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My problems with Baumalu

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I won’t call this a field guide.

I don’t have enough information on Baumalu’s history and production runs to make a true field guide and in any event I don’t recommend buying Baumalu for reasons I will detail below. Baumalu copper is quite common on eBay and Etsy and is not always identified as such. If you are lucky, the seller will photograph the stamps and provide reliable measurements, but if you aren’t so lucky, you will need to be able to recognize it on your own.

Baumalu was founded in 1971 in Baldenheim in Alsace and for a period of time made 2mm (and occasionally 3mm) tin-lined copper comparable to the work of its cousin-competitors in Villedieu-les-Poêles. But by 2009 (and likely earlier), the company was mass-producing thinner pieces at a lower price point. While Baumalu pots and pans are still made from straight-gauge tin-lined copper with cast-iron handles, they’re sold at a fraction of the price of Mauviel, Falk, and other major copper brands. Baumalu’s skillets or saucepans — sometimes complete sets — can be had brand-new from Amazon for US$50, and occasionally show up at US discount stores such as TJMaxx, Homegoods, and Marshalls for even less. (Are these seconds or counterfeit? Nobody is saying.)

How does Baumalu offer such affordable copper? Well, it’s not magic: they make compromises that, in my opinion, make Baumalu less desirable and less collectible than other marques.

Copper thickness

First and foremost, Baumalu’s pans are thin: the 2018 copper catalog lists items at 1mm, 1.2mm, 1.5mm, and 1.7mm thickness (plus .1-.2mm of tin). Mauviel calls copper less than 2mm thick “table service” grade, meaning it is intended to serve prepared food and is not for stovetop or oven use. Copper aficionados on Chowhound claim (and I agree) that the benefits of copper — heat evenness and retention, et cetera — begin to manifest at 2mm and really kick in at 2.5mm or more. Copper is copper, of course, and a thin pan will do its best for you no matter how it’s made, but there is simply not much copper to work with in a pan less than 2mm thick.

Finish

Secondly, Baumalu’s manufacturing process produces a lesser level of finish as other brands. Take a close look at the sidewalls of my Baumalu skillet.

 

Those ridges are artifacts from when the copper sheet was spun on a lathe and bent around a pan-shaped mandrel. (Saucepans and deeper pots are deep-drawn in a hydraulic press.) The tool that forced the copper sheet against the form left tracks on the surface and Baumalu didn’t bother to smooth them away. Mauviel, Falk, Bourgeat, and de Buyer also spin their pans and I’m sure their shaping tools can leave similar marks, but you don’t see those marks on their finished pans because the craftsmen polish them to leave a smooth surface. Baumalu just leaves the marks there (and you’ll see them on other Baumalu skillets online, too, so it’s not just my pan). I can only assume this is to save the time and expense of extra attention to the appearance.

Baumalu’s exterior martelé (“hammered finish”) also seems to be misleading. Take a good look at this Baumalu jam pan. The marks are sharp and clear on the inside but softened on the outside.

 

Baumalu’s production video reveals why. It appears to me that the pan isn’t hammered at all, but molded around a mandrel with indentations that look like hammer strike marks. The craftsman presses a smooth copper pan against the indentations to stamp it with the pattern to create the hammered look, which explains why the marks are clearer on the inside of the pan than on the outside.

 

Several of Baumalu’s hammered pieces have this same appearance — sharp interior marks and softer exterior contours. I think these are all stamped with the mandrel process.

 

I do think that Baumalu may hammer some of its pieces, most likely its Windsors, because the surface is too irregular and I see evidence of true strikes on the copper. But at the same time, these pieces have the internal contours that look similar to the mandrel faux-hammering results, so I don’t know what to think. Maybe they combine two techniques — they stamp the pot with the mandrel and then add some hammer strikes by hand. Take a look.

 

In support of the mandrel-plus-hammering theory, compare these two Windsors. One has a true hammered look, while the other looks to me like it only got the mandrel treatment. Or was the second one just ineptly hammered? What the heck?

 

The thing is, hammering is not just an affectation; the physical impacts on the copper serve to work-harden the metal and make it harder and more resistant to dents. The faux-hammering mandrel process does not do this and only creates a surface texture. This means that Baumalu’s “hammered” pieces will not be as resilient as the true hammered pieces of other makers. But how are you to tell which Baumalu pieces truly are hammered? Are any of them?

Tin thickness

Thirdly, the tin lining is quite thin, so much so that it appears almost electroplated. Baumalu’s method of lining their pans is quite different from what you see at Mauviel, Rocky Mountain Retinning, or East Coast Tinning. This short excerpt I took from the full video on YouTube shows how they line the pan with tin:

 

It’s an ingenious solution: no hot forge, no splashing metal, no waste. It’s much faster and safer for the craftsman. It also conserves tin and enables the craftsman to attain the thinnest and most even layer possible.

The tin lining on my own small Baumalu skillet side-by-side with a Mauviel skillet illustrates the difference between Baumalu’s system and Mauviel’s hand-wiped technique. The faint but concentric wipe marks on the Baumalu resemble the groove on a vinyl record and not the asymmetrical smears left by conventional hand-tinning on the Mauviel.

 

If you look up the inside of the Baumalu skillet’s sidewalls, you can see more evidence of how thin the tin lining is. Those ridges aren’t wipe marks, but instead are the same ridges left unpolished from the pan’s turn on the lathe. The tin is so thin that it provides no softening of these contours whatsoever — it’s more like a cosmetic layer of paint than the protective barrier it is intended to be.

My problems with Baumalu

The problem is that this lining is quite fragile. Minor scratches in the tin can penetrate easily to the copper. I can’t measure Baumalu’s lining thickness, but my guess is that it’s thinner than a conventional .2-.4mm hand-applied lining, perhaps .1mm or thinner. That’s not a lot of tin between you and your copper.


My issues with Baumalu

These three factors I describe above — thin copper, inferior finishes, and thin tin — make Baumalu less desirable to me from a collector’s perspective. No single factor is fatal, but combined they make the pans less useful for cooking, less resilient, and less attractive to me.

But what really gets me how Baumalu brands itself despite the tangible physical evidence of cost-cutting:

Chacune de nos fabrications possède son identité, façonnées de par la symbiose que nos artisans vivent avec leurs machines-outils. Notre processus n’est pas automatisé, l’Homme intervient à chaque étape afin de garantir la validation de nos critères techniques, esthétiques et qualitatifs. Ce sens du détail, chaque variation de matière, redéfinissent le plaisir de cuisiner.

In English:

Each of our fabrications has its identity, shaped by the symbiosis that our artisans live with their machine tools. Our process is not automated, Man intervenes at every stage to guarantee the fulfillment of our technical, aesthetic and qualitative criteria. This sense of detail, each variation of material, redefine the pleasure of cooking.

“Sense of detail” is a bit rich, but what interests me is “the symbiosis that our artisans live with their machine tools.” Baumalu uses the same machinery as Mauviel, Falk, De Buyer, Bourgeat, and many other artisanal makers: sheet cutters, hydraulic presses, lathes, riveting machines, and so forth. These machines are not technically necessary — copper pots can be made completely by hand — and yet all these copper makers describe their copper products as hand-crafted. This is a sort of marketing-driven time-travel: 18th-century hammers begat crank presses that begat 19th-century steam-pressure presses that begat 20th-century hydraulic presses and motor-driven lathes and impact hammers, but the marketing department can make time run backwards too, so that a hydraulic press becomes just another form of hammer, and just as artisanal.

I do not dispute that the craftsmen at Mauviel, Falk, Bourgeat, De Buyer, and, yes, Baumalu use skill and judgement to make copper pots. I simply dispute that this work represents the same hand-craftsmanship as a pan that is made without hydraulic machinery. It seems unjust to me that we use the same term — “hand-made” — to describe a Baumalu skillet spun in less than a minute on a lathe and a Gaillard Windsor raised from a sheet of copper over hours of hammer strikes. And don’t get me started on Baumalu’s faux-hammering stuff.

(Incidentally, if you do want to buy a 100% hand-made pot, buy from Bottega del Rame while Cesare Mazzetti is still making them.)

I know all these copper manufacturers are stretching the truth with the hand-crafted claims, but it bugs me more coming from Baumalu given their aggressive cost-cutting and faux finishes. Their copper is simply not at the same quality level as others and I can’t recommend it.


Recognizing Baumalu: Stamps

The easiest way to identify Baumalu is by the stamp, but only one of them actually says “Baumalu.”

My problems with Baumalu This is a common stamp on copper on Etsy and eBay and some sellers don’t seem to realize that it’s a Baumalu mark. “Fabrication Française” means “Made in France” and Baumalu seems to have used it on boxes in lieu of the Baumalu logo, but when you see it, it’s definitely Baumalu.
My problems with Baumalu This is the version of stamp on my 1.5mm Baumalu skillet (purchased 2018), which leads me to believe that this is the stamp for current production. I see pans on Etsy and eBay that are identified at 1.1mm to 2mm but I suspect the 2mm are actually 1.9mm, the top range of Baumalu’s current production.

Recognizing Baumalu: Iron handle shape

Baumalu pans with projecting iron handles are recognizable by the baseplate. It has a flat profile and the rivets are small and widely spaced. Most of the rivets I’ve seen are silver in color, but one or two pans have had copper-colored rivets, so I can’t say that rivet color is an absolute determinant.

My problems with Baumalu


Conclusion

I expect it is obvious by now: I am not a fan of Baumalu. I hope I’ve shown you that it’s due to tangible quality differences from other marques that lead me to find the brand’s assertion of attention to detail especially galling. I would always choose a 1.5mm Mauviel tinned skillet over a 1.5mm Baumalu skillet. But at the same time, copper is copper. You can cook on a Baumalu pan perfectly well (taking into consideration its thinness et cetera); the flaws I describe are more about the brand’s collectibility and resilience. An inexpensive Baumalu pan could be a fine introduction to the pleasures of cooking with copper as long as you did not base your entire judgement on the performance of these thin pans; there are others that are thicker and more solidly made that are not that much more expensive.

If you’re considering buying Baumalu from eBay or Etsy, my suggestion is to get a firm guarantee from the seller on the thickness. I see a lot of pans that claim to be 2mm, but from what I’ve seen, they’re more likely thinner than that. If the seller insists it’s 2mm or better, ask about the return policy. I think there may well be some older Windsors that really are 2mm or even slightly more but you’d be taking the seller’s word for it.


Corrections

Reader Henning pointed out that a knife and glass stamp that I thought was linked to Baumalu is actually a safe-for-food stamp, so I’ve pulled that out of the list of stamps. Thank you!

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13 Comments

    1. Oh my goodness, THANK YOU. I had no idea. I’ve pulled out that info — I really appreciate the correction!

  1. Thank you for detailed article. I am very interested in Copper cookware and bought a Mauviel copper frying pan 250c recently. While I am searching for more copper product like sauce pan and others, found Baumalu brand. The price looked very attractive. But didn’t want to waste money and googled your article fortunately. There is a reason for the low price. Thank you!

  2. So happy to have found your site.
    I have some skillets that I believe must be Baumalu. I enjoy using them,but the tin is completely gone. The cost of retinning is substantial. I wonder if it’s worth the expense.

  3. Hey Renee! Thanks for your kind comment. Are you within driving distance of a good retinner? If not, you’ll need to ship, and the cost of shipping + retinning a Baumalu skillet are about the same as for a thicker pan. Are your Baumalu skillets less than 2mm? If so, I’d want to make the investment of shipping + tinning in a pan with more copper and therefore more versatility. Thin responsive skillets have a role in the kitchen, but a thicker skillet can fill that same role and add more flexibility to modulate heat a little more effectively. That said, you can keep using your Baumalu even with fading tin — for omelets, for example, if you keep an eye on the rapid responsiveness. I keep a little Baumalu skillet on hand for when my nephew visits — he loves using it to make omelettes and breakfast burritos. Feel free to email me if you’d like some help tracking down a new skillet — I don’t sell copper but I have an eBay seller I’d refer you to who could keep an eye out for you.

  4. Interesting article! Baumalu pieces were the first that I bought, and I still use mine fairly frequently. I’ve found that the saucepans and windsors with “thick walls” (correctly identified by you as approx 1.7mm) work quite well for the smaller sizes, but it’s just not thick enough for the larger pans. If someone were buying one online, I would also recommend looking closely at where the handle joins the pan, as I’ve seen some in person that have significant gaps between the copper and iron.

    Thanks for the read!

    1. Thank you for an interesting article. I bought several Baumalu pots and pans in 2006. I have checked them with a micrometer, and they read as 2mm thick. I bought a small pot last year and it reads as 1.5mm thick, which supports what you say.

  5. I think you make an excellent case for Baumalu being a lesser grade of copper cookware than Falk, Mauviel, etc which may help some folks who think they are getting the steal of the century. Most buyers may not know why, but probably have a pretty good idea that a pan that costs 25-30% of what the high end manufacturers make is probably not as good.

    What I think this doesn’t really address is what are the functional downsides to the differences in the cookware.

    How big is the gap in cooking performance between 1.7mm and 2-3mm copper? Does the additional durability of thicker copper outweigh the fact that you can replace a Baumalu pot twice before you approach the price of a high end piece?

    How quickly is Baumalu’s plated tin going to wear out vs. a hand wiped lining? Is there likely to be a noticeable difference in the lifetime of the pan? Is the difference pronounced enough to justify the difference in price?

    I don’t think anybody seriously disputes that Baumalu makes lower quality cookware than Mauviel or Falk or Rufoni. I do think that it’s important not to be dismissive of a maker that produces copper cookware that will almost certainly be the best the potential buyer has ever owned and seems to hold its value pretty well if they decide to upgrade to one of the premier makers down the line. I also think it’s important to distinguish between what practical impact the differences you note have on cooking performance and durability vs those that are primarily about collectibility.

    Finally, you can’t compare Baumalu and the premier makers without talking about price. Yes, a Bentley is better than a Honda in many respects and that is reflected in their price points. Are Mauviel pans better than Buamalu? Are they 3-4 times better in performance and durability? Because that’s the difference in price.

    Value is always in the eye of the beholder and you always pay vastly more for the last ten percent of quality than you did for the first 90%, but I don’t think this article really gives a fair comparison of the marks for somebody who is evaluating whether to buy some Baumalu pans. A person could easily get the idea that Baumalu pans are functionally poor and not worth purchasing.

  6. First of all, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I can give you a little more information about my conclusions about Baumalu copper pans.

    As I say in my post above, “Copper is copper. You can cook on a Baumalu pan perfectly well (taking into consideration its thinness et cetera).” Let me explain what those considerations are. There is a fundamental difference in performance between thin (less than 2mm) and thick (2.5mm or more) copper because the thinner pan will change temperature more quickly than the thicker pan. (“Understanding Stovetop Cookware” on eGullet [https://forums.egullet.org/topic/25717-understanding-stovetop-cookware/] covers why this is in detail.) This means that on the stovetop, a thin copper pan will get hotter faster than a thicker one, even on a lower flame, which could burn food (and melt tin) more quickly than the cook expects. Is this a functional downside? Depends on your ability and willingness to keep a vigilant eye on the pan and to be prepared to yank it off the stove when it overheats.

    The bottom line is that the differences between a 1.7mm Baumalu pan and a thicker one do have practical impacts on cooking performance and durability. Whether these impacts are worth the price differential is up to you. But from a collectibility perspective, Baumalu’s craftsmanship – thin copper, inferior finishes, and thin tin – makes their pieces less desirable in my opinion. My goal with this site is not to tell people what to buy but to help them be more confident in their decision by helping them know what to expect.

  7. I agree with ATM’s observations. I have a number of Baumalu pots and pans and I’m a real cook. They function extremely well as vehicles for cooking. Talk about “collectibility” in the context of cookware is just silly in my view. If all you want to do is spend money, then knock yourself out spending $200 on a saucepan. But if you want the advantages one gets from cooking in copper, e.g., great forgiveness when you’ve left something on too long, but it’s still not burnt when you pull it off the heat because you used a copper skillet, Baumalu pans are a very good deal and a smart buy.

    1. Syrie, I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying your Baumalu pans so much. If you are ever curious about why vintage and antique copper is considered collectible, please consider reading more on my site, which is devoted to that topic.

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