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Promising future beckons for tinsmithing

Imogen Peacock, tinsmithing masterclass participant at Museum of Making

Imogen Peacock, tinsmithing masterclass participant at Museum of Making

Tinsmithing skills passed on to a new generation of makers in unique masterclasses, organised with the generous support of The Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers Alias Wireworkers and Heritage Crafts’ Endangered Crafts Fund.

The future of tinsmithing, a critically endangered craft on Heritage Crafts’ groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, has been given a boost following two successful masterclasses facilitated by Heritage Crafts and the Museum of Making, Derby. With generous support from The Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers Alias Wireworkers and Heritage Crafts’ Endangered Crafts Fund, Heritage Crafts brought historical tinsmith Karl Schmidt of Dakota Tinworks, USA, to the UK to lead the five-day masterclasses.

Using tools and techniques of nineteenth century tinsmiths, fourteen participants learned how to develop patterns, successfully use tinsmiths’ tools and operate hand-crank machines, as well as traditional construction techniques and other aspects of tinsmithing, applied to a range of creative tasks. The masterclasses gave participants a first-hand understanding of tinsmithing as a recognised heritage craft. The course participants are now part of a supportive online network where they can share their ongoing progress.

In addition to developing the skills of the participants, the tinsmithing masterclasses equipped the Museum of Making with the knowledge and materials to continue safeguarding and supporting tinsmithing. Three of the Museum’s technicians are now trained in tinsmithing and its workshop is stocked with tools needed to continue the craft. The museum has already scheduled its first public tinsmithing workshop, ‘Cookie Cutters: An Intro to Tinsmithing’, taking place this December.

Heritage Crafts Endangered Crafts Manager Mary Lewis said:

“Without this course it was very likely that the skills of tinsmithing would be lost in the next few years. With these wonderful learners and some fantastic partnership working between Heritage Crafts, The Museum of Making and master tinsmith Karl Schmidt, we now have a chance of preserving these skills for the next generation.”

Museum of Making Workshop & Studios Manager Steve Smith said:

“Post Karl Schmidt’s tinsmith masterclass, the Museum of Making workshop is now equipped with the tools and skills to evolve and develop as a UK centre committed to tinsmith work, preserving this red-listed endangered craft. Tinsmithing as a heritage making discipline, and its technical skills, are still relevant to contemporary making culture; the aesthetic and utilitarian tin products it creates are complimentary to everyday life. The workshop is already programming tinsmithing courses, and, in continued collaboration with Mary Lewis and Heritage Crafts, plan to bring back the new-collective of masterclass tinsmiths to the Museum of Making workshop in 2023.”

Tinsmithing masterclass participant John Wills said:

‘I enrolled on the masterclass because tinsmithing is complementary to my work as a brazier/coppersmith. I would never have picked up the specific tinplate techniques watching online tutorials. Karl’s passion for the material is infectious and the time he gave to get my technique right has been invaluable both to my copper work and future tin work. Tinplate is certainly being added to my product range’.

Fellow masterclass participant Marion Godwin said:

‘During the course of the week, I learnt skills that will be invaluable in helping my museum bring back our historic tinsmithing exhibit after many years out of action. I look forward to sharing my newfound skills with other staff, hopefully helping to provide a small home for this valuable endangered craft to propagate. A huge thanks to Heritage Crafts, the Museum of Making, and to Karl for being so willing to share his skills’.

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Coppersmithing (objects)

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts


Coppersmithing (objects)


The making of objects from copper, including jewellery, sculpture, plates and cookware, dishes, tea and coffee pots, jugs, vases, crosses for churches etc (see the separate entry for coppersmithing stills).


Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK Bronze Age
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5

(This is specifically those who are offering a full range of coppersmithing skills to make traditional copper objects)

Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers



Coppersmithing in the UK dates back to the Bronze Age, with the production of copper goods for functional and decorative purposes.

Ornamental copperware flourished in the UK during the Arts and Craft movement. Coppersmithing as a hand skill began to decline during the wars as men and metal went to munitions and never recovered as a handcraft. It began to decline further in the 1970s when those working in the sheet-metal trade took on much of the coppersmith’s work leaving a limited trade for coppersmiths (primarily making copper pipes for use in plumbing and aviation). More recently, the global rise in the popularity of whisky has created a demand for authentic copper distilling stills made by coppersmiths in Scotland, although this is on a more industrial level. Today, a new market is emerging for bespoke hand-made copper linings for church fonts.

There had been centres of ornamental work in both Keswick, Cumbria, and Newlyn, Cornwall, each with a distinct style and places to study the craft. The skills of the tinsmith applied to everyday copper ware.



The coppersmith draws on the skills of the blacksmith, silversmith, turner, spinner, sheet metal worker and tinsmith. Coppersmithing incorporates numerous techniques such as hand raising, brazing, hand blocking out, annealing, hand pierces, stone setting, panel beating etc. There are crossovers with techniques used by blacksmiths and jewellers.


Local forms

Notable styles of copper work appeared in Keswick, Cumbria and in Newlyn, Cornwall (primarily repoussé work).




Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Many of the traditional uses of copper (and brass and tinplate) have been replaced with plastics, or the technology has been superseded, making the trade redundant. For example copper (and copper-alloy) canteens have been replaced with plastic bottles, watering cans are now plastic, buckets are plastic, copper lanterns are now plastic torches etc. The everyday objects that were copper have gone from everyday life.
  • Copper bowls are still made in large numbers cheaply but using traditional methods in India, the Middle East and North Africa which means shops can carry large numbers of imported hand raised bowls at low cost which is almost impossible to compete with for UK based makers.
  • As the manufacture of copper utensils moved from hand beating (or machine battery) to deep drawing in presses or to just copper plating steel utensils, it has meant that new entrants to the craft have had to work out how it had been done and tools were needed.
  • Market issues: The market is underdeveloped and people are hesitant to go into a career and craft that has a limited market. The market is developing but it does need someone or a collection of agencies to develop these markets.
  • Market issues: Time spent looking for markets (which do exist) takes time away from making.
  • Shortage of craftspeople: There is a lack of craftspeople, trainees and apprentices within coppersmithing. There are fewer than 12 people working with copper, and their skill level is not necessarily known.
  • Training issues: There is a desperate need to take on apprentices/trainees but there is a lack of funding to do so.
  • Perceived value of the craft: Makers will start working in copper and switch to silver because they realise they can charge higher prices because people are prepared to pay more for a higher value material (but not prepared to pay for the skills).


Support organisations


Craftspeople currently known

  • Siân Evans
  • John Wills, Copper Elf – describes himself as a ‘brazier’ making replicas of historic cookware
  • Scott Robbie, Scotland
  • Robert Fuller, Essex – seventh generation metal worker and cousin of John Fuller, author of The Art of Coppersmithing (1894)
  • Alan Jordan, William Sugg & Co. Ltd – makes heritage lighting

The UK’s pre-eminent coppersmith Sam Fanaroff BEM died in February 2019.

Businesses employing two or more makers:


Other information

The Coppers Works Newlyn has been providing a free weekly class to local children for more than twelve years. The Copper Works is deeply committed to ensuring the future of the craft and establish a sustainable infrastructure to become a long term home for the craft of the coppersmith in the UK.



  • Berryman, Hazel, (1986) Arts and Crafts in Newlyn
  • Bennett, Daryl, and Pill, Colin, Arts and Crafts Copper Work in Newlyn