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Beer Stein Manufacturing Process

 

Hoehr-Grenzhausen is a small village located on the west side of the Rhine River about 46 miles northwest of Frankfurt Germany. It’s such a small village that I had trouble finding it on a map when I went there. This section of Germany is known as the Westerwald region and is known for it’s high quality clay. The companies that still produce authentic German Beer steins today are in this area. King-Werks is in Hoehr-Grenzhausen and Zoller & Born is in a village just 2 miles away called Hillscheid. It’s in this region that steins were first produced back in the 14th century.

 The process of manufacturing actually starts before the stein is designed. It starts with the only automated machine you will find at the factory. The manufacturers at one time mined the clay themselves but now they buy it in both a liquid and solid blocks (blocks about a cubic foot from what I remember).

The blocks are placed in this automated machine which softens it so it can be used for the steins. It is mixed forming a slurry about the consistency of a cake batter to be used in the molds. Another thing the machine does and perhaps the most important function is that it works the air out of the material. Have you ever made something in a ceramic shop and had it nice and smooth only to see bubbles brought to the surface after it has been fired? Well those bubbles are the air that has been released when the clay has been supper heated in the kiln. Obviously the stein manufacturer can’t have that happening to his stein.

The process starts with a design presented to the skilled artisan who has mastered stein-modeling.jpgtechniques that have been passed down for many generations. He has to produce a model using modeling clay that will be used as a template for a mold.

The clay model that the artisan has built needs to be replicated into a full rubber model which will be more durable and flexible enough to allow the development of the gypsum form mold. This gypsum form is what the clay will be placed in at the centrifuge during the next step. Think of the form as the mirror image of the outside of the stein.

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The centrifuge to me looked like a drill press with a paddle the size of the top opening of the stein. The man that operates this is very meticulous measuring so that the paddle is in the exact center so that the thickness of the stein will be uniform. As the centrifuge starts to spin he has the buckets body-production.jpgof the clay slurry beside him and by hand tosses handfulls of clay into the form so that the clay is forced to the outside creating the stein and filling in all the detailed reliefs of the stein. The stein has now been created and the gypsum form is taken to an area to dry. The plaster mold is able to extract the moisture out of the clay till it becomes a leathery shell.

Once the stein has dried to the proper consistency it is removed from the form and craftsman will make sure that any seam that may be exposed is scraped off, the handle applied. The stein is then placed in a handle-attachment.jpgdrying room till it is ready for the  base coat glaze. The transparent glaze is then allied to the stein by hand. This whole process is manual and very labor glazing.jpgintensive.

The stein is now ready for it’s first firing. The firing oven is heated to                  1180 C (2156 F). The first firing is critical for the bonding and hardening of the material. firing.jpgAfter it is fired the steins are removed and go through a controlled cooling process ensuring the consistency of the materials.

The next step is one I would not like to have to do myself and that is the painting. All the steins that we carry at The Beer Stein shop are authentic and all handcrafted and hand painted. After watching the ladies paint the steins you realize why they are expensive. All the fine relief detail is meticulously painted one color at a time which is why steins with more color in them are usually priced higher. There can be decals applied at this step handpainting.jpgalso such as the small state crests and coat of arms and some pictures and Logos. The steins now receive a second glaze coat.

All the steins are now fired a second time. This second firing assures that the wet applied decals and the hand applied paint securely bond to the stein. This firing is done at a lower temperature of 650 C (1202 F) to prevent damage to the structure of the stein. In order to quarantee the secure bond of the glaze and decals maintaining a constant temperature is critical.

The stein is completed by attaching a high quality pewter lid which is individually designed for each beer stein series. This is no longer done where the steins are made but they are applied by another company in the same town.lid-production.jpg

After the lids have been applied the steins then undergo the final quality control inspection and are packaged for shipment to the customer.

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