History - Tinsmith & Tinplate

 Tinsmithing in America


In the early 18th Century, Shem Drowne was probably the first tin and copper worker in America. He was known for the first hammered weather vanes made from recycled copper and tin in Massachusetts, but it was Edward Pattison that influenced the craft of the tinsmith more than any other.

An immigrant from Ireland who settled in the vicinity of Berlin, Connecticut in the 1730's, with his two brothers and two sisters, Edward went to work immediately making wooden moulds and patterns for what would be the first hand crafted tinware in the colonies. His sons, Edward and Shubael continued their father's trade after his death in 1787, and supervised a now flourishing business called the Pattison Tinware Company.

Tinware became popular with the colonial women because it was light weight and shiny, replacing the heavy black ironware used for cooking and everyday chores. Kettles, canisters, tea kettles, pudding pans, strainers, graters, deed boxes, wall sconces, lanterns and many other practical items were now being made and peddled throughout the colonies, making it one of the new prosperous industries in the colonies.

 Tinsmith Tools


Tools of the colonial tinsmith were simple hand tools, many made by the smith himself or the village blacksmith. Tools would include tin snips for small cuts, and large shears anchored in a hole in a wood bench to shear larger cuts. The forming tools would include, small iron anvils, wooden forms, hollows carved into tops of white oak stumps. Iron, wood and rawhide hammers were used to flatten the metal or to bend it by tapping the tinplate over a wood or metal form. Punches, pinchers and files were used in the completion of an item made.

Tin could not be forge welded because of the tinplating. So soldering was the technique of joining two pieces of tinplate together. Brushing on a rosin flux on the edges that would be joined so that the heat would not oxidize the tin, the tinsmith would use a copper iron heated in a small charcoal stove to melt and flow the solder into the pieces being joined, fusing them together. The item would then be polished, painted or japaned, depending on its final use.

A Short History Of Tinplate


Tin or Cassiterite which pure tin is called, has been mentioned in ancient history as far back as 4004 B.C. The Bible mentions it in three books of the Old Testament. Tin by itself, has very little structural strength, but was alloyed with copper and other metals to make brass and bronze. Tin ore was mined from subterranean veins and the ore placed into a smelting furnace to be melted down into pure tin and poured into granite moulds to be cast into block tin. The ancient Romans, as far back as 65 A.D. was using tin which does not rust, to plate the ironware on their chariots. Tinplate, which is thin iron sheets, plated with a coat of shiny tin, was probably first made by German Ironmongers around the 16th Century. The iron sheets were made by heating pig iron and hammering it, using large water powered trip hammers, into thin sheets or plates. The plates of iron then were sheared square, polished by hand with sand and water, using cork and rags. The iron plates were then dipped into a vat of molten tin, thus plating the sheet of iron. After this, the tin sheets were placed into a vat of tallow and pure water. After drying they were cleaned with sawdust and then polished with oatmeal and a finished rubbing with moss. The now finished tinplates were stacked in Elmwood crates, ready to be shipped to the Tinsmith.
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