Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finex Factory Tour

Cast iron cookware aficionados, take note. An upstart called Finex has reinvented the cast iron skillet, and it seems they’ve set their sights directly on Lodge.


I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one of their pans for a while now, so I jumped at a recent opportunity to tour their Portland production facility.


I’m not gonna lie, I felt like a kid in a candy store walking into the workshop and seeing all of the skillets-to-be.


After ushering us into an office housing a sizable collection of vintage cast iron cookware, Finex founder Mike Whitehead began the tour with a talk about the origins of his company.


Like so many others, Mike’s parents threw out all of their cast iron pots and pans when Teflon came out. But an interest in what’s in our food and where it comes from fueled Mike’s desire to return to cast iron cookware, as did an appreciation for how people connect to it and value it as heirlooms. Modern cast iron pans didn’t live up to his expectations. Fortunately Mike had the background in manufacturing and design to create his ideal cast iron skillet and mount what would become an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign. He was determined that his pan be made in America and that it be a premium product. As Mike puts it, the name Finex reflects “a cross section of all things fine”. The 12-inch skillet features a smooth surface, six dripless pouring spouts, a quick cooling handle, and a thoroughly modern look. Though he has clearly updated every detail of the classic cast iron skillet, Mike still proclaims, “Griswold is our North Star.”

The first step of making a Finex skillet is sand casting. I really wanted to see how this is done, but unfortunately for me it happens in a different facility. The pans emerge from the molds with lots of extra material around the edges which must be removed.


They are heat treated to relieve stress in the metal from the casting process. The heat treatment causes them to rust.


Next, the pans are CNC machined. I don’t know what CNC machining is exactly and this is another manufacturing step done off-site, but the result is a mirror-smooth, nonstick cooking surface inside the pan.


In my opinion, this is what really sets the Finex skillet apart and why Lodge had better watch its back. The swirl pattern is removed, but I missed the explanation of how that’s done.


(Apparently, being surrounded by so many toys made me too giddy to retain all of the information.) The pans go for a ride in a rock tumbler to further smooth out any rough edges.


The “rocks” are made of ceramic and start off angular but look more and more like river stones with use.


A thin layer of flax oil is applied by hand and baked on to season the pans. I thought it was interesting that they use a couple of regular Blodgett ovens for seasoning the pans. By my count, they can season a maximum of 12 or 16 pans at a time. Putting together the handle (which looks to me to be inspired by vintage waffle irons) requires a labor-intensive, multi-step process.


The springs start out dull and are polished.


Ooh, shiny!


The brass caps are polished as well.


There’s some drilling.


There’s some assembly.


And finally, it's done.


It truly is an artisan product—so much of the work is done with passion and love by hand.

After seeing and handling the pans, I had no doubt that nothing would stick, not even a fried egg. I did, however, question if the pouring spouts were truly dripless, which got me the following demonstration.


Not one drop of water ran down the side of the pan. I’d like to see if oil and sauce pour as cleanly.

By the way, did you notice that pouring demo was done with a smaller pan? That’s a 3-D printed prototype of the 8-inch skillet that’s to be the second product in the Finex line. The Kickstarter campaign for the baby pan surpassed its goal within days of opening. A lid for the 12-inch pan is currently in development as well.


I was certainly impressed by what I saw at Finex. Even the warranty was impressive.


Like I said, Lodge better watch out! But the proof is in the cooking. Hopefully I’ll be able to give their skillet a test drive soon and judge how it actually performs in the kitchen. I will say I wish I had one of these to play with when I was writing Seared to Perfection.


Thank you to Mike, Shauna, and the rest of the Finex crew for the fantastic tour and the delicious cornbread!

3 comments:

Irina said...

Very cool. I know what CMC is but wondering what they do to remove the spiral pattern and why it is there in the first place.

AdriBarr said...

What a wonderful article. Thank you for the tour. Being a true cookware "junkie", I am pleased to learn about the brand. I have enjoyed visiting your site. I was referred to you by Pamela Sheldon Johns, and I am so pleased to have found you.

Sarah Miller said...

Great write-up, Lucy! I loved seeing all your pics. That was a fun tour. My Finex skillet cooks like a dream!

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