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The (re) Making of an American Copper Skillet

In case it hasn’t been obvious, I’m a little enamored with the notion of recreating American copper cookware pieces that have been lost along with the slow disappearance of the hand-made, coppersmith trade itself.

So – surprise! I’ve made a skillet next.

Though most copper skillets were relatively small in terms of today’s expectations (and uses!), they all had high sides (not rounded) and a sharp edge. In fact, they were nearly identical in terms of form and shape to cast iron skillets, even though the copper pieces were made by hand and usually had relatively long wrought iron handles.


vintage copper cookware

Copper skillet in the tinshop in Metamora IN

Today, you’ll usually see low-sided copper skillets – some lined with tin, and some with stainless. They are softly curved, and have shorter handles. Part of this is because most of us don’t need to hang our copperware right next to the hearth, or stick it in and need an easier way to grab it out of the fire. It’d be very hard to wield the copper skillets of the 1800’s on today’s stoves, or put in the oven.

But I still believe there’s a place for the traditional, slightly tapered, straight-sided skillet in our kitchens. We just have forgotten they existed, and so have stopped looking to use them.

{Photo from American Copper & Brass book by Henry J. Kauffman}

Imagine a cast iron skillet that performs just like a copper pot!? That’s kinda what I thought. And I’m stupidly over-excited about this next piece. Thanks to the help from my good friend and product architect, who can take my sketches, the finds in old books, and my rough descriptions and make it a transferable file, and the master smith I apprentice under…AND all the guys from the tinsmith convergence this June, who are weighing in…as well as the feedback from the people actually spinning the bodies…

Well, it’s coming along!

It’s a big piece – bigger than the other pots in the House Copper line, and it’s thicker too (3mm) because I’m not flaring or rolling the edges (many older, (smaller) versions had wired rims or a beaded edge to help with strength, especially since these were usually formed by hand out of a thinner gauge copper sheet). And though the ductile handle won’t be long, it will still look similar to what was typical in the 1800’s for wrought handles.

house copper

Prototype of the 12″ American copper skillet

And of course, it will be lined with tin.

The skillets of old (and especially ones contributed to an American smith) are hard to find according to Henry Kauffman’s books, and yet they were the easiest to make for the beginning apprentice coppersmith. As it was typically formed from one circle and required no soldering, cuts (other than the circular blank itself) or fancy forming, it was typically a “trial” piece made with nothing but a stake and a hammer.

Traditional coppersmith copper skillet formation. {Photo from American Copper & Brass by Henry J Kauffman}

I’m excited to see each piece come to life – the guys in Ohio will be spinning the copper components from the Texas copper and the handles poured by the family-owned foundry in Lodi CA. And as for the actual drilling, riveting, tinning, polishing and buffing? Well, that’s going to happen (if all goes well) by…me. Because it will help with the pricing so more people can get pure metal cookware in their homes. And because I’d like to use much of what I’m learning in my own apprenticeship.

It’s just like the good old days, isn’t it?