A micro-foundry for contemporary cast iron skillets
We have been developing our line of cast iron products for over a year now. Our designs and our production process are ready to go big time. Well, bigger time. Our goal is to develop a new kind of small-scale American manufacturing, and we’re starting in the kitchen.
This means creating more than simply one product. We plan to build a micro-foundry and prototyping studio that gives us the ability to explore new cast iron products and objects – retooling and making our own production molds for each new piece.
We’ve come to the Kickstarter community to ask for your help in funding our first run of cast iron cookware. To accomplish this, we need machinery, materials, and time. Your support gives us all three, and we’re more than happy to give you a little something in return. Please, check out our donation levels and rewards.
We strive for quality craftsmanship and sustainable practices. Our cookware revisits the classic skillet, updating its function as well as its form. Each skillet is cast from reclaimed iron, hand finished, and seasoned with flax seed oil. The handles on our pieces are larger and thinner than traditional skillets, helping with handling and weight balance. Best of all, the long handle on our frying skillet stays cool on the stovetop (tested to 600° F) – that allows you to manipulate the pan easily and safely.
Through our explorations in cast iron we seek to give contemporary form to a time-tested material and process. We look forward to providing you with quality pieces soon, and for years to come.
Thank you for your support,
Jason Connelly and John Truex
"Seasoning" a skillet, refers to building up a coating of fats and oils around the
pan. This is done for several reasons: to protect the iron from rust, to provide a
naturally non-stick surface, and to build up flavors over use. This is why you do
not scrub out an iron pan. Cast iron only continues to get better the more you use
it (and in my opinion, the more bacon you make).
We start you off with a few layers of flaxseed oil before you receive your pan.
One reason we use flax is to make sure those with dietary restrictions can still
enjoy our seasoned pans. It also has a great bond with the iron, and serves as a
fantastic base for whatever coating you wish to use yourself. If you want to delve
deep into the world of seasoning, we recommend this great article.
Our first furnace (Skilletron) was a coke fired cupola. Cupolas are fairly simple and work like a charm. A tall steel shell is lined with refractory cement. This refractory holds the heat inside the furnace. Coke, a form of coal, is lit at the bottom and charges of iron and coke alternate. As the iron melts the cupola is tapped and the molten iron flows into a ladle. It is a very simple, very dirty way to produce molten iron. We wanted a clean way to produce our products so we decided to go with a burner that runs on waste vegetable oil.
This is a new and somewhat experimental approach. Waste oil burners have been in use for a while for boilers, but only recently have people been using them for metal casting. We took pieces from several different waste oil foundries that had been built around the world by hobbyists. The furnace body is basically the same idea of a cupola. It is a steel shell packed with a thick lining of refractory. Skilletron 2.0 is a crucible furnace. The iron melts in a centrally placed crucible to be removed from the furnace instead of pooling at the bottom to be tapped, like a cupola.
The burner has been the major problem. Vegetable oil does not burn easily. It must be heated and atomized before it will ignite. The original design we used was the first waste veg. oil (WVO) burner we had seen. It did not atomize or pre-heat the oil very effectively. It burned quite well, but it was highly inefficient. More oil got dumped in the bottom of the furnace than atomized into the fire. After trying to simply increase the air pressure for that burner, we decided to redesign.
The current burner uses a siphon nozzle to atomize the oil which is preheated in a converted turkey fryer. A siphon nozzle uses compressed air to pull oil into an atomizing tip. After some tweaking this burner has worked well, but has been inconsistent. There are many variables with this burner, so there has been a lot of trial and error with this set up. We’ve gone through several nozzles and three different blowers to provide combustion air.
We got the burner up to iron melting temperature (~2700 Fahrenheit) and poured a small amount of iron, but that’s were we run into trouble. For some reason, once it gets up to high temperatures it simply stops burning. It fades out and will not stay lit. This has been the most frustrating problem of the entire process. In order to figure out what’s going on we have reached out to several people from different backgrounds to help us out. We’ve consulted with experts in the foundry world and the WVO world, and come up with an improved design.
There are 3 major changes we are making to a new furnace.
1. It’s smaller. The interior has less volume and should heat up faster and stay hotter.
2. We’re adding another burner. 2 burners are better than one.
3. The burners will be equipped with diffusers. This is pretty much a stationary propeller that chops up the air as it enters the combustion chamber and provides a better fuel and air mix. This prevents a problem called cavitation that results from an improper mix.
We’ve been able to melt iron and even make some bottle openers, but now we believe we will have a stable, reliable, and efficient furnace.
Sand casting uses molds that are packed with a mix of sand and various clays. In order to mix the ingredients there has to be pressure as well as agitation. In order to do that, a muller has rotating paddles to mix and a very heavy steel wheel filled with concrete. The paddles and wheel roll around to properly and uniformly combine all the elements with a little water.
The muller requires a large transmission on the center shaft. The original one we had eventually gave out. We believe it was mainly due to a lot of sand that worked its way into the gears. So, we have made several upgrades to it. Mostly, John welded on a new transmission, this time giving it about 3 feet of space between the gearbox and the sand. We also, gave it some height and a steel chute to prevent losing that precious sand. The olivine sand we use to get a smooth consistent finish is more expensive than most casters use, but we think you're worth it. Still, the less that hits the floor, the happier our accountant is.