When my wife asked me to think of something “interesting” to put in the back corner of our yard I started searching for “yard art”. In particular, I thought it would be good if I could make something out of metal and specifically out of copper. One of the things I found that was interesting was this:
I actually ended up making two versions, one that was large and one that was the same dimensions as shown in that Instructable. What I will show here is the smaller one with an assembly procedure tailored for copper pipe.
Copper Pipe 101
There are two common sizes of copper pipe available at your local big box hardware store: 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch. There are also usually two grades available: L and M. The easiest way to tell them apart is by price. All of the designs I have made use the cheapest 1/2 inch copper pipe which, at the time of this post, was about $10 for a 10-foot piece. The available fittings match the pipe size and the only ones I use in my designs are the 90 degree elbow, the 45 degree elbow, and the 3-way tee.
In keeping with the “simple” theme, there are no bends required and no soldering. I use golf shaft epoxy to fasten parts together but any epoxy that works on metal can be used. I recommend that you get the long curing epoxy – mine is workable for up to 20 minutes and cures in 20 hours. The fast setting stuff doesn’t allow enough assembly time. Other items you will need are a pipe cutter (unless you want to use a hacksaw), and something to clean and rough up the ends of the pipe and the inside of the fittings. You can use sandpaper or buy the little tools plumbers use like those shown in the pictures. The model cutter I bought was Lowes item number 131848 (about $13). I got a little higher cost model because of how much pipe I cut and because Lowes also stocks the replacement blades. You can certainly pay a lot less for one.
As mentioned earlier, I make all of my items using off-the-shelf fittings. Generally the fittings cost more than the straight pipe in any given design so you may want to try to buy in bulk if you plan to make more than one item. You can usually find them in 10 packs or 25 packs. I have even purchased 50 packs on eBay for much less than the retail stores.
This particular design uses twelve 6-inch straight pieces of pipe and twelve 90 degree elbows. As can be seen in the referenced Instructable, the finished item looks different depending on the viewing angle. I have one hanging from the soffit on my back porch and have it situated so it looks like a star when I look out the window.
The epoxy is in two parts: resin and hardener. I mix it up after I have all of the parts cut and prepped. Remember that the epoxy can only provide a good bond if it is applied to clean, slightly roughed metal. Make sure you mix enough, but you will be surprised at how little it actually takes because you will only use a thin coating on each connection.
The assembly is done in two stages with the second stage done a day after the first stage. As can be seen in the pictures, the first stage requires that we make three identical pieces. Each piece is basically a V-shape that stands up on legs. The legs must be parallel and the easiest way to ensure that is to use a pair of unglued elbows on the leg ends held apart by a stiff piece of wire (like from a sturdy coat hanger) about 9 5/8 inches long. That could be a problem if you don’t have extra elbows so you could use something like a block of wood approximately 8 3/4 inches long to separate the legs.
Dry fit the pieces before gluing to make sure that the pipes can be easily inserted into the fittings. I use my finger to apply the glue because it is easy to spread that way and easy to control the quantity applied. I take just enough glue to put a thin coat on the inside of the fitting and then on the end of the straight pipe. They should then press together without a big glob of glue showing on the outside of the joint.
The second stage (the second day) requires that you use three elbows to piece the three V-assemblies together. Just put the three V-assemblies with their legs facing inward toward each other and connect the adjacent legs. The points of the V’s will end up being tipped toward each other when everything is together. You can see in the picture above where the three elbows connect.
You can choose a variety of ways to hang your finished piece. In any case, it should hang so that it looks like a star in one direction. You can just use heavy string (like nylon para-cord) wrapped around the elbow or you can drill a hole in the elbow to attach a fastener. If you just drill a hole in the top of the elbow you can glue an eye-hook in and then use cord or chain to hang it. Since I like to hang something on the inside of the “star” I drill a hole all of the way through the elbow and use heavy gauge copper wire which I bend into loops on the inside and outside of the piece.
If you leave the copper unfinished it will eventually oxidize to a chocolate brown. I like to keep the bright copper color so I put a clear coating on mine. Before I coat it I use a common green nylon scouring pad (replaces steel wool) to brighten the copper. The stuff I’ve been using is some Penetrol I got from a friend. I just wipe on a thin coat. There are also spray finishes at the local hardware store that should work as well.
As you can see I have added an aluminum hoop that hangs by a chain in the middle of the copper piece. I found several of these hoops at the local recycling center. They were spacers between huge hard disk platters that were used on an old DEC mini-computer. Feel free to make your design uniquely your own by adding something like a bell or whatever else comes to mind. That’s it for this post. Check out my other projects.