Bangladesh Metalwork –

I visited two workshops in a small 'hamlet' near Dhaka. The men cast brass, from scrap, into an open shallow mold to make a flat circular ingot. Together they then stretch up to 8 of the ingots at a time into thin sheets which are made into school gongs, temple gongs, ritual dishes or engraved trays for the home/ tourist market. They work together in order to be able to afford the costs of the metal, materials and equipment and to share the physical workload. The rhythm of the work is musical, The man controlling the fire moves the plates through the stack to ensure that they are all stretched evenly. Further stages in the production process include: Cutting and shaping the rim/ edge of the bowls requiring good coordination between the workers. Scraping the surface smooth by hand, using steel tools held at the end of lengths of bamboo. An additional steel length is used to guide the scraper across the surface. The tools are sharpened on pieces of hardwood using an abrasive powder similar to sand or emery. The surfaces are also worked on an improvised lathe. The sheet of metal is attached to a block of wood using a natural resin heating and cooling the 'glue' to make it stick. The lathe is driven by a bicycle chain machine. The dishes sell by weight, between 1000Tk - 500Tk per Kg depending upon the metal % mix ( £10 - £5/ Kilo) Plates weigh between 1 - 2 kgs. They sell through agents who in turn sell at the wholesale markets in Dhaka. Their comments focussed on the lack of machinery in Bangladesh compared to the UK, I dont think I will look at a rolled sheet of metal in the same way again!