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BY DUNCAN ADAMS
THE ROANOKE TIMES
FINCASTLE--Faye Caldwell wonders some days whether any production is under way in the basement workshop.
"I'll be upstairs trying to get something done and I'll just hear them laughing down there and I'll wonder who's working," she said.
The "them" are Porter Caldwell, 77, Faye's husband since 1958, and his assistant, Elliott Muncey, 31, of Fincastle. And the business is Caldwell Mountain Copper, housed in the home that the Caldwells have long shared off a gravel road in Botetourt County.
When they're busy, Porter Caldwell and Muncey handcraft copper sheeting into kettles, buckets, chocolate pots, bowls, double boilers, foot tubs and more. Their products include replicas of items from the 1700s that can be seen in collections at Jamestown and Williamsburg.
Sometimes it doesn't feel much like work.
"You pull into the parking lot in the morning and you don't have to cringe before you get out of your car," Muncey said, noting he once had a job that elicited cringing daily.
Some steps in turning a sheet of copper into a bucket, tub or kettle can be tedious-- but then another step follows, Porter Caldwell said.
"It just goes from one thing to something else. You're not standing there doing the same thing all day," he said.
"The most boring thing, if you ask Elliott, is the grinding," Caldwell said. "There are several things you wouldn't want to do all the time for a living."
Muncey chimed in.
"Polishing. I don't like polishing," he said.
Caldwell said that he and Faye, also 77, have worked full time at coppersmithing for more than 30 years. He rubbed his fingers together as if handling paper money when asked what initially drew him to the work.
"That was the first incentive when we started. We had to eat and we like to eat three times a day and we like to be able to pay our bills," Porter Caldwell said.
Caldwell's work history includes laboring at his father's sawmill in Botetourt County, being an employee of the Virginia Department of Forestry and working as a self-employed carpenter, electrician and plumber. He and Faye once traveled on weekends to crafts shows, selling apple butter, jellies, home-ground grits and other items and demonstrating a steam-engine-powered grist mill. Faye retired after working more than 36 years for social services in Botetourt County.
Porter Caldwell began to tinker with making small items out of copper and the couple started selling them at the craft shows. Eventually, coppersmithing took over.
Asked whether he enjoys being his own boss, Caldwell smiled.
He said he's third in command at the business, behind Faye and Muncey.
"Actually, we try not to have bosses here," he said. "There's no boss. Lots of times Elliott comes to work and I'm just getting out of bed or eating breakfast."
Faye Caldwell spent her early years in Roanoke, where both her parents worked for a time at the American Viscose plant in southeast Roanoke. The family later moved to Botetourt County.
She once worked alongside her husband--welding, soldering, turning edges. Now, she focuses on bookkeeping, order taking, shipping and similar tasks. Most sales occur via the Internet. Most customers are from out of state. A FedEx truck winds along country roads to the house.
Caldwell Mountain Copper also receives special orders.
Muncey and Porter Caldwell are completing a custom-made copper boiler with a capacity of about 275 gallons that will be used by a customer in the production of lavender oil.
Prices for regularly produced items range from about $85 to $1,000. The custom-made boiler will sell for several thousand, Caldwell said.
As a boy, Caldwell tinkered in his father's shop and demonstrated an interest in metalwork. At 12, he created an inkwell from a Model T Ford fan blade. His schooling ended at Fincastle High School, where he and Faye started dating, and he taught himself the craft of coppersmithing.
"I'm one of those self-educated people," he said.
Caldwell said he will continue the craft of coppersmithing as long as he can.
"I'm 77, so I have some time left," he said.
He left his chair in the workshop and walked over to an anvil he said weighs about 100 pounds.
"I pick it up like it's nothing," he said.
And he did.