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Making a Copper Jambonnière Part 3

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If you’ve been following the saga of pattern creation and remaking a vintage piece of copper cookware from scratch…here’s the final conclusion.  Likely you might be as happy as I am that this is done and I can start posting things like cheese recipes again…

So it was time to create the lid and handles to this crazy jambonnière project – finally! As always, it meant a large amount of guesswork, and fiddling with wood jigs.

Tracing the base, we added some fractions to allow for crimp seams, and went ahead to create a cover jig, which was similar, but not exactly the same, as the base jig. I’m learning, in a very tactile way, that should I ever own my own metal shop, I will inadvertently become an ad-hoc woodworker by necessity. We also went ahead and cut out a pattern to make the big top cover.

(Good thing my husband has lately been into buying every kind of saw invented…now I just need to convince him that a drill press is also necessary…)

Next we folded (twice) the band base and linked the two pieces before connecting them with a lap seam and some extra reinforcement pieces before bending the whole long band over the jig. With a little help from a lot of clamps, we finished forming the cover band inside the body to make sure it allowed for any tweaks and idiosyncrasies creating during the bending of the base.

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Creating the jambonniere lid band

Then it was a simple (for once!) practice of burring edges, clamping the cover piece to the band and hammering the seams together before soldering.

We only had maybe…five? ten?…hang-ups along the way… It likely didn’t help that all three of my children are off school and like to create while they’re at the shop with us and are constantly adding some sort of project to get soldered…

But we had a cover that fit, for the most part, so then it was time to form the handles. This is when Bob’s mini forge comes in handy. We fired up the propane (and Bob, bless him, made a sweet little jig for bending), heated up some super fat solid copper wire, and made handles that look very similar to the old photographs.

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Jig for creating copper handles

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Forming copper handles over a jig after blasting with heat.

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Buffing the copper handles

I should mention, as well, that Jan, from the Netherlands, found this blog and was amazing enough to send photos of the jambonnière pan he has in his vintage collection. The cover looks constructed almost exactly to how we did it in our reproduction, though I do covet the base, which looks either rolled to a bead or somehow wired.

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A vintage jambonniere pan – photo sent to us by Jan in the Netherlands!

After getting the handles connected, and folding and creating a simple, thick cover handle, we riveted and checked all the seams, worked together to double bottom the base for strength, and then settled on the final polishing.

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Top handle for copper jambonniere lid.

And suddenly, amazingly, it’s done!

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Finished copper jambonniere ham pan

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Making A Copper Jambonnière Part 2

My ongoing apprenticeship at Backwoods Tin & Copper has been mostly obsessed with finishing up the copper jambonnière pan – not least because we wanted to have it done to show at the tinsmith convergence in Indiana this month.

So the craziness continued.

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Tinning the copper jambonnière in the flat.

After finally creating the bottom pattern that seemed to work, we set about organizing the sides of the jambonnière. Besides knowing they should be about 8” high, we had to figure out a length and a process. This, apparently, was another part where we had to make a few examples and mess up a few  more times.  (I’m starting to realize that creating a new pattern from scratch is about 65% of making copper and tin wares…)

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Preparing the sides for wiring.

Bob finally was able to figure out that putting the wire in when the two sides were joined as a huge circle was the best way to handle it, but that was only after we’d tried to form the sides on the hollow mandrel first, and then wire it. We ended up poking the steel out of the soft tinned copper.

Whoops.

And then there was the math. I’m not very good at math, which is why my husband handles the company accounting for House Copper, etc (thank heaven!) but this tinsmithing math also deals with fractions. Which, to me, is even worse, because they’re never normal fractions – a gripe I often voice when at the tinshop. I believe after Bob tinkered for hours after I left (read: defeated and needing to get my children from school), he ended up with sides that measured 26 5/16”.

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Forming the sides of the jambonnière by hand on the hollow mandrel.

But we still had to free-hand form the sides to match the base, and then create a jig to fit inside the jambonnière base that we then sawed apart and screwed back together in order to create a tight enough structure to allow for seam setting.

We spent more time measuring and creating jigs than we actually did making the base!  But the bottom seam is set, and then we soldered it with a lot of heat.

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Setting down the base seam of the jambonnière

Next will be some time to organize a cover that fits our insane bottom pan shape.

If something ends up measuring something along the lines of 26 15/16” I think I might cry.

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Making A Copper Jambonniere : Part 1

It all started with a book. Oh wait. That seems to be my M.O. But this time it wasn’t one of the Flats Junction novels, nor was it even in English.

Instead, it was an out-of-print tome: Les Cuivres de Cuisine by Jean-Claude Renard, brought to my attention by a fellow copper cookware collector and connoisseur. I’ll call him by his online name, kaleokahu, and I consider him to be far more versed than I am in particularities about vintage wares.

Still, when he showed me the page of the coveted but elusive jambonnière pan, I was excited to realize I could make him the missing piece in his batterie de cuisine. Looking at the photograph, I saw the seams and realized that part of why this particular copperware was so rare is not only the odd shape but the fact that most of them were always made by hand.

Photograph of a vintage copper jambonnière pan from Renard’s book

There’s not a lot of us coppersmiths out there making cookware anymore.

Since then, the hunt for information on the jambonnière has revealed little else. I’ve found one other that looks pressed (instead of hand-formed) with a recessed lid, but as there’s little text on the pan itself out there, I thought I’d explain – in parts as we go – the way we have been making this one for kaleokahu. We know the pan requires a lot of copper, a huge footprint, and likely some tricky double-bottoming and raising of an odd-shaped lid. But it’s also a huge amount of fun to try and re-create something that has nearly disappeared from kitchens today.

What is a jambonnière?  In the words of Renard:

Marmite épousant la belle forme du jambon entier, à fond plat, avec couvercle et deux poignées latérales fixes. Autrefois, lorsqu’on cuisait dans la cheminée, la jambonnière était montée su des pieds en fer.

Roughly translated (and mind you, I have no aid but Google Translate, but I’ll save you that step here) it means that the pan was created to mirror and marry the beautiful shape of the whole ham during cooking.  The pan would have a flat bottom, a lid, and two fixed lateral handles.  In the past, when cooking directly over fire, the ham pan was mounted on iron feet.

First it was a matter of finalizing the dimensions. One other book, French Kitchenware: The Art of Collectibles by Monique Cabré gave a photograph of a less hand-crafted version, but still didn’t give definitive measurements. Kaleokahu has his preferences, but we also want it to look proportionate, plus actually fit an entire ham shank as it was supposed to do. Madame Cabré states in her book that the jambonnière was a pan created specifically for the ham (with leg attached) and that it was “of an imposing size”. She also mentioned the same sturdy handles on two sides of the pan, a heavy lid and that some jambonnière pans would have small legs for placement directly in the hearth. We’re not making legs.

We spent some time with graph paper figuring what made sense and what looked and felt “right” in terms of length. All we knew was we wanted it to be 8” high.

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Final copper jambonnière pattern – let’s hope it works!

As my master smith, Bob, of Backwoods Tin & Copper,  has explained to me, tin and coppersmiths of old do not simply make it easy on themselves. Using a compass, nearly all notches, measurements and arcs were created using that particular tool, which is why the traditional, hand-made jambonnière does not appear to be made of joining two circles of different sizes. When I made such a connection Bob looked at me with a strange sort of grin.

Bob: “Well, it can’t be that easy.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Bob: “It can’t be that easy. Otherwise everyone would do it. There’s got to be more to it.”

And then he proceeded to add additional arcs to the top of the pattern using an extended compass (this being our third or fourth try on paper) that eventually gave way to the slightly “flattened” look of the widest part of the jambonnière pan.

Me: “Why would they make it harder on themselves?”

Bob: “I don’t know. But it would not be as easy as two circles.”

Me: “Well that’s just crazy.”

We both stared at our paper copy and realized it matched the photograph in both size and squashed-ness.

It was time to make a pattern. We pasted the final graph paper on a piece of tin, glued it down and cut it out. Bob measured the exterior of the shape to get a feel for the amount of copper for the outside and added in for two seams – one at the top and one at the bottom – while I traced and cut out the base itself. Soon we had a lot of copper on the bench which now needs to get tinned.

Unrolling copper sheet

So this week, I’ll be standing over a lot of heat with some melted tin and preparing the copper in the flat before we figure out how to hand-shape the sides over a hollow mandrel. Let’s hope it works. Let’s hope it’s relatively “easy.”

Stay tuned…

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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.


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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.

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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?

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The Truth about Copper Moscow Mule Mugs

I was going to post a recipe today. Very “garden fresh and organic!” and all that.But instead there’s all this buzz about copper: copper Moscow Mule cups, copper cookware, unlined copper.

And before there’s yet another article published that cites the same source or two, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring as an American coppersmith and copper cookware manufacturer. I bend copper using tools from the 1800’s, I apprentice under a master smith, and I can tin my copper pots. Suffice to say, I touch a lot of copper.

So first and foremost: copper itself, in the proper amount, is not poisonous.

In fact, it’s a micro-nutrient the World Health Organization says everyone needs to live and many of us fall short of our daily dietary intake. (Sources: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Copper Development Association UK/ CDA Inc (USA). Copper is safe in the proper amount.

There are two exceptions to unlined copper: Jam Pans and Bowls. Jam pans are not lined at all because of the science that goes with the sugar process that happens during cooking jam. Bowls aren’t lined because of the science that goes with egg whites and the fact that you’re not heating them.

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But COOK with acidic foods in unlined copper? I’m the first to tell you it’s not safe.

That means using unlined copper with tomatoes, many kinds of hard alcohol, limes and lemons, wine, and the like is a big no-no. (Here is a really lovely chart showing the alkaline and acidic nature of many foods and drinks). Copper is reactive, releases copper molecules easily, and too much of a good thing is never…good.

Copper gets a tricky reputation because we all apparently have long memories when it comes to it (because it was the first metal we really utilized as Neolithic farmers, perhaps…). Some people talk about copper and lead in the same sentence, and that’s also true – back a LONG time ago, copper cookware pieces were held together with solder (“metal glue” as my kids call it) that contained a lot of lead, so people would eventually get lead poisoning. Thankfully, we’re all wiser, and now solder for old cookware repairs are 100% lead free.

And thankfully we’ve learned to line our copperware with something.

The Moscow Mule mugs out there – if they’re silver on the inside – are usually made from stamped/formed/spun aluminum or stainless, with a thin coat of copper on the outside for looks…or even copper paint! Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier to do that than to actually use pure, real, solid copper. These mugs are readily available and relatively inexpensive to make if you’ve got a factory to spin ‘em. So you’re not actually drinking out of a copper mug, but a stainless or aluminum one just dressed up to look like copper.

(How to know if it’s aluminum and not real copper? Pick it up – it’ll be really lightweight! Stainless will be a bit heavier but you’ll also see the circular spinning marks inside so you know it’s not tin or nickel.)

Sometimes you’ll find real, pure copper mugs lined with tin (we do it, but we do it by hand – there’s no other way to tin something), especially vintage pieces. And yes, I know we have the unlined version in the shopping list. I have to tell Bob that he might want to take it off. He has received orders in the past for people who want unlined copper drinking cups – they leave the water (a neutral! no pH!) in the unlined copper overnight and drink it in the morning, believing the copper to have purified the water due to its antibacterial properties.

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Something else that I want to point out – there are several articles that mention using nickel as a lining. That’s totally true and possible to do as the two metals bond, but there’s a reason most of us cookware makers don’t line the copper with nickel much any more – if at all – (and this is true for American coppersmiths as well as the many over in Europe) and that’s because of nickel allergies. If you have a nickel allergy, make sure your copper cookware is lined with something else.

Nearly all copper should be lined.

It can be stainless steel, tin, nickel, silver, (heck, gold would bond as a non-ferrous metal) and even ceramic in some cases.

And while there are endless debates on which type of lining works best for copper cookware or even copper moscow mule mugs, as long as you don’t see any copper where you’re putting food or booze, you’re just fine.

Bottoms up!

PS – this article on Refinery29 is also really great on this super current topic.

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Creating Copper Cookware

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Sara here. Today I’ve spent the majority of the morning working with copper and nothing else. Copper is on the brain.

Copper cookware is an art form that is, to me, timeless because it really does last a ridiculously long time. Copper cookware has been dug up in Egypt, relics of cultures lost thousands of years ago. But what remains? The copper pieces. Copper doesn’t rust, doesn’t crumble the way iron can, and the beauty of my day job is that the tin-lined copper pieces I’m holding over the buffing wheel could very easily be dug up in an archeological dig 5000 years from now.

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That’s insane to realize, but very very true.

It’s not why you buy copper cookware, obviously. You don’t go in a store and say “Clearly, this will last millennia, and therefore I should buy it!”

You purchase cookware based on its ability to perform on your stove, or based on the contents of your wallet. I get it, because I’ve done just the same.

Yes, I create copper cookware in my garage/copper/tin shop. So I’m biased. But let’s go where the discussion about copper cookware purchasing goes first. Your pocketbook.

Figure you purchase a handful of (likely non-stick, paint coated) pieces from the local Target or Walmart. Or maybe you even go to Macy’s, but you’re still not spending top dollar. (I know I didn’t for years!) Fast forward about five years later, and your non-stick coating doesn’t work the same, and might even be chipping off and it’s time to throw that piece of cookware into the trash. The landfill. Then you go out and buy some more. Let’s be generous and say each piece of cookware is $40/e to balance out the really inexpensive and relatively expensive. And let’s say you only buy 1 kind of pot ever. But you have to toss it for safety reasons or because it breaks about every 5 years. And let’s hope you live to be 90, and you started cooking at 30. That’s roughly 13 rounds of $40, so you’re spending $520 to have one pot in your house, which all ends up in the landfill. And that assumes you only get 1 piece – most of us who cook have at least 4 – 7 pieces ofcookware in our kitchens.

Copper cookware is going to last you the rest of your life, plus it’s safe (copper cookware is not made with any non-stick stuff that’s um…not exactly safe and pure) and healthy and green/energy efficient (it’s 25x faster using less heat than stainless), so your gas bill is lighter too.

One copper pot and lid will run you around $500, give or take. And it’ll last you…you know. Forever. No landfill. No unhealthy plastic in your food. Just pure metal cookware. Healthy, transparent, and safe. Just like what we say we want with our actual food. Is it so much to want the same from our cookware?

(You all know tin is non-stick, right? As in… ‘nature’s teflon’ – it’s honestly just like that. Except made in nature. You know. Healthy and safe. Pure.)

I create my copper cookware knowing that I’m supporting a lot of craftspeople in the country – my neighbors, and other family owned and operated small businesses – by working with local sources. I like shaking their hands and watching them spin the copper bodies on the machine (which, by the way, is one of the few things I can’t do in my garage). I appreciate seeing the huge furnace at the foundry (because the other thing I can’t do in my garage is melt and pour ductile iron) where the owner is the guy answering the phones and my emails. And it’s a blast taking the kids up to the rivet maker, where they hunt for old rivets in the cracks while I get a lesson on machinery built in the early 1900’s that still works today to make my copper rivets right up the road from my house.

Am I old fashioned to like such handshaking and supporting local? Yeah, I guess. Do I love manufacturing copper cookware? Heck yeah. Am I obsessed with learning the vintage tinsmithing trade from the master smith, Bob? Definitely. Do I believe in making something (in this case, copper cookware made entirely in America!) that will actually help everyone in the long run, creating a wave of people who cook in something that’s cheaper to heat, won’t end up in a landfill – as proven for the past several thousand years? Absolutely.

So now I’ll get off the soapbox. Go buy some copper. Real copper cookware.