• processes main photo.jpg

Our Manufacturing Processes

HOW OUR FINE BONE CHINA IS MADE

Our mix of traditional and machine made manufacturing is as fascinating to see today as it was 130 years ago, with the skilled craftsmanship involved within every process, below is a small insight of the daily techniques used within our factory. Potentially over 20 pairs of hands can touch a single product in the various stages of making, utilising the skill base of our local workforce while also offering the sustainability of fully British made fine bone china products.

 

SHAPE MODELLING

 

The modelling department is the starting point for any new product development.

 

Technical drawings are produced in the first instance for any new shape design concepts, to allow for the required size and capacity definitions. Using a traditional lathe or hand engraving techniques, plaster models of shapes are physically made 13-14% larger than the anticipated product size, to allow for the firing shrinkage of clay to biscuit firing in production. The original models (masters) are then used to make blocks and cases typically out of rubber or metal. Moulds for production are then made from these forms.

MOULD MAKING

 

Working moulds are needed to produce any new and existing flatware, holloware, handles and cast ware items.

 

Using a mixture of Plaster of Paris and water, a liquid form is poured into rubber blocks and cases. After 20-30 minutes the plaster of Paris solidifies forming the mould within the case. The newly formed moulds are released from the case and typically another 3-4 days of drying time is needed. Numerous moulds are made dependent on the production run involved, because of the weak nature of the plaster the moulds have a limited run rate, typically 60-80 pieces per mould and have to be replaced frequently.

MACHINE FLATWARE MAKING

 

Flatware making or Jiggering is another name for the automated making of our plates, saucers, bowls and other flatware items.

 

A round 4-5" diameter length of pugged clay is fed through a conveyor belt to a cutting wire, which will cut an approximately 1" thick piece of the clay. This is fed onto the specific shaped mould, rotating on a feeding platform, the mould and clay is moved around until it meets a metal tool (roller head). This tool automatically presses down onto the piece of clay, rolling the clay over the shaped mould. The formed piece and mould are then dried and the edges sponged, to produce a smooth finished overall flatware piece. 

MACHINE HOLLOWARE MAKING

 

Holloware making or Jollying are the manufacturing names associated with the production of our holloware items including Teacups and Mugs. 

 

Similar to the flatware making process pugged clay is cut into specific sizes and fed into the specific shaped moulds. A metal tool is automatically lowered into the mould, which rolls the clay onto the contour shape of the mould. The produced item is then automatically sponged to remove any rough edges on the top edge of the piece. Cast handles made separately (see below) are stuck onto the mugs or teacups with a small amount of liquid clay, the handles are tool cut earlier to a certain angle depending on the specific shape of holloware.

HAND BENCH CASTING

 

Bench Casting utilises the flexibility of producing smaller runs of Teapots, Jugs, Tankards and Handles that cannot be machine made.

 

Using a liquid clay that is mixed in our blungers; bench or hand casting allows us to produce smaller runs of more complex bespoke shapes. The clay slip is poured into the mould by a controlled gun and allowed to dry between 20 and 30 minutes before any excess slip is poured away. Any waste is recycled back into our blungers. Because of the nature of casting, the mould shapes used can be anywhere from 3 to 6 pieces, for each piece of mould this will typically leave a mould line that needs to be fettled and sponged (see below)

AUTOMATIC MACHINE CASTING

 

When, larger runs of cast items are required we can ramp up our production with our fully automated casting line.

 

Similar to bench casting a liquid slip is automatically poured into moulds that are passing through the machine on a four gun lane belt system. The moulds firstly pass through a pre-heat zone, the slip then fills the moulds with automatic guns. Via precision timing at the end of the belt line, the moulds are tipped to allow excess slip to run away. The moulds are then passed through a drying unit on a belt system. Once dry the moulds are broken apart and the cast items are ready for fettling, the casting cycle then starts again. 

FETTLING AND SPONGING

 

From the machine cast or bench cast processes each item's seam line is carefully and skillfully removed.

 

Hand fettling and sponging is a traditional technique that removes rough edges and any seam lines, caused by the number of pieces used to make up the mould, this depends on the complexity of the cast piece. Firstly using a sharp metal hand tool the excess rough seam line or edge is scraped away, then using a small wet sponge usually on a stick the fettled areas are smoothed over, removing any trace of the cast lines. Shaped sponges are used for different areas of the piece to allow for the smallest and obscure areas to be cleaned.

BISCUIT FIRING

 

Biscuit Firing is the first heat work that the fine bone china piece has which takes the clay from soft to a hard form.

 

The clay wares are placed onto kiln trucks with spacing between the individual items, the biscuit firing produces temperatures of 1240 degrees over a 14-hour firing schedule. This heat work effectively is burning the moisture out of the clay body of ware. The fine bone china body will shrink between 13% and 14% in the firing, so each piece of flatware is sat in a high temperature refractory called a setter or a ring for holloware items. These help to maintain the shape of the items within the biscuit firing schedule.

VIBRO MACHINING

 

The noisy area of the manufacturing process but very important to remove roughness from the biscuit firing.

 

Using small 4 mm square pieces of wood and stone mixed into a continuously rotary moving and vibrating machine, all the biscuit fired pieces are fed through the vibro machines. The mix of stone and wood exfoliates the hardened biscuit pieces, removing any excess bits from the firing process, producing a smoother body ready for the glazing process. Any firing cracks or nipped pieces can be selected and turned out at the vibro stage, rather than being passed to the next stage of production.

HAND DIPPING GLAZING

 

Hand dipping glaze onto biscuit ware is a highly skilled and traditional manufacturing process. 

 

The smooth white finish associated with fine bone china comes from the glaze that is applied to the biscuit body. The glaze is a liquid glass, and we apply this by hand dipping, hand spraying and machine spraying. Hand dipping is typically used on holloware items such as mugs, teacups and teapots. The physical piece is dipped into a tub of liquid glaze by hand, and any excess glaze is removed by shaking away with a skilled and consistent handshake movement, once dipped the piece is sent through a drying conveyor belt ready for firing.

FLATWARE GLAZE SPRAY LINE

 

All Flatware is put through our belt line spray machine to give a consistent and quality surface finish. 

 

Using liquid glaze similar to the hand dipping technique, the majority of our flatware is machine sprayed. The flatware is passed facing down through a conveyor belt into a pre heat zone. At the next stage spray guns evenly disperse glaze onto the back of the piece. A short drying zone then allows the piece to be turned over and the front of the flatware is sprayed by the next stage of glaze guns, the two stages of glazing fully covers the piece. After another drying zone the flat piece is ready to be passed to the glost firing kilns. 

HAND SPRAY GLAZING

 

Hand spray glazing is another technique used to apply the liquid glaze to the biscuit fired pieces.

 

The method of hand spraying is performed using a high pressure driven gun, that sprays a liquid through the nozzle head of the gun, dispersing the glaze in a uniform way onto the biscuit ware. With the high skill level of the spray operatives, more complex shaped items are usually processed this way. All the glaze is sprayed within a collection booth which enables us to recycle any excess glaze.

GLOST FIRING

 

All Flatware and Holloware once glazed is then fired in our intermittent glost kilns to melt the glaze onto the pieces. 

 

The freshly dipped or sprayed pieces are individually placed on refractory batts on the glost intermittent kilns and fired at 1080 degrees over several hours. Each piece has part glaze removed from their bottoms to stop the glaze melting and sticking to the refractory during firing. The heat process melts the flux and silica oxide that is present, the main glass former of the glaze, creating an impervious layer over the biscuit pieces. The cooled fired kiln generates beautiful white translucent finish synonymous with fine bone china.  

GLOST SELECTION

 

All pieces from the kiln firing are sent for the next stage of production known as glost selection.

 

Each individual piece that has gone through the various stages of our manufacturing so far, is selected and checked over to make sure that the white glazed pieces are fault free. Any pinhole or impurities caused by the glost firing, are graded and passed. Either through to the next stage of decoration as best ware, or back through our re working process, to mend the faults and return them to a best form. Any unrepairable pieces are turned out and marked as seconds.

DECAL PRINTING

 

Our clients' designs are silk screen printed as waterslide decals and transferred onto the white glazed china.

 

Silk screen printing involves printing layers of colour through a fine polyester mesh, directly onto a gum backed water slide decal paper. Each colour printed, is a finely ground glaze frit, that when fired fuses to the glaze of the piece forming a durable product. Each colour printed is matched to Pantone references or visual matchings provided by the clients', with the limitations of the printing ceramic colour palette, we pride ourselves with aiming to push the boundaries to try to achieve our clients expectations.

DECORATION

 

In the decoration department we apply the printed decals and add any finishing touches of gold or colour to the edges.

 

The decorating department adds the final touches to the white ware, by applying the clients' printed decals to the pieces. Using a squeegee and lint-free cloth, the decals are positioned by hand to eye co-ordination, onto the white bone china pieces copying or matching a pre-agreed piece by the client. Any water or air has to be removed from between the decal and piece, otherwise in firing, blow outs will occur meaning often the decorated piece after firing would be turned out as seconds on selection.

GILDING AND BANDING


We can add finishing touches to our Fine Bone China adding by brush gold, platinum or colours to the edges of the wares.


Adding precious metals of gold, platinum and colour is a unique and highly trained skill known as gilding or banding. Each individual piece is meticulously finished off by either tracing or lining the edges of the ware. They are added by hand brushing using a squirrel or pony haired speciality brush in liquid form. The process is usually carried out on a manually rotated gilding wheel, where the operative has full control of the speed needed to apply the different materials, as per the clients' requests.  

DECORATION FIRING

 

The decorating firing is the adhering of the printed decal and gilding to the glaze of the bone china pieces. 

 

The wares once they have been decorated by the lithographers and gilders, have to be fired to anneal or fuse the decorations to the glaze of the china pieces. We fire our intermittent decorated kilns to 850 degrees over a period of 5-6 hours, this heat work during the firing process allows the glaze of the white ware to slightly melt and open up. In turn the frit of the colour also melts to fuse to the white glaze, which gives a permanent and encapsulated finish to the decorated decal and precious metals.

PACKING AND DESPATCH

 

The final stage of manufacturing is the selection, packing and despatch of the final decorated items.

 

Once our fine bone china has gone through the various decorating and firing stages, we come to the last stages of our production process. Each individual piece off the kilns goes through a rigorous selection process, to identify any faults that may have occurred during the decoration firing. Each piece once passed selection is packed into boxes. These can be standard card multipacks, individual mail order or presentation boxes. Additional barcoding, swing tags or special wrapping can also be catered for.