Ultimate Guide to Recycled Copper Crafts

This copper cable, which has been stripped of its plastic casing, is ready to be recycled.
This copper cable, which has been stripped of its plastic casing, is ready to be recycled.
iStockphoto.com/CarefullyChosen

Making crafts by hand can be extremely rewarding, and people have been using copper to create a variety of materials for thousands of years. For example, cave dwellers used copper axes as weapons and tools for survival. And archaeologists find copper items regularly during excavation projects. In fact, a copper pendant that dates back to 8700 B.C. turned up in the region that is currently known as northern Iraq [source: CDA].

Copper is everywhere. Although you might not notice it, it's all over your house. If you live in a single-family home, you most likely have 439 lbs (199.127 kg) of copper surrounding you right now [source: CDA]. Some of the copper will be located in built-in household appliances. When these appliances break, it's easy to make a phone call and have them hauled away. However, you can also strip out the metal to make recycled copper crafts.

Artists and architects use copper in a variety of projects. Some large copper projects, such as the Statue of Liberty, which contains a whopping 179,000 lbs (81,193 kg) of copper, are best left to the pros. However, there are still plenty of smaller crafting projects to tackle in your down time.

First and foremost, you're going to have to get your hands on some copper. If you have old appliances, you can strip out the wiring to expose the copper. You can also purchase recycled copper tubes or sheets from your local scrap metal company or hardware store. If you are purchasing recycled copper, make sure you're getting it from a reputable source so that it doesn't contain impurities [source: CDA]. Once you have the product in hand, you're ready to get crafting.

In this article, we'll take a look a recycled copper jewelry, sprinklers, sculptures and mobiles. Let's get started by learning about jewelry.

Recycled Copper Jewelry

The most important tool you can have for making jewelry is a good set of pliers. If you're just creating the jewelry for fun and not as a serious hobby, you can get away with using needle-nose pliers and a wire clipper. Also, you can find a pair of pliers in ready-made jewelry kits. If you're serious about the hobby, however, you'll probably want to buy a nice pair for crafting. There are many different varieties of jewelry-making pliers, including flat-nose, round-nose, bent chain-nose or chain-nose [source: Harvey]. Talk to the jewelry expert at your craft store to help you make the right decision based on your needs.

For earring construction, you'll need copper earring hooks, which you can find in craft stores or online. From there, you can use the thin copper wiring from your built-in household appliances to add beads, stones, feathers or other decorative items to the earrings. You can also bend the copper to make fun zigzags or circular shapes [source: Bloglander].

For necklaces, rings and bracelets, you can use thicker copper wire or piping. There are many different kinds of copper, which means that some may be easier to bend than others. You can use thick pipes to make bracelets or cuffs that are easily removable [source: MadeItMyself]. You can also wrap thinner wire around thicker wire to add texture. Think of this process like twisting two pipe cleaners together.

To make recycled copper broaches or pins, you can find copper backings and clasps at the craft store or online. You can flatten large pieces or embed designs using a jewelry hammer [source: Lewton-Brain]. Then attach the backings to the jewelry using metal glue or by soldering.

If you have larger copper piping lying around, you'll be able to make much larger crafts. Read on to learn about recycled copper sprinklers.

Recycled Copper Sprinklers

Sprinklers can water the lawn and entertain the kids. Who doesn't want to run giggling through the cool spray of water on a hot summer day? In general, sprinklers are not all that attractive, so why not try to spruce them up? You can make a recycled copper sprinkler that will be the talk of the neighborhood.

A quick flip through a few home improvement books or a few clicks around the Internet and you'll see that copper sprinklers can range from simple to sublime. Some companies or artists have created copper sprinklers shaped like trees, spinners and even animals [sources: Raintree Sprinklers, Water Ballet Copper Sprinklers, Yardiac]. These water features highlight both form and function. Working with copper for the first time on this kind of project can be very challenging. So if you're a beginner, something like this is probably best left to the pros.

The basic premise of a recycled copper sprinkler is that a hose is attached to a copper structure. The copper structure has holes cut into it where water is released. How you create the copper structure ultimately depends on your skill and comfort level and the plan or instructions you decide to follow. Be prepared, this type of project requires quite a few supplies and tools. Some basic materials you will need include copper tubing and pipe, a hose, hose connectors, T connectors, flux, solder along with a variety of metal-working tools including a small propane torch [source: DIY Network, Black & Decker].

Once you've created your copper sprinkler, it will require a little maintenance. Copper will turn green if it's exposed to the elements for a prolonged period of time. The copper oxidizes and turns to patina, which is the thin, green layer of material on certain copper statues (including the Statue of Liberty). To prevent patina from forming, you can clean your copper creations with metal cleaner [source: CDA]. Or, if you like it that way, you can leave the copper to do its natural thing.

If you don't want to bother with the water, try your hand at creating something for your home. Read on to learn about recycled copper sculptures.

Recycled Copper Sculptures

Sculptures come in all shapes and sizes. They don't have to be large, commissioned pieces of work for local businesses. You can also make small sculptures to add to your home or garden.

By bending thin copper wire with your hands, you can create a wide assortment of art projects, including self-portraits, flowers, houses or animals [source: Bartel].

For larger copper sculptures, you're going to need to learn the ins and outs of how the metal works. You're also going to need a blowtorch. If you are skilled in metalwork, you can make copper trellises, birdfeeders and decorative plant hangers for outdoors. For indoor projects, you can let your creativity run wild. But if you've never worked with metal, you're going to need a little instruction.

To learn about working with recycled copper, you can seek out a local artisan or take a class from a local organization, such as the following:

  • Community Art Centers -- Many communities have art centers that offer beginning, intermediate and advanced classes for working with metal.
  • Community Colleges -- Look up the local community college in your area and search the continuing education or noncredit classes.
  • Art Co-ops -- Search for artist rental spaces in your town or city. You may be able to find an art center that has metal workers who offer workshops [source: Loken Forge].

If you feel confident that you can create the sculptures on a do-it-yourself basis but just want a little more instruction, there are many books to choose from. You can search for books about the specific copper sculptures you want to make online or at the library.

If you want to start with something simple, learn how to make a recycled copper mobile on the next page.

Recycled Copper Mobiles

A mobile might bring to mind a baby nursery, but you can create lovely grown-up mobiles to decorate your home or office as well. Recycled copper wires make fantastic frames for mobiles, since they are durable and malleable.

Follow these steps to make a simple, recycled copper mobile:

  • Snip the copper wires to your preferred length and place them into a star-like pattern.
  • Tie them together using string, yarn or a thin cord.
  • Tie additional string to the end of each star prong.
  • Tie decorative items from the ends of the string, such as thin copper curlicues, ornaments or other treasured items. You can also glue small pieces of broken mirror to the strings to add some flair.
  • Tie another piece of string to the center of the frame and hang.

If the copper wire is thin enough, you can skip the string and use only copper wiring to hang your mobile. Bend the copper using metal-working or jewelry-making pliers to create loops at the ends of the pieces. Remember that when making any art, patience is key.

To keep all of your creations bright and shiny, clean them regularly with a copper polish. You can find copper cleaners at your local hardware store or online [source: Garfield]. Now that you know how to make some basic recycled arts with copper, you can start looking at your old appliances and discarded copper piles with an artist's eye.

Visit the links on the next page for more information.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

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