America's only known female coppersmith lives in Wisconsin. Meet Sara Dahmen, who is bringing a centuries' old art into the modern age

NOW: America’s only known female coppersmith lives in Wisconsin. Meet Sara Dahmen, who is bringing a centuries’ old art into the modern age

FREDONIA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Inside of a two-story storage unit in Fredonia, Wisconsin, Sara Dahmen stands next to a table, covered with metal scraps and pieces of torn paper.

"Why is this so hard?" Dahmen complains, while furiously tapping her pencil on a notepad covered in mathematical equations.

Her cellphone is her next target, as her fingertips pound the number keys on her open calculator app.

"Nine and 5/32nds? Shoot me now," Dahmen says laughingly, while adjusting her messy bun. "Three divided by sixteen? No."

She's working to figure out what size she needs to cut out from the large shiny sheets of copper that fill the room.

It's part of a custom order for 30 cups for a wedding in August.

"It's a very cool gift, that's for sure," Dahmen says. "But there's never an end to the math in this shop, unfortunately."

This shop is aptly named "House Copper" -- her home away from home where she works to make and restore copper cookware.

“I’m the only [known] female coppersmith building and restoring cookware in all of America," Dahmen told CBS 58's Ellie Nakamoto-White. “It’s so amazing that I’m here but I never expected to be here.”

Her journey into the trade was... untraditional to say the least.

Dahmen was working as a wedding planner and a novelist, on top of being a wife and mother to three.

It was during her research for a fictional book she was writing about American history in the pioneer era, that she stumbled across the art.

“I found out what the women were using in the kitchens and realized they were using tin and copper and iron," Dahmen said. "I found a local tin and coppersmith who was working in those metals, kind of the old-fashioned way and I happened to ask him if I could show up and watch him work with it.”

But what she didn't know was how much she'd grow to love the trade.

“I enjoyed learning it. It was a surprise and it felt like a mid-life change from going from a wedding planner to a metalsmith," Dahmen said.

She ended up taking on a full-time apprenticeship and sold her wedding planning business.

That was in 2015.

Now nearly a decade later, Dahmen is a pro -- running House Copper complete with her own copper cookware line.

“There’s way more copper than I ever thought in my life," Dahmen said. "I think I’m made of copper now I’ve probably inhaled so much!"

So, why copper?

Dahmen said for one, tin-lined copper is "25 times more efficient than stainless."

"You're using less heat to get a result faster and you have more control over it," Dahmen said. "It's like cooking with a fine paintbrush."

Plus, the metal will live on through future generations.

“There are things that are available that are green and energy efficient and more conductive and will last 300 years," Dahmen said. "The pots themselves could be found in an archaeological dig in 9,000 years and they’ll still be obviously a pot. That’s the part that amazes me.”

Besides the cups, during our interview, Dahmen was also working to re-tin a large pot, efficiently strapping on 10 pounds of safety gear from the mask on her head down to her sturdy boots.

“You have to be so strong to do this and even if you’re very strong, after hours over a 600-degree fire, holding a 15-pound pot static with molten metal, you’re broken," Dahmen said. “There are days I’ll come home and I’m black and you can’t get it out of your skin because it’s just ingrained in your skin, and I can’t even stop shaking because I’m so muscle fatigued.”

She added that working with copper is a lot more physically demanding than some realize -- and it's not about if you'll get hurt, but when.

“You walk in the day going I hope today I don’t get burned so bad I have to go to the hospital, or I don’t get so hurt I am bleeding out on the floor," Dahmen said. “There are times people want to do this and they want to do it as a job and I’m like, start lifting weights, and I’m not kidding.”

But all of the physical labor is worth the chance to bring this more-so forgotten art into the modern age.

Dahmen even uses tools dating back to the 1700s to create her pieces, that she's either inherited from her blacksmith uncle, purchased online, or traded for at annual convergences.

"Everything I'm doing, I'm using all of these tools, and I don't think there's been anything invented modern day that would do the job any better," Dahmen said. "But finding these tools is like hunting for a needle in a haystack."

For those considering trying out metalsmithing? Her advice is to just say yes.

“I feel like if I don’t instill an enthusiasm for this trade or trades like it and teach what I know and write about what I know and write books and blog, then all of what’s in my head in another generation it’ll be absolutely gone," Dahmen said. “If we could get this going, even on a smaller scale, it would save the trade. And I would consider that kind of a legacy of success right there.”

To check out all things House Copper, click here.

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