De-mystifying pewter

I'm wondering, though, whether your own sensativities are actually
to pewter, instead of to some of the other, cheaper, widely used
"white metal" alloys. 

I’ll ask my friends if their work is plated in anything. I thought
it was straight cast pewter, but could be wrong as I never thought
to ask. It doesn’t appear to be plated. Would cast metals have a
different makeup or perhaps a different kind of finish that would
cause a reaction?

Not a problem with pewter, it's something like 5% of the price, so
it frees you to explore more ideas, and be more creative.

I dunno, I must be old skool or something. I tend to care more about
the work if its high risk. If I adopted a who cares attitude about
failure, how the hell can I expect a dramatic success? Just me, no
inflection intended.


pewter is really nice to carve, it carves very smooth and clean
with silicon carbide burs, it’s not as fun as wax cause you can’t
use knives, but ready to go after finishing, and makes great
models, it also solders very well at the temp of plumers solder, i
put a page of good burs for you,


i would want your opinion about the effects of pewter because the
high content of tin (more than 90%) on it. I heard,breathing fumes
of molten metal can affect the lungs and others effects because
organic and inorganic compounds. 

i would never breath a puff of any smoke or dust in the shop, at
least you must always set yourself up for 0% inhaled contaminants by
use of a dust collector, window fan, or respirator, never a
surgical mask- always a respirator with organic fumes filter and
dust cover, they cost 40$ and last years, and keep the straps
tight- the in and exhale must occur only through the ports, dave

I'll ask my friends if their work is plated in anything. I thought
it was straight cast pewter, but could be wrong as I never thought
to ask. It doesn't appear to be plated. Would cast metals have a
different makeup or perhaps a different kind of finish that would
cause a reaction? 

Pewter is not normally electroplated. It does, over time, get a
little darker in color, but it doesn’t tarnish the way silver does,
and is easy to clean, so normally, electroplating isn’t required. The
metals I was wondering about are so called “white metals” which
specifically are NOT pewter. Not at all. Rather than being mostly
tin, these are often zinc based alloys, or mixes of a bunch of
things, sometimes including cadmium and lead. These alloys are not
generally fabricated, but are often used in casting, especially by
mass market manufacturers, and These sorts of things are almost
always electroplated. This is often the mainstay sort of alloy used
in costume jewelry.

If you’re talking about quality artist made jewelry, in alloys of
pewter or similar to pewter, especially if fabricated instead of
cast, then most likely, actual pewter is about the only likely
option. If cast, rather than fabricated, there are a few other
options beyond just pewter, that might be used by small scale
craftspeople and artists, but even then, pewter is the most likely
choice for any sort of quality work.

One big difference between cast metal and fabricated metal (and this
can apply to any cast metal, not just pewters or the like. silver,
gold, platinum, or others also are included) is that castings have
porosity. Virtually always. it’s just in the nature of most metals to
behave this way. What varies is how much porosity, and how small the
pores are. In good castings, there won’t be a lot of porosity, and
the pores themselves will be too small to see without a good
microscope. In poor castings, the metal can approach almost sponge
like consistancy. I’ve seen casting where, if you clean the item in
an ultrasonic, steam it off, and towel dry it, and then heat it up
again, you’ll find remaining moisture and cleaning solution
litterally boiling up out of the surface of the metal. That’s the bad
end of the spectrum

With pewter, because castings solidify fairly slowly, and it’s cast
at modest temperatures, and doesn’t very aggressively oxidize while
melting (oxides that do form tend to form a slag, rather than being
mixed with the metal), it’s possible to get castings that are
generally quite good quality. Still, even microscopic porosity in a
cast item can be capable of retaining faint traces of foreigh
materials, including cleaning agents, or various patina chemicals,
or just the stuff hands come in contact with. The amounts of such
contaminants will be very small. But for people with sensative
allergies, sometimes this can be enough to cause problems.

The so-called noble metals, silver, gold, and platinum, are valued
for jewelry in part because of their relative lack of chemical
reactivity. One consequence of this is that they tend to not cause
allergic reactions. Pure gold, pure platinum, pure silver… very few
people are actually allergic to these. But that doesn’t mean it’s
impossible. There are a very few people who actually are allergic to
pure gold or to platinum. I even know one person who’s mother turned
out to be allergic to titanium. That’s unusual in part because
titanium is generally protected and isolated from it’s environment
(in this case, the body) by it’s ever present virtually impervious
oxide layer. In this case, it was a problem because she’d needed a
pacemaker, and the one they first installed, and then had to go back
and remove, had a titanium case, and it was discovered that she was
reacting badly to the pacemaker’s case itself.

As I said, Amery, you are the first person I can recall hearing
about who says they are allergic to pewter. But I’m not a doctor,
much less an allergist. That may simply mean I wasn’t paying enough
attention over the years, or more likely it simply means that this is
not a common allergy. Also, wearable pewter, such as rings, with the
metal in contact with skin, is less common than are silver or gold
items, so perhaps this seems like a smaller group of people simply
because few jewelry wearers are actually wearing pewter. In the end,
there are few materials that can claim to never cause an allergic
reaction. So even if pewter sensativity is rare, that doesn’t mean
you could not have such a sensativity. It may even be that you are
reacting to the copper or the antimony in it, rather than the main
metal, tin.

By the way, one side not more about demystifying pewter than
anything related to allergies. New workers in pewter are often
surprised that it doesn’t work harden. At normal room temperatures,
that temperature is close enough to the annealing temperature of the
metal, that it’s constantly able to anneal or at least stress relieve
itself. So it doesn’t work harden. In fact, cast pewter or a new
ingot is the hardest you’ll get. The more you work it, the softer
and stronger it gets. This is because as you work it, distorting
crystals, they recrystalize, so the more you work it, the smaller and
finer the crystal structure becomes. This is the same as working
silver or gold with repeated working and proper annealing, but with
pewter, it’s continually self annealing. You never need to. It just
keeps getting more and more workable as you form it. Very cool stuff
that way. And another cool bit. It’s a relatively poor thermal
conductor. What that translates to is that it’s wonderfully easy to
weld or fuse. To weld a seam between two pieces of pewter, or two
edges, etc, simply lay pewter chips along the seam, and with a tiny
flame such as the smallest air acetylene torch flame, or a little
torch, simply fuse those chips down into the seam. Planish it a bit
after cleaning up the weld, and the result is metal virtually
indistinguishable from the original metal, in either strength or
workability or look. It’s very cool stuff to work with. And for
model making where one wishes to get a vulcanized rubber mold, pewter
can sometimes be the ideal metal for model making. It’s easy to
carve, form, weld, and fabricate into your desired model, while
costing little in materials, and it’s strong enough, and has a high
enough melting point, to withstand being used with vulcanizing rubber
for a permanent mold. For very delicate forms it may not be as good,
but for others, it’s very nice material to work with. Just don’t get
it mixed in with your silver and gold working tools or area. That
invites disaster…

Peter Rowe

Ok, we can be paranoid of whatever we do, but I think this is going
bit overboard. Obviously, we would rather not breath in any
contaminants, but you do the best you can.

  • Tin in the molten state may let out some slight contaminants, but
    firstly, it cools so fast that you should not have any issue with
    it. Plus it is always good to have some exhaust system when melting.

-No dusts whether it be dust mites, silver, gold, or pewter is good
to breath in. If you are doing a lot of sanding, a surgical mask is
recommended and is acceptable (even suggested by my Ear Nose and
Throat specialist that I consulted with). You do not need a
respirator unless you are working with toxic fluxes (fumes) with no
ventilation. If you want to be extra careful, wear the respirator,
but I don’t know about you, I can last about 15 minutes in those
things and then I am done.

  • Besides the dust factor, pewter is one of the safest metals that
    you can work with. No lead, food safe, and you are using a very small
    torch tip with non-toxic fluxes, and no pickeling acids.

Lisa Slovis Mandel
Lisa Slovis Metalsmithing

Besides the dust factor, pewter is one of the safest metals that
you can work with. No lead, food safe, and you are using a very
small torch tip with non-toxic fluxes, and no pickeling acids. 

And to second that, it seems to me that when we talk safety with
various metals in processes, most of the time, with other materials,
the warnings come from those experienced with those materials and
methods and the needed precautions. In the case of pewter, it seems
more of the warnings come from those NOT using pewter, but worried
about it. When you ask the experienced pewter smiths about safety or
toxicity of working pewter, you’re more likely to get a look that
says “are you nuts?” than a lecture on the precautions to take… The
main precaution I ever remember being told was “hey, wash your hands
when done. That dark color you get on your skin after spending a day
raising and working pewter, well, it can get on your clothes…”

Just consider. As a general rule, most of the other metals we use
need more aggressive chemicals/fluxes/pickles, higher temps, and are
just as likely to generate dusts and the like. Working pewter is
simply, Gentler. Less force needed, simpler facilities in terms of
melting or working. Lower melting points mean less metal vaporized,
less fumes, if you do it right. Unlike other metals, which may need
repeated annealings, pewter never needs it. Even welding/fusing can
be done at lower temps with a much tinier torch flame. Tin itself is
not toxic, and there’s less copper in pewter than there is in most
other jewelry alloys…

If you peruse an MSDS for pewter

(here’s one:

you might be struck by just how few warnings there actually are.
Don’t eat large amounts of the stuff (another MSDS suggested that
ingesting very large amounts might give you the runs… that’s

Don’t breath large amounts of the dusts of fumes. But even then, the
sheet says the resulting irritation is relatively benign. To be
avoided, yes. Hightly toxic? No. Melting fumes, as with any metal, in
large amounts can lead to metal fume fever, but nothing I could find
suggested any unusual or higher risk than any other metal. Certainly
nothing on the level of working lead or zinc.

Any material humans manipulate or use or make things out of, needs
some appropriate care. That’s true for woods, any metal, all
plastics, even cotton or other fibers being made into thread and
cloth. Pewter too, needs to be worked with reasonable intellegence.

But beyond that, there isn’t enough to be concerned about that
anyone other than those with the previously discussed rare allergic
sensativity to it, needs to avoid trying pewter. It’s fun stuff to
work with, and given the relative ease and speed and low cost of
working it, has the advantage that a good worker can make a lot more
objects in pewter in a given amount of time, than a silversmith could

Peter Rowe

I would like to mention how much I enjoyed the “informed” posts
regarding pewter by Lisa Slovic Mandel and Peter W. Rowe. I have
worked with pewter for over 20 years and always lead free. As a
matter of fact my alloy which comes from a very, old, family owned
operation, Purity Alloys is tin, copper, antimony and ‘silver’ which
helps to produce a beautiful mirror finish.

Today’s Pewter has nothing to do with lead…period. As a kid I had a
summer job in a car battery factory and many of the workers had been
there 20 - 30 years without having any infliction caused by lead. I
was told on my first day that the 2 ways to stay healthy were by not
breathing fumes or inhaling dust from lead. Everyone’s lunch and even
their cigarettes were kept in a separate room in the factory as a
work safe, provincial ‘safety precaution’. Not one employee had ever
suffered an infliction from lead.

Pewter and white metal alloys are very different. Some white metal
alloys contain lead but not a lot relatively. Most white metal alloys
contain varying amounts of zinc which make the alloy much harder than
Pewter. These zinc based white metals have a wide array of use
particularly for industrial parts etc. In the large old pewter and
zinc casting factories the Pewter and Zinc operations were kept on
completely different floors. Nothing would pass from one floor to the
other because a small amount of zinc could contaminate the liquid
Pewter and would cause porosity in the Pewter castings. A small sprue
of zinc could contaminate a 500 lb pot of pewter which would make the
Pewter useless for casting so it would have to go out to be recycled.

Pewter is a wonderful material especially in the hands of a skilled
and knowledgeable metal artisan.

Greg Miller

Hi LIsa,

I’ve been following this series of posts with great interest as I’ve
always had a fondness for the lovely Scandinavian pewter jewelry that
was produced 50 or 60 years ago. I ordered your book the moment I saw
this message. I do have a quick question though, do I need to be
concerned about cross contamination on my rolling mill? if so, do you
have specific recommendations for cleaning the rollers?

Regards and many thanks in advance for you response,

So does anyone know of any reputable pewter casters who will cast
smaller quantities?

I’m thinking of trying out some bangles for catalogs- do an

Amery Carriere Designs

So does anyone know of any reputable pewter casters who will cast
smaller quantities? 

Accent Casting- Bob Ricci, 401-942-5080

Lisa Slovis Mandel

Hi Melissa,

do I need to be concerned about cross contamination on my rolling

No, you should not have any problem with the rolling mill. It does
not hold the grit, so will not hold onto the metal to contaminate

Good luck!
Lisa Slovis Mandel

There IS one minor, easily avoided exception to this. And that’s with
a square wire mill. Sometimes, incorrect rolling technique for
reducing wire can give you a flange along the side, and sometimes,
if not removed, that flange can leave little bits of flashing riding
along in the grooves of the mill. I’ts not imbedded into the roll or
anything, but simply sitting there. Wiping down the rolls or
brushing then down when finished, easily cleans out such little bits
and is a good idea anyway. But if not done, and then one switches to
another metal, then the shreds can become imbedded in that next
metal. Any oil on the mill can also tend to hold stray bits (with
flat mills too), so again, simply wiping down the rollers when
finished would be a good idea, and is a decent practice in any case
to keep the rolls clean and all…


I have to admit that I am way behind on my e-mail & am thus just
getting to this:

Checking Contenti’s web page just now they are offering 2 pewter
alloys with lead 176-8888 is 9% & 176-8925 is 5.5% lead. I am sure
that there are others out there this was simply the first in my
bookmarks alphabetically.

Mark Chapman

Hi Amery;

trying pewter. My only concern is that I've heard you should keep
separate tools just for pewter work to prevent contamination of
other metals. Is that true? 

Pewter is fun to work with, very different from other metals and
relatively cheap. But yes, you need to keep the filings and dust away
from areas where you are going to do torch work on metals with higher
melting temperatures. It’s much the same as lead solder, it will eat
it’s way into another metal at the higher melting temperatures of
silver and gold solders, rendering that metal unusable. Just a side
note, I’ve done a lot of work with pewter (actually Brittania Metal),
an alloy of tin and antimony. You might try working with an alcohol
lamp and blow-pipe for soldering it, it’s a little easier to control
than a torch with pewter’s much lower melting temperatures. Check
Oppi Untracht’s book for some info on pewtersmithing.

David L. Huffman

Quote from Mark Chapman [Checking Contenti’s web page just now they
are offering 2 pewter alloys with lead 176-8888 is 9% & 176-8925 is
5.5% lead. I am sure that there are others out there this was simply
the first in my bookmarks phabetically.]

Those alloys mentioned would be commonly used to make things like
fishing lures and non-jewelry items. Yes.there is a ‘lot’ of
non-jewelry items made out of white metal alloys.especially the zinc
alloys…it is an industry unto itself. Contenti (hello) is doing a
disservice advertising them as pewter rather than white metal. Lead
in these alloys make them far easier to cast then lead free pewter.
The tin content is less so they are cheaper. As well as gold and
silver jewelry I have been making and selling pewter jewelry
wholesale for 30 years. I was being asked over 25 years ago by my
brick & mortar customers if the pewter is lead free. I kind of got
used to the fact that most people get their on this
subject through social osmosis so for over 25 years I have printed on
my packaging that it is lead free pewter. My alloy is comprised of
silver, copper, antimony and tin. You can buy a lead testing kit
online for just a few bucks so it is easy to check. All of the
products that have been brought to my attention suspected of
containing lead have “all” come from China. I don’t know about other
countries but in Canada there is the potential to get yourself in
some serious legal trouble if you misrepresent your products in this
manner. My customers have been coming back for years…that’s what is
important to me.

Greg Miller,

Dear Greg, I’m quite familiar with this topic since my Father
starting building White Metal Spin Casting Machines in the 1940’s
and also developed the black rubber that the metal is casted in.
Since then the White Metal Casting

industry grew significantly until the late 1980’s when the customers
started buying from China [$2.80 per day - 11 hour day - I visited
several of those factories then] and they copied everything including
all of the machines that my Father developed for the White Metal
industry and all of the machines

for Lost Wax Casting. The term Pewter came from England where it was
used to make mugs for drinking and they knew back then that lead was
not good to come into contact with water or food and the law required
them to be lead free. I believe the mugs were primarily tin. I don’t
know if they had antimony back then. Costume Jewelry has been the
main industry using “white metal” for casting. There were [are] 4
basic formulas:

90 % lead 10 % antimony - The cheapest formula but not allowed for
children’s jewelry.

65 % lead 35 % tin

92 % tin 7 3/4% antimony and 1/4 % copper. The most expensive
formula. Although the difference in cost between lead & tin is
considerable, the same piece of jewelery casted in a high tin formula
weighs much less than the same piece casted in a high lead content
and therefore the cost of the individual piece is not a lot more.

88% tin 12 % antimony.

At one time some manufacturers included Cadmium for better castings
but this was dropped when they realized how dangerous it is.

Zinc 95% with 5% aluminum is also used but that’s another complete

Recent newspaper articles have shown that apparently some Chinese
manufacturers will use whatever they can to keep their prices cheap.
Fortunately, the U.S. carefully tests the Chinese stuff when it comes

very truly yours,
Bob Romanoff

Why use a lead bearing pewter when there are non lead pewters? It is
illegal to use lead bearing metals for food service. I would never
make a spoon or cup or even jewelry from any lead bearing metal. I
want to be able to assure my customers that I do keep their health in
mind. They should know that I keep current (and keep them current) on
potential hazards of metal use.

It is much better that they hear about the possibility of lead in
their pewter from you then another store or crafts person. I even
offer to identify old antique hollowware and utensils, that could
possibly be lead bearing, for them so they can feel comfortable and
knowledgeable about the metals they are using. In the seventies when
awareness began to blossom, some of the silver companies like Towle
Silversmiths spent a lot of time and money stopping production so
they could wash all their rollers and dies free of all traces of lead
pewter so they could then begin a new era of lead free tin pewter
table top items. Providence Rhode Island (once called the jewelry
capital of the world) where there is still a big costume jewelry
manufacturing business has gone away from lead bearing white metals
used in casting. California’s laws governing alloys with toxic metals
are actually so strict it is hurting the costume jewelry business
now. I would only use a lead alloy if I were restoring an antique for
a private customer, retail store or museum and had to match the alloy
(and heat range) of the metals and solders that were used to make the
piece. Other wise my shop is lead free and only use tin pewter if I
was to use a pewter. This would make your customers very happy.

James F. Conley

I was being asked over 25 years ago by my brick & mortar customers
if the pewter is lead free. I kind of got used to the fact that
most people get their on this subject through social
osmosis so for over 25 years I have printed on my packaging that
it is lead free pewter. My alloy is comprised of silver, copper,
antimony and tin. 

So, antimony is healthier than lead?

Denny Turner

So, antimony is healthier than lead? 

Healthy, no, but apparently, substantially less toxic than lead.
Antimony IS toxic, somewhat similar to arsenic. And a quick reading
of the MSDS sheets for Antimony tell you it’s toxic. But comparing it
to other metals like lead, seems rarer info on the web. I found this
article which gives some relationship of the comparative toxicities
of various metals, and suggests lead (among the ones in that article)
is most toxic, with silver and antimony following. From this article,
it seems that lead is more toxic by quite a margin.

Hope that helps.
Peter Rowe