News & Politics

A Look Inside One of the Country’s Biggest Vinyl Record Plants

We went behind the scenes at Alexandria's Furnace Recording Pressing.

Press operators John Garman (far left) and Andre Butler at Furnace Record Pressing. Photograph by Evy Mages

From the outside, Furnace Record Pressing looks like any other nondescript Alexandria warehouse. But once you get past the glass front doors, a whole music-geek world unfolds before you: thousands of freshly pressed records in all sorts of enticing colors. This 50,000-square-foot facility can right now crank out 11,000 records a day. Some hold tunes from superstars such as Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, while others feature more esoteric fare.

Furnace was founded as a much smaller operation in 1996 by Eric Astor, who’s also a musician and label co-owner. But this new plant—which started making disks in November—has recently transformed it into one of the country’s biggest vinyl-manufacturing outfits.

The plant’s eight refurbished Toolex Alpha machines squeeze puck-shaped balls of molten PVC between two stamper plates, creating the grooves that hold the music. “Vinyl-record pressing is still hands-on,” says Astor. “It’s very much a craft because every record is a little unique.”

When we stopped by Furnace, press operators John Garman and Andre Butler showed us how they made an album by indie band the Mercury Program, which they pressed on limited-edition blue vinyl. From this point, the disks went through a quality-control process, then got slipped into jackets, wrapped in plastic, and boxed up to send to distributors. “I look at records as being almost meditative,” says Astor. “They allow you to slow down a little bit and enjoy people’s art being translated through a format that goes back over 100 years.”

This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Adia H. Robinson
Editorial Fellow