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Aging copper for the Arts and Crafts look

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Working with Copper

Working with Copper

Copper almost seems to be a metal made for woodworkers. Its warm, rich color complements wood rather than fighting with it for our attention. And, copper, one of the first metals used by man, works easily.

These virtues gave copper widespread popularity during the Arts and Crafts movement early in this century. Arts and Crafts homes and furnishings, which stressed the beauty of natural materials and handwork, often combined copper and wood.

So, when we researched a clock project, we decided that the shiny, new copper on the face needed an aged look, as shown above. After some experimenting, we came up with a simple way to give copper that been-around-awhile look for projects in the Arts and Crafts style.

Working with copper Many crafts-supply stores sell copper sheets for handcrafting, or you can buy it from a metals dealer. Copper comes in scores of alloys, though, so tell the dealer you want a soft, malleable one that you can work by hand.

Mark your cutting lines on copper with a scratch awl or other scriber. Pencil marks don't show up well on metal, and markers usually make lines too wide for accurate work.

Use a straightedge with nonskid backing. (If you don't have one, put a strip of double-faced tape on the back of a ruler. Press it against your shirt sleeve a couple of times to reduce the tape's tack before starting the layout.) Scribe curved lines against a French curve or template, similarly skid-proofed. For complex layouts, adhere the pattern directly to the metal with spray adhesive.

Copper cuts easily. Common tin snips will readily handle straight cuts and gentle curves in sheet copper about 1/32" thick or less. As you cut, don't close the snips all the way. Doing so crimps the metal's edge every time the jaw tips come together. Instead, keep the snips moving forward so the cutting takes place mostly at the back of the jaws.

You also can cut this soft, non-ferrous metal with a scrollsaw, bandsaw, or portable jigsaw. Back the metal with scrapwood at least 1/4" thick for power sawing.

A no. 5 blade (.038x.015" with 16 teeth per inch) works fine for a few quick scrollsaw cuts. For serious copper sawing, go with a metal-piercing blade (24-48 teeth per inch), and lubricate it with beeswax. If you have a variable-speed saw, run it at a slow speed for metal cutting.

For the bandsaw or jigsaw, select a general-purpose or metal-cutting blade with 14 or more teeth per inch. If you're using the jigsaw, clamp the workpiece securely to the workbench, the cutting line overhanging the edge. Cover the saw's baseplate with masking tape to prevent scratching the copper.

Smooth and true cut edges by filing. For best results, clamp the metal between two pieces of scrapwood in a vise. Stand the metal's edge about 1/16" above the wood, as shown below, and draw a mill-cut bastard file along the edge.

Lay out and drill any required holes before finishing the metal. This way, you won't risk marring the finished surface.

Enlarge Image
With the copper secured in a vise,
smooth the edge by drawing a file
along the edge.

Continued on page 2:  Giving copper the old look


Comments (2)
Nth Degree wrote:

I buy JAX metal finishing solutions from the local stain glass shop. I find that the brown and green give me the patina I am looking for.

2/3/2011 04:02:38 PM Report Abuse
Rxnsawdust wrote:

Good luck easily finding photo chemicals now with the widespread application of digital photography.

2/3/2011 12:00:39 PM Report Abuse

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