What do you do?
Here at InSlate, we spend our time deep engraving slate and stone using a SANDBLASTING technique. This is a noisy, dusty, time-consuming process and is certainly not a case of simply pressing a button and letting a computerised machine get on with it.
Each piece of slate is carefully selected; the stone is then masked using a thick rubber tape which has had a design cut into it. The design is picked out of the tape to expose the surface of the slate; this is then put into a cabinet and has grit blasted at it, by hand, at high pressure. The process physically removes material and leaves a deep image in the item. It is a process where the final product relies heavily on the skill of the engraver. Since is easy to end up with an uneven or ‘wavy’ engraving, it takes real experience to be able to produce items with a deep, even finish.
Once the image or design has been deep engraved, the process is far from complete; the tape is removed, the item is washed and dried and if it is a coaster we’re making, there is a felt backing to cut and attach. Keyrings require drilling and threading, brooches need their pins, table mats are fitted with foam feet… You get the idea – each item goes through many hand-finishing processes before we are happy to offer it to you. So when you pick up any item made by InSlate, you can be certain that it is genuinely HANDMADE and not piled out of a factory in bulk.
Basically, our work is very ‘hands-on’. Each item is made individually, no two will ever be identical and the process is time consuming. We firmly believe in QUALITY OVER QUANTITY any day of the week! Mass-produced we certainly are not.
So, what’s the difference between what you do and laser ‘engraving’?
You may have noticed we have placed the word ‘engraving’ in inverted commas here. The reason for this is because laser ‘engraving’ is engraving in the very loosest sense of the word. To engrave an item means to remove material and leave behind a design or image. What laser ‘engraving’ does is basically burn the surface of the piece of slate – it doesn’t leave a deep engraved image in the way sandblasting does. If you run your fingers over a laser ‘engraved’ slate, you won’t feel any texture to the design, it lacks the depth and texture which is achieved by sandblasting.
Machine-operated lasers are guided by computer software which burns a design input by the operator. Once the design is set and the slate is put into the ‘engraver’, all the operator has to do is press a button. Simple, yes… effective, well, to a point. The end product can have slightly blurred edges to the design and the image can be left with small chips or a grainy appearance.
But if it’s quicker and easier, why don’t you do it?
As we’ve mentioned before, for us it really is quality that matters. It may ‘only’ be a coaster, but we would rather produce one beautiful, unique item than a hundred which are basically computerised clones. On the surface it may seem to make little business sense but we have our principles and we stick to them. What we make matters to us – if we are going to put our name to a product we want it to be the best we can possibly create.
Besides, there would be little point in using the finest quality WELSH slate for our tableware if we were to use a computer burn a poor-quality design onto it.
Our craftsman has been deep engraving slate since 1989 (that’s nearly 30 years!) using the sandblasting method. He takes great pride in his work and just because there is an easier method, doesn’t mean we will be using it. To us, it is the finished product that is important, not how many we can churn out in the shortest possible time.
What other methods are there?
Ultimately there are 3 main methods used for leaving a design on slate. We’ve already covered two, sandblasting and laser etching. The other commonly used method is printing, whether that be screen-printing or printing with a computer – the result being an ink left on the surface of the slate. This, in our opinion, is another mass-produced process and again, not one we would choose to employ. Over time, a printed coaster will scratch and the design will scuff, leaving a less than perfect appearance. If you see any paint on our slate, you can be sure it has been deep engraved first and the paint is used as a finishing touch.
Surely this makes sandblasted items expensive?
On the contrary, it certainly does not! While we will never claim to be the cheapest, we certainly endeavour to provide the finest quality product at a sensible price. If you want a cheap imported item, then you’ve missed the point of what we do. We want you to go home with an item (whether it cost £5 or £100), knowing that you have something that will last a lifetime. It won’t fade, and you can look at it and know that it was made by a craftsman, not a computer.
What about something for me?
The good news is that, because we make everything by hand, when you want something special it really won’t cost you the earth. We don’t have computers that need reprogramming, we don’t need to re-set jigs, all we need is a mug of tea and to put some thought into your commission. We will send you a design, you can let us know what you think (honesty is the best policy here), and if you want it tweaking this way or that, we are only too happy to do so. We will let you know what is possible and work with you to literally set your design in stone.
We are more than happy to design your item as a one-off and we will take great pleasure in knowing we have provided you with something truly special, something truly unique and something that will be treasured. We also love a challenge so please speak to us, ask questions! We have worked on pieces of slate from 2 tonne boulders (yes, they were HUGE), all the way down to some tiny custom buttons for a local designer.
We LOVE what we do, and we hope you will too. Most of all we hope you now have a better understanding of what we at InSlate are all about.