Abbey England Buckle Foundry Visit - Walsall, England

Learning about the materials I use is important to me and with this in mind I organised a visit to the Abbey England Foundry in Walsall to see how the brass buckles I use are made. The original foundry opened back in 1832 by the Stanley Brothers.

The brass buckles along with other metal wear are still made using traditional casting methods. Everything here is hands on.  In a modern factory the processes would be mechanised with things like conveyor belts moving the items from one stage to another.  Here the workers make each cast/mould by hand which includes processes such as shovelling the sand into the frame to form the cast, carrying the casts one by one to the centre of the room and hand pouring the hot metal.

VIDEO: Preparing The Cast Using Traditional Methods

VIDEO: Hand Pouring Hot Liquid Brass

There are special skills that come from this way of working.  Focusing on the brass, one worker will be in charge of this metal.  They will hand feed zinc and copper into the furnace which will heat into a liquid.  The liquid brass will be hand poured into the moulds.  

To get the best quality fitting the hot brass needs to be poured at the right temperature, if you pour at the wrong temperature you’ll get a bad quality fitting.  The worker can tell the correct temperature of the hot liquid brass by just looking into the furnace and seeing the consistency.  

There no thermometers and is a skill that’s been built up over time with dedication. 

Once the buckles have been cast, they go through more processes to smooth down the surface and in some cases give them their shine. Final filing of the items is done by hand and for instance the brass buckles are wrapped in pairs, in brown paper, ready for selling.

You can get your own designs made here and their minimums are small. You can supply the prototype from a 3D print for example and they can make a mould from that. This is a way of mixing new methods with old.

It was great to see this all in action and definitely worth the visit. Hopefully these skills and way of working will be preserved for years to come.

Alison Riley