Today we traveled to the Letecks Bell Foundry about an hour southeast of Moscow. It was an incredible facility, way out amidst tall birch and pine trees. Overhead an airplane show tore open the sky–complete with barrel roles and loop-de-loops–while below, bells were being born.
Below you can read about the process in six steps accompanied by pictures. This doesn’t capture all of the burning, molten smells, piercing machinery sounds, and golden sand dust in the air, but it’s the best we could do for now. So, enjoy!
- After carving plastic models of icons, artisans create these silicon molds.
2. Next, workers pour hot, heavy duty wax into the molds and wait for them to set.
3. After the decorations are dry, they are attached to the surface of these metal replicas of different sized bells. Their placement must be precise so as not to interfere with the eventual tones and vibrations of each bell when it is struck.
4. Artisans create an mold of the inner shape of the bell out of ceramic. Composed of very fine sand, this ceramic inside is quite precise. Another mold is created for the outside of the bell, with the negatives of the decorated models in the previous picture.
5. With the mold all done, the material of the bell must be mixed and melted. Metal workers throw bars of copper, tin, into the flaming container of metal goop pictured here. Occasionally a worker stirs the molten metal with a wooden stick, half of which catches on fire when in contact with the molten metal. This is done to aerate the liquid. From there, workers lift the container with cranes and pour the glowing soup into the bell molds. This requires many pairs of hands–one to control the crane, another to position the container above the molds, one to turn the crank that pours the human-sized cup, and one to scrape back impurities in the metal.
As we watched, liquid gold slopped into the vessels like syrup, making gulping sounds as it hit the bottom of the mold. When the bells drank up their last bit of metal, the sound created by liquid splashing into the mold increased in pitch, just as the pitch of water filling a bottle with a tapered neck will arpeggiate upwards. After the bells were topped off, flames continued to dance above the neck of the mold. We noticed that each bell’s flame burned a slightly different color and intensity. The pouring process was different for each bell; some splashed angrily while others accepted the liquid evenly, thirsty to please the bell maker.
6. All around the foundry we saw bells in various states of completion. A bell fresh from its mold looks like this, but after shaving and polishing, it will glow like a new penny.
Their sound is somewhat golden too. Here’s Father Roman playing a “Welcome” peal on a set of the foundry’s bells in the warehouse.