Teachers Institute


Bill Metz

Biography | Photo Album

Bill Metz is an active Tinsmith who makes his home in Middle Amana, Iowa.

Bill Metz bends tin to make a pailThe history (story) of the Amana Colonies is something Bill readily shares with those of us who come with questions.

What we know today as the Amana Colonies began in Hessen, Germany during the "church movement" in 1714. At that time, a group of people broke away from the Lutheran church. There were specific individuals who received and were guided by an inspired trance from God. Beliefs were revealed to the people (received by the people) from God through these inspired individuals. These peoples, known as the "Inspirationalists", wanted to live in isolation from other Germans, and no longer wanted to pay taxes. They lived for years in Ronneburg Castle in Germany. At times, they moved around / were somewhat nomdic. The "Inspirationalists" came to the Americas in 1842 and originally purchased land from the Seneca Indians in Ebenezer, New York, which is near Buffalo, New York. The "Inspirationalists" lived in this region, as a communal society, from 1842-1855. The primary reason for the formation of, and existence as, a communal society was to equally support the original 700 individuals, who were the "Inspirationalists". The decision to pool all of their resources was beneficial, especially for those who were poor, who had used all of their individual property to come to America. Christian Metz was the leader of the "Inspirationalists" at this time of history. In 1855, the "Inspirationalists" moved to Iowa and formed a communal society known as the Amana Colonies. The Amana Colonies existed as a communal society from 1855-1932. In 1932, a stock corporation, or capitalistic society, was formed. Individuals were given monies from the communal resources in accordance with the number of years they had worked in the communal system. Individuals, from the 1932s generation, were also given one share of stock and were quaranteed full medical coverage for their lifetime (this includes funeral and burial expenses). These benefits could still be purchased by individuals associated with the Amana Colonies into the 1950s. The church remains active today. The last of the inspired leaders died in 1883, and Bill states that, " they've been getting along fine, since then, without one". Further information about the Amana Colonies is available at: www.AmanaColonies.com; Bill Metz examines the bent tin for the pail project info@AmanaColonies.com; or 800-579-2294.

Bill Metz is a tinsmith (does tinwork). He has done tinwork for the past twenty years. Bill states, "It's a good activity for those who like to spend an hour making a pail". Bill participates in his craft (folkart), because he believes that it is important to keep tinwork alive. He realizes the importance of the work he does in relation to its historical value. A tinworker was of vital importance to the communal society of the Amana Colonies. Bill also works with the present Amana Colonies community to preserve and continue the use of the crafts and skills of the everyday life of the Colonies. This is a craft, an art form, for the past, present, and future generations. He also says that he "kind of cheated" on this as a hobby as he was a sheetmetal worker by trade. Bill worked for the Quaker Oats corporation.

Bill looks for and has found a variety of old Amana tin. There are antique dealers who contact him when they acquire things from the Colonies. At present, he estimates he has 50-60 pieces of it.

Bill uses some of the items he has found for ideas and patterns for his tinwork. An example of this is the Wedding Cake (Star) Pan. This is one of the items Bill makes which takes a great deal of his time and expertise. When asked about the piece(s) that have been the most challenging, but also give the most joy/satisfaction to complete, Bill identified this design as the item he would choose. The pan is a twelve pointed star (like an octagon), eight inches in diameter, which either has a square (most often) or a round center. The main reason for the center opening in the cake Displays of projects Bill Metz has completedpan is to ensure that the cake will evenly bake - "so I've been told" says Bill. This cake pan is used only for special occasions, of which the "premiere occasion" is the wedding. Bill knows of its use in this manner. The wedding cake baked was most often a four (color) marble cake. In 1999, Bill made the twelve pointed star which topped the White House Christmas tree.

Bill says that one of the challenges of being a tinsmith is seeing the shape of an item and figuring out how to make. Bill says a hobby / craft is relaxing if you love doing it. When asked if it is difficult to sell things which he's put much time and effort into, Bill humorously stated, "If the price is right I don't mind parting with them." The tin pieces that Bill makes are crafted for use (to be used), not only for decorative / aesthetic value.

Bill gets the tin he uses for his work from Wierden steel mill in Wierden, West Virginia. Bill wears sturdy shoes, a t-shirt, bib overalls, and gloves during his presentations. He has a multitude of hand tools on his work surface / table. There are eight main pieces of equipment that Bill uses. Bill's equipment is pre-1932 and was used in the tin shops of Amana. Bill has found his tinworking equipment in and around Amana, Iowa and from a tin shop in Homestead. He has also found some of his treasures in a junk pile in Prairie du Chein, WI. Bill demonstrates the use of each piece of equipment while making a pail.

This is the process Bill uses to create a pail during his tinwork / tinsmithing presentation.

  1. He marks a rectangular piece of tin to set the pattern. This is important for balance with the handle sets.
  2. The Bar Folder is the first piece of equipment used to put a hook on
    each end of the piece of tin which will become the pail's seam.
  3. Next, the Roller is used to shape the pail. Using the Groove Slam
    (Grooving Tool), Bill hammers straight down to connect the hooks of the seam.
  4. The Burring Machine turns a 3/16th inch edge on the bottom of the cylinder.
  5. Bill uses a protractor on an 8"x8" piece of tin. He cuts out the circular bottom using some of his hand tools and turns the edge so it fits theBill's completed projectsbottom. (Bill says that he has a machine that cuts circles, but hasn't been able to use it as he is having trouble finding someone who knows how to / is able to sharpen it. He also says that using a square would be easier.)
  6. Then Bill will Hammer the edge twice (double seam, go from single to double).
  7. The Turning Machine is used at this point to turn the top into a U. A wire is rounded, put in, and the tin turned over. Bill will hammer the top over.
  8. Next the wiring machine is used to make it nice and neat.
  9. The Grooving/Beading Machine puts a triple bead into the cylinder. (When using copper, Bill would said an ogee
    bead is most often used.) This groove gives extra support to the pail.
  10. Next, Bill uses a metal punch called the Whitney Punch. He sets the rivets for the handle fasteners. He flattens the rivet sets and "puts a nice little mushroom head on it".
  11. The handle fasteners (which at one time were handmade and come in various sizes) go on next.
  12. The Bail is made next. Bill likes to make it so that it slightly hangs over the top of the pail, though he says it "should lay right on top" of the pail.

The handle hook Bill uses he found the pattern for in a sheet metal book. To make the pail water tight, Bill would solder the seam and the bottom edges. When he does this, he uses lead free solder and an electric soldering iron. Also, Bill sometimes uses a metal hammer while creating a pail, but explained that most often he uses a wooden mallet, because if he uses metal on the tin it will cause the tin to expand (enlarge) and that using a wooden mallet gives the pressure he needs but does not cause the tin to change shape.

While Bill was demonstrating, a woman asked if he could create a cookie cutter for her like one her grandmother had used. Bill told her he needed a drawing (outline) or picture (photograph) and would then be able to do so. He does need to know the size (placement) of the handle(s).

Bill works all year long on his craft. He works in his basement at home. The only other place Bill does his tinwork is at folk festivals /demonstrations / etc. Then, his equipment goes with him (gets shipped). In 1996, the year of the state of Iowa's sesquicentennial celebration, Bill was a representative for Iowa, and a presenter of his art form (craft) for two weeks at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Bill says, "If my car is home, I'm home. Just holler, or ring the door bell."

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