Working with metal often requires lots of expensive tools, but these copper bracelets can be made with a relatively cheap propane torch. And they make great gifts.
By Nick Moreau
Making copper bracelets started as a way to combine spending time with my two loves: my girlfriend and my workshop. My girlfriend is a real trouper and only halfheartedly chastises me for my compulsive need to putz. She’s forgone parties to help me chainsaw logs for live-edge furniture, weld tables, and stoke a 2 000-degree forge. But even though we’re in the shop together, it is not always easy to share any real intimacy while wearing earplugs, a full-face mask, and operating heavy machinery.
This means I am constantly looking for Saturday projects we can do together without power tools. One such weekend, we got lost in the abyss of YouTube DIY videos looking for a project that would let us have some shop time together. When we managed to climb out, we had a rough idea of how to turn copper tubing into bracelets.
We may have been working copper, but that day I struck gold. (I’ve been working on that joke all day.) The bracelets were easy to work and we were soon improvising different styles. As much as I love my power tools, we used only a few hand tools, which allowed us to spend the day enjoying each other’s company talking at normal decibels.
These copper bracelets have become one of the bestsellers from my blacksmithing shop. They’re created by texturing copper tubing, a material used for plumbing that can be found at any hardware store in standard lengths for not much money. The best thing about making these little fellas is that there is so much variety possible. So follow the steps, but also feel free to improvise to create your own patterns and textures.
Materials for the copper bracelets
• Copper tubing (6, 10 or 12-mm diameter)
The larger the diameter of the tubing, the wider the finished bracelet.
• Something to cut the tube
You can use any of these: a tube cutter, hacksaw, angle grinder, Sawzall, or Bruce Lee-like precision karate chops.
• A flat piece of metal to act as an anvil
I’ve found the ideal set-up to be something called a steel bench block, but in a pinch any flat metal surface clamped to a workbench will do.
• Something to clamp the tube down
You can use C-clamps, bar clamps, locking pliers, or even tape.
• Propane torch
• Metal vice, stones, or other fireproof surface
• Hammer chisels or punches
These determine the textures of your bracelet. A word of warning: do not use woodworking chisels. They will break. You need the ones made specifically for working cold, hard metal – called cold chisels and punches. They are sold in sets at any hardware store.
• Metal file
• Wire brush
• Polishing wheel (optional)
• Something to curve the bracelet around
Jewellers call this a mandrel. I’ve had good luck with tree branches.
• Safety glasses, fire extinguisher, gloves and a leather apron
A brief science lesson: annealing
Copper particles are aligned in an orderly way. This makes the metal malleable. As you work the bracelet with your hammer, the particles will become disordered, making the copper brittle and harder to shape. Thanks to the wonders of science, however, when copper is heated, the particles are reordered and the metal becomes soft again. This process is called annealing.
To do it, secure the bracelet in a metal vice or in a metal bowl filled with stones to hold the piece up. Light the torch and move the flame over the copper until it turns cherry red. Let it cool and it is ready to work again.
Instructions to make the copper bracelets
1 Cut the tubing to 150 mm lengths. You can use different lengths but I have found that 150 mm fits most wrists.
2 Hammer a 12 mm flat at each end of the tube.
3 File each end to round off the corners.
4 Clamp or tape the ends to your metal work surface (Fig. A – below).
5 Lightly hammer the raised portion of the tube until it is about 25 per cent flattened. This makes it easier to line up your texturing hits.
6 Texture the bracelet. This is where the creativity starts. (See the next page for a few simple patterns, or create your own.)
7 Anneal the piece by heating it with your torch until it glows (Fig. B – below).
8 Wire-brush the bracelet (Fig. C – below). Annealing the copper
oxidises the surface and creates a scale, which is easily removable by wire-brushing.
9 If you have a polishing wheel for your bench grinder, use it to further polish the copper.
10 Curve the tubing into an oval shape. You can use a hammer or mallet, but the annealing process should make the copper soft enough to shape by hand. Hold the flattened tube in one hand. Using your other hand, hold and curve the piece against the mandrel (Fig. D – below). Start by curving each end slightly so the copper bracelet looks like a C. Then curve the centre.
Lines: Hold a chisel perpendicular to the bench, with the blade oriented across the tubing. Hit every 3 mm along the length to create a series of depressed lines. Anneal the bracelet. For steeper ridges, angle the chisel 45 degrees (as shown) and hit into the existing lines. You can also create zigzags, steps and many other designs by holding the chisel at different angles to the tubing.
Craters: Hit the copper directly with the peen of the hammer or with punches in a random pattern. Varying the hardness of the hits and sizes of the punches used will create different craters. Create steeper craters by annealing the bracelet and angling your punch against existing craters to “push” the copper into ridges.
Rails: Use a punch or a dull chisel that is a little less than the width of the tubing. Tap it down the length of the tube by moving the punch slightly after each hit. This will create a depression. Anneal the piece and repeat until the centre is flat and the sides remain raised. To make a deeper channel, take a chisel to the rails you just made at a 45-degree angle (as shown).