Desert. The exceptional rains that have put a temporary hold on California’s drought have given rise to an abundance of nectar as food for these migrating beauties. The short life cycle of a butterfly consists of 4 stages from egg, to caterpillar to pupae and then to butterfly and for the Painted Ladies lasts about 4 to 5 weeks.

I was surprised to discover that these small beauties can travel at speeds of 25 miles an hour and cover as much as 100 miles per day but this explains how they are able to make their trek from the Mojave to Northern California in their short lives.

We have been inspired by butterflies as well as bees, wasps and moths in our collection of insect cabinet pulls. We also have incorporated a butterfly as the thumb-latch for our entry way lizard handle set.

The Painted Lady captured here drinking from Clematis demonstrates this butterflies preference for purple clustered flowers, a fact observed by Katelyn Boisvert in her paper presented at the Young Naturalist Awards.

painted lady butterfly.jpg



Modern Door Knobs Custom Made for Upscale Residence

We have just completed casting and machining 8” diameter knobs for the entry doors to an upscale Connecticut residence.

Big Knob on door 2.jpg

Although The handle design was minimalist the knobs were cast in steel and hand polished to create a subtle but beautiful contrast to the dark doors where they will be mounted in the center panel. In the picture below, we have created a mock-up of what the entry sets will look like.

Step by Step account:



Designing, pattern and mold making;

We began the process by discussing with Fletcher Development the function and style of handle and determined that there would be 2 knob sets, one that would operate and release the custom mortise lock made by Accurate Lock with second set being fixed as through bolted dummies. We chose to cast these in 316 stainless steel which is a corrosion resistant very durable alloy.

Drawing custom knob.jpg



We then created 2 wooden patterns one for the rose or escutcheon and one for the knob itself both of which were turned by hand on a manual lathe. The patterns were coated with primer to fill in the wood grain and flexible rubber molds encased in rigid plaster were made. The pattern and mold making process could have been eliminated had we opted to make quick cast stereolithographic prints for all the knob sections.

Turned pattern and rubber molds.jpg

Custom backset

Once cast, the operative set had to be machined to function with a custom mortise lock made by Accurate Lock for a door that would have a 14 7/8” backset. The backset is measured from the edge of the door to the center of the door knob. The knob was machined and fitted with a custom spindle that was designed to slot into the mortise and thereby throw and retract the latch when the knob is turned. The escutcheon plates for the knobs were machined so that connecting bolts could be attached to the exterior knob, pass through the lock body and connect to the interior knob. While the escutcheon plates could have been surface mounted this would not have provided a firm support for our 8lb knobs. As the mortise body was 7/8” thick and the door was 2 ¼” deep , surface screws, had they been used would have been insubstantial at ¾” in length. The body of the lock was customized by Accurate’ s experts to accommodate our though bolts and we bench tested it with our castings to ensure all the moving parts were aligned.

Mortise Lock by Accurate.jpg
















Are Contemporary Door Handles also Modern Door Handles - untangling semantics

Being a product of the 50’s and later being influenced by the 1960’s mod culture I have often used the adjectives modern and contemporary interchangeably and see that many search engines also assume these terms are synonymous.

Various dictionaries define contemporary as meaning to live or be from the same time so clearly the word can be used to describe past periods as in “Gaudi and Mackintosh were contemporary architects”. By comparison the word modern is defined as being in the present or in recent times and does not have the historical breadth as the word contemporary. That said, social trends and common usage may have the biggest impact on a word’s meaning and while the word modern was, in the 1960’s understood to mean to fashionable or hip, the word now seems a little dated. Lately I find myself describing my Martin’s designs as futuristic which is not surprising given his fondness for sci-fi. So, when you look at these pictures of our work use whatever term you think fits!”

The Morphic serpentine door pulls when cast in stainless steel do appear a little alien and while the first film in the alien series is one that Martin has seen countless times the lead alien was not a model for this pull.

Perhaps the offspring of the alien may have had a more direct impact on the Morphic door knob.

Thankfully the more “modern” Ergo lever has it’s roots in the art nouveau period.




Mixing it up with Bee Door Knobs and their Lizard Friends

The nature inspired Netsuke door handle collection was not conceived as an interchangeable series, but thankfully creative interior designers have conjured up imaginative ways to use these as combination door handle sets. Case in point is a recent project where the bee door knob was paired with the lizard door knob to create a whimsical statement. The sets were specified in polished bronze to create a stunning jewel like set for a custom makeover of the master bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom privacy set used a simple push-pin latch on the honey comb side with a discreet emergency release on the bark rose side of the door (exterior).

Our door handle knob sets are connected with a square 8mm spindle that is attached to each knob with a set screw or Allen screw. As we use the same type of spindle for all our door knobs most of the knobs are interchangeable. Since other door hardware manufactures use different spindles and methods of attachment our knobs may not be suited as half sets with knobs supplied by others.

The Netsuke collection comprises 4 interchangeable animal knobs including a rabbit, frog, bee and lizard making them popular choices for children’s bedrooms. While whimsical in nature, these animal knobs are finely detailed and cast in solid bronze with each knob using a lb. of molten bronze.

As a transitional set that bridges the classical with whimsical you may want to consider the Hedgerow and Willow knob on the more public exterior side of your door with a Netsuke knob on the more private interior side.

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

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.

 

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 is in the Air

EASTER RABBIT.jpg

 

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.

Christmas Gift Ideas and the Need to Plan Ahead

At this time of year we often receive calls from parents trying to find the perfect gift for their child’s bedroom and so we wanted to share with you some of the choices people have made.

We are currently making a rabbit passageway set for a Santa delivery in New Hampshire. Thankfully Santa enlisted some advice from a local door and lock installer who helped with tricky issues like dealing with a very old and thin door. The installer understood that a narrow 1 1/4” thick door may be a problem for the latch mechanism as the tongue of the latch in this case was 1” but being a skilled professional he felt that with Santa’s good cheer he would be able make a hole in the door with a 1/8” to spare on either side of the latch. Phew, Santa was wise to plan ahead!

Of course there is nothing wrong in a little self-gifting but the adage always plan ahead is equally true. In this instance, as Santa was not involved, the home owner asked for our help in deciding what to order to replace her old very dilapidated kitchen and dining room door knobs. The doors did not have latches but were held shut by a roller catch or closet door ball catch at the top of the door.  The customer did not want to change the catch so we steered her towards dummy knobs that could be attached on each side of the door by screwing through the knob plate into the door, a low tech but good way of adding beautiful knobs to her kitchen and dining room doors.

 

 

Why do Door Knobs and Door Levers use similar but different latches

Deciding whether to use a decorative knob or decorative door lever is partly an aesthetic choice and partly a practical and ergonomic decision. The aesthetic part is self-explanatory and we offer all of our door handles as either round contained knobs or more expansive flowing levers.

The other deciding factor is the user’s ability to easily grip and turn a knob. A lever is by its design easier to use for those with physical challenges and this brings us to discussing the latch mechanism.

Difference between the latch mechanism for passageway  knobs and levers

The tubular latch used to operate a passageway lever has a stronger spring that serves to return the lever to a horizontal position. The latch can also only operate the passageway lever one way, so one depresses it to release the tongue of the latch but you cannot lift the lever to retract the latch. The lever can be depressed with minimal dexterity and precision making it a better candidate for ADA compliance.

By comparison, a knob latch can be turned in 2 directions clockwise and anti-clockwise to retract the latch tongue but gripping and turning the knob does place some torque on ones wrist as well as requiring dexterous fingers for gripping. The spring used to return the knob to its resting point is weaker as knobs are typically lighter in weight than their counterpart levers.

 

New Grapevine Door Knob Added to Wine Cellar Door Handle Collection

Our grapevine door handle collection has, until now, focused on capturing the gnarly quality of vine stems and the distinctive serrated shape of their leaves, with less attention on the grapes themselves.  This focus worked well for creating long door grips and horizontal door levers but was not well suited for a door knob.  

With this in mind, we began work on a new vine door knob and in our July 12th post  shared with you how Martin Pierce created detailed  perspective drawings as guidelines for his 3 dimensional wood pattern. The pattern was carved in basswood, sealed with primer and used to create a 2 piece hollow core mold. Red wax was poured into the mold and several wax replicas were made. The wax facsimiles were then coated with successive layers of fine ceramic slurry to form an outer wall and the pieces  were baked to form a rigid ceramic shell.  Once baked, the ceramic shells were  heated in a de-waxing  autoclave and steam was  pumped into the shell to remove the wax. The wax was then  filtered, cleaned  and  recycled for future use. The de-waxed shell was subsequently invested with molten bronze and after cooling, the gates that delivered the fluid metal were ground away and the bronze casting was ready to “chased” or refined by hand.

Vine door knob.jpg

Seven weeks later and we have now machined our first castings, added the spindle and  internal springs, fitted our existing vine leaf back-plate and finished by hand our first pieces.  We hope you like this new addition to the collection.

 

Bees - The Perfect Door Knob for Your Children's Bedroom

Following on with our nature theme I wanted to share a photo I took of a small swarm of bee door knobs. The bumble bee door knob is one of 4 members of the netsuke series, a collection that takes its name from the toggles that were used thorough out the centuries as compact buttons or fastener both in clothing and in luggage.

The frogs, lizards, rabbits and bees that make up this collection are often ordered as individual sets for children’s bedrooms but occasionally multiples are ordered to add a whimsical element to a commercial setting, as was the case with this swarm.

The bee that served as a model for this piece is the black bee or carpenter bee that we see here in southern California and that we first came across when travelling in Greece. We were captivated by its intense black shiny wing casings and abdomen and by its passive bumbling behavior. The honey comb back plate is a case for artistic license as this is not a honey creating bee of the social hive variety but a solitary nectar feeding bee that loves the nectar of honey suckle, wisteria, morning glory and other flowering plants. While the bee is able to use its proboscis to suck nectar from flowers with suitable trumpet shapes, if the fit is less than perfect it will cut the flower to access the nectar, or as we have seen in our garden, take full advantage of existing tares made by the voracious feeding activity of humming birds and their deep reaching beaks.

Carpenter bee finds wisteria a good source for nectar

Carpenter bee finds wisteria a good source for nectar

Cast in solid bronze, these pieces are wonderfulto hold and their smooth substantial weight fits nicely in one’s palm.