Selecting a kitchen or bathroom sink use to be easy. There were just a few large companies selling ceramic, enameled steel, cast iron and stainless steel sinks. In the past decade, there has been an explosion of new products in the sink category and a growing demand for hand crafted and custom work. There have been several “new” sink mediums gaining recent acceptance – glass, various stones, brass, copper, and even wood. This article will focus on copper sinks and what to look for before making your purchase.
Copper is man’s oldest metal, dating back more than 10,000 years. Its use in the home in modern times ranges from copper tubing in your plumbing system to some of the finest cookware available. Restaurateurs, hoteliers and interior decorators look to copper and brass as naturally inviting metals that make a statement of quality, comfort and beauty. It is no wonder that copper has also become a popular material for sinks in the kitchen, bath and bar.
Copper artisans abound throughout the world, however the artisans that have gained a reputation for making sinks has been primarily centered in Mexico. Most of the shops making “hand crafted” copper sinks are small and the methods used to construct sinks goes back centuries. The term “hand hammered” has recently become synonymous with Mexican sinks. This term refers to the original ancient techniques that artisans have been using for centuries in this area. Copper sheets are literally hammered into shape and hand finished. The results are somewhat rustic, but truly unique and one of a kind.
When considering a smooth surface copper sink, be careful if it is for the kitchen or prep area. Smooth surfaces will show scratches and dents much more than a hammered surface which is a consideration if you are using the sinks to wash dishes, pots & pans, etc. In addition, the hammered surfaces are stronger than smooth surfaces and hold up better in the demanding kitchen environment.
There are three primary differentiates determining quality of copper sinks – construction technique & quality, copper thickness and the company you are buying from.
Construction technique is made up of several factors - how corners are constructed, welding technique and proper dimensions for ease of installation. When considering sinks with welded seams (generally larger kitchen sinks require some seams), make sure they are TIG welded using copper rod (“copper welded”). If not, the seams will eventually turn “grey” and possibly leak. We have seen copper sinks that have improper drain holes resulting in a gap between the drain escutcheon and the sink bevel. Another potential problem is if the sink is “out of square”. This can result in big problems at the time of installation. Some bending of flat rims is OK and quite common (and easy to rectify at the time of installation) but square or rectangular sinks that are uneven will generally require a replacement. The company you are buying from should offer a warranty against such defects and stand behind their product.
The quality of the copper sink is made up of several factors – some aesthetic and some potentially harmful. Quality can vary even when considering sinks made in the same town such as many of the sinks from Mexico. Insiders refer to different quality levels as “firsts”, “seconds” and “defective”. Remember, these sinks are handmade one at a time by artisans with varying levels of skills and experience. Like any artisan crafted product, there can be varying levels of quality. At The Copper Home, we only sell first quality products and leave the seconds to other ebay sellers, We recognize that this might mean a potential price difference, but we prefer to protect our reputation and ship only product we would be proud to install in our own homes.
Copper sinks should be made out of pure copper. Pure copper naturally posses Antimicrobial properties to prevent germs and bacteria from surviving on the surface of raw, unsealed copper. At The Copper Home, are sinks are made of pure reclaimed or ASTM 187 B copper laminate. A growing concern of ours is the use of copper alloy containing lead – specifically in sinks from the Middle East and China – to reduce the costs of manufacture. Lead has similar workability properties as copper and is quite inexpensive, but it is not meant for human consumption! We can assure our customers that our genuine hand hammered copper sinks from Mexico are not made of these lead containing alloys.
Another quality factor to consider is the patina process used to artificially age the copper from a bright copper to a darker, warmer look. In many countries harmful and caustic chemicals are used to achieve the patina finish. The widely accepted method for sinks from Mexico (including those made in our factory) utilize heat and safe reactive agents to patina the surface of the copper. Generally speaking, most customers will prefer an un-lacquered sink as this allows the sink to patina evenly and naturally. While most sinks we sell are not lacquered, we have a few bath sinks that have special hand work or finishes that could be easily damaged if not protected. Lacquer finish on kitchen or bar sinks is not generally recommended.
The thickness of the copper used in the construction of hand hammered copper sinks varies greatly between factories – even those in Mexico. Copper is a soft material and the thickness – even just a few points – can have a dramatic effect on how well the sink wears over time. Gauge is a physical measurement of the thickness of the copper and is sometimes referred to by the weight per square foot. The thicker the gauge copper, the lower the number. Most bath sinks are made from 20 gauge (the thinnest) to 18 gauge (the thickest) and most kitchen sinks range from 18 gauge to 16 gauge. When shopping for copper sinks, always ask about the gauge and be aware that a thicker gauge sink will cost more – and in most cases is worth it! A lightweight gauge metal can result in a “tinny” sound when running the faucet. It will dent easier (a big consideration for a kitchen sink). Although it costs much more, our sinks are only made with the thickest gauge copper available.
Finally consider the store you are buying from. A reputable dealer should identify their shipping location, clearly state their warranty and return policy and be available for consultation.