With a reputation for excellence in quality, detailing and handcrafting, William Sugg’s team of artisans are considered as the leading authority on heritage lanterns and lighting.  Here we look at some of the traditional handcrafting techniques used by William Sugg centuries ago, and still today.

Traditional craftsmanship and timeless elegance

In the world of lighting, certain treasures stand as timeless symbols of exquisite craftsmanship and enduring beauty. Among these cherished luminaries are heritage lanterns – meticulously handcrafted works of art, many of which, hark back to the Victorian era.

Heritage lanterns, with their graceful forms and intricate detailing, are a testament to the skill that goes into their creation. These lighting fixtures capture the essence of a former era, evoking a sense of nostalgia and historical charm. Each one is crafted with painstaking attention to detail and use generations-old techniques, making them perfect for lighting spaces in a way that suggests history and tradition.  

Most of the lanterns made by William Sugg are made using the same historical and traditional techniques.  But why is this so special?  Let’s take a look…

Bespoke lantern design

Traditional handcrafting techniques used in heritage lanterns

1. The art of fret work

Traditional heritage lanterns are often created using fretwork, a distinctive style of craftsmanship that is central to their construction.

The term ‘fretwork’ describes the intricate cutting of designs into various materials, in this case metal. Fretwork is delicate and often difficult, requiring a high degree of skill.

The first step in the process is creating detailed patterns by hand, often starting with a design drawn or stencilled on metal. A fretsaw (a handheld saw with thin blades) is then used to create holes or make other decorative designs in metal.

This technique can be further refined by using hand files. Fretwork is commonly used to cut out decorative elements, monograms, crests and other intricate designs that can then be inlaid into boxes or other objects, such as lanterns!

The fretwork technique originated in Northern America and Europe during the mid 1800s. Developed during the Victorian era, fretwork reflects the popular Gothic style of the time, which is also seen in furniture design from the era. The intricate latticework that adorns each heritage lantern is a therefore testament to the craftsmanship perfected over generations.

2. Coppersmithing, a time-honoured craft

Coppersmiths, also known as ‘braziers’, use tools and techniques to create items made from copper or brass. (Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc).  A “redsmith” refers to a tinsmith that uses the same methods for making items out of tin.)

During the Victorian era, the craft of coppersmithing stood at the forefront of craftsmanship. Skilled workers utilised their expertise to fashion exquisite objects from copper, including jewellery, sculpture, cookware, and much more. Within these items were lanterns, that we still make using the same techniques today.

This multi skilled trade combined the techniques of various smithing disciplines such as blacksmithing, silversmithing, and sheet metal work, among others.  With techniques like hand raising, brazing, hand blocking out, annealing, hand pierces, stone setting and panel beating, the coppersmiths produced durable and robust items that have stood the test of time.

Today, many of our original lanterns, crafted since the Georgian and Victorian eras, still grace the streets of major cities worldwide, preserving the legacy of this exceptional craft.

Handcrafted lanterns

3. Sheet metal work – transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary

Sheet metal fabrication, the process of turning flat sheets of steel or aluminium into metal products or structures, often by cutting, punching, folding and assembling, is a highly skilled trade.  Sheet metal is a versatile and widely used construction material with applications in just about every field from mining, construction, farming, catering, hospitality, shipping, manufacturing, aviation, medical and transport.  

Sheet metal work is a crucial component of many manufacturing and construction processes, ensuring the creation of high quality products.

The thickness of sheets varies greatly, with extremely thin sheets being called foil or leaf and thicker ones known as plate metal which is commonly used in structural applications.  Sheet metal can be shaped in any number of ways by cutting and stretching or burning it and flat sheet metal can be cut into pieces or coils. A roll slitter joins a continuous piece of metal to form a coil that is easier for workers to manage than sheets.

The attention to detail involved in hand-making the metal shapes as described above gives it a form that can then be polished, finished, and used to create stunning and durable lanterns. Our team continues to use traditional techniques, such as folding and riveting, when making lanterns today.

Benefits of handcrafted lanterns & lighting

In today’s mass-produced world, it should be no surprise that handmade goods are often held in higher esteem than their mass produced counterparts, but why?  

Lighting handcrafted in this way offers several benefits that cannot be replicated by modern manufacturing techniques. These benefits include true authenticity, which preserves age-old techniques and skills passed down through generations, resulting in pieces that bear the mark of real expertise and skill in the manufacturing process. 

The handmade aspect of William Sugg’s work allows for easy personalisation and detailing.  Each and every piece has the ability to be customised and made totally unique. 

Lanterns made by William Sugg, many centuries ago and still adorning streets and prestigious estates around the world today, are evidence of this exceptional craftsmanship. They illustrate that longevity can be achieved through quality manufacturing techniques.

With quality materials, highly skilled staff and attention to detail driven by traditional manufacturing techniques, our lanterns certainly stand the test of time above and beyond many of their more modern, mass produced alternatives.  

The focus on attention to detail ensures a perfect finish every time, while the high standard of quality guarantees longevity, with many pieces lasting over 100 years. Such a commitment to tradition and quality makes handmade lighting a valuable investment for anyone who desires impeccable craftsmanship.

William Sugg traditional handcrafting

William Sugg & Co. Ltd – the heritage lighting specialists

As we’ve seen here, William Sugg & Co. Ltd has established a reputation for excellence through dedication to quality and detail, combining this heritage with an appreciation of modern design and technology.  It is only through the hands of our skilled team that our lanterns take shape. Through years of practice and training, these experts have acquired a timeless craftsmanship—and it shows in every exquisite detail.

When purchasing a William Sugg lantern, we hope that it will not only bring warmth and beauty but also make you part of the centuries-old tradition of excellent craftsmanship.

Contact us today

Whether you’re looking for a refurbishment of an historical lantern, a bespoke design for something new, or a traditional design to complement your home or space, contact us today and speak with one of our experts.