Last Updated: April 28, 2024


Pewter is a fascinating metallic compound we often encounter in chemistry, especially when studying materials with historical significance. This alloy primarily consists of tin, mixed with small amounts of other metals like copper, antimony, and sometimes lead, to enhance its strength and durability. Pewter’s low melting point and malleability make it ideal for crafting various items, from decorative objects to tableware. Its unique luster and aging process, where it develops a characteristic gray patina, have made it a favorite in the making of jewelry and other ornamental items for centuries. Understanding pewter’s composition and uses not only enriches our knowledge of chemistry but also connects us to the art and science of materials from the past.

What is Pewter?

Pewter is a soft metal that’s mainly made up of tin, mixed with a small amount of lead and other metals like copper or antimony. This blend gives pewter its unique qualities, making it easy to mold and carve into various shapes. Historically, it’s been used to make dishes, decorative items, and even some types of jewelry. Pewter’s low melting point means it can be easily crafted without high heat, which has made it a popular material for artisans and craftsmen through the ages. Today, pewter items are appreciated for their beauty and durability, often found in households as part of kitchenware or as collectible ornaments.

Structure of Pewter

Pewter is a malleable metal alloy, primarily consisting of tin, which makes up about 85% to 99% of its composition. The addition of lead, which used to be common in pewter, has decreased over time due to health concerns, and it’s now often replaced with safer metals like copper, antimony, or bismuth. These added metals serve to harden the alloy, making it more durable and suitable for crafting.

The structure of pewter is such that the tin provides a soft, silver-like base, while the small amounts of other metals add strength and work ability. This combination allows pewter to be easily molded into intricate designs for jewelry, tableware, and decorative items, making it a favorite among artisans for centuries. Its low melting point also means that pewter items can be crafted with fine details, appealing to those who appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of such objects.

Preparation of Pewter

Preparing pewter involves melting and mixing its component metals together. First, tin, the main ingredient, is melted at a relatively low temperature of about 450°F (232°C). Once the tin is fully melted, small amounts of other metals, such as copper, antimony, or formerly lead, are added to the molten tin. For example, if we’re making a modern, lead-free pewter, we might add 3% copper and 7% antimony to 90% tin. The process would look something like this in a simplified chemical equation:

90% Sn+3% Cu+7% Sb→Pewter Alloy

This mixture is then stirred thoroughly to ensure an even distribution of the metals, creating a uniform alloy. After the metals are fully mixed and the alloy has cooled slightly, it can be poured into molds to create various objects, such as plates, cups, or decorative items. The cooling process is crucial as it allows the pewter to solidify into the desired shape while maintaining the detailed designs often found in pewterware.

Physical Properties of Pewter

HardnessSofter than most metals; can be scratched with a knife
Melting PointLow, around 338°F to 446°F (170°C to 230°C), depending on the exact composition
DensityLower than many other metals, making pewter items lighter
MalleabilityHighly malleable, meaning it can be easily shaped and molded without breaking
DuctilityIt can be drawn into thin wires, though not as easily as more ductile metals like gold
ConductivityPoor electrical conductor compared to metals like copper or silver
LusterHas a natural shine that can be enhanced with polishing

Chemical Properties Of Pewter

Corrosion Resistance

Pewter is quite resistant to corrosion from air and water, more so when it doesn’t contain lead. This is due to the formation of a thin, protective oxide layer on its surface. However, if lead is present, it can form lead oxide (PbO) when exposed to air over time, which is less stable.

Reactivity with Acids

Pewter, especially when it contains lead, reacts with acidic substances. For instance, vinegar (acetic acid) can react with lead-containing pewter to form lead acetate (Pb(C₂H₃O₂)₂​), a toxic compound. This is one reason why lead-free pewter is preferred for food and drink containers.


Over time, pewter can tarnish when exposed to sulfur compounds in the air, leading to a duller surface. This is a mild form of corrosion but can be polished away.

Stability at High Temperatures

Due to its low melting point, pewter can lose its shape at temperatures higher than its melting point, which ranges from 338°F to 446°F (170°C to 230°C). This low melting point (Sn melts at 231.9°C) makes pewter unsuitable for high-temperature applications.

Alloying Behavior

Pewter’s properties are significantly influenced by its alloying elements. Adding antimony (Sb) and copper (Cu) enhances its hardness and strength. The exact chemical behavior in alloying can be complex but aims to achieve a balance of malleability and durability.

Uses of Pewter


Pewter is often used to make dishes, cutlery, and serving items. Its low melting point allows for detailed designs, making pewter tableware both functional and decorative.


Thanks to its malleability and aesthetic appeal, pewter is a popular choice for bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. It’s especially favored for intricate designs.

Decorative Items

Pewter’s ability to be molded into complex shapes makes it ideal for decorative objects like figurines, photo frames, and candle holders.

Tankards and Flasks

Historically and currently, pewter is used to craft beer tankards and flasks. Its composition ensures that the taste of the beverages is not affected.

Medals and Trophies

The metal’s durability and pleasing luster make it suitable for creating medals, trophies, and other awards.

Musical Instruments

Some components of musical instruments, such as organ pipes and harmonicas, are made from pewter, utilizing its acoustic properties.

Religious Items

Pewter has been used in religious artifacts, such as crosses and chalices, due to its work ability and longevity.

How to Clean Pewter

  1. Wash Gently: Start by washing the pewter item with warm, soapy water using a soft sponge or cloth. Avoid using abrasive materials that can scratch the surface.
  2. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse the item under warm running water to remove any soap residue.
  3. Dry Immediately: Dry the pewter immediately with a soft towel to prevent water spots. Pewter can tarnish from prolonged exposure to water.
  4. Polish Softly: If your pewter is polished (shiny), you can apply a pewter polish with a soft cloth, following the product’s instructions. For satin (matte) pewter, you can use a fine mesh pad recommended for pewter to lightly rub the surface in circular motions.
  5. Buff to Shine: After polishing, buff the pewter with a clean, soft cloth to bring out its natural luster.

Benefits of Pewter


Pewter is a sturdy material that withstands the test of time, meaning items made from pewter can be cherished for many years.

Low Melting Point

Its low melting point allows for easy casting into detailed designs, perfect for creating intricate and decorative pieces.


Lead-free pewter is non-toxic and safe for use with food and beverages, making pewter items practical for everyday use.


Pewter is recyclable, which means old items can be melted down and reused to make new ones, reducing waste.

Aesthetic Quality

The metal’s unique sheen and ability to capture fine details make it aesthetically appealing, desirable for jewelry and ornamental objects.


Why is Pewter No Longer Used?

Pewter’s decline is due to alternatives like plastic and stainless steel, which are cheaper and more durable for everyday items.

Why is Pewter So Expensive?

Pewter is expensive because of its craftsmanship and the cost of tin, which is the primary metal used in its alloy.

What’s So Special About Pewter?

Pewter stands out for its unique luster, detailed craftsmanship, and durability, making it a prized material for decorative items.

Is Pewter Safe on Skin?

Yes, modern lead-free pewter is safe on skin, widely used in jewelry, posing no health risks when worn.

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