Mak­ers /

The Brook­lyn Cop­per Cook­ware founder on his per­sonal phi­los­o­phy of the hand­made

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On the atavis­tic mer­its of hand­made cop­per pots

We make a re­ally sim­ple tool here: some­thing that’s been made the same way for cen­turies, that our cul­ture some­how got away from in the last hun­dred years. Peo­ple my age and my par­ents’ age were pi­o­neers in elim­i­nat­ing what we called house­hold drudgery—ev­ery­body worked very dili­gently on this spu­ri­ous dream of leisure by cre­at­ing a dis­pos­able world. In the process, we dis­en­gaged from many of the tools that, in the case of cook­ing, we use to sus­tain our­selves.

When you’re us­ing good tools—the real deal—and you get the re­sults you’re aim­ing for, you’re just more present. It’s al­most med­i­ta­tive.

Pure metal cook­ware is a ba­sic and pri­mary tech­nol­ogy, pre­dat­ing what we might even con­sider ‘tech­nol­ogy.’ Real cop­per cook­ware is re­duc­ible to the stuff of the uni­verse, ev­ery in­gre­di­ent in it—the cop­per, the tin, the iron—they’re all el­e­ments in the periodic ta­ble. It doesn’t get more or­ganic than that. A cop­per pot prac­ti­cally de­fines the es­sen­tial, un­adorned good; it’s the apogee of the ex­pres­sion of a pan.

There’s a lot of itin­er­ant metal fab­ri­cat­ing skill ut­terly un­der­uti­lized through­out the Mid­west—ohio, In­di­ana, Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin. These are peo­ple who are proud of the work they do, fab­u­lously skilled— but a lit­tle be­wil­dered as to why no one rec­og­nizes them for their abil­ity to get things done, for these rare skills. We’ve got a soft metal fab­ri­ca­tor in Ohio who spins our pan bodies. The han­dles come in from about an hour away in In­di­ana, from one of the very few duc­tile iron foundries that will do short-run small cast­ings. The riv­ets, in the mean­time, are com­ing from a lit­tle rivet foundry in the back of a vol­un­teer fire­house in cen­tral Wis­con­sin, where these guys do what they do be­cause their farm­work is sea­sonal. When they’re not plant­ing, har­vest­ing, hunt­ing or fish­ing, they’re mak­ing cop­per riv­ets, mostly for leather­work­ers, but now and again a few thou­sand for us. We send the pan as­sem­blies to a hand-tin­ner up the road from our spin­ner, where they pickle them in acid, wipe the tin in, pol­ish the fin­ished piece, and put it in a box to send to the per­son who or­dered it.

A lot of cop­per pots are stamped on gi­ant presses these days, but we spin our pots. It’s very much like spin­ning some­thing on a pot­tery wheel. You’re draw­ing the sides up, coax­ing the crys­talline struc­ture to toughen it and give it rigid­ity. We don’t form our cook­ware this way just be­cause we like the hand­mak­ing mys­tique—we spin cop­per be­cause it makes a much bet­ter, tougher, harder pot. And we can af­ford to do ev­ery­thing by hand be­cause we sell it di­rect. That al­lows us to play this game. We’d have to charge twice as much if we went through re­tail stores.

Be­fore I made cop­per pans, I stud­ied phi­los­o­phy. I worked for non­prof­its and had jobs that were just look­ing at num­bers on a screen. But this is ac­tual. I get up in the morn­ing and en­gage with it. At the end of the day when I’m mak­ing din­ner I can say I made this, the tool it­self, and now I’m go­ing to be feed­ing my­self out of it. Never mind mak­ing them, but just us­ing ba­sic tools—that’s a pow­er­fully per­sua­sive but mostly alien no­tion these days.

There’s some­thing about ac­tual things, about the act of tak­ing a lumpen, non­de­script, amor­phous pile of raw ma­te­rial and fab­ri­cat­ing some­thing use­ful out of it. We all know there’s this gen­eral malaise spread across the land, and I think there’s an an­swer some­where in all this, in mak­ing things our­selves. Maybe it’s as sim­ple as mak­ing din­ner. —as told to Alex Testere

Left: A cop­per casse­role pot is heated to about 800° to pre­pare it for a brush­ing of molten tin. The ex­te­rior is masked with lime slurry to en­sure that the tin bonds only to the in­side. Start­ing at $210; bc­cook­ware.com

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