Made in Vermont: Exploring the Hubbardton Forge

There are many moving pieces that go into renovating a Base Lodge. Once all the dirty demolition work is completed, the roof is raised, the nails in place, then comes the creative part. Questions come to mind such as, how will the color of the walls coincide with the carpet design? How will the stone on the outer walls compliment the beauty of the mountain? And more importantly, can we source the materials locally? It is at that point Hubbardton Forge comes to mind. A company dating back to 1974, Hubbardton Forge is now the oldest and largest commercial forge in the country. Located just up the road from Stratton in Castleton, Vermont, a team of over 200 people work to design, create and market hand-forged lighting. One of the best parts about this company is that all the magic happens under one roof, right here in Vermont. How appropriate, then, that this hand-crafted timeless artistry will illuminate our improved Base Lodge. 

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Base Lodge rennovation with Hubbarton Forge lighting to be completed this November.

Our team was lucky enough to tour the Hubbarton Forge, and what we discovered was a fascinating amount of talent and love for creating the best work possible every single day. We started our tour by unintentionally interrupting a design meeting between the creative minds at the Forge. David, the lead designer, welcomed us into the dimly lit room filled with prototypes, sketches, 3D printers, and three light fixtures part of the 2016 collection hanging front and center. David talked us through his creative process of drawing, prototypes, drawing again and what the next big design trends are. We can’t tell you that part yet, it’s top secret. What I can tell you is that you’ll want to stay tuned for the Hubbarton Forge 2016 collection, they’re producing amazing pieces.

Next, we visited Jason in the prototype department. His job is to take the designer’s creative idea and see if he can make it out of steel. Jason held up a piece of foam shaped as a square with a circle cut in the middle and twisted it like a pretzel. One would think it would be impossible to bend steel that way, but Jason said it’s his job to take these wild ideas and try to make it real. Often, he said, his reaction to the designers is “Really? You want me to make this?” Their ideas keep getting more creative and out of the box, but they push each other to be better and reach further, producing the best product possible.

We then moved on to the promised hands-on section of the tour, the Forge. Forge, by definition, means to form by heating and hammering. The temperature rose instantly upon entering the room filled with ovens, steel and tall shelves of tools. We were greeted by the smiling face of Annie, a modern day blacksmith. 

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Annie heating the “churros” in the oven for us to twist. Photo:Adam Vanderminden, Art Director

An anvil stopped me in my tracks as we followed Annie through the forge  – an actual anvil, which I thought only existed in movies dating back to 1920 and Warner Bros. cartoons. The tour led us to a machine built in 1885, with a large wheel and clamps. Next to it sat an oven with four textured steel rods, which resembled  churros, heating up with temperatures up to 2000ºF. After a short demonstration, Annie allowed each of us to have our chance at twisting steel into a basket, commonly found in many of their light fixtures. 

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The wheel of this machine powers the clamps to twist the hot steel. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director
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The steel is so hot that it is easily manipulated into the twist. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director
hubbarton forge made in vermont
This job takes a bit more muscle and finesse than we initially thought. Annie helped us out. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director

Each basket must have the same dimensions, proving consistency and attention to detail at the Forge is like no other. It shows in their 99.3%  perfection rate at the end of the manufacturing process. We found out first hand that if you pull too hard or too soft, the basket will not bend the way you want. After all was said and done and my basket was twisted, I concluded that forging was not my strong suit in life.

hubbarton forge made in vermont
Forging steel in a machine from 1885. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director

We moved on to help bend another piece of steel that when finished, is used in pieces like this.  The steel is bent around a circular instrument using a clever leverage system that the blacksmith could do with his eyes closed. I found it a bit more complicated and needed to use all of my strength to bend.

Bending the steel took alot of power, but this blacksmith was a pro. The wheel of this machine powers the clamps to twist the hot steel. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director
Bending the steel took a lot of power, but this blacksmith was a pro. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director
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The blacksmith produces multiple racks of these per day. Photo: Adam Vanderminden
Art Director

I then wondered how the bent steel, pictured above, transforms to a smooth and slick texture for the finished product. Well, that was next on the tour. First, the steel must be tumbled and treated according to what texture is needed for an individual item. Different textured rocks and sand are used in a machine, second picture below, to treat the steel with a  certain texture. We got an inside look at how the gold, silver, matte and many other finishes are applied to the steel. An artist hand sprays each individual piece and it is sent off to settle. This is just another instance where we couldn’t believe the amount of hard work and attention to detail goes into each step of producing every item.

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Steel is tumbled with textured rocks to give a bump or smooth finish.
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Steel at the Forge is tumbled in a pale of rocks or sand to give it texture. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director

Traveling through the forge with pure fascination, we then stopped at the welding department. Welders sat behind red plastic barriers to shield the outside viewer from bright sparks from the torches. While there was no hands-on activity to be had with the welders, we were allowed to contribute to a custom ordered chandelier being crafted. Lauren tried her hand at bending a pipe used for the chandelier, similar to the one pictured here.  After trying to bend it, we realized these guys have to be really strong since they’re bending hundreds of these a day with no machinery.

hubbarton forge stratton
Lauren used all of her strength to bend a rod used in a custom chandelier. Photo: Adam Vanderminden, Art Director

We rounded out the tour at the assembly and packaging station, where the workers greeted us with a large, proud smile. After this tour, I now look at lamps, chandeliers and really anything made out of steel  with a greater appreciation for the work and craftsmanship behind it. And I am even more excited to see this craftsmanship displayed in the Base Lodge come this fall, knowing it’s made just down the road from Stratton. To learn more about the Base Lodge project, click here. 

These Hubbarton Forge lights will illuminate the rennovated base lodge.
These Hubbarton Forge lights will illuminate the rennovated base lodge.

UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2, 2015 – HUBBARDTON FORGE LIGHTING INSTALLED IN BASE LODGE

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Important Links

Be sure to check out Hubbardton Forge on the web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and design inspiration on Pinterest.  (Hubbarton Forge does not offer public tours of their factory).

 

About the Author

12790880_10154042121438689_4862440859600777479_nCassie Russo |  Growing up in central Massachusetts, Cassie ventured to the snowy mountains of Vermont almost every weekend until her late teens to enjoy her passion – snowboarding.  After working at a ski shop while studying for a degree in journalism, Cassie knew Vermont was her next destination.  You can now find her living her dream of residing in Vermont, pursuing a writing career and strapping a snowboard to her feet every day. When the snow melts, you can find her on her paddle board, on the tennis courts and searching for the next adventure.
Cassie’s Instagram and Twitter:@cassachusetts


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