Contemporary Lighting, Traditional Techniques

Hubbardton Forge
Written by Hubbardton Forge

Technology continues to make the seemingly impossible possible. In lighting, we’ve gone from candles to gaslight to electric. After the introduction of electric lights, the major evolution was in the light source, going from incandescent to CFL to LED.

Technology has also impacted how lighting can be made. While many lighting companies have moved their manufacturing overseas to take advantage of low-cost automated processes, other lighting manufacturers know that the skills of talented artisans can’t be replicated. These makers use a combination of traditional craftsmanship and the latest technology to create heirloom-quality pieces.


Working with flame and steel may be one of the best-known examples of a classic skill still being used today. There’s good reason for it. It’s mastery over the elements, of unyielding steel and the heat of the fire. The effort creates pieces that can be reproduced. But each one remains unique due to the way individual pieces of steel react to the forge, with heat texturing and coloration creating subtle nuances.

Muscle Power

There’s more to handcrafting lighting than just heating and cooling metals. Once the steel heats to an orange glow, artisans have to apply plenty of elbow grease to bend that metal to their will. Hammer meets anvil. Muscle is applied to a hand-turned lathe. Heated bands are coaxed into shape using handcrafted molds made just for that purpose.

Drop Hammer

Drop hammers have been in use for centuries. Early drop hammers used waterwheels to power them. The steady flow of water would turn the wheel and a cog, which would raise and drop the hammer, creating a rhythm for the blacksmith, where each adjustment of the workpiece would need to be made second by second. While it’s still possible to find the rare forge using water-powered hammers, today most are electric, and the skill and concentration required remains the same.


Blacksmiths aren’t the only artisans who feel the heat when creating lighting pieces. Gaffers (a classic term for the senior glassblower) and their teams contend with molten glass and the intense challenge of working with delicate material that can be ruined by the smallest miscalculation. Fuel sources for furnaces may have changed over centuries, but the tools of the trade–the blowpipes, shears and other tools would still be familiar to gaffers from 100 years ago.

Hand-Rubbed Finishes

In the early days, lighting or other metal products didn’t always have a finish applied. But when they did, it would have typically been done by hand. Today, customers look to the benefits of aluminum (lightweight, intricate design) but may still want the depth, richness and hue that is so attractive in steel work. A hand-rubbed finish is one of the best ways to bring out those attributes.


A new design has to start somewhere. After designers get that first hint of inspiration, they need to tease it out in order to make it buildable. There are a number of ways they might take the idea from thought to something that can be shared and acted on, but one of the simplest ways is a true classic–putting pencil to paper to sketch out the latest awe-inspiring offering in lighting.

So, what does all this mean to you? It means you get a beautiful, well-considered piece of modern lighting; solid, strong and with no detail overlooked. And there’s just something wonderful in knowing that it was done by skilled hands using only the best techniques. To see more pieces made with just such craftsmanship, go here.

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Hubbardton Forge

Hubbardton Forge

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