Friday, January 4, 2013

Flintwood Pasadena Ability Products Design History Thanks to Sizzix Die Cutting Machines

Flintwood Molding Mark
Close up of molding mark. Find these great bowls at Nachokitty on Etsy.
Debunking Flintwood

If you happen across a piece of Flintwood, you will see it's well made, often modern looking and sometimes having fun speckles or designs in the molding itself.   You often will find large salad bowls and serving forks, sleek mid century modern tableware including lovely elongated bowls. Pieces are marked Flintwood in cursive, and sometimes with their molder Ability Products Co, and location of Pasadena, California.  Most are circa 1953-1960. 

Flintwood Melmac
Thanks to Google Maps, we can see the present location of 2020 Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena.

General Company Information

The company who made Flintwood was listed (in 1960) at 2020 Lincoln Avenue, Pasadena, California.  The shot of that address is above, thanks to Google Maps. There seems to be old lettering staining on the front but I can't make out what it may have said.  Now this of course doesn't look large enough to actually mold dishes from does it? 


melmac flintwood
Perhaps the Arial view courtesy of Google maps may give us a better understanding.

Either Ability Products was using a small satellite office to work from and having a larger company mold their products --- or perhaps these buildings back then were one giant factory style building. It is not uncommon over time for properties to be subdivided. The ariel view (above) almost makes this possible.  A company may only need a few small presses and woodworking skills to make such items.  It is quite possible this was the actual production location.
flintwood tray
San Francisco Style Flintwood Tray, available at Jawaddel on Etsy.

My research thus far indicates there may have been three owners, Carl Reininger is often listed as Co-Owner. He is named in all interviews, mentions and design accolades I've found over the years.  The second mention of owner in 1952 being his then wife Marie. I am unsure who the third was but I have reason to believe it was a parent or sibling (family member) due to some legal snippets I found. 

Flintwood Salad Servers
These salad servers are artsy in design. They are for sale at MyKnickKnackStore.etsy.com


Ability Products : The Birth and Clarification of Flintwood

A 1953 Engineering book I was recently reading stated that the Ability Products Company was using a "new technique" to convert wood flour into molding materials and gave them credit as if they developed an entirely new discovery with it's Flintwood products.  I knew however, that wasn't true, companies like Kysite of Maine were using wood pulp and wood components in their molding of plastic plates prior to that--so had plenty other companies. (Wood pulp was a quick and cheapie alternative for using in molding versus plastics, whose prices would rise and fall in the economy.)  I was now on a frenzy to investigate further.


Another mention, circa 1953 in a "Wood and Wood Products" book they said that wives would certainly get a letdown if they dropped a piece of Flintwood, obviously eluding to the facts that a mixed pulp flour plastic may not be as strong as straight plastics.  Ironically, the pieces I've found all these years later, have certainly not shown any evidence of such weakness in design.

flintwood dinnerware
You can see the 80% wood filler if you look closely.  Courtesy of : MyKnickKnackShop on Etsy

Clarification of Flintwood and What Ability Products Brought to the Table

Ability Products was able to perfect such a molding process on tableware, and overcome difficulties associated with using a high wood-flour mix whereas other companies had not.  There is proof that they were molding of a mix containing 80% wood flour by developing a process whereby a wood and resin mix could live in perfect harmony.   
flintwood salad bowl
Flintwood Salad Bowl, $9.00 for two at PattyMora on Etsy.

That begs the question, what exactly is Flintwood, if it's 80% wood flour?  It is melmac? Melamine? Plastic?  Technically speaking,   Flintwood is a mix of wood fibre and plastic resin mix.   We know melamine is a resin, so it's quite possible Flintwood is a mix of melamine molding compounds and wood flour.  Much like an artist with colorful oil paintings, we may never know the exact top secret formula for obtaining the glorious designs on canvas--the secrets of this designer's wares will certainly remain unknown.

flintwood bowl
Flintwood bowl shows adorable feet!  Find this at LongFellowCo on Etsy.

Technically speaking, a successful mix of 80% wood flour tableware would certainly be  a first. It would be a greener way of making tableware and certainly much cheaper than using all melmac or melamine or even resins and plastics.  Carl indeed found a way to mix in the resin to protect the items from water damage from washing over time. We know now, because of the products surfacing circa 2013 (lasting 60 years after production) that made him a genius.  In the past, items molded with wood or wood flour cellulose would fall apart or "lose layers" in the kitchen.
flintwood products
Art Worthy. Find these great vintage Flintwood products at NachoKitty.etsy.com

Recognized for Art

It wasn't just the USA talking about Ability Products many accomplishments. In 1954, a Timber Magazine published in Canada may have cleared this whole wood flour molding debacle up, stating that wood flour used in molding was not a new process, and had been used for years. However, as they took away the credit for the process, they then commended Ability Products for their "beauty into tableware." They gave credit to Carl  as designer for his "sharp draws" and thin walled sleek designs. 
Flintwood Tidbit Tray
Flintwood Titdbit tray is gorgeous in design. Available at JoeBlake on Etsy.


In 1960, his products were noted in a California Design book as late as 1960, put out by the Pasadena Art Museum.

Fun Facts

  • Ability Products perfected the use of a high ratio of wood into a resin plastic mix. 
  • In 1960, Pasadena Art Museum featured their black, white, yellow, and terra-cotta creations in an art publication.
  • In 1960, an individual salad bowl could be purchased for 75 cents, whereas an oblong tray would run you $1.50. 
  • Many products found today are at least 60 years old showing their accomplishment in design.  
After 1960, I lost track of Flintwood. If you have any stories please let me know! 
Hey, check this out: 
sizzie vagabond
Sizzix keeps me writing, and I own this Vagabond die cutting machine.
Readers of my blog, did you know that Sizzix rocks? This post was Sponsored by Sizzix the makers of die cutting machines, who are kind enough to keep me writing this wonderful stuff for you.  You can thank them for this information by visiting their Sizzix website.   Not only am I an artist in real life but I own their die cutting machine (Vagabond by Tim Holtz-above) of which I purchased and paid for prior to them being my sponsor.

I'm here to tell you how great their machines are. They are well built and a great gift for the crafter. Many people think they are only big in the scrapbooking world (for paper projects) but this is not true. They are perfect but for all kinds of artists (mixed media, collage, altered art) like me! There are many design options for creative projects.
sizzix big shot
The Sizzix Big Shot can handle just about anything (and it's plastic)! Find the Big Shot here.

The larger Sizzix die cutting machines can cut or emboss many materials, including paper, self-adhesive rubber, sheet magnet, foil, static cling vinyl, fabric, felt, thin metal, shrink plastic and Poly Foam. Can you imagine how great this is for altered artists everywhere?


Sizzix Fun Facts: 
Tim Holtz has designed a whole line for them.
They stay on top of the cutting edge needs of artists.
They have the best die cutting machines out there, and they are affordable!
Design ideas are on their website.

Thank you Sizzix




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