Marta Verdes- Montenegro
Each piece in our collection has a story to tell of the people, place and processes involved in its creation. However, there are a few crucial yet unglamorous steps on this journey that Chris and myself rarely showcase and happen in at our workshop and studio in Manchester.
First and foremost we are a design studio and manufacturer. It’s a small but significant point, as we not only design, develop, prototype and test in-house but we also adjust, clean, finish, assembly, check and ship everything that we make. To produce the components and elements that we cannot create ourselves, we work directly with an ever-expanding network of specialists from across the UK and Europe. These specialists range from printers and paper mills to precious metal founders and springs makers. All in all it’s an intensive process but it’s the only way that we can craft beautifully timeless items and fulfil our world-class manufacturing ideals.
So, coming back to the workshop and studio, I want to share with you some of the steps that Chris and myself take and explain a little more about the processes that we use.
As mentioned before, we believe it is imperative that the finishing touch and final checks are carried out by ourselves to ensure that everything we create meets our exacting quality standards. After our initial checks everything we make, which ranges from 15-20000 individual components per production batch, pass through a series of stages.
Focusing on the Pens, the first stage is a deep cleaning to remove any residual cutting fluids, lubricants, grease and dirt from the components. To do this we placed each part from our production into a warm ultrasonic cleaning bath, which is essentially a tank of non-toxic cleaning fluid that pulsates with high-frequency micro-vibrations to remove contaminants without the use of abrasives. We pass the parts through in batches and run the baths for a number of minutes.
Ultrasonic cleaning is highly effective at removing all kinds of dirt, grease, oil and even bacteria from a part that would otherwise be impossible or hard to clean.
Once this is complete, we remove the Pens, check them out of cleaning and place them onto white peg racks ready for hand brushing and polishing.
For this stage, Chris uses a wide array of machines and handheld tools to remove uneven, scratches and production markings from brass, stainless steel, aluminium, ebonite or silver. This is an important step as firstly even though at the engineering facility we require checks per 100 pieces, inevitably parts slip through the net. Secondly, the finish we require for our customers is different from the finish we require from production. It sounds almost counter-intuitive but in order to achieve a consistent and clean brushed finish, we first need to ensure that the surface of every part is free of imperfections and has been meticulously machined to almost a mirror finish. It’s the cross-over of aesthetics and engineering specifications that is always the biggest stumbling block.
To add our finishes Chris uses a buffing machine which is essentially a horizontal engine with two spindles on either side where a mixture of different wheels, mops and abrasive compounds can be mounted to achieve various decorative finishes. Through years of experience, Chris has developed various pen polishing techniques that seem to magically unlock the beauty of different materials from brushed finishes to mirror polishing. It’s time-consuming work to achieve the desired result and feel, but over time we have learnt it’s the only way to get the finish our customers deserve.
The moment of truth is after the parts have been polished. In order to ensure they meet our standards, I cross-check Chris’s work and highlight any imperfections or adjustments before passing the Pens through a final hand cleaning process using soft polishing cloths and pipe cleaners.
At this stage, all of the Pen parts are stored on racks or in trays and are taken through to our cleanroom for assembly testing and packing. At this point, we complete our first Pen builds. This involves assembling the retracting mechanism with the gasket and building a whole Pen. Between Chris and myself we check the mechanisms to ensure that they have the correct feel and that they hold position once engaged and retracted. Once the Pens are correct and operating smoothly we separate out our Core collection and Edition collections. The Core collection Pens are checked a second time and then placed into their packaging. However, for the editions, we disassemble each Pen into its individual components and pack the bodies and tops into various trays ready for external finishing. Once the components return from external finishing they are checked again and passed through our assembly and quality checks before being placed into their packaging.
The ability to control the full process from start to finish gives us greater flexibility and freedom to keep re-imagining the future of design and push new boundaries in both manufacturer and craftsmanship. The above process may seem arduous and time-consuming but it is one of the most important processes that we undertake.
We believe every product should be an investment that is well-made, easy to maintain and built to last. We hope you enjoy your AJOTO tool and we look forward to seeing how you make your mark.
Also a special thank you to our trusty photographer Flore Diamant for capturing this behind the process. Make sure you visit her site to see more of her beautiful work.