I decided to resurrect the Copper Concepts Metalworks long enough to make one last item. This was a gift for a friend who really loved dragonflies.

Mom took most of these pictures. We never would have predicted at the time that she would be gone in less than a year.


This started life as a scrap piece of my house. It had solder and flux on one end. I'm not sure where this pipe came from. Installing the water heater maybe.

First I clamped it in my shop vise, which is no longer mounted on my workbench, in order to make more room for woodworking.


Then I torched the hell out of it. It has to get evenly hot from end to end, inside and out. The picture doesn't really capture the long green flame that was coming out the end, indicating that this was a used pipe, full of little copper oxide particles or whatever that I burned off.

Annealing leaves a black, crusty film on the copper.


If you quench it in a bucket, a lot of the black flakes off, leaving a mottled, ugly surface. Annealing softens the copper, and makes it easier to work without breaking. Quenching or air cooling is just a question of convenience. Unlike working with steel or iron (which I've only read about, because I've been too cheap to build a forge to make myself a sword so far), it doesn't affect the final hardness.

The copper turns lots of cool irridescent colors during the heating process.


After annealing, I slit the pipe with tin snips. This is tricky to do without getting cut.

Then I use the edge of the railroad track to wedge the cut open and gradually work the pipe flat.


Lots of hammering.

And more hammering.


And then I hammer some more. I wear ear protectors during the hammering, because the railroad track is a very LOUD anvil. BING BING BING BING BING! "WHAT? DID YOU SAY SOMETHING? I CAN'T HEAR YOU."

The black stuff gets all over everything. I hope it isn't carcinogenic, but it probably is, like everything else on this planet.


What follows is a long process. Hammering work hardens the copper, so it has to be annealed again, to avoid splitting. You can see a split in one of these images from where I went too far.

I went through the heat and hammer cycle countless times, thinning the heavy wall copper pipe to something a little easier to work. Sheet metal would be a lot easier to use, but it's staggeringly expensive. I think a little 2x2 sheet of copper was something like $45. Ouch!



This one is the piece gradually thinning out. It takes a lot of work to beat it truly thin, and it would probably help if I had a better hammer for the purpose.


I cut the resulting sheet into blanks for various parts.

Then I sketched out the parts with a sharpie while looking at a photograph I printed off the internet.


Then I cut the parts out with tin snips. This is the part where you bleed. It's almost impossible to do this without losing blood somewhere. Those little needle sharp corners curl right back toward your fingers, and before you know it, you're bleeding all over everything. Fortunately it all gets burned off later.

This was the best of a series I tried to do in the dark, annealing one of the wings to bend it a little for a better fit. Blue flame, glowing red copper, pretty cool, but don't touch. The hard part was finding the damn light switch afterwards.


Then I laid out the parts for a dry fit.

Then I used my High Tech Super Grade A Etch Resist Ink Applicator. You can pay a lot of money for a resist pen, or you can use a Sharpie. It's the same damn thing. Where the black goes, the etchant won't dissolve.


I have this etchant left over from my model railroading days. I used to make directional lighting circuit boards. I really need to sell all my train crap on eBay one of these days. I will never build that layout.

You have to swirl the parts around in the ferric chloride solution for about half an hour to eat away enough copper to notice. In retrospect, I probably should have gone even longer, but the marks were more visible to the naked eye than they appear in the photos that follow.


Here are the parts out of the tank, after being cleaned off.

Now I'm fluxing the wings and the body part to prep them for soldering.


These little clamps hold the parts together until the solder cools.

This picture is out of order. I'm going to strip a scrap piece of Romex later to get a wire.


Now more soldering.

Now it's soldered, except I didn't think of the wire until afterwards, and when I soldered the wire on, the wings fell off, because I didn't have the clamps on. Stupid. Oh well. At least the hot wing with hot liquid metal on it didn't burn me too much when it fell into my boot.


This was the wire I referred to a bit ago, which I extracted and hammered one end flat after I had soldered the wings on.

Got out my cool new stainless steel dial calipers to measure the wire...


...in order to choose an appropriate drill size.

Then I rounded over the top corners on a piece left over from my music stand to make a little mounting base. I didn't do such a great job rounding over. That's one job routers do really well, but I hate using a router. Piece of carbide whirling at you at 25,000 RPM, especially on a piece this small, no thanks.


The piece was too small to bother doing one side, dry, the other side, dry, the other side, dry, so I just decided to dip the sucker in the jar of shellac. I did five coats.

Then clamped the string between my two front vises to dry.


Sanded it out with 600 grit then 1000 grit, then polished it on my shirt, then waxed and polished again.

Stuck the finished sculpture in the hole, and voilĂ . Merry Moonwane.


Contents Copyright © 2006 D. Michael McIntyre, all rights reserved