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Relining an old Copper pot with worn nickel lining

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I have several related questions about getting a copper pot of mine re-lined. First of all, it’s a very well made French piece, a small .75 qt. sauce pan that I’m 99% sure has a nickel lining and I think 2.5 mm or maybe even 3 mm of copper and a nice iron handle. [The sucker’s really heavy for so small a pot.] I’ve had this pot for over 30 years and I’ve used it probably more than any other since it’s perfect for making a small tomato sauce with olive oil, fresh tomatoes and a bit o’ basil. I’ve taken excellent care of it, but I think from the sheer amount of use I’ve given it that a small area has developed, less than a quarter in size I’d say, where the copper is showing. [I have a second much larger copper sauce pan also nickel lined and that pot has kept its nickel lining perfectly.] That’s the background. First question: I’ve seen no evidence online that any used copper pot with nickel lining can be re-lined with nickel, and I’m guessing it’s because the process is just too complicated technically. So, is it advisable to have it re-tinned instead? Second question, and assuming the first is yes: Apparently there are two distinct methods for re-tinning: the more tradition method in which the tin is brushed on by hand, and then Rocky Mountain Retinning says “Here at Rocky Mountain Retinning we use a bright acid tin bath for electro plating,” and they also say that “We also tin plate other types of metals, not only copper.” The second question, then, is: would this electro plating method be the better method for my pot given that its original nickel lining is still present in all but a small spot?

Many thanks in advance for any sage advice.

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  1. Hi, gestur:

    For definitive answers to your questions, you need to actually talk to Peter at Rocky Mountain. RMR does BOTH hand-wipe and electroplating of tin onto copper.

    My understanding is that nickel layers are electroplated on, so if the old lining can be stripped, it would be logical to conclude that it can be re-plated in nickel. I submit that the reason you haven't seen reference to this re-plating is the relative rarity of nickel-lined pots coupled with their durability (Think about it: you got 30 YEARS out of the pan you use most).

    As to which, tin or nickel, for me it'd be mostly a function of cost, but I'd happily spend 2-3x more for the nickel, given its durability. But if the price were 10x or not technically possible, *why not* tin?

    As to method of tin lining, I have always believed that hand-wipe results in a thicker lining, albeit with whorls and such. This is based in part on my handling and reading about Baumalu copper, which I understand plates everything. It is also based on the fact that a thick plated lining of silver these days is 15 microns, and I think wiped is more like 0.2mm. I am also informed that tinners like Peter who do both methods prefer hand-lined and reserve electroplating mostly for pieces that would be difficult or impossible to do by hand (teapots, strainers, etc.)

    I'm unclear about your last question... Are you asking whether tin can simply be plated *over* your existing nickel? If so, I do not know the answer.

    Finally, if your pan has less than a 25-cent piece of exposed copper, the common wisdom is you've got some use left before needing to reline. Some chefs wait a lot longer, and maintain that, as long as you don't *store* acidic foods in the pan, you're OK with a LOT of exposed copper.

    Call Peter or his son. They'll give you good advice and prompt expert service.

    Aloha,
    Kaleo

    3 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Kaleo, thanks so much for your thoughtful response back to me. I agree with everything you’ve written, and I appreciate your having taken the time to respond so completely. I’ll call RMR soon, and if they can do a nickel reline and it’s not exorbitant, my strong preference is for the nickel since that’s what I have had and I’m an old guy and so change doesn’t come so easy for me. [I don’t in general expose the pot to high temps and can think of only a few times when I was reducing a pretty liquid fish sauce when I did; otherwise, I prefer the lower temps for tomato sauces since that keeps so much more of the fresh flavor-notes of my own, home-grown heirloom tomatoes. BTW, If I had to hazard a guess as to why this nickel wore off, I’d guess that it was put on too thinly at that spot initially.] But I don’t have any aversion to tin lining and indeed I have a lovely French fait-tout that is.

      Yes, my second question was, in part, about the feasibility of applying tin over nickel. Lacking the knowledge in metallurgy, I wasn’t sure it was possible much less advisable.

      And thanks, too, for the reassurance about the safety of the smallness of the copper currently showing. I do use it with tomatoes, but always the olive oil is heated alone and to a quite hot temp (but on a medium flame) and then the tomatoes are thrown in with basil. That process, by the way, really gives you a very full, rich flavor as opposed to just adding the tomatoes and olive oil or only warming the olive oil. [Learned that little trick from Vincenzo Buonassisi in his Il Codice Della Pasta.] So I can wait a bit and avoid the busy season at the tinning places.

      Thanks again, Kaleo. When the dust settles on this affair with my nickel lined pan, I’ll re-post to let future nickel-lined copper pot owners know what I experienced.

      Ciao,
      gestur

      1. re: gestur

        Ciao, gestur, Prego Mille:

        Yes, do post with your results. But also, when you have time, I think we could all benefit from learning from someone who has the rare comparative knowledge of *both* nickel-lined and tin-lined copperware. Personally, I'm not so much interested in "Which is best?", but how they differ in use and maintenance.

        Given your use of Italian and the invocation of Assisi, I would be remiss if I failed to mention to you nearby Rinomata Rameria Mazzetti in Montepulciano. Caesare and Isolda are the souls who hooked me on copperware. Mazzetti offers 3mm *silver-lined* pans for (high, yet) reasonable prices, prices which are all the more reasonable now that the Euro has tumbled. So if rehabbing a pan costs more than, say 220 Euro, you might consider becoming one of the *tiny* number of cooks who has experienced working with all three linings.

        Possa tu vivere cento anni,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          Caro Kaleo:
          Allora, cento anni sono moltissimi! [Per me, forse troppo!] Ma, grazie tante.
          Thanks again for all your good advice and tips. I have looked at the Rinomata Rameria Mazzetti site and it looks very enticing indeed.

          I’ve recovered sufficiently—from Sunday evening’s living high off the hog [dry marinade pork loin roast (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and in my opinion *the* way to prepare a nice pork roast), carrots with a butter, maple syrup and Armagnac glaze, and perhaps best of all, a Domaine Zind Humbrecht Heimbourg Riesling and get this a 1999 vintage!; if you’ve never drunk an old, well-made and well-kept Alsatian Riesling, well you have a delight in store for you if you can find one or own one)—to consider your request to provide a few words about my experiences with copper pots lined with nickel and tin. As it happens, at the same time I acquired my two copper with nickel (Cu+Ni) sauce pans, I also bought a 9.5” diameter copper sauté pan which I’m about 95% sure is lined with stainless steel (well, Cu+SS). And not wanting to give my complete autobiography in pots, I failed to mention that I also own a good sized pentola bombata in rame (made by Nico Marin a Roma), i.e. a curved copper soup pot with tin lining (Cu+Sn). So I’m sitting with at least one piece of three different linings: tin, nickel, and SS. [And that doesn’t include the 15” Bassine à Confiture, unlined of course, that I own and use to make my superb rhubarb marmalade each June.]

          Alas, these pieces are all very different in size and shape and consequently my use of them exhibits virtually no overlap. Plus I’m just one pretty old guy, so what follows are necessarily just some anecdotes, and of course the plural of anecdote is not data.

          To begin with my conclusion, then, I’d say that my two copper pots with nickel lining are my favorite surfaces by quite a margin, more so over SS than Sn. And I’ll admit that for the comparison with tin, it’s mostly a psychological thing: I have no worries about temperatures with the Ni like I do with the Sn. I own many olive wood spoons and spatulas and I use them when I cook no matter what the surface. So scratching the surface of the Sn is not likely, but I still feel somewhat inhibited with them—let’s say it’s always on my mind that I’m cooking with the Sn lining. The tin does discolor easily although that doesn’t bother me very much. But when I see what appear to be tiny chips of the tin lining that have gone missing—as I’ve seen in the *side* of my pentola bombata and bottom of my fait-tout— then I despair. [I haven’t used the pentola bombata that much and when I did I thought I was very careful. I’m wondering if the mere passage of time might not be a factor here.]

          Summarizing, I use the Sn pot only under moderate temps; the Ni I have no real upper limits on given the way I cook. As for maintenace, and reiterating from above, I’ve had incredibly few problems with the Ni pots, while my use—and perhaps time—have taken their toll on both the Sn pots. The only scratches I’ve managed to inflict on the Ni pots is when I stirred some cold butter—using a metal whisk—into a reduced fish sauce, not the wisest thing to do, of course. But that didn’t cause the spot of wear, I’m sure. [It’s off to the side whereas the scratches are in the middle.]

          Because of its rather low sides, I use my copper sauté pan for, say, sautéing lots of shredded zucchini when I make a nice Provençal flat omelet after Richard Olney. It browns the zucchini better than a cast iron skillet would do, that I’ve determined empirically. But as we all know, ya can’t season SS. So there’s quite a bit of sticking to the surface, which actually for this zucchini omelet I find desirable since it gets good and browned and the vegetal sugars in the zucchini are partially caramelized. But to get there involves a fair bit o’ scraping. So that’s my main beef with SS lining: I’m guessing there will always be more sticking to the surface and that may not always be desirable. [I’m perhaps spoiled by the use of carbon steel crêpe pans for, say, the actual cooking of omelets, for they easily acquire and maintain a wonderful seasoning.]

          I’d say, like many, that I really appreciate the heft of a copper pot made with quite thick copper and iron handles. This is especially important for my small .75 qt. sauce pan, which would be pretty unstable on the burner without that weight. That isn’t always so beneficial with large sauté pans, however, since you can’t as easily shake them to get their contents evenly distributed over the surface, even if they didn’t stick. [You can do it, you just need more wrist strength is all.]

          Of course an important attraction of well-made copper pans resides simply in the realm of pure aesthetics. Maybe the most for me. Years ago I was invited back into the kitchen of a pretty renowned ristorante, Piemonte-Da Renato, in the hamlet of Feisoglio in Piemonte. It was getting on toward 4:00 in the afternoon so all the lunch rush was done and it was quiet back there. Indeed besides ourselves and Renato, the owner-chef, there was just a little gnome of a man standing at a large stove and watching over—and occasionally stirring with an olive wood spoon—the contents of a small copper casseruole not unlike my own .75 qt one. And of course in that small copper casseruole was a porcini sauce—the likes of which I’d never smelt before—that he was devotedly and very slowly reducing for some dish that evening. It’s an image that has proven difficult to dislodge from my mind over the years, and it comes up regularly—bright and clear—whenever I take up a similar gnomic-like task with my own copper pot and thin olive wood spoon.

          Ciao,
          gestur