Pewter Basics

Pewter is one of the oldest known alloys, dating back to the Bronze Age. Fine pewter is a tin-based alloy consisting of at least 90% tin and the other 10% is some combination of silver, copper, bismuth, and antimony or more tin. At ASL Pewter, the alloy we use for all our casting, metal spinning and welding is 92% tin, 2% copper, 6% antimony. It’s the same alloy the London Pewterers’ Guild designated as “Fine Pewter” in 1635.

FINE pewter has never contained lead. Technically, when the alloy contains anything other than tin, bismuth, silver, copper, or antimony, it is no longer pewter, but simply a pot metal. At ASL Pewter, our pewter is 100% lead free, making it suitable for food & beverage use.

We purchase our raw materials from USA based companies. For our cast pieces, we purchase pewter in ingots to melt down, and for our spun pieces we utilize pewter discs of varying diameters.

Pewter is a white metal, and the bright, Polished Finish is historically accurate.  The Polished Finish showed the buying public, at a glance, that the work done was made of the finest alloy available and was the work of the Master Smith.

For our patrons who prefer a more primitive look, we offer our Museum Finish.  We prepare the surface of the pewter and give it an instant patina.  The resulting finish is a soft dark grey.  Remember, this is a surface finish – it can be uneven and the white metal is underneath.

Below on the left are pieces with our Polished Finish.  The picture on the right shows the Museum Finish.


Caring For Pewter

One of the great joys of pewter is that is it easy to care for. Pewter does not need to be polished as it does not tarnish as silver does. Rather is begins to very evenly patina, or darken, over time. This adds character, beauty and value to the piece.

Pewter does not need to be polished – just wash with warm, soapy water and dry with a soft, dry cloth.

You should not put pewter in the dishwasher (those detergents can be very abrasive, and the temperatures can get very hot), nor in the oven. Since pewter melts at 465°F, you will damage the piece. Finally, as it IS a metal, do not use it in the microwave.

Our Process

We make all of our pewter pieces in our foundry, utilizing a variety of techniques including:

  • Casting – Casting is the oldest form of metal work. It involves melting the metal and pouring it into a prepared mold – literally, it’s pouring liquid in a hole! At ASL Pewter, we cast in antique and vintage molds and also in modern molds we make in-house.
  • Metal Spinning – Spinning is a process that is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt. The technique as we know it today began in France in the 1780s. We take a measured, flat disc of pewter and move it into a desired shape over a wooden form on a metal spinning lathe. The lathe we are using was first put into service in 1873 and it was water-powered and belt-driven. We are the first to put electricity to it.
  • Welding – Welding is the joining of two pieces together. We use wire made of exactly the same alloy as our casting and metal spinning alloy, going pieces with our micro torch heat source. For instance, welding is how stems and goblet tops are put together, how handles are added to mugs, and how we embellish our pieces with decorations.
  • We make use of a large selection of antique and vintage molds that date from the 1650s and are made of bronze, brass, stone, gunmetal or aluminum. We’ve acquired these molds from antique dealers, auctions and museums.
  • We create modern molds from silicone and rubber compounds to cast our original designs.
  • We cut our own wooden forms for metal spinning to the shapes of our drinking vessels, bowls, trays and serving pieces. All of our spun pieces start with flat sheets of pewter that are spun into shape over those forms on a lathe.

History of Pewter

Pewter is one of the oldest known alloys, dating back to the Bronze Age. Pewter is soft, for a metal, and will not hold an edge. Consequently, it was not used for weapons or farm implements. Historically, pewter was always a functional metal, used for table service, eating ware and household items including candlesticks, oil lamps and inkwells, buttons and buckles, as well as adornments for clothing and horse bridals.
As Western civilization grew, so did the use of pewter in society. From ancient Greece and Rome, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, pewter continued to grow in popularity. It was easier to work with and produce than many other metals and much less expensive than gold or silver. Centers for making pewter arose in Italy, Spain, France, England, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
Because pewter was a metal, it was more durable and therefore more desirable than wood or pottery. Pewter was not as costly as gold or silver, making it more accessible to the merchant, or middle, class that became the backbone of society on the new continent. There were so many pewter smiths, so much pewter, that one modern home and lifestyle maven refers to pewter as “18th century Tupperware”!
Fine pewter continues to be popular today. With modern manufacturing tools and techniques, the versatility of pewter is being highlighted every day. Pewter is used today for its traditional purpose of tableware, but also for jewelry, medical implements, ecclesiastical ware and decorative pieces.

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