The hidden value of working on small jobs.
The new foundry pattern and the existing bronze finial casting.

The new foundry pattern and the existing bronze finial casting.

One of the questions that we have heard many times here at Historical Arts & Casting (HACI) goes something like this: “Is there a minimum order?” It is, of course, tempting to respond “Yes, one”, but what these potential clients are really asking is relative to the overall cost of the order, not necessarily the quantity of items ordered (we frequently make only one of something—that is part of the nature of our business).

The new foundry pattern for the base of the finial and HACI’s shop drawing.

The new foundry pattern for the base of the finial and HACI’s shop drawing.

Our company actively seeks out work which would fill three categories of project size—small, medium, and large. While medium and large-sized projects are often desirable because of the stability they afford, among other reasons, small projects are not without their own set of desirable attributes. They also have a profound ability to make an impact.

Here, the existing casting is balanced on top of the pattern for the second part of this finial.

Here, the existing casting is balanced on top of the pattern for the second part of this finial.

For a custom, made-to-order manufacturer to stay profitable, its workers must remain productive, actively producing goods that fulfill its contracts. There are inevitable gaps of opportunity between medium and larger projects, or between their phases, that only smaller projects can redeem. As an example, in 2018, HACI produced a small bronze finial which was destined to be installed at the apex of a hip-roofed pump house for a residential project on the East coast of the US. For this project, a quick shop drawing was made, and only one new foundry pattern was required. There were only 2 bronze castings needed (one of which we already had before the project began). Only a couple of hours of fabrication labor were required, followed by just a few hours in our finishing department. Finally, all that was left was to package the finial and send it off. HACI was able to run this project through all the stages mentioned previously, taking advantage of small bits of time between other projects, and deliver the finial well before it was needed at the project site—and it helped to fill up those “gaps of opportunity” in our business along the way.

We printed a 1:8 scale version of the finial assembly prior to making the new pattern (visible behind the smaller print).

We printed a 1:8 scale version of the finial assembly prior to making the new pattern (visible behind the smaller print).

Aside from their gap-filling strengths, another thing that makes small jobs desirable is that they are generally less complex, by nature, relative to medium and larger projects. Therefore, they are good training grounds for the less experienced. They offer challenges to the newer workers within our organization, including everyone from foundry and fabrication workers to project managers. Success on smaller projects serves as the foundation of confidence, as projects of increasing complexity and scope get assigned to these workers.

Overall view of the completed finial just prior to packaging and shipping.

Overall view of the completed finial just prior to packaging and shipping.

Historical Arts also continues to seek projects of small scope because of the difficulty that people have in getting a manufacturer to even look at taking that kind of work on. We have been able to contribute to the success of many projects over the years precisely because of our willingness to help with a relatively small part of the overall project’s scope. And, many times, achieving a good result with a smaller project has opened doors with that architect or contractor for other projects—sometimes even those with a larger scope.

The bronze finial installed on the pumphouse’s roof. 

The bronze finial installed on the pumphouse’s roof. 

In the case of the pump house finial, it really does finish off the look and feel of the building. It is almost impossible to keep your eye from being drawn to it—this should serve as a reminder of the large impact that small projects can have in the internal workings of a company’s workflow, in meeting the need for an architect, contractor, or client, and in its final installation.

(All photos by HACI unless otherwise noted in the caption).

Buying Guide Spotlight

Vintage Homes and Millwork

Vintage Millwork and Restoration

Vintage Millwork and Restoration offers custom-milled front doors, interior doors, garage doors, barn doors, and custom hardware. Specialties include custom trim work, custom grid doors, true or simulated divide light doors, and engineered doors. Made in the USA in Lancaster, PA.

Related Articles