A Demonstration in Pewter Making

L. M. A. Roy

L. M. A. Roy Art

By L. M. A. ROY

[Originally published September 1949 ; posted in conjunction with Barrymore Laurence Scherer’s “American Pewter,” March/April 2013.]

Mr. Roy’s model for this pictorial demonstration was John G. Herrock, “whose family,” he says,” were tinkering with tools from the time they came to Maine in 1799.”  Besides pewter, he makes violins, reproductions of colonial furniture, wrought iron, jewelry, and clocks. 

Click the below slideshow for a step-by-step tutorial into the making of pewter objects.

  • The Pewter Spoon is cast in a two-part mold of heavy bronze. This one, shown with the two parts separated (left), is over two hundred years old. Its forms a spoon with wavy end and a rattail on the back of the bowl (right). 

    Pewter was cast in molds, then finished by skimming on the lathe, burnishing, and polishing. Some pewterers hammered spoons and the bulge of plates to stiffen the metal. The casting process is illustrated in the first six pictures here. 

  • The spoon mold is clamped in a vise, and filled with the molten pewter alloy poured from a ladle into the gate- the spout at the top. The metal has been melted at a fireplace or forge until a splinter of wood dropped in it scorches, when it is ready for pouring. The halves of the mold do not fit perfectly so that air may escape as the melted pewter is poured in. For best results the mold is heated in advance so that the metal will not cool before the mold is full. The pewterer may start with the cold mold, however, letting the metal heat in. In this case the first few castings are imperfect.

  • The metal sets quickly, the mold is separated, and the casting removed. It has a bit of excess metal at the top where it was poured, and this is removed with a hacksaw. 

  • Imperfections are removed with a fine file, and the fins, or thin ribbon of metal, around the edge cut off with a sharp knife. The bowl is smoothed with a fine emery cloth. (English pewterers were required to finish their spoons by hammering.) 

  • The spoon is given a final polishing on a cloth buffing wheel charged with tripoli. 

  • Other pewter forms are also cast in molds. This is an eighteenth-century copper mold for a basin, open and closed. From the Brooklyn Museum

  • Other pewter forms are also cast in molds. This is an eighteenth-century copper mold for a basin, open and closed. From the Brooklyn Museum

  • Making a Brittania Porringer:

    Aside from differences in composition of the alloy, which are not always apparent to the eye, britannia metal differs from pewter in that it was given its form on a lathe instead of in a mold. Most old porrigners were pewter- that is, cast and then spun. These pictures demonstrate how a pierce is made by the britannia method. 

    For a 4-inch porringer the craftsmen starts with a 5-inch die of metal. The first step is to strike his mark in the center of it with a steel punch.

     

  • A hard maple pattern, the size and shape that the inside of the bowl is to be, is attached to the spindle of the lathe, and the disc is placed against it. The follow block, about 2 inches in diameter and also of hard maple, is placed against the center of the disc, and the tail stock of the lathe brought up against it. The follow block is usually lubricated; in the old days tallow was used. The disc is spun and trued up with a greased wooden stick and is then give a thin coat of grease. Next a round- nosed tool of hard wood about 2 ½ feet long, held in the right hand, is placed against a pin in the T-rest for leverage, and pressed against the spinning disc as shown here. Another wooden tool, called the follow tool, is held in the left hand and pressed against the back of the disc at the same point, to keep the metal from buckling. 

  • The bowl is given a final polishing with 0000 steel wool as it spins on the pattern lathe. It is then removed from the lathe, and is ready for the cast handle to be applied.

  • The bowl and handle, bottom side up, are placed on a wooden block and held in proper position by brads. Flux, composed of glycerine with a few drops of muriatic acid, is applied to the surfaces to be joined. Then a few bits of soft solder are placed where they will flow into the joint, and heat is applied to melt them. Mr. Herrick now uses acetylene for this purpose but for many years followed the old custom of an alcohol torch. In old pewter porringers, handles were customarily cast in one piece with the bowl instead of being soldered on.

  • From metal disc to finished porringer. The handle was cast by the same process as the spoon shown above, but one-half of the mold is a flat wooden block instead of shaped metal. 

  • As the disc spins, the soft metal follows the shape of the wooden pattern. After it has begun to form, a hardened steel took replaces the wooden ones, to press the metal against the pattern. Here is seen also the follow block against the center of the disc. 

  • To make the boss in the bottom of the bowl, the follow block is removed and a metal tool applied to the spinning bowl with enough pressure to indent it.

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