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Retinning Copper Cookware - Do It Yourself

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Among my unnecessarily-large-for-a-family-of-three batterie de cuisine, there are a half-dozen french copper pots that need re-tinning. Here in town, there's nobody who offers hand-wiped retinning.

I have been considering for some time re-tinning them myself, since it seems pretty easy, at least in theory. Several web sites have the steps written down, and I have put together a protocol which I have distilled from them.

There are a couple of videos briefly depicting parts of the process, but I would like to reach out to anyone who has experience, either as a hobbyist like me, or as a professional. It would be extremely helpful to speak by phone about each step of the process in order to avoid some common mistakes, do a relatively decent job from the beginning, and most importantly, to avoid hurting myself, others, and the environment.

So... are there any experienced hobbyists or professionals who wouldn't mind me taking up twenty minutes of their time on the phone to ask about the nitty-gritty of reviving some of my favorite pots?

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  1. I am thinking of doing this too, so I an NOT an expert you can rely on! A couple of useful things I have found though. Do not use a tin that has lead! Some say tin solder(without lead -- I ot one with no lead and a little silver -- rated for water systems) with flux is OK -- some not. There are videos on Youtube that seem helpful.

    1. I believe thet there are a couple of guys on Iforgeiron.com that have retinned some copper pans. They are a real helpful group over there at that site, and represented by 50 countries.

      1. I've thought about it, but in the end I just send my pots to Peter at Rocky Mountain Retinning.

        However, there does not seem to be any major obstacles to overcome. The pot needs to be cleaned and the old tin removed. A flux applied, the pot heated evenly to 425 + degrees, and pure tin wiped on. I think the hard part would be having a way to heat the pot evenly and keep it hot during the work. Street coppersmiths in Chile and other areas do it over a fire on the street.

        1. I see your post is a year old now and wondering if you mastered the art of retinning??? I am getting info and gear together to DIY it as here in NZ there are no proper retinners left! and I have several heavy pans that need doing.
          I am going to try natural Rosin resin as flux and a tallow soaked cotton rag/moleskin/old jeans to wipe and use 99.9% pure tin.
          I will use a plumbers torch and outside gas ring and use a vapour mask too!
          Any input from any one please, cheers, Nathan

          2 Replies
          1. re: nathan76

            Hi, Nathan:

            Alarash and I got together and tried this one afternoon. I give our first effort a C+.

            I'm not sure your plumber's torch would be either desirable or necessary--the gas ring ought to be enough. Tips:

            --Have the pans absolutely clean & dry. Alternate soaks in strong muriatic acid and NaOH, and rinse carefully in water. The more of the old tin you can get off, the better. Heavy fireman's chemical gloves and steel wool helps. Do it outside, wear a respirator and long sleeves/pants, and stay upwind.

            --Give the side where the handle attaches more heat, because the handle acts as a heat sink.

            --Do NOT do it when there's the least chance of rain getting into the pot.

            --Make sure your wiping cloth is lint-free, else you'll get lumps and bumps in the tin.

            --For flux, we tried both a prepared paste and dilute muriatic acid. Both worked after a fashion, but we could have used/done something better, because we had problems coating and getting the tin to flow smoothly.

            --We used powdered carpenter's chalk mixed with water as whiting. Tin drips on the outside are a PITA if they stick.

            --This is a hard, nasty, risky, stinky business. Pro retinners earn their money. I was shown how to do it by one, and when I volunteered that I wouldn't compete with him, he just laughed and said "Mister, if you want to work this hard, please do."

            Let us all know what works (or doesn't)for you.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            1. re: nathan76

              Hi Nathan,

              Kaleo and I spent the better part of a day trying to re-tin 2 large copper pans (an 11" saute and an 11" sauce pan). We had been chatting about the idea of re-tinning for about a year, and Kaleo spent half a day with a professional, so I thought we would be able to do it.

              Over the year prior, I read just about every web site I could find to acumulate more information about the process. I wrote up a pretty comprehensive protocol to follow.

              After our first effort, I concluded that it's not easy to start re-tinning on your own. The process is simple in theory, but each step has details that must be learned in order to get a good result at the end of the day.

              Neither of the two pans we tinned looked great, but both are usable.

              I think that if we had the benefit of a professional at our side who could instruct us regarding all of the materials used in the process, and the best techniques, then we could have had a professional quality result at the end of our first day, and probably would not need further instruction to do it on our own.

              However, as two guys trying to do it without the help of a teacher beside us, I think it will take several mediocre results before we have the skill required to do a great job.

              I've never had anything re-tinned by a professional, but I'm tempted to send out a piece to Peter at RMR, and a piece out to Oregon Retinners. The former has a great reputation and seems to specialize in cookware. The latter does all kinds of retinning, from dipping in molten tin, spraying tin powder, tin electroplating, and even hand-wiping the cooking surface of copper pots and pans. Oregon Retinners is substantially cheaper than everywhere else I could find. However, I can't find a single review of their copper cookware work, so it's a bit of a risk.

              Please do post your results so we can all benefit from them. I definitely intend to try again in the summer.

              alarash

            2. I have had great luck with Metal Coating Company out of Ohio, you can find them on the web, they are quite fair in their pricing, and when you get that beautiful shiny pot back in the mail, it is like 100 Christmases. I had priced around the NY metropolitan area and my area in CT WHOAH! pricey. These guys did good work, and were fairly quick. You mail them the pot, they will email you their quote. Well worth the dough! Thought about trying it myself, and watched a couple videos...that talked me out of it!

              4 Replies
              1. re: jillcooks

                Hi, jillcooks:

                What did the pricing work out to be? Did they price per inch (diameter+height)?

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  I'd think they'd price by the square inch - not the linear inch

                  1. re: kagemusha49

                    Hi, kagemusha49: "I'd think..."

                    Well, I can tell you all the tinners I've ever looked at charge by the linear inch, and none have priced by area. Some *do* charge at a higher linear-inch rate if the pan is above a certain size, and I think one charges based on 2xheight + diameter.

                    I think charging by area, while it makes sense, would be a bad Customer Service move. Non-mathematicians can easily calculate in advance what it's going to cost using the linear method. Not so much with π.

                    Aloha,
                    Kaleo

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      I'm not particularly good at math, but I played around a bit with the equations for the area of a cylindrical sauce pan where the area of the cooking surface is that of the bottom of the pan (πr2) plus the area of the side-wall of the pan 2πrh.

                      So Area = πr2 + 2πrh = πr(r + 2h)

                      Most retinners charge a constant fee (C) multiplied by the diameter (d, or 2r) plus twice the height (2h).

                      Tinner's estimate of Area = C(d + 2h) = C(2r + 2h) = 2C(r + h)

                      So, if...

                      Geometric Area ~ Tinner's Are

                      πr(r + 2h) ~ 2C(r + h)

                      The estimate above falls apart in at least two ways:

                      1. Most importantly, r is large (e.g. a large saute pan), then the geometric area will be significantly more than the Tinner's estimate of the area.

                      2. Less importantly, for tall pans (large h), the geometric area will be significantly more than the Tinner's estimate of the area.

                      In summary, with tinner's who charge by a linear equation like (d + 2h), the customer gets a better end of the bargain for pans with large bottoms especially, and also with pans with high side walls.

                      However, in common practice, I don't think it makes too much of a difference for most pans.

              2. Thanks Kaleo for that info.
                I have had the pan I will start on fine sandblasted inside so it is back to perfect smooth bare copper ( a guy who has some experience recommended this for best results although it was a bit costly - but I have no other choices here) so I guess I still should clean/scrub with NaOH/fine wire wool as you rec or I have read 10% sulfuric acid in distilled water also??
                Did you pre melt tin or if not what shape/size solid form was it in? and what flux would you use next time?
                cheers, Nathan

                1 Reply
                1. re: nathan76

                  Hi, Nathan:

                  We just flowed on the tin ingot--like a bar of soap. Be wary about using too much tin. The guy who tutored me just uses 50% water and 50% commercial muriatic (which is itself about 50%) for flux. He let it cook in the corner of the pan until the flux started to turn brown, then wiped it all around before testing the temp (by touching the ingot to the pan). The pan of mine he did teaching me turned out great with just dilute acid. I guess next time I would use a heat-resistant brush to paint the interior with the flux.

                  Aloha,
                  Kaleo

                2. Thanks Alarash thats good advise and pretty much how I thought it may be! I will post my results (in the next few weeks hopefully) I have had about 15 pieces retinned by thomas gameson & sons in UK, they are cheap and excellent! but I bought out several pans to here in New Zealand that needed doing (thinking i could find someone here) but only 2 people in the country "dabble" in retinning and charge 4-5 times what I paid from gamesons, therefore I am very keen to master the art as a long term security! cheers, Nathan

                  1. Hello Alarash, I'm not sure how this website works whether this respenseis posted or if this reply is private or not. However, I am looking to teach myself copperware refurbishing and re-tinning so would like to chat with you about your efforts. If you have the time I'd love to hear from you.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Obelixlegallois

                      In case Nathan doesn't see your request, I noticed he provided his email to another poster In this post:

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9216...

                      1. re: Obelixlegallois

                        Thanks a lot Carolin - I found his email and have sent him a direct contact.

                        1. re: Obelixlegallois

                          Hi Obelixlegallois,

                          my email is quddus at gmail dot com.

                          i look forward to hearing from you.

                          alarash

                        2. It seems there are a fair few people interested in DIY retinning, so we have just a quick request that rather than taking the discussions of details to email or offline, that people share their questions and answers here so everyone who is interested can read and benefit from them. Thanks!