Sun Valley Bronze – Precision and Sophistication
Fitting a high-end custom home with cheap, mass-produced hardware is like fitting a luxury sports car with cheap wheels and plastic hubcaps. It gets the job done, but does nothing to convey the quality and character it deserves. And while there’s no shortage of premium wheels available for every conceivable luxury sports car, the same cannot be said for premium architectural hardware.
Just ask Bob Commons, owner of Sun Valley Bronze in Sun Valley, Idaho. “I used to be in construction,” he says, “and did a lot of finish work on the nice homes up here. The hardware was always the problem, the sticking point. We built all these custom homes, and we couldn’t really finish them off, because there was no hardware available that would bring the detail through. We talked about it for about 15 years, and then we started a garage business making hardware.”
Today, Sun Valley Bronze (SVB) produces “the most extensive line of decorative bronze hardware available anywhere,” say their website. Products range from door hinges, knobs, and levers; to coat hooks, bath, and kitchen accessories; to gate, window, and cabinet hardware.
The company manufactures high-style, top-quality architectural hardware from solid bronze and stainless steel, using a combination of old-world craftsmanship and modern CNC machining.
“I thought it was a big deal when I bought my first mill/drill – an old Chinese thing that sat on a pedestal,” Bob explains. “Now, I have 50 employees in the shop and foundry, and about 12 Haas machines. We have 10 Haas machining centres – a VF-1, a VF-3 with a pallet changer, six TM-1s, a TM-2, and a TM-3 – plus an SL-10 turning centre, and a TL-1 Toolroom Lathe.
“We started using Haas in 2001,” adds Bob’s son, Josh. “The first one – a TM-1 – was our introduction to CNC. Our guys got used to it quickly, and just loved it. We have the machines set up with multiple fixtures, with two set up for pattern making – wood, plastics, and foam. We looked at other machines out there, but they were difficult to operate. The interface Haas developed is very user-friendly. Everybody loves the Haas controls. They are perfect for our operation.”
“Our stainless-steel products are cut from bar stock,” Bob explains. “But most of our work is cutting bronze castings. We have our own foundry about 20 miles away, and we sand-cast the bronze parts. We go through about 3000 pounds of bronze per week. These castings must be cut with precision for all the parts to fit together accurately.
“We run our match-plates on Haas machines,” Bob points out. “It makes the most unbelievably accurate patterns we’ve ever produced. We used to make molds, then transfer them to a board about 3/4" thick. We had to line them with dowels from one side to the other. Because of the nature of the spacing, we’d get a little bit of shift in the form. With the Haas machines, there is no shift, and the quality of the casting is amazing. By using a Haas mill and a block of plastic, we get flawless parts. And we are not doing 3D printing, because we found that we get so much better resolution this way.”
When asked if his shop uses any special processes or machining tricks, Bob has an unusual reply.
“We have some machines set up for stainless steel, and some set up for bronze,” he says. “I noticed that the coolant in the machines set up for bronze stayed fresh a lot longer than coolant in the stainless steel machines. So I took some long bronze chips from drilling operations, and put them in a mesh bag, and then put the bag in the coolant tank of a machine set up for stainless. I have an aerator in the tank, so I placed the bag near the aerator outlet, where it would get constant circulation. That increased coolant life remarkably. It turns out that bacteria can’t live on copper, but loves stainless steel. The high copper content in the bronze chips kills the bacteria in the coolant.
“Our products are made for high-end and custom homes, so everything must be precise,” he concludes. “The majority of what we do is decorative, but the doorknob pivot and the thumb turn lock are precision, so some of our stainless steel parts are held to about two tenths [0.0002"] tolerance. Our hardware is going into some really expensive homes, so they must have a certain quality, look, and feel to the assembly. It must have that luxury feel.”
And it does have that luxury feel.