Windsor sheet metal company pivots to more copper work in face of tariffs

One Windsor company has pivoted its business to use more copper in face of steel and aluminum tariffs, but the owner is facing yet another roadblock.

Ryan Jordan says his shop is looking for two apprentices willing to learn how to work with copper

Ryan Jordan has worked with copper for more than 20 years. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

A Windsor sheet metal company pivoted to use more copper once the tariffs on steel and aluminum came down, but the owner is running into a second roadblock.

In his 40s, Ryan Jordan is worried he won't have anyone to pass on his coppersmith skills to.

"Unfortunately it's not something that you're going to learn in school," said Jordan.

"It's something you have to learn at the shop under somebody who knows what they're doing. It takes a lot of patience."

Jordan runs RJ Steel, which offers mostly wrought iron, stainless steel and copper work. Copper was the first thing he started his business with 19 years ago.

A few months ago, the U.S. announced tariffs imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum, at 25 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. That move came in the midst of the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations. However, even though negotiations have finished, the tariffs remain in place.

Those tariffs have forced Jordan to refrain from buying new equipment. He's also had to look at using more materials that aren't steel or aluminum, along with selling more copper to some clients.

In the face of tariffs on steel and aluminum, Jordan says he's had to pivot to selling more copper. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

He said copper is a material that has become more popular, pointing to examples of homes in Kingsville, the Russell Woods area in Lakeshore, and also restoration projects, like the work on Willistead Manor. Currently he's working on leader heads for the manor.

"It is coming back and people are willing to spend the money knowing the material is going to last longer than the house probably," he said.

Ryan Jordan, owner of RJ Steel is repairing a copper piece of the Willistead Manor. 0:50

While the pivot to copper has served him well, the future is still uncertain for RJ Steel.

Jordan's two teenaged sons want to work with their hands, but they aren't interested in taking over the business, he said.. There are also no apprentices in the shop to learn copper work, which also requires a lot of patience, according to Jordan.

"I don't know what I would do to be honest with you," he said.

"I would have to diversify."

With files from Stacey Janzer