Author Archives: Nate Burgos

Blacksmith Shop photographed by Niall Kennedy

Blacksmith’s shop at Fort Ross, California, photographed by Niall Kennedy

After happening upon an NPR article about the renewed interest in blacksmithing toward an “artisanal future,” I was reminded of the persons—women and men—who hammer and shape metal. The color of metal is black when heated. The word “smith” refers to making—in this case, objects of metal.

It’s a craft of visceral actions and acoustics: forging, drawing, shrinking, bending, welding, and finishing. Even the title of the blacksmith’s assistant is coined in a cinematic way: striker. Then there’s the environmental aesthetic: open space, anvil, hammer, tongs, vise, water trough, blast furnace. Ultimately, there is the drama of the raw material itself: wrought iron.

In total, the sights and sounds of blacksmithing constitute a mythic scene—and a romantic one. It’s a world where the metal’s heat is matched by the blacksmith’s heat (a more molten and polished version of “Fifty Shades of Grey”).

The NPR article featured Adam’s Forge in Los Angeles—“a cooperative of artist blacksmiths sharing knowledge, a place to work, tools, equipment and camaraderie.” Their “primary mission is to raise awareness, teach skills, preserve and advance the craft, and broaden and grow the blacksmithing community.” The Iron Age is echoing in the virtual age.

To Christina Sporrong of Spitfire Forge in Taos, New Mexico, the blacksmith “was essential as a doctor.” In a documentary short by New Mexico PBS, she explained, “I definitely have a huge attraction to metal and iron. It’s in us. It’s in our blood. It’s part of our composition as people.” Much like the team at Adam’s Forge, Sporrong is bent on demystifying blacksmithing as a discipline and activity, motivating all to flex their focus on matter, seething in legacy.

There’s an anthem on the Adam’s Forge website: “FORGING CHARACTER. FORGING COMMUNITY. THROUGH FORGING IRON.” Damn straight.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

This summer I made my first trip to Detroit, also known as America’s automotive center, The Motor City and the birthplace of Motown. While my stay was brief, it was packed with character:

Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

The joy of train trips comes from the on-the-ground perspective. It was a welcome change to move through small towns and catch glimpses of daily life. Ordinary time can be extraordinary time. There were also the landscape scenes: natural, artificial, and urban. Can’t help but wonder how they’re all connected, beyond the railroad track.

Train trip to Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

Train trip to Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

Train trip to Detroit photographed by Nate Burgos

Looking forward to another trip, hopefully by way of locomotion.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever curious about design and designing at Design Feast. Photos by the author.

The annual National Exposition of Contract Furnishings (NeoCon) took place again in Chicago this late spring. The organization’s website describes the event as “North America’s largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors.” It was on my calendar to attend and experience a smidgen of the 700+ showrooms of companies who design and produce objects—from furniture to surfaces—for the office. From the wide array of visions of the contemporary workspace, here are a few highlights.

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase is celebrating its centennial. It was founded in 1912 as The Metal Office Furniture Company. A digitally equipped desktop persists in Steelcase’s showroom.

The ambiance of Teknion’s showroom excelled by way of space and light. I can easily imagine Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs contemplating, and chastising, in this conference room surrounded by glass.

And who knew that a wall of carpet could be so inviting? Milliken’s matrix of tiled surfaces was soothing in both its color and texture.

As society changes, the nature of work—how and where it takes place—changes, too, in order to catch up with the human beats of creativity.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever curious about design and designing at Design Feast. All photos above by Nate Burgos.

Good weather and vintage cars make a natural pair. During time recently spent in Hawaii, I spotted these automotive beauties:

All photos by the author.

Though it can be easily taken for granted, one of Hawaii’s appealing traits is the state of its roads. While this might sound odd, never underestimate the importance of high-quality pavement. A smooth drive is beneficial—no potholes, per one annoying example. Driving a vintage vehicle can complement both a pleasant climate and its well-paved streets. The result? A very sweet ride.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever curious about design and designing at Design Feast.


The “Big Island” of Hawaii was so named due to its life as a volcanic island—the largest and youngest of Hawaii’s eight islands (a ninth one in Lōʻihi escalates to the Pacific Ocean’s surface). Out of the Big Island’s five volcanoes, Kīlauea is the most active—continually erupting since 1983.

While visiting the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, I was amazed by the size, landscape and atmosphere. These natural wonders have been evolving since their start 28 million-plus years ago. From the Kilauea Visitor Center, a short walk brings you to the Sulphur Banks:

Instead of looping back to the visitor center, a detour was made to reach the Jagger Museum of volcanology, which holds working seismographs and scientific gear. En route, steam vents dotted the Crater Rim trail:

The massive expanse and depth of Kilauea’s volcanic crater prompts a navel-commanding gaze. It also commands respect. At one of the latter viewpoints, a park ranger alerted us to make way for locals to conduct a Hawaiian ceremony of offerings to Kilauea.

Upon reaching the Jagger Museum, the closest face-to-face encounter with Kilauea’s volcanic caldera inspired yet another gaze of wonder.

As part of their “erupted material,” volcanoes produce volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposits. According to the Wikipedia article, they are high sources of Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Lead (Pb), Gold (Au), Silver (Ag) ores, with Cobalt (Co), Tin (Sn), Barium (Ba), Sulfur (S), Selenium (Se), Maganese (Mn), Cadmium (Cd), Indium (In), Bismuth (Bi), Tellurium (Te), Gallium (Ga) and Germanium (Ge) as mining by-products.

To native Hawaiians, Pele is the volcanic goddess. And Kīlauea’s caldera is her home. She represents fire, lightning, wind—and the element of metal—as vital parts of a unique and ever-changing ecosystem.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

All photos by the author.

Photo by Nate Burgos

While driving on Interstate 64 toward St. Louis, Missouri (aka “Gateway to the West”), I enjoyed a glimpse of one of its most cherished sights: the Gateway Arch. I’d seen pictures and knew a tiny bit of its history. But this was my first time seeing it in person, though from a distance.

Photo by Nate Burgos

Although I took it in while driving, the structure’s expression demanded a closer look. Luther Ely Smith, a St. Louis lawyer, envisioned the then-nonexistent memorial in the early 1930s. He desired a memorial that expressed the “pioneering spirit.” By holding a design competition in 1948, Smith paved the way for the arch’s eventual birth. In 1948, Smith congratulated the contest’s winner, architect Eero Saarinen:

“It was your design, your marvelous conception, your brilliant forecast into the future, that has made the realization of the dream possible—a dream that you and the wonderful genius at your command and the able assistance of your associates are going to achieve far beyond the remotest possibility that we had dared visualize in the beginning.”

The “associates” that Smith referred to were: Associate Designer J. Henderson Barr, Landscape Architect Dan Kiley, the sculptor Lily Swann Saarinen and the painter Alexander Girard. (Delighted to know that Girard was a member of Eero Saarinen’s design-contest team. He is known for his playful textile designs and more.) Engineer Hannskarl Bandel enhanced the construction, durability and environmental tolerance of Saarinen’s curve.

Construction began in 1963 and was completed in 1965. (Before the Gateway Arch, Eero Saarinen’s first major building, in collaboration with his father, was the steel-and-glass General Motors Technical Center, 1956, in Warren, Michigan.) The effort to make a mathematically sensitive monument, spanning a width and height of 630 feet (192 meters), amounts to raw poetry—requiring human energy and teamwork to achieve a poetically seamless result. From the archives of The State Historical Society of Missouri-Research Center, this picture speaks to the memorial’s many moving hands and parts in getting it real:

Source: The State Historical Society of Missouri-Research Center

The Gateway Arch’s interior uses steel (2,157 short tons) and the exterior is covered in stainless steel panels (886 short tons)— the most used in any one project in history.

Photo by Nate Burgos

When the memorial’s idea was announced in the early 1930s, the public judged it impractical. Smith’s retort was that the emphasis be placed on the spiritual. Happily, the monument and its location, including its grounds and surroundings, satisfy both the practical and spiritual. Being near the Mississippi River adds to the Arch’s sense of place.

When I went to encounter the Gateway Arch, the weather was perfect—breezy and filled with sunlight. The memorial’s simplicity beamed. This was matched by the presence of families, kids, individuals being active, and playing a part in a city’s centerpiece that compels you to look up.

Nothing impractical here.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever-curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

In the previous week leading up to MetalMiner’s conference Commodity Edge in Chicago, there was another major gathering happening in Austin, Texas. First held in 1987, South by Southwest (SXSW) is known for its music festival, attracting a highly diverse range of musicians showcasing and sharing their love of rhythm and beats:

Start ’em young: Christian Brothers, from L.A., plays in the middle of the street. Caption (paraphrased) by National Public Radio (NPR) and photograph by Katie Hayes Luke for NPR.

Chicago-based Andrew Bird, violinist, composer, singer and accomplished whistler. Caption (paraphrased) by NPR and photograph by Katie Hayes Luke for NPR.

Brittany Howard, the charismatic lead singer for the rock-and-soul band Alabama Shakes. Caption (paraphrased) by NPR and photograph by Katie Hayes Luke for NPR.

Amongst the stunning composition of musicians and their music, there was also metal. Taken also by Mito Habe-Evans for NPR, the caption for this moment was: “Free metal from what? FREE METAL FROM WHAT, I ASK.”

Was this an opportunity to reclaim actual metal materials? Or in reference to a metal concert, as in the genre? Or, as the caption suggests, a call for liberation? Whatever the intent, the nod to metal, wrapped in mystery, is acknowledged.

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever-curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

Professor Donald Sadoway speaking at TED2012.
Photograph by James Duncan Davidson

Donald Sadoway, materials chemistry professor at MIT, believes that “we need a better battery if we’re going to improve our ability to make use of electric power.” He explained his rationale, using a chalkboard, to an audience at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) 2012 conference in Long Beach/Palm Springs, California: “The way things stand, electricity demand must be in constant balance with supply” (from “Liquid battery could charge green energy” by AFP for Dawn Media Group). Furthermore, Sadoway stressed “innovation” from the ground up. From the TED Blog:

“If we’re going to get this country out of its current energy situation, we can’t conserve our way out, we can’t drill our way out; we can’t bomb our way out. We’re going to do it the old-fashioned American way: we’re going to invent our way out, working together.”

The battery, as Sadoway sees it, is the key to addressing strained energy production and consumption. Aluminum smelters inspired his idea of a liquid metal battery. According to “We Need a Battery Miracle” by Bill Gates (an investor of Liquid Metals Battery Corporation –LMBC), the mission became clear: “To develop an inexpensive ‘liquid metal’ battery that will dramatically improve battery efficiency and provide large scale energy storage.”

“This liquid battery cell prototype consists of a heavy liquid metal cathode (red layer), (yellow layer) a molten salt electrolyte, and a less dense liquid metal anode (green layer); an insulator surrounds those components.” Photograph by Martin LaMonica/CNET

Vanadium and magnesium are the battery’s key metals. In tech-speak, Sadoway’s liquid battery “uses less costly liquids in the cathode, anode, and electrolyte of a battery as substitutes for traditional materials such as lead acid and lithium; molten salt rest between two layers of liquid metals,” according to “Liquid Metal Battery draws investors” by David Worthington for SmartPlanet. (You can read more about the liquid metal battery in the paper “Magnesium–Antimony Liquid Metal Battery for Stationary Energy Storage” published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.)

Sadoway and his students formed startup LMBC to commercialize liquid metal battery technology for “grid-scale energy storage.” Here’s to Sadoway and his company making a “battery miracle” real!

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever-curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

*Don’t wait until Monday to register for our cutting-edge manufacturing conference, Commodity EDGE, coming up soon — March 19 and 20! See below:

Pliable and perfect for lettering, metal functions as ink when it comes to mid-century car logos.

Made by writer and typographer Stephen Coles, is dedicated to seeking and showcasing examples of fine vehicular type. Here’s a sampling of beauties:

Photograph by John Lyttle

Photograph by William Hopkins

Photograph by Ben Hosking

Photograph by Randy von Liski

Photograph by Steve Sexton

Photograph by Ben Hosking

Photograph by Nicholas Feltron

I can’t help but sense the underlying political currents flowing through these logos and what they signify. The government bailouts of the “Big Three” US automakers General Motors (GM), Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler constitute a controversial topic during these presidential races. Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad tackled it head-on in “Halftime in America” starring actor and director Clint Eastwood, who declared in his characteristic tough tone:

“This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is gonna hear the roar of our engines. It’s half time America, and our second half is about to begin.”

What was meant by “half time” has attracted much scrutiny. But what’s clear is that turning struggle into success, eventually over time, is a timeless story. Game on!

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever-curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

Read the related MetalMiner story: Ford’s The Way Forward: Cars and Car Type

Whether your company is in the automotive sector or sources other commodities, don’t miss out on our strategic sourcing conference (coming up fast – March 19-20!):

Engraving is the “practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it,” according to a Wikipedia entry. Among engravers, the rule of thumb for evaluating the engraving’s source material falls into two chronologically defined camps, as outlined by “Cooper & steel engraving explained” by Steve Bartrick of Steve Bartrick Antique Prints and Maps: before 1821, it is copper; after 1830, it is steel.

The transition from copper to steel in engraving is due to the aesthetic and operational advantages that steel possessed. Aesthetically, steel engraving provided better detail and precision in visual composition. Operationally, it provided durability—steel engraving could be re-used to achieve thousands of copies before deteriorating. Steel engravings are still used in currency printing.

Steel engraving’s intricate results, demonstrated most clearly in a very small space, is evident in these examples:

Engraved trade card. Source: Richard D. Sheaff

Engraved trade card. Source: Richard D. Sheaff

Collection of Joe Freedman. Source: Richard D. Sheaff

Using a hardened steel tool called a burin, the engraver crafts images out of amazingly fine lines. As seen in these examples, the typography and patterns are very carefully and patiently drawn and printed—to full and fine effect.

Catch more from Nate Burgos at Design Feast.