Sheffield is a city of makers, it always has been. Renowned the world over for its quality and capability, the city was once home to a thriving steel industry that was envy of the globe and the thorn in Germany's side during World War Two. Sheffield was the crucible of modern steel production, Harry Brearley discovered Stainless Steel here and wherever you are I'll bet if you turn out your cutlery drawer there's at least one Sheffield made knife in there. In the latter part of the 20th century, cheaper steel from India and the Far East put paid to Sheffield's manufacturing prowess, foundries and steel mills closed as traditional businesses struggled to compete. Soon, all that was left of the once booming industry was a shrinking network of independent makers, known as little mesters, turning out small-batch pocket knives and bespoke fabrications in traditional workshops spread across the city.
And yet, after decades of post industrial decline, the Steel City is having a bit of a revival. A new collective of brave new makers are embracing the city's long held tradition of craftsmanship and showing what's possible with hard work and a little bit of Sheffield grit. To document and celebrate this resurgence in small scale manufacturing in the Steel City, I'll be visiting the workshops and studios of Sheffield's new school of makers and crafters to talk shop.
This week I visited CAST's workshop to chat about their unique craft nights and find out how founders James and Joe are helping their customers create completely bespoke jewellery pieces at inspired venues across the city of Sheffield.
CAST host monthly events that combine their jewellery making know-how with carefully curated menus from some of the city's most exciting and immersive venues. Based out of their workshop on the outskirts of Sheffield, James and Joe started CAST just five months ago and the unique concept is already proving extremely popular.
Alongside enjoying a menu specially designed for the event by the city's top chefs, the events marry an unforgettable experience with a physical reminder of the night in the form of a beautifully made ring you've designed yourself. As part of the evening events, CAST provide you with jewellers wax and the tools needed to carve out your own masterpiece right there at the table. Once you've made your ring in wax, it's taken back to the workshop and cast in solid silver then finished to your specification and delivered back you within 2 weeks.
On the coldest night of the year the blazing propane torches keeping the CAST workshop warm were a welcome sight as I stepped through the door. It's a proper old school workshop, there's hammers, pliers and files everywhere and the warren of back rooms is filled with a baffling collection of machinery for buffing, polish and plating. Joe's experience of working for his father's business has equipped him with the skills he needs to turn customer's wax workings into stunning pieces of jewellery using traditional techniques and materials.
There's big things afoot for the CAST team. Their unique ring making events have caught the attention of some big names in the restaurant industry but James says that they're still focussed on Sheffield and creating even bigger and better experiences for the city. The venues CAST have chosen to pair with, like The Depot, Tamper and Brocco, are at the forefront of Sheffield's burgeoning food scene and the events give chefs the opportunity to be even more creative with their menus.
Alongside the monthly events CAST offer a DIT kit that lets you work on your creation at home. Once you've perfected your design in wax using the tools provided in the box, send it back to CAST for them to do the hard work. They also offer one to one sessions in their workshop and private parties at your venue of choice.
Turning customers wax workings into finished Silver rings takes around two weeks. Joe explains the traditional process of lost wax casting:
The wax creations are attached together on sprue with separate branches for each ring that form a tree. The tree is placed in to a metal flask and covered with plaster. Once the plaster sets around the tree, the plaster mold is then heated to a high temperature. Due the the heat the special wax evaporates and is lost, leaving a negative impression of the ring in the plaster mold.
Molten silver is poured into the mould and it's placed into a centrifugal spinner that draws the silver down into every crevice of the mould and eliminates air bubbles. Once the silver has set, the plaster is broken away from the casting tree and the individual ring castings are clipped off, cleaned up and finished to the customer's specification on the buffer or polisher.
It's good to see traditional skills and methods translated into new ideas that bring people together socially in the heart of a city once famed for its manufacturing. As CAST continues to grow I'll be following their progress more, watch out for a post covering one of their events soon.
To connect with CAST and find out more about what they offer, connect with them: