Handspun Metal Lamps That Reclaim A Dying Craft

Never heard of metal spinning? You aren’t alone. Two young designers have set out to change that, resurrecting the obscure technique with a series of spun metal lamps.

Up until the turn of the century, most metal objects, like candlestick holders, cups, and lamps, were carved by a skilled technician shaping a spinning chunk of metal with a lathe. The process is called metal spinning, and much like pot throwing, each hand-spun piece bears the stamp of its maker—imperfections and all. But metal spinning is a time-consuming process, and eventually, mass production techniques made it an obscurity. Today, there are only a handful of artisans who still specialize in the technique, and we’re more likely to be more familiar with 3-D printing than we are with metal spinning.

Irina Kozlovskaya and Aaron Tsui set out to reclaim the technique last year, and their homage to spun metal, called the SF (Spin and Fold) Lamp, debuts this week at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

The duo met at RISD, where they both majored in Industrial Design. In a class called Manufacturing Techniques For Designers, they visited a local lighting factory where technicians spun metal by hand. It was "eye-opening and jaw-dropping," says Kozlovskaya through email. "We were fortunate enough to observe both automated and manual spinning operations, and have been enamored with the process ever since."

After graduation, the duo went on to found Vim & Vigor Design, where they use high-tech of materials and techniques to produce objects like these silicon lamps or this an inductive-heat steamer. But Kozlovskaya and Tsui say they always felt nostalgic for the “countless hours” they spent in RISD’s metal shop. “We grew inspired to create a design paying homage to the vanishing art of hand-spinning metal,” they say, “and conceptualized a lampshade design that nods to this craft while fully retaining automated scalability for logical transition to mass production.”

Each SF Lamp is the unique product of its fabricator. But in addition to using traditional hand spinning, the designers introduced a “twist” in the fabrication process. First, a flat piece of metal is spun according to one of three basic patterns (obtuse, acute, or intermediate) specified by the designers. Then, the flattened pattern is punctured along one edge using a metal cutting tool. The piece is painted in one of two colorways (black/bronze or white/silver), and finally, the fabricators fold along the perforated line, making it possible to bend the flat lampshade into its final shape. The finished product is ambiguously handmade, hybridizing fabrication techniques from at least two different centuries. “The beauty of the SF Lamps is that they appear to change forms right before the eye as you walk around them," writes the design team.

And according to Kozlovskaya, the asymmetry is a subtle reference to a quirk they observed at the lighting factory during their RISD fieldwork. "We noticed that the master spinners were physically built rather asymmetrically. If they were right-handed, their right arms and particularly their shoulders were much, much larger than their left. It was incredible to see such a specialized, skilled craftsman at work."

[Images courtesy of Vim & Vigor Design]

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1 Comments

  • Shay Paulney

    Are you Kidding? Metal Spinning is not a forgotten craft at all! I am a professional lighting designer It is one of the most rudimentary production methods for metal in mass production. Especially for Pendants! So what exactly does this spun metal shade do that the million that already exist don't do?

    There is certainly no shortage of Spun metal "Artisans", practically every metal fabricator in China is equipped to do it. Cookware, Brass horn instruments the list goes on and on...