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Article: Meet the Master Crafters: Part IV

Meet the Master Crafters: Part IV

Dale Hicklin - Finishing

Which department do you work in?

I started here when I was 16 years old – and in December this year, I'll have been with Northern Lights for 26 years! I started in the finishing department, and that's where I've remained as I enjoy it. I've moved around within the department to ensure I developed all the skills required across the different finishing areas, from spraying and polishing to chemical acid finishes.

How have things changed during your last 26 years with the business?

I remember there being a lot more polished brass back in the earlier days, so seeing the mix of materials and finishes move on is fascinating. Everything we do now is on a much bigger scale and can be a lot more complex. We do a lot more bespoke chandeliers these days! Northern Lights were still making some stained glass when I joined but had moved on to lighting for pubs and restaurants before expanding more heavily into high-end luxury hotels, which seemed like a natural step forward because of the quality we were producing.

How have the finishes progressed & evolved?

We had a much lower number of finishes than we do now; no powder coating, only wet spray. Now it's the reverse, as a lot of the wet spraying has been replaced by powder coating, which is constantly busy as the demand for this type of finish has increased. The chemical finishes are also more popular, primarily due to our Head of Creative Donna Gridley joining – she led on these with her 30+ years of expertise. We had about three chemical finishes before that – verdigris, antique, and rust. We have now developed many more genuinely unique finishes we can offer interior designers to ideally reflect the vision and scheme they want to create.

Which area of finishing do you find most satisfying?

Polishing is quite a skilled job, and it can be hazardous. All it takes is for something to catch on the wheel and wrap around it, which can cause a lot of damage. I love working on the chemical finishes as you get to create these artistic, organic results that are truly unique and different. We dilute our chemical acids in-house to specific dilution ratios, and I can quickly tell by eye when these need adjusting.

Tell us an interesting fact about chemical finishing?

Chemical finishes are affected by temperature, especially verdigris and rust. If it's warm, the colour comes out as more blue. If it's cold, the colour comes out as more green. Therefore there will always be variations in how this same chemical finish turns out – they're never going to be the identical exact carbon copies of each other, but instead much more organic. It's similar when finishing wood, really, because of the different grain shapes and variations in tones– so when you apply any finish, you'll always have a slightly different effect. But that's why I love it. It's like creating a piece of art.

Other than temperature, what other challenges can impact finishing processes?

For larger-scale lighting installations, there can be more thought that needs to go into how we achieve the desired look. For example, if something can't fit into our powder coating oven, sandblaster or chemical tank as a whole piece, I'd speak to the design team and work with them to determine the best way to make the design brief achievable.  

Why is it that you have stayed with Northern Lights for so long?

The people, it just feels like a family-run business. Also, seeing products go from the drawing & planning stage through to installation is excellent – I love seeing the end product, which we didn't always get to see in the earlier years. But I think we've all realized how important it is for everyone to see the final results, as we take great passion and pride in our work.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I'm often on Facebook Marketplace. Either looking for mid-century pieces of furniture we can use in our product photoshoots or looking for pieces to renovate for my home. I live in a Victorian house and try to keep as much of the original character as I can. I wouldn't call it a hobby, but I also spend a lot of time being a taxi driver for my kids!