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What does a Coppersmith do?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A coppersmith crafts and repairs items made of copper and similar metals. Originally an eminently practical trade, coppersmithing is more of an arts occupation in the modern world, as most household goods are made of materials other than copper, and many copper objects are manufactured using industrial processes. A niche market for copper goods remains, however, and coppersmiths still produce a small number of highly technical devices as well as quite a few pieces of high-end copper artwork.

Copper, as a soft metal, was one of the very first metals to be worked by humans. It is useful in the creation of decorative objects, as well as certain practical items such as pots or griddles. A coppersmith in the ancient world might also have combined copper with either tin or, more rarely, arsenic to create bronze, a much harder metal. Bronze was useful both for decorative items and for durable tools and weapons.

In the Middle Ages, the various metalworking trades were carefully divided one from another, a division that has persisted, to an extent, to the modern day. In that era, a coppersmith would typically have been a member of a guild and referred to as a redsmith, a reference to the color of the metal with which they worked. Similarly, blacksmiths worked with iron and whitesmiths with metals such as tin.

When working with copper, a modern coppersmith will generally work with cool metal, using hammers and presses to shape the metal into a desired shape. Copper is sometimes heated and then cooled, but this process, known as annealing, is used to ensure that the metal retains its flexibility and workability as a cool metal, rather than as part of the working process itself. Copper is occasionally worked while hot, or cast, but unlike iron, it can easily be worked cold under normal circumstances.

The trade of a modern coppersmith tends to focus more on artistic products than practical ones. Upscale kitchen or fireplace accessories are often crafted specifically for the rooms in which they will be used. Similarly, a large market exists for elegant and decorative copper pots and kettles, although these are rarely used in modern cooking. The trade of coppersmithing blends into the more purely artistic work of sculpture as well. Copper is a preferred metal for small sculptures, although bronze is usually used in larger works because of its greater strength and superior durability.

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Discussion Comments

By indemnifyme — On Feb 17, 2012

It's interesting that some copper teapots and pots and pans are made by a coppersmith. For some reason I always thought all that stuff was machine made.

I think it would make a lot more sense for a coppersmith to focus on art and decorative items. A machine can totally make a copper teapot, but there are certain things only a human being can do, and I think making art is one of those things.

By JessicaLynn — On Feb 16, 2012

@Azuza - I don't have any experience working with copper myself, but I have seen plenty of stuff I'm pretty sure was made by a coppersmith. A friend of mine had a decorative set of copper pots hanging in her kitchen. She told me once they were kind of expensive and handcrafted.

I wonder if the coppersmith who made them specialized in pots and pans, or does other work as well?

By Azuza — On Feb 16, 2012

I wasn't aware that coppersmith was an actual job. How cool! My only experience working with any kind of coppersmith tools was when I was younger, and I'm not sure it counts.

My mom gave me a jewelry making kit for Christmas one year. The kit contained some copper wire and some tools to manipulate it into jewelry. I didn't do a very good job, let me tell you. I don't think I ever completed even one project. A few years later I went back and looked at it, and all the stuff I had done was really tarnished. I guess that's a risk with copper!

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