A coppersmith crafts and repairs items made of copper and similar metals. Originally an eminently practical trade, coppersmithing is more of an arts occupation in the modern world, as most household goods are made of materials other than copper, and many copper objects are manufactured using industrial processes. A niche market for copper goods remains, however, and coppersmiths still produce a small number of highly technical devices as well as quite a few pieces of high-end copper artwork.
Copper, as a soft metal, was one of the very first metals to be worked by humans. It is useful in the creation of decorative objects, as well as certain practical items such as pots or griddles. A coppersmith in the ancient world might also have combined copper with either tin or, more rarely, arsenic to create bronze, a much harder metal. Bronze was useful both for decorative items and for durable tools and weapons.
In the Middle Ages, the various metalworking trades were carefully divided one from another, a division that has persisted, to an extent, to the modern day. In that era, a coppersmith would typically have been a member of a guild and referred to as a redsmith, a reference to the color of the metal with which they worked. Similarly, blacksmiths worked with iron and whitesmiths with metals such as tin.
When working with copper, a modern coppersmith will generally work with cool metal, using hammers and presses to shape the metal into a desired shape. Copper is sometimes heated and then cooled, but this process, known as annealing, is used to ensure that the metal retains its flexibility and workability as a cool metal, rather than as part of the working process itself. Copper is occasionally worked while hot, or cast, but unlike iron, it can easily be worked cold under normal circumstances.
The trade of a modern coppersmith tends to focus more on artistic products than practical ones. Upscale kitchen or fireplace accessories are often crafted specifically for the rooms in which they will be used. Similarly, a large market exists for elegant and decorative copper pots and kettles, although these are rarely used in modern cooking. The trade of coppersmithing blends into the more purely artistic work of sculpture as well. Copper is a preferred metal for small sculptures, although bronze is usually used in larger works because of its greater strength and superior durability.