I had this idea of making a unique woodworking project using something that most of us probably having laying around the garage, or in the shop. Something you might not associate with woodworking, but that’s very easy to work with, can be finished in a variety of ways, and is said to have magical properties. Seriously, there is nothing mystical about copper pipe, aside from the fact that you’ll wonder why you never tried incorporating it into your woodworking before.
I went into the shop and found I had some 1″ copper pipe lying in the corner. I bet you’ve got some similar stash. If not, you’ll find it’s less expensive to buy copper in pipe form, than in sheets. Now, I will admit that this how to project has quite a few steps and I would call it an intermediate level project, but if you take your time and tackle them in order you should have no trouble with your own copper pipe box.
Working The Copper
I started by cutting a 4″ length of pipe with a standard pipe cutter. After that it’s just a matter of opening it up. I used a pair of aviation Snips for that job. I had to pry the copper open a couple times to get the shears all the way through.
Wear gloves for this, you’re making lots of sharp edges and you don’t want to get blood on your box…
After you’ve got it open a few well placed hits with a hammer should flatter the copper. At this point you could treat your sheet in a number of ways. Sand and polish for a high sheen. Treat with sodium and acetate for a green hue or do what I hit and GET OUT YOUR BLOWTORCH! Seriously, how could I NOT do this! Be safe here though. Don’t heat this on a wood bench. I set my blowtorch upright, and held the sheet in a pair of vise grips. I then let it sit on a metal bench to cool off. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your shop, today would be a good day to pick one up.
Now that you’ve got your cool sheet of copper we need a project to pair it with. The first thing that popped into my mind was a box.
Taking Stock of Box Material
I ended up using some redwood that came from an old wine barrel, as such the shop smelled strongly of wine during most of the build. I used my table saw to cut the wood down to 3/8 thick. The two redwood pieces were 2 1/2″ wide and 7″ in length. The box that I’m making has 4 equal sides at 3″. So with 2 pieces at just over 7″ we will accommodate all four sides. It’s a good thing I wrote all this down, considering the heavy Sauvignon aroma I was working in…
Cutting Up Your Parts
I use a box cutting sled for making sides. It’s main requirement is that your table saw blade is exactly tilted to 45 degrees. Once you get that measurement locked in the rest is easy. If you want to get into box making I would suggest picking up Doug Stowe’s book, Basic Box Making. He gives you a thorough rundown off all the jigs and how to build them. Since all four sides are identical, you can setup a stop block and get repeatable cuts at exactly 3″.
Next we need a slot in the top and the bottom of out box for a…well, a top and a bottom! I tilt the blade back to 90* and lower it to just over 1/8 of an inch. The fence is set 1/8 away from the blade.
Now cut two 2 3/4″ plywood squares for the top and the bottom. I used 1/8 plywood but still had to sand it down a bit to get a good fit in the slots.
Now is a good time to sand all the surfaces of the box. Your next chance will be after glue up and it will be quite difficult to get in all the tight spaces. 80, 150, 200 is a good regimen. I also took the opportunity to finish all the inside surfaces, be careful not to finish the miter cut where the box will be glued or you will not get a good glue bond. I used wipe on poly for a finish. It’s easy and I’m a fan of easy…
Glue up time
Gluing up such a small box is rather simple. A moderate amount of glue will suffice. Too much and it will squeeze out inside, and dry before you get a chance to clean it up. So just a light yet complete coat on all the miters and in the kerfs where the plywood will sit.
Use some tape to hold everything in square for a couple hours while the glue dries.
Opening Your Box
There are lots of ways to do this. I cut it open on the table saw with my miter gauge, so as not to trap any pieces between the fence and blade. Kickback is very dangerous and no box is worth an injury.
You could also do this on your bandsaw or just with a hand saw. I made the cut 1/2″ from the top to maximize my box volume. A step not in the picture is me gluing a small block 2 3/4 square to the inside of the lid to keep the top from sliding off the box.
Remember when I said there were a lot of steps?! Well it’s almost completed. In all honestly it’s taken me more time to type this up then it did to make it. After you make a few boxes the steps become second nature. The more you make the better you get at box making. Which is good because everyone will want a box, and no one seems to have any trouble finding something to put inside one!
Cut your copper sheet into a square for the top of your box. 2 3/4″ square if your following my measurements. It might take a little filing to get a tight fit. I used 2 part epoxy to secure it in place. It not only adds a nice shine but will also prevent the copper from changing color due to the oxidation.
The Completed Wooden Box
You’re done! I opted not to finish the outside because of the wine smell in this wood. Otherwise I think wipe on poly would have been a good choice and again, it is easy to apply. So if you’ve never worked with copper, I would urge you to give it a go. It’s quite fun and there are many ways to incorporate it in your woodworking. A small box is just the beginning!