By Wilson Astley
At Tiipoi one manufacturing process we use a lot is metal spinning. To avoid boring you with copied and pasted wikipedia entries, I’ll just summarise it briefly and say, it is an ancient, and long evolved craft. As with most ancient crafts, no one quite knows from where or when it originated. Ancient Egypt, ancient India, and ancient China all squabble over who was doing it first.
Although there are many variations, the term describes the process of forming a disc of sheet metal (the blank), over a symmetrical existing shape (the mandrel). Both the mandrel and blank are secured to one another, and then are spun at very high speeds. The blank is then forced and bent over the shape dictated by the mandrel.
Although this process can be been computerised, all of Tiipoi’s metal spinning is performed by hand, by Venkatesh, the metal worker we employ. I was lucky enough to spend a week filming Venkatesh making some of Tiipoi’s products.
Although he makes it appear effortless, the asymmetry of his chest muscles are testament to the sheer force that he is applying. It takes an immense amount of strength but moreover skill, to be able to spin metal this way. To see the copper almost morph into a liquid like state, and flow over the mandrel is a hypnotic thing to watch. I could (and did) spend hours watching the metal undulate and pulse like a metallic jellyfish.
There are several processes shown in the video. Part way through the metal is heated in a very hot flame until black hot. This realigns the structure of the metal allowing the disc to be spun the final amount without the metal splitting or buckling.
Watching Venkatesh perform these acts in such precision and repetition reminded me of watching a musician perform. The muscle memory involved must travel a very similar cognitive route as a piano player, or a harpist.
Each of Tiipoi’s products are all hand-spun and finished by Venkatesh in our metal-spinning workshop and studio in Bangalore. You can see the full range of spun products on the website here.