Tinsmithing is a lost craft dating back 1740 when two brothers William and Andrew Patterson emigrated from Ireland and set up for a business in Berlin, CT. They made tin cups, pie pans, milk pails, and different size pot 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, unbreakable ,easy to clean and cheep in price.
My introduction to Tinsmithing was in May of 2019 while on a vacation 8 day road trip with my wife in the state of Pennsylvania. After touring the remains of the once powerful Bethlehem Steel Mill we visited the historic district of Old Bethlehem. It was there that we found a recreation of the Moravian Blacksmith and Tinsmith building. There was one Tinsmith and one Blacksmith demonstrating their craft. It was at that very time that I became interested in Tinsmithing.
The term Tinsmithing really did not come about until after the Civil War. Before that , men that worked with tin were Tin Plate Workers,Tin Men, Tinners, and many more. I have to clarify at this point that the men that 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 the same size. Toward the end of the 1800's the United States imposed very high taxes on the importing of tinplate from England. This made it possible for steel rolling mills to be built and produce tinplate in America. Another type of tinplate that is widely used thru out the world today is Electro Plated Tin. This is done in very big mills that produce millions of pounds a year. Electro Plated tin today is used in everything from your soup can to the oil filter in your car. What is really interesting is that the first known Electro of Tin Plate was done in 1894 in the United States.
Getting back to Tinsmithing all work before 1806 was done by hand using wood and metal stakes or anvils and various hammers. After 1806 the work of the Tinplate worker 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 cheeper to make. In 1833 Horace Whitney of Dover New Hampshire had the idea of making covers for tin products by the use of forming dies. It was a very slow process. It was not until 1847 that he succeeded in producing stamping machines that could stamp out tin plates, and tinware of all kinds. Next he 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 on the craft of all hand made tin plate items slowly went away. The tinplate workers turned to more construction related items like stove pipes and tin plate roofs ect. In later years the Tinsmith became known as a Sheet Metal Worker.
My interest in Tinsmithing started from that visit to the Moravian reconstructed tin shop in Historic Bethlehem Pennsylvania. From that point all along our 8 day trip across the state I seemed to see tin ware. It was in historic Civil War areas, antique shops, as well as gift shops. By that time I was really interested in what this lost craft and art form was. When we returned home I was on the internet searching everything I could find out about Tinsmithing and the items that were made. What I did learn is that most of the craft today is in the Midwest and East Coast, not much out here in California. A great deal of tin wares today is used by men and women that participate in various types of military reenactments. Out West there are some but not many. By now I had made the decision that I was going to give it a try. I have done many things in my life and have become good at what I do. How hard could this be? Well one Sunday I started out cutting up some 1 gallon paint thinner cans up for tin. As I bent and tried to shape a few items I found really quick how wrong I was. I said to myself this is not easy. Now it was back to the internet to try and find some kind class that I could take. Most of the classes were at different historic sites and did not really teach what I was looking for. I finally found a 3 day class given by a man by the name of Dennis Kuch in Newberry Indiana about 60 miles south of Indianapolis. I contacted him and sent my deposit of 150.00 for the 300.00 class. Dennis teaches 5 students a year at his shop. Well I booked the air travel, hotel, and rental car. I had to stay in Bloomington IN. 30 miles north of Newberry. As it turned out I was the only student Dennis had last year, great for me because I received 3 days of one on one training for 8 to 10 hours a day. What a great person to learn from and his wife Karen prepared dinner for each day. I learned so many of his processes and tricks. When I left there I knew I would be able to pick this lost craft up. Like I said before I have done and mastered many things in my life of 73 years ,how could this be any different. Well it is different, you see as we get older we tend to forget how long all those things we have mastered took us. It takes hour upon hours of practice to develop the skill to work with this shiny metal that is .015 thick. As I have made cup after cup learning on each one I have made that there is always room for improvment. I have made various other items. I really like making lanterns.
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 food safe. There is NO Lead used at all in either solder. The picture below is myself 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 page and see some of the items that I have made and perfected in the last 12 months from when I first began this new journey. The lantern below is the newest item I have created.