During colonial times, people referred to tinsmiths as whitesmiths or tinners. These skilled craftsmen worked with tinplated iron. The tin made the iron rustproof and was malleable enough to craft into items such as cups, plates and candleholders. Colonial tinsmiths did not require the elaborate forge set-up of blacksmiths. Instead, tinsmiths' tools were primarily hand-held and simple. Their tools called for a delicate touch as they worked the tinplate into every day items.
Tinplate came in large, thin sheets that the tinsmith cut to create smaller pieces that he would assemble into a completed object. The first tool a tinsmith used was a large pair of shears anchored to his work bench. These shears made all the large cuts in his pattern. Then, the tinsmith used smaller tinsnips for the more intricate cuts. For instance, if a tinsmith were making a cup, he might use the shears for the larger rectangular piece of tin that would form its sides. Then, he might switch to tinsnips for the smaller pieces for the bottom and handle.
A tinsmith used tools such as small rounded anvils and forms called mandrels to shape the tin. He used a variety of hammers made of hard and soft materials for bending the tin into shapes. A common hammer used had a covering of soft rawhide so that he did not scratch the tin coating. The tinsmith would hammer larger pieces over his anvil to get them to curve. He would use mandrels that were in various shapes and sizes to work the pieces into desired smaller shapes. For instance, he might use a cylindrical mandrel for bending a rectangular cut of tinplate into the sides of a cup.
A tinsmith's material could not withstand the level of heat of a blacksmith's furnace. Instead, he would have a small coal stove to heat a copper soldering iron. Solder is a low-heat alloy used to join the pieces of tin. He brushed on a substance called flux at the joints that protected the tin from oxidation during the heating process. Then, the tinsmith used the soldering iron to melt the solder along the joints. He used the solder to join the seams of a cylindracal piece for the cup, completing the sides.
A tinsmith used tools such as files and punches to put finishing touches onto his work. He might need to smooth out edges of a piece with the file. He used the punch to create designs into the tin. The punch was a sharp piece of metal that dented the tin. Using the example of the cup, he might need to smooth out the edges of the handle with a file before soldering it into place. Once he finished the piece, he might use a punch to make a flower design on one side.
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