Tin is a relatively common silver-coloured metal that is easy to work. Historically, it was often used to coat other metals to keep them from corroding. Many objects said to be made of tin, such as tin cups, are actually tin-coated steel. Working tin-coated metals or tin sheets is called tinsmithing and requires a few basic tools. After the tin has been formed into the correct shape, it may be decorated using other tools called tin punches.
Sheet metal snips were used so often for tinsmithing that many people still call them tinsnips – even though very few people still work with tin. For the home tinworker, aircraft aviation snips make tin cutting very easy, but any set of strong, sharp hand snips is effective.
A hammer can be used to flatten the tin or to strike tin punches. Ball peen hammers may be used to create decorative patterns on tin during the punching process. Any hammer that will be in direct contact with the surface of the tin should be wrapped in rawhide. This cushions the hammer blow and prevents damage to the tin. According to Northwest Journal, rawhide hammers can be obtained from leather-working supply companies and many tool suppliers.
Tin shapes are usually soldered together. Historically, a solder containing lead was used, for its melting properties, but tin items meant to be used for food require a lead-free solder. Older tinware was often soldered using a firepot. The soldering iron was heated in coals held in the pot, then used to melt the solder. Newer soldering irons are heated by electricity or more rarely by gas.
A mandrel is a tool used to shape tin. Most are made from solid steel. According to Northwest Journal, the best mandrels have sharp edges and flat surfaces, and are not greasy or rusty. Nearly any object of the right shape can be used as a mandrel. They can also be purchased from tool suppliers and jewellery supply shops.
While a tin punch project could be made using a nail or other sharp object, dedicated tin punches provide more control and make more interesting patterns. Suppliers provide an assortment of shapes, including round basic punches, elongated lampmaker's chisels, sharp point tools, and curved chisels for making rounded shapes. Speciality punches such as stars, crosses and “pineapple” and “wheat” patterns are also available. Punches are easy to use – the tinsmith simply puts the end of the punch against the metal and strikes the handle with a hammer, leaving an indentation.