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Making the body of the can

Bernard Mongan sets up for making a seven quart tin with lid at his encampment. His tools and supply of tin are ready and beside him a fire of turf and wood is lighting.

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1. First steps

The first tool the tinsmith uses is a marking stick. The sides of the stick has cuts or indentations that look like irregular steps. The ends are shaped like fish tails. Each indentation or step is a measurement for the various cans and saucepans made by the tinsmith. The fish tales are used to scratch and mark a piece of tin with the correct measurement for the object being made.

2. First steps

The sheet of tin is first lightly scratched with the correct size of the can. Using the clips the tinsmith cuts out the correct size of tin needed. He cuts semi-circular notches into the shorter sides of the sheet of tin. These notches will be used later to create an interlocking seam on the can.

3. Turning the seam

The tinsmith's task is to create a cylindrical water-tight container from a rectangular sheet of tin. A seam is needed to form the rounded shape of the can. The tinsmith uses a scutcher and a stake in preparing or ‘turning the seam’. A scutcher is a length of wood about 40 cm long, with one end pared and rounded to form a handle. Stakes are sometimes also known as anvils, and they are used by the tinsmith to work on the tin; to flatten and turn and roll the edges of the tin.

4. Turning the seam

The leg of the T-shaped stake is driven into the ground to keep it in place. One arm of the stake ends in a square or rectangular shape. The other tapers to a pointed end.

5. Turning the buff

The next stage is to form the lip of the can by rolling over the long edge of the tin. To do this the tinsmith overhangs the long side of the tin over the rectangular arm of the stake. Using his scutcher, he beats the tin downwards at right angles. Then he turns over the piece to beat the right angled edge into a U-shape. Following this it is beaten upwards and inwards until it is rolled into what the tinsmith calls ‘double buff’ forming the lip of the can.

6. Turning the buff

The rectangular tin sheet must now be rounded to form the cylindrical can. The tinsmith works the tin across the rounded arm of the stake. Using slight pressure of his hands and thumbs he moulds the tin to a rounded shape. He finishes off the rounding by tapping the object into shape with the scutcher.

7. Closing the body of the can

The shape of the tin can is forming and the next step is to close the seam along the short sides of the tin. The first stage is to enlarge the slight opening of the rim of the can or ‘buff’ at one edge so that it would take the second edge. This is done using an awl. The rim is then closed by pushing the second edge tightly into the first and hammered to tighten the joint. The seam is then closed by interlocking the two U-Shaped edges which are beaten with a mallet to tighten the joint.

8. Next: Making the bottom and lid

Follow the link to see the next steps in the process

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