Irish Folklore - Tinsmithing (Part 3), Mayo Abbey in Co. Mayo

Material used for making can, measurements and cutting technique

The tin used for making the can was in sheets measuring 20¼"x 28".To cut out a rectangle of tin for the body of the can the tinsmith took a long strip about 1" wide off a sheet and divided the remainder of the sheet long-ways in two in halves. The lines for the cuts were first marked on the sheet with a marking stick.

How the objects were made and the tools that were used

Each of the larger parts of tin would make a body for a seven quarts tin can, while the first strip would make the band for the lid of a similar can

1st Stage of the work

Working on the tin which was to make the body of the can the tinsmith cut out a semicircular notch, about ½"x ¼"in each of the shorter edges at a distance of about ½" from one of the longer edges .These notches were the points to which the shorter edges of the tin would later be turned to form the lip of the can. To turn the seam the tin was placed on the Anvil with one of the shorter edges slightly overhanging one edge of the Anvil, by being beaten with the scutcher the overhanging edge to a width of about 1/8" was turned downwards at right angles.

The tin was then turned over on the Anvil and the right angled edge was beaten inwards to turn it into a u-shape. Then the u-shaped portion was beaten downwards over the edge of the Anvil so that it was at right angles to the remainder of the tin. In a similar way the other short edge of the tin was turned in, in the same way but in the opposite direction to form the second joining of the seam.

2nd stage of the work

The next stage of the work was called "Turning the Buff" That's rolling over the edge of the tin which has to form the lip of the can. The long edge of the tin next to the semi-circular notches was placed to overhang one edge of the Anvil and was beaten downwards at right angles with the Scutcher.

The tin was turned over on the Anvil and the right angled edge was first beaten inwards into a u-shape and was then beaten upwards and inwards until it was rolled over one and a half times to form what the Tinsmith called a double buff.

To round the body of the can, the buff (rim) with a little pressure put on it was drawn across the curved surface of the Anvil.

To achieve a nice finished curve on the buff (rim) the Tinsmith ran his fingers and thumbs pressing it as required. The rounding of the body was completed by bringing the lower edge across the rounded surface of the Anvil.

The first stage in closing the body of the can was to make the hole of the Buff big at one edge (with an Awl) so that the other edge would fit in it. The opening was called the Buff. The buff was closed by pushing the second edge tightly into the first and the seam was closed by interlocking the two u-shaped edges.

With the inside of the seam resting on the rounded surface of the Anvil, the buff was beaten with the hammer to tighten the seam joint, and the seam along the body of the can was tightened by being beaten with the mallet.

He tapped the "buff" all around with the scutcher to round the can properly. He trimmed the lower edge of the body evenly with the clips.

After trimming about 1/8"off the lower edge, it was turned outwards at right angles all around to form a projection rim for attaching the bottom of the can to the body. This was called "turning the lag”, to do this he used the clips, he held and worked the clips so that they did not cut the tin but turned and pulled it as he needed to make the projecting rim.

3rd stage of the work

The Bottom! To make a bottom, the body of the can was placed in a upright position on a sheet of tin and a circle was marked on the sheet by drawing his Awl along the outside of the rim.

A disk of tin was cut out by cutting with the clips at 1/8" outside the marked circle. The larger size was needed to allow enough tin to fold over the rim in attaching the bottom of the can to the body.

The edge of the disk was turned at right angles by being beaten with the scutcher over a corner of the square end of the anvil.

The body of the can was placed upright on the bottom and the right -angled edged which was upward was turned inwards (tucked in) over the rim of the body by being beaten with the pein and the face of the hammer.

The strokes with the pein of the hammer gathered the tin in slight ruffles so that it was turned inward uniformly all around. He then "let down the edge", that is with the bottom resting on the anvil he beat the edge firmly all around by striking it with the edge of a file with the hand stake held inside the can for support he then turned the edge upwards against the body of the can by first beating it with the scutcher and then beating it with the face of the hammer.

4th stage of the work

The Handles-Two lugs for attaching the handles to the can were made from a piece of old galvanized hoop iron, the lugs were cranked and had their upper corners bevelled. On each lug an eye was made above the crank to take a wire handle and was slightly curved below the crank so that it would fit the body of the can closely.

One of the lugs was then attached to the can with two rivets; one rivet was put at each side of the seam of the body. To make a handle for the can the Tinsmith straightened a length of old wire 32" by hammering it in one of the grooves on the anvil, he cut off a portion of the wire measuring twice the diameter of the bottom of the can plus 1". The wire was curved by being hammered on the anvil and a hook was turned at each end .T

he hook at one end was threaded through the eye of the lug already attached to the can, and the other was fitted to the second lug which was then riveted to the can .The correct position on the body of the can for the second lug was judged by the Tinsmith who held the handle level with the lip of the can to help his judgement. A hoop for the bottom of the can was made from a length of old galvanized hoop iron about 1½ wide.

The hoop was closed with one rivet. An overlap of about 1" was allowed because according to the Tinsmith the galvanised metal would not hold solder, three pieces of tin spaced equally were attached to the inside of the hoop one piece was fastened by the rivet used to close the hoop- each of the others were secured by a separate rivet about1/8", each piece of tin was folded over what was to be the upper edge of the hoop, he then hammered the upper edge to a depth of about 1/8" slightly inward so that it would grip the body of the can tightly.

When the hoop was fitted on, and was soldered to the can at the points provided by the three pieces of tin,(the strips of tin about 1" wide that had been cut off the sheet was used to make a band for the lid of the can),the strip was fitted in a circle into the top of the can to find out the correct measurement of the band and it was then marked and cut to allow an overlap of ¾" at the joining.

The band was closed with one rivet and then using the clips the tinsmith "turned the lag" One edge he turned outwards at right angles about 1/8" of one edge to form a rim ,as he had done on the lower edge of the body of the can before fitting the bottom.-To form the crown of the lid a disc of tin about 1" greater in thickness than the bottom of the can was cut out, the width was judged beforehand by putting the can on the sheet of tin as an aid. The outline of the disc was marked with the compass-the centre of the disc and the correct setting for the compass was found by trial and error based on the marked diameter.

The tinsmith the " creased the lid" with the compass he made two circular scratches on one side of the disc one about 3¼" in diameter and the other 3 7/8"- these circles were to "finish the lid" and to act as a guide for putting on the knob the knob was the handgrip of the lid. The disc was cut radically and was pushed into the can with the edges of the radial cut overlapping to form an inverted cone with a base equal to the lip of the can on the inside. The extent to which one edge overlapped the other was marked and a part smaller than that marked was removed from the disc at each side the joining of radial edge and circular edge was slightly shaped.

A seam was turned on each of the radial edges to finish the crown of the lid the same way the bottom of the can was attached to the body and about 1/8" of the exposed edge of the band was turned slightly inwards with the hammer The handgrip of the lid was made from a strip of tin a about 1½"wide and 2" shorter than the width of the band of the lid. The corners were shaped and a rim was turned on each of the long edges .The strip was curved and was riveted to the crown of the lid with each end touching the outer "crease".

This completed the making of the can. The whole procedure taking about fifteen minutes. Rivets were made from waste bits of tin, according to the tinsmith hand made rivets were better than factory ones. They were made from "blackened" tin .A piece of tin was put in the fire for a few minutes to soften after which it was cut into squares measuring 1"x1".

To make a rivet one of these squares was curved diagonally by pressing it with the thumbs on the handle of the hammer and it was rolled into the shape of a come by being tapped with the hammer on the anvil .It was then put through a hole in the nail tool, which had been placed on the anvil over the hole in the latter. The part which protruded above the nail tool was hammered inwards and downwards to form a head and give a rivet measuring about 1"in length.

Rivets of this type appear to have a long history in Ireland. They occur in ancient repair work on the Ballyvariscal later bronze age cauldron ( now in the Cork Museum).They also occur in the manufacture and in the repair of the biconical bronze cauldrons from Ballymoney and Uringford (both in the National Museum of Ireland) probably belong to the first or second century A.D., and in the manufacture and repair of a series of bronze basins of late medieval date in the National Museum of Ireland.

Researched and written by Lisa McDonnell,Joan Higgins and Eleanor Yonaha.

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See also Tinsmithing (Part 1) and Tinsmithing (Part 2)

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