August 1992

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Genesee River Tinsmith

Kenneth C. Fish

A Working Tinsmith Museum


Bill Treichler

Miniature copper and tinplate washboilers, copper and brass samovars, tiny bathing tubs and bed warmers, reproduction tinplate chandeliers, sconces, lanterns and street lamps—Kenneth Fish makes them all. He began working with metal when he was 15 years old, and over the a years he has worked as a tool-and-die maker, a machinist, a farmer, and a carpenter. Mr. Fish built his own house and garage and his shop where he builds super-modified racing cars, special order stainless steel evaporator pans and hoods, copper roof top finials, as well as miniature and reproduction pieces of tinplate. He even restores and refinishes automobiles.

This wide range of practice has given him experience with many techniques and the confidence to attempt and complete some very meticulous and painstaking projects. One time for a special order he made up eight one-twelfth-scale brass samovars that really heat water. Ken says that miniatures are more difficult than large pieces to solder because the part you just stuck on is likely to fall off when you try to add another part and the heat there travels to the first joint and melts the solder. To overcome this frustrating difficulty he uses solders with different melting temperatures, and attaches the first part with a solder that has a high melting point, and then each additional part with a lower melting point solder. Alloys that take less heat to become molten enable him to assemble a tiny washboiler or foot tub without a handle on one side dropping off when he solders another on the opposite side.

Mr. Fish makes miniature washboilers from different metals just as they were originally available. He makes all-copper boilers with either a copper or a tin lid, and other boilers with copper bottoms and tinplate or galvanized steel sides and covers. Usually washboilers were tinned on the inside to make them safe for food; they were an all-purpose vessel, not just for boiling laundry, but also for canning and cooking large quantities of food. Ken makes his miniatures like the originals. He gets his specifications and dimensions from a turn-of-the-century Sears and Roebuck catalog.

The challenge of making accurately-sized miniatures gives Ken Fish the same satisfaction he gets from duplicating a 100-year-old lantern. He has restored old sheet-metal street lights, and he makes kerosene-burning lamps of his own design with pierced tin shades. He also does punch work for pie safes and for "Hoosier" cabinets.

Ken enjoys unusual and novel projects. For a re-enactment buff he made a Civil War canteen and mess gear of stainless steel. To replace corroded metal ceiling panels he fashioned matching fiberglass panels. In his own kitchen he has a bread drawer lined with tin and a tin lid that rises when the drawer is pulled open. He makes pieces, full size and miniature, and will make to scale a copy of a full-size original, on order.

Several years ago Ken acquired the templates used by George Sourby, a retired tinsmith in Pike, New York, for cutting out pieces of metal to make dust pans and other tinware. Mr. Fish has made up some of these.

You may contact Kenneth C. Fish by calling 716-567-8925,
or by writing RD #1, Box #1E, Route 19, Fillmore, NY 14735
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