custom door handles

Post Oak Hotel -Custom Door Handles from Design to Casting


In an earlier piece we described how we were commissioned to make custom door handles for the landmark Post Oak Hotel. Here we give a brief preview of what is discussed in our newly created News section.

We were contacted by Gensler Architects to design handles for the shower doors for the luxury suites for the new Post Oak Hotel in downtown Houston. The handle needed to be 12” in height, round in shape, comfortable to grip and made in a durable alloy. As inspiration we were sent a photograph of a chain bracelet and Martin Pierce reinvented this as a metal braid which he sketched and used to create the first maquette.


As alternative design he sketched a piece which loosely resembled a chain of vertebrae or building blocks which he named “Segment”.

These drawings became the basis for the first patterns, molds and ultimately the prototype handles which were cast in stainless steel. For the braid handle he made 2 alternative ends, a soft rounded crown and a more contemporary flat version and it was the latter that went into full production.

Pattern making –

To create the Braid pattern Martin wove 3 stands of electrical wire into a tight braid which he used to create a simple mold so that the braid could be reproduced in resin. Seven sections of resin braid were made and individually fitted to the surface of a wooden dowel. The pattern was then tooled by hand to remove imperfections and to fill any small voids. The round ends were turned on a wood lathe. The Segment handle was assembled from different diameter dowels that Pierce cut at varying angles and then jointed to form a continuous length.


Too read and see more of this process please check out our News page.



Small Wine Closet Big Statement

Investing in wine is a serious venture and one that works best for those able to exercise self-control in the interest of deferred gratification.

Once the long-term commitment to wine collecting has been made the connoisseur then has to plan how to house the collection and this is where the creative challenge begins. When I think of wine collections I tend to think of lofty cellars deep in the basements of grand chateaus or perhaps grandiose Sonoma wineries and indeed our grapevine collection fits well in either setting. What I am less likely to think of is the modest interior of a hallway closet.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Faye Montgomery, a Los Angeles homeowner who was in the process of renovating a home that she and her husband had bought in West Los Angeles. When I first heard that Faye was creating a wine closet, I instinctively thought of our smaller scale vine door handle which at a more modest height of 14” works well for smaller wine rooms. However, on looking at the 30” x 80” glass door I understood why Faye was leaning toward the Ergo extended door pull a dramatic 3’ tall contemporary door grip. While the Ergo handle may not be an obvious choice, I think it is clear from the photos that this 2-toned sculptural piece works beautifully with the ceramic wall tiles that mimic hexagonal metal studs and a ceramic floor that looks like weathered walnut. Although the wine closet is small the sleek handle appears to be floating and in so doing does not over-power the wine collection which also appears air born. Taken together the 3-dimensional tiles, the angled ceramic floor and the handle create a clever illusion of timeless space.

Photo Courtesy of Faye Montgomery

Photo Courtesy of Faye Montgomery

Tiles from Spain available through Emser Tile, West Hollywood.

Dragon Egg Nest Discovery

On a rugged outcrop on a small deserted island in the outer Hebrides a quite fantastic discovery has just been made. A clutch of very large illuminated eggs was found buried just beneath the topsoil by archeologist studying the Mesolithic age. Scientists remain baffled as to what creature laid the eggs but are certain that it was extremely large and that it could fly great distances. Local residents in the nearby islands of Vatersay and Sandray a culture rich in folk lore are less surprised by the discovery and point to the winged fiery Gods of Antheray in the legends of their ancestors. While it remains to be seen what credence scientists will give to these larger than life stories, field researchers are reportedly searching the dig area for black coal or anthracite deposits that have been used by humans and possibly other mammals for centuries as a source of fire and fuel.

Dragon Egg Clutch or Could these be LED Lights By Martin Pierce

Dragon Egg Clutch or Could these be LED Lights By Martin Pierce

Anthropologists also believe that the dig site may show how early man co-existed and benefitted from the breeding habits of these creatures. One hypothesis is that our ancestors used the discarded shells of the fledgling creature as a building material or possibly as a handheld shield for combat. The theory being that the harsh weather conditions of the region would quickly ossify the shells making them both light weight and impenetrable and thus perfect for either use.

Last but not least support is growing for a Los Angeles based designer’s hypothesis that these shapes are contemporary.

LED Handles and batteries a discussion

This week I wanted to reach out to get feedback on whether there is a demand for LED door handles that are battery operated rather than hard wired. When we designed our handles and particularly the longer lit pulls finding an LED spot that was small enough to fit in a 1.5” diameter pull was a challenge but one that American Illumination were able to solve. We selected American Illumination as our supplier as the unit they make is well designed, compact and is ETL registered. The spot they make is hard wired which means it can only be used on doors which have been constructed with a hollow channel for the wires to pass or by adding an external power transfer unit.

Copyright ©2019

Copyright ©2019

The installation drawing below shows how the wires are fed through the door to connect with our handle to light the LED spot. This method of installation is attractive as it is completely concealed with your guest’s focus being on the handle and not on the apparatus, but it is not well suited to the hobbyist or home owner looking for a simple way to add light and color to their entry door.


Too date, I have not found a small enough battery that can power these very low energy LED spots for long periods of time and none that can keep the handle lit for a year or more so thought I would ask for suggestions from any of my readers. So, if you do know of a small battery that is 1” diameter and 2”H l would love to hear about it.

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.

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.

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.


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.


Traditional artistic methods and 3D printing

One of the advantages to old school artistic methods is that they allow the artist to make more immediate design corrections. While CAD does allow the artist to see his virtual sculpture from a 3D vantage, the same holds true for perspective drawings done free hand with pencil and vellum. No doubt the ease and speed of both methods owes a lot to the different ways our brains are wired and to the different way we learn our artistic skills. While Martin Pierce does use a Wacom tablet with built in mouse, for his initial development drawings he finds he can achieve a faster result by adding and erasing pencil lines.

Plan View of Raven Design

Plan View of Raven Design

This is the same approach he uses when creating custom door handles and as with sculpture, the grid drawings can be placed on solid wood so that the shape can be traced onto the wood’s surface and then cut out with a band saw. While we could use 3D printing to create the pattern, the speed of printing a quick cast SLA model and the cost makes this approach less attractive. By comparison, once a pattern has been sculpted and the artistic and practical bugs sorted out then 3D printing comes into its own if one wants for example to create a left or right version of a piece. We have occasionally used 3D scanning to scan a pattern and then have created a print file that is a mirror image thus allowing a 3D print to be made. The only drawback to doing this is that you end up with a clone of the original and Martin tends to have a preference for asymmetric designs.

Profile of Raven design

Profile of Raven design



From all of us here may you have a happy and safe July 4th.

Bird door handle


The image used here may not be the iconic American bald eagle but the Blue Jay still ranks as a revered and loved bird amongst  Americans and non-Americans alike.

The sculpture is both a decorative wall piece and a functioning door pull depending on your taste and needs . It is cast in solid silicon bronze and is part of Martin Pierce’s limited edition of  art works that include several insect and fantasy pieces.  The Blue Jay measures 17”W x 12”D x 4”H.

What Do We Mean by Custom Door Handles?

We decided to launch 2017 with some notes for designers who may be looking for custom door handles and hope to explain when custom work is a viable option. To begin with, for many people, the term “custom” is used to describe the production of a piece for a specific customer, in other words it is made to order for that customer and not a stocked off the shelf item. In this sense, all of our work is custom as we make every piece to order and each handle is cast, machined and finished according to the designer’s requirements. In this context while the product may be made to order, the patterns, molds and tooling jigs already exist hence the relatively short lead time of 4 to 6 weeks.


The term custom is also used to describe a product that we already make but that needs to be adapted or modified to fit the designer’s specific site conditions. In this context, the viability of adapting an existing piece is determined on a case to case basis. The first consideration is whether the existing mold can be used to create a wax replica that can be modified to achieve the required adaptation. For example, if a designer has a narrow door stile then she made need a narrower escutcheon plate to fit the door comfortably. The grapevine lever set and our large lizard handles have both been customized in this way and the wax replicas were re-shaped by hand to remove ½” to ¾” from the base of both escutcheon plates. Clearly this takes time and not all styles lend themselves to being so adapted.


If the adaptation is too great or the number of pieces too many then the next option is to develop a new pattern and mold(s). This process is inherently expensive as it involves;

Designing and often re-designing a piece.

Creating full scale drawings showing the piece from several perspectives.

Creating a 3 dimensional pattern – one for each piece, if the design calls for a right and left directional piece, then two patterns will be needed.

Creating a rigid mold which will be used to create wax replicas of the original pattern and will be used in the lost wax process to create either bronze or steel castings.

The above steps add considerable time and cost to the production of the piece but if it is a piece being ordered for multiple doors then these costs can be amortized over the cost of the project.

Limited Edition hardware series at Martin Pierce

Isn't it wonderful to know that you own something that no one else owns?  Perhaps it is a piece of art or a treasured antique.  Or, in the case of a limited edition, you and a few select people are privileged to own a specific item.  Well, we are excited to say that it is now possible to own beautiful custom hardware from the new limited edition series at Martin Pierce. We are not new to the idea of limited edition pieces.  In fact, our Aspen Buffet with a limit of 30 pieces, of which 20 have sold, has been popular as has our vine series with a limit of 100 (76 have sold). 

We are now offering the large vine door handle in a limited edition of 100.  Two of these signed and numbered pieces of "functional art" have already sold with the help of LaForce Decorative Hardware in Madison Wisconsin.  We have shared the creative process of this piece from design drawing to pouring of the mold to actual functional item and are now ready to release this to 100 discriminating home and business owners.  As you can see, the incredible detail and thought that has gone into this design makes this a very special piece.  Look closely and you will spot several critters and knot holes among the leaves and vines.

For more information on these new products, view our complete line of hardware and get the latest news on what is happening at Martin Pierce, please visit us at