Tinsmithing is an age-old craft dating back 1740 when two brothers William and Andrew Patterson emigrated from Ireland and set up a business in Berlin, CT. They made tin cups, pie pans, milk pails, and different sizes of pots and pans. After their first year they hired tin peddlers to travel down the East Coast with horse drawn carts loaded with their shiny "poor man's silver". Early American housewives loved the tin ware. It was light in weight, unbreakable, easy to clean and inexpensive.
Gary was introduced to tinsmithing in May of 2019 while on a road trip with his wife in Pennsylvania. After touring the remains of the once powerful Bethlehem Steel Mill, they visited the historic district of Old Bethlehem. There they found a recreation of the Moravian Blacksmith and Tinsmith building. There was a Tinsmith and a Blacksmith demonstrating their craft, and Gary's interest tinsmithing was born.
The term "tinsmithing" was not used until after the Civil War. Before that , men who worked with tin were called" tin plate workers", "tin men", "tinners", and the like. "It's important to note that men who worked with tin were actually working with tinplate. Tin by it self is very soft and will melt at a very low temperature. Tinplate is a thin piece of rolled soft steel about .015 thick that has been dipped in molten tin to coat the entire sheet thus preventing it from rusting. Up until the late 1800's all of the tinplate was imported from England. The size of the tinplate sheets were 10 inches by 14 inches and surprisedly the Hot Dipped tin that is available today is remarkably the same size. Toward the end of the 1800's the United States imposed very high taxes on the importing of tinplate from England. Therefore steel rolling mills were built to produce tinplate in America. Another type of tinplate that is widely used throughout the world today is electro plated tin. It is produced in large mills that produce millions of pounds a year. Electro plated tin today is used to make a lot, from your soup can to the oil filter in your car. Interestingly the first known electro plated tin was made in the United States in 1894.
All tinsmithing before 1806 was done by hand using wood and metal stakes or anvils and various hammers. After 1806, the work changed with the invention of hand-operated machines by Calvin Whiting and Eli Parsons. With the invention of these new machines production was faster and made tinware cheaper to make. In 1833, Horace Whitney, of Dover, New Hampshire, invented covers for tin products by using forming dies. It was a very slow process and it wasn’t until 1847 that he succeeded in producing stamping machines that could stamp out tin plates and tinware of all kinds. He then started producing parts that could be assembled by tin plate workers into various tin items. In 1857, he changed the name of his company from Horace Whitney & Company to Dover Stamping Company. From this point, the craft of all handmade tin plate items slowly went away. Tinplate workers turned to more construction-related items like stove pipes and tin plate roofs. Later, the tinsmith became known as a sheet metal worker. On my quest to learn more about the age-old craft of tinsmithing, I also discovered that most tinsmithing today is done in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but not much in California. A great deal of tinware today is used by men and women that participate in various types of military reenactments. Out West there are some but not many. So, having tried and succeeded at many other creative hobbies before, I decided to try tinsmithing..On a Sunday afternoon, I started the project by cutting up some one-gallon paint thinner cans for tin. As I bent and tried to shape a few items, I quickly discovered I wasn’t doing it correctly and returned to the Internet to find a tinsmithing class. I found a three-day class taught by Dennis Kutch in Newberry, Indiana.. Dennis teaches 5 students a year at his shop and I was fortunate to be his only student and received coveted one-on-one training for three full days. I learned so many of his processes and tricks. After the class, I felt confident in my newly honed skills. It takes long hours of diligent practice to develop the tinsmithing skill and to create beautiful objects with shiny metal .015 thick. As I have made cup after cup, learning from each one I have made, there is always room for improvement. In developing my new tinsmithing skills, I’ve made various items such as ornate lanterns and custom-sized mugs. Today, I work with both Hot Dipped Tin as well as Electro Plated Tin both are 28 gauge .015 thick. All of the solder used is either 100% Tin or 95% Tin 5 % Silver. The 95% Tin 5% silver is used where more heat will be present like a cooking pot or coffee pot. Both solders are safe for food. No lead is used in either solder. The picture below is me on the left and my mentor Dennis Kutch on the right.
I hope that I have given you some basic information on tinsmithing. Please feel free to visit my gallery and see some of the items that I have made and perfected in the first 12 months of my tinsmithing journey. The photo below (bottom left) is the recreated Moravian Blacksmith and tinsmith shop where I was introduced to tinsmithing. The photo bottom right is my tinsmithing mentor Dennis Kutch.