Making Signs

meantime, the other twenty percent of the RLF's turnover comes from their more specialist trade; casting signs, labels and plaques in aluminium, each one individually lettered, moulded, cast and painted.

The letterer takes a blank panel, in one of many shapes and sizes, and sticks metal letters and numbers on to it with wax. A modern innovation is to use a computer to print out a crude template, showing where lines should begin and end, but still, most of the work is done by eye.

The completed panel is passed to the moulder, who lays it flat, face down on a smooth bed of sand. Bromsgrove sand is premium, but it's just sand, with a few additives. He tamps this down gently and carefully, until he can lift the original, leaving a perfect reversed impression in the surface. A smooth cover of compacted sand is laid gently on top, with pouring holes and gutters left clear.

Meanwhile, molten aluminium is raised to temperature in a crucible in the corner. A pallet of gleaming aluminium ingots catches the light from the ever-open door. It's hot work, this, often over 100 degrees in the workshop.

When the metal's ready, the foundryman and his mate pull out ladle-fulls and pour the silvery liquid into the mould.

Within minutes, the steaming sand is sprinkled with a garden watering can, the top layer of sand is removed, and the newly minted sign is shovelled roughly to one side.

When cool, this glittering tablet is passed to the fettler who files away jagged edges and flattens lumps and bumps.

An artist might stop at this stage, for the gleaming plaque looks quite splendid now. But the craftsman must go further.

Into the paint shop it goes. A base colour of enamel is sprayed on, and baked hard in a stove. Then the raised letters, numbers, coats of arms or municipal logos are painted by hand, and the result re-baked.

The result is an object of startling quality; solid, clear, effective. It looks as though it might stand proudly somewhere, well into the next century. And it probably will (if it doesn't end up on the wall of some student flat).

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