World consumption of refined tin by end use, 2006
In 2006, about half of tin produced was used in solder. The rest
was divided between tin plating, tin chemicals, brass and bronze,
and niche uses.
A coil of lead-free solder wire
Tin has long been used as a solder in the form of an alloy with
lead, tin accounting for 5 to 70% w/w. Tin forms a eutectic mixture
with lead containing 63% tin and 37% lead. Such solders are
primarily used for solders for joining pipes or electric circuits.
Since the European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment
Directive (WEEED) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive
(RoHS) came into effect on 1 July 2006, the use of lead in such
alloys has decreased. Replacing lead has many problems, including a
higher melting point, and the formation of tin whiskers causing
electrical problems. Replacement alloys are rapidly being found,
Tin bonds readily to iron and is used for coating lead or zinc and
steel to prevent corrosion. Tin-plated steel containers are widely
used for food preservation, and this forms a large part of the
market for metallic tin. A tinplate canister for preserving food
was first manufactured in London in 1812. Speakers of British
English call them "tins", while speakers of American English call
them "cans" or "tin cans". One thus-derived use of the slang term
"tinnie" or "tinny" means "can of beer". The tin whistle is so
called because it was first mass-produced in tin-plated steel.
Tin in combination with other elements forms a wide variety of
useful alloys. Tin is most commonly alloyed with copper. Pewter is
8599% tin; Babbitt metal has a high percentage of tin as well. Bronze is mostly copper (12% tin), while addition of phosphorus
gives phosphor bronze. Bell metal is also a copper-tin alloy,
containing 22% tin. Tin has also sometimes been used in coinage;
for example, it once formed a single figure percentage of the
American and Canadian pennies. Because copper is often the major metal in such coins, and zinc is
sometimes present as well, these could technically be called bronze
and/or brass alloys.
The niobium-tin compound Nb3Sn is commercially used as wires for
superconducting magnets, due to the material's high critical
temperature (18 K) and critical magnetic field (25 T). A
superconducting magnet weighing only a couple of kilograms is
capable of producing magnetic fields comparable to a conventional
electromagnet weighing tons.
A addition of a few percent tin is commonly used in zirconium
alloys for the cladding of nuclear fuel.
Tin plated metal from can
Illustrative niche applications
A 21st century reproduction barn lantern made of punched tin. Barn
lanterns were placed over candles and oil lamps to reduce fire
hazard when inside barns, and were in use up until the mid-20th
century by some farmers.
Punched tin, also called pierced tin, is an artisan technique
originating in central Europe for creating housewares that are both
functional and decorative. Decorative piercing designs exist in a
wide variety, based on geography or the artisan's personal
creations. Punched tin lanterns are the most common application of
this artisan technique.
The light of a candle shining through the pierced design creates a
decorative light pattern in the room where it sits. Punched tin
lanterns and other punched tin articles were created in the New
World from the earliest European settlement. A well-known example
is the Revere type lantern, named after Paul Revere.
Before the modern era, in some areas of the Alps, a goat or sheep's
horn would be sharpened and a tin panel would be punched out using
the alphabet and numbers from one to nine. This learning tool was
known appropriately as "the horn". Modern reproductions are
decorated with such motifs as hearts and tulips.
In America, pie safes and food safes came into use in the days
before refrigeration. These were wooden cupboards of various styles
and sizes - either floor standing or hanging cupboards meant to
discourage vermin and insects and to keep dust from perishable
foodstuffs. These cabinets had tinplate inserts in the doors and
sometimes in the sides, punched out by the homeowner, cabinetmaker
or a tinsmith in varying designs to allow for air circulation.
Modern reproductions of these articles remain popular in North