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A tinsmith at Old Sturbridge Village OSV-tinsmith-BW.JPG
A tinsmith at Old Sturbridge Village
Tinware desk lamp, late 1930s, Bandelier National Monument. Made by a Civilian Conservation Corps tinsmith. Tin lamp 1930s.jpg
Tinware desk lamp, late 1930s, Bandelier National Monument. Made by a Civilian Conservation Corps tinsmith.
Tinsmiths on the roof of Storkyrkan, Stockholm 1903 Platslagare pa Storkyrkans tak, Stockholm - Nordiska Museet - NMA.0039101.jpg
Tinsmiths on the roof of Storkyrkan, Stockholm 1903

A tinsmith is a person who makes and repairs things made of tin or other light metals. The profession may sometimes also be known as a tinner, tinker, tinman, or tinplate worker; whitesmith may also refer to this profession, [1] though the same word may also refer to an unrelated specialty of iron-smithing. By extension it can also refer to the person who deals in tinware, or tin plate. [2] Tinsmith was a common occupation in pre-industrial times.


Unlike blacksmiths (who work mostly with hot metals), tinsmiths do the majority of their work on cold metal (although they might use a hearth to heat and help shape their raw materials). Tinsmiths fabricate items such as water pitchers, forks, spoons, and candle holders.

Training of tinsmiths

The tinsmith learned his trade, like many other artisans, by serving an apprenticeship of 4 to 6 years with a master tinsmith. Apprenticeships were considered "indentures" and an apprentice would start first with simply cleaning the shop, polishing tools, keeping the fires lit, filing sharp edges, and polishing finished pieces. Later he would trace patterns on sheets and cut them out, then soldering joints, and inserting rivets. Finally, he was allowed to cut out and complete objects. [3] [ page needed ] He learned first to make cake stamps (cookie cutters), pillboxes and other simple items. Next, he formed objects such as milk pails, basins, or cake and pie pans. Later he tackled more complicated pieces such as chandeliers and crooked-spout coffee pots.

After his apprenticeship was completed, he then became a journeyman, not yet being a master smith employing others. Many young tinsmiths took to the road as peddlers or tinkers to save enough money to open a shop in town.

Raw material

Tinplate consists of sheet iron coated with tin and then run through rollers. This process was first discovered in the 16th century, with the development of the British tinplate address in 1661 with a patent to Dud Dudley and William Chamberlayne. [4] [ page needed ] Previously Great Britain had imported most tinplate from Hamburg.

The British Iron Act of 1750 prohibited (among other things) the erection of new rolling mills, which prevented the erection of new tinplate works in America until after the American Revolution. Certificates submitted by colonial governors to the British Board of Trade following the Act indicate that no tinplate works then existed though there were several slitting mills, some described as slitting and rolling mills.

Pure tin is an expensive and soft metal and it is not practical to use it alone. However, it could be alloyed with lead and copper to make pewter or alloyed with copper alone to produce bronze. Today's tinplate is mild steel electroplated with tin. Tin's non-rusting qualities make it an invaluable coating. However, the tinplate's quality depends on the iron or steel being free from rust and the surface being in an unbroken coating. A piece of tinware may develop rust if the tin coating has worn away or been cut in the metal. The respective properties of the metals mean that corrosion once started is likely to be rapid.

Tinsmithing tools

The simple shapes made by the tinsmith require tools similar to those of a coppersmith. In addition to the big shears anchored in a hole in his bench, he used hand snips and nippers for cutting. The tin was flattened on an anvil made of a block of steel. Straight and curved anvils (stakes) were used to turn and roll the edges of the tin. Solder was then used to join the pieces together; a soldering iron and fire pot were needed to do this.

Hammers are essential. Planishing hammers, chasing hammers, creasing hammers, and setting down hammers are among the most common, as well as ball peen hammers. Horn or wooden mallets are also used. Before electric soldering irons became available, tinsmiths would use heated "copper" irons made of a wooden handle, iron shank, and copper tips formed into different shapes. These items were heated in small furnaces, covered in Sal ammoniac, and then used for soldering seams. [5] [ full citation needed ]

History of tinsmithing

Contemporary tinsmith who also serves as a reenactor at Fort Ross State Historic Park, standing with an ear trumpet, a 19th-century hearing aid Tinsmith - Fort Ross State Historic Park - Jenner, California - Stierch.jpg
Contemporary tinsmith who also serves as a reenactor at Fort Ross State Historic Park, standing with an ear trumpet, a 19th-century hearing aid

Tinwares were being produced in London by the 1630s, is known as Crooked Lane Wares (from the street where they were made). [6] The Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers were incorporated as a separate London Livery Company in 1670. However, tinplate workers were widespread.

The tinsmith has been plying his trade in America since 1720. Colonial tinsmiths used tinplate, wire, solder, and a few simple tools to produce their wares. When tinplate was finally produced in America in the early 19th century the products of the tinsmith became more widely available. They in turn saw an increase in demand and a need to speed up production. This brought about the development of many ingenious hand-powered machines which sped up production and helped the tinsmith meet the demands for his products. The goods were "brought to market" by peddlers. [7]

Tinware was a popular folk art in colonial Mexico and New Mexico, and continues to be made there by local artisans today.

An annual tinsmith convergence is held every year in June. [8]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Soldering iron</span> A hand tool for soldering

A soldering iron is a hand tool used in soldering. It supplies heat to melt solder so that it can flow into the joint between two workpieces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blacksmith</span> Person who creates wrought iron or steel products by forging, hammering, bending, and cutting

A blacksmith is a metalsmith who creates objects primarily from wrought iron or steel, but sometimes from other metals, by forging the metal, using tools to hammer, bend, and cut. Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, agricultural implements, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, and weapons. There was an historical distinction between the heavy work of the blacksmith and the more delicate operation of a whitesmith, who usually worked in gold, silver, pewter, or the finishing steps of fine steel. The place where a blacksmith works is called variously a smithy, a forge or a blacksmith's shop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metalworking</span> Process of making items from metal

Metalworking is the process of shaping and reshaping metals to create useful objects, parts, assemblies, and large scale structures. As a term it covers a wide and diverse range of processes, skills, and tools for producing objects on every scale: from huge ships, buildings, and bridges down to precise engine parts and delicate jewelry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silversmith</span> Craftsperson who makes objects from silver or gold

A silversmith is a metalworker who crafts objects from silver. The terms silversmith and goldsmith are not exactly synonyms as the techniques, training, history, and guilds are or were largely the same but the end product may vary greatly as may the scale of objects created.

Forge welding (FOW), also called fire welding, is a solid-state welding process that joins two pieces of metal by heating them to a high temperature and then hammering them together. It may also consist of heating and forcing the metals together with presses or other means, creating enough pressure to cause plastic deformation at the weld surfaces. The process is one of the simplest methods of joining metals and has been used since ancient times, being a staple of traditional blacksmithing. Forge welding is versatile, being able to join a host of similar and dissimilar metals. With the invention of electrical welding and gas welding methods during the Industrial Revolution, manual forge-welding has been largely replaced, although automated forge-welding is a common manufacturing process.

Terne plate is a form of tinplate: a thin steel sheet coated with an alloy of lead and tin. The terne alloy was in the ratio of 10-20% tin and the remainder lead. The low tin content made it cheaper than other tinplates.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coppersmith</span> Person who makes artifacts from copper

A coppersmith, also known as a brazier, is a person who makes artifacts from copper and brass. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The term "redsmith" is used for a tinsmith that uses tinsmithing tools and techniques to make copper items.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tinker</span> Wandering tinsmith

Tinker or tinkerer is an archaic term for an itinerant tinsmith who mends household utensils.

A whitesmith is a metalworker who does finishing work on iron and steel such as filing, lathing, burnishing or polishing. The term also refers to a person who works with "white" or light-coloured metals, and is sometimes used as a synonym for tinsmith.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metalsmith</span> Craftsman fashioning tools or works of art out of various metals

A metalsmith or simply smith is a craftsperson fashioning useful items out of various metals. Smithing is one of the oldest metalworking occupations. Shaping metal with a hammer (forging) is the archetypical component of smithing. Often the hammering is done while the metal is hot, having been heated in a forge. Smithing can also involve the other aspects of metalworking, such as refining metals from their ores, casting it into shapes (founding), and filing to shape and size.

Tinplate consists of sheets of steel coated with a thin layer of tin to impede rusting. Before the advent of cheap milled steel, the backing metal was wrought iron. While once more widely used, the primary use of tinplate now is the manufacture of tin cans.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Iron Act</span> United Kingdom legislation

In American Colonial history, the Iron Act, also called the Importation, etc. Act 1750, was one of the legislative measures introduced by the British Parliament, within its system of Trade and Navigation Acts. The Act sought to increase the importation of pig and bar iron from its American colonies and to prevent the building of iron-related production facilities within these colonies, particularly in North America where these raw materials were identified. The dual purpose of the act was to increase manufacturing capacity within Great Britain itself, and to limit potential competition from the colonies possessing the raw materials.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tinning</span> Covering object with layer of tin

Tinning is the process of thinly coating sheets of wrought iron or steel with tin, and the resulting product is known as tinplate. The term is also widely used for the different process of coating a metal with solder before soldering.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tin ceiling</span>

A tin ceiling is an architectural element, consisting of a ceiling finished with plates of tin with designs pressed into them, that was very popular in Victorian buildings in North America in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were also popular in Australia where they were commonly known as pressed metal ceilings or Wunderlich ceilings. They were also used in South Africa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pontypool japan</span> Varnish protection for iron

Pontypool japan is a name given to the process of japanning with the use of an oil varnish and heat which is credited to Thomas Allgood of Pontypool. In the late 17th century, during his search for a corrosion-resistant coating for iron, he developed a recipe that included asphaltum, linseed oil and burnt umber. Once applied to metal and heated the coating turned black and was extremely tough and durable.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tinware</span>

Tinware is any item made of prefabricated tinplate. Usually tinware refers to kitchenware made of tinplate, often crafted by tinsmiths. Many cans used for canned food are tinware as well. Something that is tinned after being shaped and fabricated is not considered tinware. Similar industrial products are called tin-sheet products or tinwork.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Architectural metals</span>

Metals used for architectural purposes include lead, for water pipes, roofing, and windows; tin, formed into tinplate; zinc, copper and aluminium, in a range of applications including roofing and decoration; and iron, which has structural and other uses in the form of cast iron or wrought iron, or made into steel. Metal alloys used in building include bronze ; brass ; monel metal and nickel silver, mainly consisting of nickel and copper; and stainless steel, with important components of nickel and chromium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Soldering</span> Process of joining metal pieces with heated filler metal

Soldering is a process in which two or more items are joined by melting and putting a filler metal (solder) into the joint, the filler metal having a lower melting point than the adjoining metal. Unlike welding, soldering does not involve melting the work pieces. In brazing, the work piece metal also does not melt, but the filler metal is one that melts at a higher temperature than in soldering. In the past, nearly all solders contained lead, but environmental and health concerns have increasingly dictated use of lead-free alloys for electronics and plumbing purposes.

Tin mining began early in the Bronze Age, as bronze is a copper-tin alloy. Tin is a relatively rare element in the Earth's crust, with approximately 2 ppm, compared to iron with 50,000 ppm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elisha Peck</span>

Elisha Peck (1789-1851) was a Massachusetts-born merchant who formed a partnership with Anson Green Phelps. He ran the British side of their business from Liverpool for about thirteen years. The partnership ended in 1834 after an accident at their New York warehouse claimed the lives of seven people. Their assets were divided and Peck took ownership of the metal manufacturing plants at Haverstraw, New York. Phelps continued with the mercantile business that he had developed with Peck, forming a new company called Phelps Dodge.


  1. Susan Hanway Scott (2012), "Whitesmithing", The Hunt Magazine, vol. Summer 2012
  2. "tinsmith definition". dictionary.com.
  3. Kauffman, Henry J. American Copper & Brass. Masthof Press, Morgantown, Pa. 1968. ISBN   1-883294-22-3
  4. Richards, Alun John. Tinplate in Wales. Llygad Gwalch, Ysgubor Plas, Llwyndyrys. 2008. ISBN   978-1-84524-125-4
  5. Lelegren, Shay. The Complete Tinsmith & Tinman's or Tinner's Trade. Tinsmith Museum of America, 2016. www.hotdiptin.com
  6. Minchinton, Walter E. (1957). The British tinplate industry: a history. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press. p. 3.
  7. "E Pattison - Tinsmith". Ulster American Folk Park. National Museum of Northern Island. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  8. "Tinsmith". www.tintinkers.org.