Pewter Construction Workshop

Yesterday I helped out with the Pewter construction tutorial offered by UALR. It was a free workshop to help promote the Applied Design program at UALR. We had a fun group of people. It was a one day workshop on how to create pewter salt and pepper shakers. David Clemons taught the class. I hope to be a teacher/artist like him. Dude is a machine! He is thorough, and explains the cause and affects of each step. He always set’s it out to benefit the students and to ease the process. He keeps it as simple as he can make it. The speed to which these students put together a finished piece was awesome, each one left with a shaker, although one lady left with a bud vase, and was not disgruntled. “It just takes so much patience that I don’t have yet.” Her and her husband were sweet. 

It’s funny because it made me realize how easy pewter actually is to work with. Or it can be. In retrospect I had an issue with pewter last semester because of the fact I got really timid with the melting point. Pewters melting point is 425 degrees. So you must be really careful with your torch. In the past Pewter was a composite of pewter and lead. Today newly manufactured pewter should be a lead free alloy containing over 90% tin and hardened with additions of antimony and copper. Other elements such as silver and bismuth are sometimes used. So the material is really soft, but you have to keep your work area really clean if you are working with other metals. It is best to keep a specific set of tools for just pewter, or to clean your tools thoroughly after usage. Pewter does not play well with other metals.

Another thing that is super cool about pewter. due to it’s melting point you can use the material itself as solder. I utilized that a lot while constructing my vessel last semester. There are 2 types of solder, one with lead and one with bismuth. The bismuth does not take patina well, and the lead is not food safe. So being able to use the pewter to weld the seams together is beautiful.

An interesting bit of random information: Many European languages make no distinction between pewter and tin for example in French étain is the same word for both. Being composed of 90% tin, that makes sense. And the word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter, a colloquial name for zinc.

Pewter Milk Jug by Archibald Knox

Yesterday’s workshop reminded me of going to Penland and Arrowmont a lot. It gave me the bug to go again. While helping the students, I was inspired and all I want to be was in the studio, making things. I’m looking forward to the new series of workshops the Applied Design department is going to have in the summer. This series was a trial, and from what I heard from the students, and about a waiting list, I think it has been a success. I had fun helping out, it made me passionate and excited all over again.

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