4 Things Every Custom Artisan Foundry Needs

At Behrends, the Foundry has been at the heart of our legacy for the past six decades and although we have branched out into very innovative and exciting areas like architectural signage and experiential graphic design, we still stay true to what our artisan foundry has always provided: outstanding custom metal-work that offers unparalleled signage creations. Our signage is known for creating outstanding impressions from the first to those that last, and although a lot goes into creating these design works, there are a few key things that our custom artisan foundry simply couldn’t exist without.

1. Vision and Experience

Both of these factors go hand-in-hand because even the most innovative design visions still need to be realistic and functional. Our design team consults with your business or organization to determine what kind of statement you want to make and aims to exceed your expectations. We have the knowledge and experience to determine what is possible and can push the limits of the imagination to develop something truly unique and previously unseen. At the same time, we are used to solving countless design problems in different climates, environments and built structures simply because of how long we have been in the industry and because of the talented individuals on our team. You can trust that, with us, your project will be functional, long-lasting and will also have the “wow” factor you are looking for.

2. Artisan Craftspeople

Vision means little with the talented artisan craftspeople to execute that vision perfectly every time. Our emphasis on artisanal work is what sets us apart and what sets you apart when you invest in our products. Using traditional, and sometimes non-mechanized, methods we offer hand-crafted work that is both unique and professional. In a world of mass, anonymous production, we are adamant about employing tradespeople who have been in the business for years and offer experience, insights and techniques that newcomers or outsourced manufacturers often lack.

3. Knowledgeable Metal Technicians

One very important component of our foundry work is the quality of the metals that go into every pour because a design is only as good as the materials used to produce it. Our smelters are experts at getting metal chemistry and temperatures just right to have the perfect pour, every time. Choose from a variety of materials and finishes to suit your look and we will take care of the rest.

4. Experienced Installers

After a signage project has been made into reality, it needs to be properly mounted so its legacy and longevity matches the materials used and the vision dreamed up. From the highest building to sidewalk plaques, Behrends installation workers have found themselves in some pretty amazing situations, getting brilliant projects up to the satisfaction of our clients. Custom jobs require flexible installations and individuals with trouble-shooting or problem-solving dispositions. Without the absolute best team members in installation, all of our sales, design and building efforts might go to waste, so we take special pride in celebrating incredible installation work and the team members who do it.IMG_5815IMG_6969IMG_8048

 

Diversity In Plaque Design With Inlaid And Recessed Plaques

There are many diverse uses for plaques. They can be used for memorialization, for commemoration at historical or meaningful sites, to mark the dedication of a space or structure, for recognition and awards, or even for uses as simple as home address signs. On their own or as part of a larger project, plaques are a sophisticated and attractive way to communicate a lot of information and meaning. Cast plaques get a lot of attention for their durability and timeless style, but recessed and inlaid plaques also offer interesting design options.

 

On a recessed plaque, the text or image is etched into the material so it is recessed, instead of raised as in a cast plaque. Etching produces detailed and precise images and text, for a look that can be either classic or modern. Another feature of recessed plaques is that by recessing the images and text, the surface appearance and texture is brought to the forefront, which can be a striking design choice.

Cast bronze wall marker

Inlay is a technique that uses multiple materials. An inlaid object has different materials embedded in it, flush with its surface, to produce an image, text, or ornamentation. For example, a metal plaque can be inlaid into a wood or stone setting, or can incorporate different kinds of inlaid metals. This mixed medium technique brings contrast and richness to a design. Inlaying a plaque integrates it into its setting and makes it part of the larger structure. For example, a house number sign can be set into a stone pillar or wall. Infrastructure signage can be inlaid into sidewalks and walls.

 

The 100th Anniversary Flanders Field memorial is a Behrends project that we are particularly proud of. It incorporates many techniques, including examples of both recessed and inlaid plaques. The bronze poem plaque features an etched reproduction of John McRae’s original handwritten poem. The bright bronze surface contrasts with the recessed hand writing, and can be compared to the more traditional cast, raised text of the rest of the plaque. There are also eight bronze poppy plaques inlaid into the memorial’s stonework.

Cast Cast Bronze Plaque

There are many uses for plaques, and they are matched by a similar variety of techniques and design options to match any design vision. Recessed and inlaid plaques are just two of these techniques that can be used to personalize your project.

 

To see more plaques visit our plaques page here

 

Interpretive Panels and things to Consider When Designing Your Signage

What are Interpretive Panels?

Panels are ideal for any type of interpretive exhibit where patrons will be in need of guidance as to the purpose of the exhibit or the history relevant to that space.  Interpretive signs are commonly used in museums, galleries, for art work and historical sites to help guests interpret the exhibit by explaining the piece or providing additional background information.

Designing Interpretive Panels

Excellent quality ones tend to combine imaginative text, rich design and evocative imagery to make a place come alive to patrons who visit there. Rather than only containing information such as directions or instructions, interpretive panels create an individual’s sense of historical presence or contemporary legacy. Some of the most prominent panels are those cast in bronze because it lends a strong presence to these pieces and can accumulate natural patinas with time, giving the viewer a sense of historicity and cultural longevity.

Cast bronze plaque

Using Cast Bronze for Interpretive Panels

Why is bronze so popular? Certain mediums, when used often enough for similar applications, start to gain an authority on their own and become the desired taste of a specific style of message. Bronze is long-lasting and offers a sense of stability and permanence to any structure. Especially popular with corporate clients and professionals, bronze can lend itself well to any office building or the sophisticated home. The variety available in bronze is very large and diverse depending on your preference for the typeface (font) or how you want to finish your lettering.
As mentioned, the final look of bronze can change over time, developing patinas, or the greenish layers that unfold on bronze over time. The look of aged bronze conjures up images of old Europe and important art institutions. Many clients love this style, particularly for artisanal sculptural or statue work, as the green finish that comes to bronze with time carries the weight and prestige of history with it. With Behrends, this natural process can easily be mimicked and sped up with the application of various processes to develop patinas, and we have had multiple requests to do so in our 60+ years in the industry.
The level of variety available with bronze is directly related to our long and diverse experience with it. Since this is what Behrends started out doing, we have perfected many different techniques involving bronze allowing you to customize a variety of details to make your plaque your very own. Bronze is a great choice for custom designed cast metal plaques like bas relief because it is able to hold high levels of fine detail, is durable and long-lasting, and has a wide range of available finishes and patinas.

Custom Cast Bronze plaque   Custom cast bronze plaque   Gresibachplaques (1)

Important Items to Consider When Choosing Your Panel Designer

Here are some important things to consider when choosing the designer of your interpretive panels, especially when you are considering Behrends Group. We have gotten this stuff down to a science so for brilliant results every time, come to us.

  • People decide within seconds whether or not they want to read your sign so the design and writing are both critical. It has to be interesting and easy-to-read, with a simple typography and not too much or too little writing.
  • Quality text means quality writing as well. Too much jargon or technical writing might be off-putting for your patrons . The writing also has to be active and engaging to capture the attention of your audience and bring them into the world you are interpreting for them.
  • Visuals that may or may not be included on your interpretive panel should offer different information than the writing but also corresponds to the story that is being told. The same thing goes for maps as well, if needed.

 

Custom Bronze plaque IMG_6817

To Patina or not to Patina

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A patina is a layer of colour, usually green, that has developed naturally on bronze metals depending on the amount of copper in the alloy. This happens particularly when the metal has been exposed to the air for a significant amount of time so it is often associated with historical landmarks of bronze, ancient sculptures or reliefs, and other pieces of legacy. As a result, patinas have come to be emblems of legitimacy, nostalgia and even power.

The original Latin term patina meant “shallow dish or plate” and signifies this uppermost later on a metal piece. Technically speaking, it doesn’t need only to refer the typical green layers that can develop over time but can just be a darkening.

Due to the fact that bronze is still widely used today and its popularity with clients has never slowed down, the question of patinas is ever-present. Bronze offers variety in terms of design capabilities and typefaces, and ultimately, establishes a prominence in the finished product. With patinas being (or not being) part of this final process, it is yet another custom option that you have to set your projects apart.

There are chemical processes which exist that can mimic the creation of patinas (also known as “distressing”) and which have been perfected by Behrends Foundry. These processes can be requested to give even a brand new sign the look of a weathered, but regal or timeless piece.

At the same time, sometimes the natural processes of patinas are not desired and people do not want the look of their signage plaques or statues to change over time. It is a thing of the past that the process of layering that comes from exposure to the air is guaranteed to happen. Just as there are processes to mimic the creation of patinas, so too are there processes to prevent it from happening all together. This technique ensures that your plaque will always retain its look from its first installation.

Bronze is believed to be one of the few things that will outlive our human civilizations of the future and with the technology we have today, it could mean that your bronze items stay roughly the same in appearance from now until thousands of years from now.

Custom bronze patina crest

How to Create a Bronze Plaque

At Behrends Foundry, the plaques we make are the result of a collaborative effort – from the first preliminary consultations and designs to the final installation of the piece, our team of professionals works closely together in order to ensure that excellence and expertise permeate every step of the process. Below is a detailed account of the bronze casting process so you can see for yourself the importance of each and every team member, here at Behrends.

STEPS IN THE LIFE OF A PLAQUE

CONSULTATION AND DESIGN

In a world with endless possibilities, creating the perfect look for a plaque is both invigorating and challenging. Capturing the exact essence of the plaque’s purpose requires a strong attention to detail and expertise in the visual arts. Behrends’ designers boast impressive resumes – with years of experience and exceptional talent, they prides themselves on crafting perfect lasting impressions. Our use of only the best technology to create renderings for our clients allows them to envision their plaques in the environments they will be manufactured for and this adds to the whole creative experience.

PATTERN

Once a design is created, the process of casting the bronze begins. The first step in the process is the creation of a pattern – a prototype of what will eventually be made in bronze. These can be made of various materials, such as photopolymer resins, woods and plastics. Behrends also use a variety of software for 3D machining and 3D printing for the more complicated shapes that may be required for the pattern process. The pattern makers at Behrends have been in the industry for decades and pay extraordinarily close attention to the details in this critical part of the process. What we find in the pattern, will likely appear in the final product so a craftsperson’s hands have to be skilled.

MOLD

The pattern, once complete, can then be used to create a mold for the final product. First, the molder applies a layer of mold release to the pattern so that the finished mold will not stick to it. Then a fine sand/epoxy mixture is applied and packed down over the entire surface of the pattern to ensure all the fine details are included in the mold. The mold is then reinforced so that it is sturdy enough to maintain its integrity throughout the casting process.

METAL POUR

Filling the mold with molten bronze is not a simple task – workers have to be incredibly careful while handling the hot metal, and processes must be in place to eliminate air bubbles while it is poured. In order to safely and effectively fill the mold: sprues, runners, gates and risers are used to introduce the bronze to the mold and they also act as ventilators, letting mold gases to escape. If you have ever been fortunate enough to see a traditional metal pour, you will notice our team members are wearing protective gear that looks a lot like space suits! As futuristic as it seems, bronze casting is actually an ancient tradition.

MOLD SHAKE-OUT

After the bronze has cooled and solidified, it has to be removed from its casing. Team members do this by shaking the mold to loosen all of the sand from the plaque. This process safely removes the sand from the bronze, leaving the rough cast plaque ready for the final touches.

 

FINISHING

Finishing the metal plaque involves a number of important processes and has to be done by someone with a perfectionist’s eye. All of the components used in the crafting of the plaque that will not be part of the finished product – such as sprues, runners, and gates – must be removed. The bronze is then hand-cleaned and sanded to give the piece a perfect shape and finish.

PAINTING

To put the final visual touches on the piece, bronze plaques are painted using an industrial paint system. A steady hand and attention to detail makes this finishing process the final touch at the end of the life of a plaque. Talented craftspeople do the painting to give the plaque further dimension, character, and personality as well as keep it well protected.

INSTALLATION

The final step in the process comes when a talented team of installers takes the carefully made bronze plaque and expertly installs it in its forever home. At Behrends, our plaques might end up high in the sky or amongst busy foot traffic, and either way they need to be there to last: the perfect installation completes the life cycle of a plaque and is just as essential to get right as ever other stage of the process.

At Behrends Group, when our talented foundry artisans work together, beautiful things happen!

Contact us today to discuss your next plaque project

Team Interview: Finishing (Steven Schwandt)

Spending a lot of time on the negotiation, design and fabrication of a signage product is only successful if the end-product looks as good as everyone expects it to. As such, finishing becomes an integral part of the signage design and manufacture process and can ultimately change the total look and feel of a particular project. Its importance cannot be overestimated and, at Behrends Group, we pride ourselves in having high-quality and consistently good finishing for all of our signage products. As artisan craftsmen, our finishers are part of our holistic team, where every individual is a cornerstone to the success of the whole system. When we all work together, beautiful things are accomplished and no one knows this better than Steven Schwandt who is part of the generational family at Behrends Group.

Tell us a little bit about your personal history and what brought you to Behrends Group.

I am the third generation in my family to have the pleasure of working for this company. My grandfather worked here for a bit in the 1980s and my father did as well, for about 30 years. Several uncles have worked here as well and so I have inherited my position. I have been here for about 19 years now and I’m carrying on that legacy of commitment to this company.

Can you tell me about some of your favourite moments while working for the company?

Seeing some of the milestones achieved has been really amazing. There are guys who have been working for this company for over 40 years and that is inspirational. I particularly love the company picnics and Christmas parties. Really anything that happens in terms of the company culture – because we are such a tight-knit group – is so positive.

What is your current position at Behrends Group?

I am a metal finisher which means that I get to finish everything from plaques to letters and everything in-between.

So, you are primarily responsible for managing the finishing of products that have been fabricated by Behrends. What can you tell me about this particular aspect of your work?

My work is really about paying attention to detail. You have to be a perfectionist. You have to know how much to finish and when to stop to get the perfect final product every time. I’m all about troubleshooting and this position is just it. You have to figure out how to solve finishing issues quickly and effectively to get the quality you want.

Can you tell us what kind of products go through the finishing department and what finishing means?

The majority of the products I see are bronze and aluminum plaques but we also go through cut letters, and sometimes deal with plexi or stainless steel depending on the material the client and designers have chosen to best suit their needs. Finishing is the last step before the final product goes out the door with our professional installers so my job is to make things look like a million bucks basically.

What sets this company apart from others? What, in your opinion, has made the company so successful?

It is a smaller-based company and a very small group of people who do a high-volume of high-quality work. The company is family-oriented and prides itself on that. I have personally known the owner of the company, Gen Russo, my entire life and I feel like the whole crew is part of my family. We probably spend more time with each other than we do collectively at home so we become a pretty tight unit. The other thing is the products, of course. There are not a lot, if any, other companies that do what we do, or can do what we do. I would say that our output, in terms of quality and longevity of a product, is 1000% better than any competitors on the market.

What are some of the most memorable projects you have worked on so far? Do you have a particular favourite?

A really memorable one that sticks out was actually from a while ago (in the 1990s) was when the Bank of Montreal was rebranding and in need of all new logos and letters for their branches and offices across Canada. I personally spent four months doing nothing but that project which was incredibly tedious but paid off so well in the end. I really liked doing Strathcona Archway as well. The Toronto Air Canada Center is neat too – I can say I had my hand on that project in a sense because we did work on some pieces for it.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy doing stuff around the house, fixing things, watching sports and going to the movies. I’m pretty outdoorsy too: I love camping, fishing, hunting, and anything else outside.