Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Syracuse Ironmen

Speaking of hometowns, I was thrilled to find out that Borough Furnace, makers of these fine cast iron skillets, are from my hometown of Syracuse. There has been a lot of buzz about them in the blogosphere and the media and for good reason.

Founder John Truex had his initial experience with metal casting as an undergrad at the University of Tennessee. He's now an industrial designer and an Industrial Design professor at Syracuse University. Prior to starting Borough Furnace, his background was in designing products for other companies to produce. He found the process most rewarding, however, when the project was a collaboration between the design team and the manufacturer. John presented a prototype cast iron skillet, with cousin Jason Connelly, at The Young Designers' Platform at the New York City International Gift Fair in 2010 and it was a hit. But with just two to three skillets cast a day, there was little interest from American companies to actually produce them.

John didn't want to send production overseas because of the lack of control over the manufacturing process. He conceived of Borough Furnace as a means for creating a new production system where the value in the product is married to its production process. Foundry manufacture is historically not very environmentally friendly; producing in this area was an opportunity to create a new, more environmentally-responsible model for manufacture on a small scale. And that was just what they did. With Jason's help, they spent a year setting up the foundry. The two of them custom built all of the equipment in the shop to fit the small scale of the business. Borough Furnace uses recycled scrap iron and waste vegetable oil, making the casting process resource-efficient.

The foundry itself is located in the Gear Factory in a neighborhood dubbed the Near West Side, tucked between downtown Syracuse and the true West Side. Abandoned for many years, thanks to some state grant money, it has been restored to its original appearance when it was an iconic daylight factory. It has a green roof and a permeable parking lot as part of Syracuse's "Save the Rain" initiative. This building is now experiencing some revitalization with local artists, musicians, and craftspeople like Borough Furnace. (It just so happens that I am friends with the band that practices next door.)

Borough Furnace's award-winning skillets are hand-cast in their shop and come pre-seasoned with organic flax seed oil. The long handles make it easy to handle on the stove, grill, or campfire. Because of the casting process, no two skillets are exactly alike. Each 9-inch skillet is numbered, photographed, and listed for sale on their website.

(Photos courtesy of Borough Furnace.)


  1. Awesome post. Nice to see some serious manufacturing not too far from home. I think there's a market for American steel items just like this!