diy project: sculptural copper coil vases

After creating many projects for the site, I’ve noticed a DIY spectrum emerging. Some projects can be instructed down to the last inch, every material sized and sourced. Others are much looser, with a large element of chance and personal touch involved, and entirely dependent on what you can find and how the materials mold themselves in your hands. If you all have a favorite, I would love to know. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty creating tutorials that cannot be re-created exactly, but in the case of these copper coil vases, I think their beauty stems from that kind of unpredictability.

Grace, Amy and I have been experimenting with all kinds of copper, brass and aluminum products lately, and we all agree: soft, malleable metals are delightful. They won’t always bend precisely or do exactly what you want, but that’s part of their charm. So if you find this project a bit frustrating at first, the key is to let go and allow the coil to do what it will. In the end, you’ll wind up with something far more organically beautiful than anything I could draw a template for, and much more fun!— Kate

The how-to continues after the jump . . .

Materials

  • 1/4″ x 20′ copper coil (you can find this in the plumbing section of hardware stores)
  • needle nose pliers
  • glass test tubes or some other cylindrical glass vessels
  • quick set epoxy
  • painter’s tape (optional)

Instructions

1. Cut a 24″ length of wire from the coil with your pliers. If your pliers don’t go all the way through the coil, you can just pinch the wire with the pliers, then push the coil back and forth on the pinched seam; this should cause the coil to break easily.

2. Begin bending your coil into a shape. There is no wrong way to do this. The coil bends very easily in your hands. Periodically place the shape down on a surface to see if it’s balancing, and if not, simply bend parts until it does. It doesn’t really matter what the bottom end does, but one end of the coil should be up high so that you can bend it to hold the vase.

3. Once you have your basic shape, use your pliers to pinch and bend the top end of the coil into a tighter circle. The coil won’t become a perfect circle — it will be more of an elliptical shape, but it needs to be small enough to slide your glass tube inside for a snug fit. Again, the coil won’t perfectly surround the shape of the tube, but as long as the elliptical shape pinches the mouth of the tube to hold it in place, and some part of the copper touches the tube on both sides, you’re fine.

4. Slide the glass tube into the copper ring you made to check the shape. If it’s too tight, loosen the ring a bit; if it’s too loose, pinch it shut a little. The tube should be able to slide in and out gingerly, and the sides of the tube should touch the copper coil ring at two points around its circumference.

5. Remove the tube again and mix up a small batch of epoxy (follow the epoxy’s instructions for mixing) onto a jar lid or paper plate. You can use a popsicle stick, pencil or small paintbrush to mix and apply epoxy. Place a small ring of epoxy around the spot where you want the tube to hit the coil ring. I varied the height of my tubes: the shortest sticks up 1″ above the copper ring, and the longest sticks up 3″ above.

6. Slide the tube back into the copper ring until the epoxy hits the inside of the copper ring, then stop. Straighten the tube so it’s perfectly vertical, and put it aside for the epoxy to set. If your vase wants to slide out or wiggle during this process, you can use a piece of painter’s tape to hold the vase in place while the epoxy sets.

7. Once the epoxy has set, you can remove the tape. You can clean off any excess epoxy by scraping it gently with a utility knife or paint-scraping blade. You can also make final adjustments to the copper shape if desired.

Done!

 

 

  1. Catherine says:

    lovely! a great idea for a mother’s day gift.

  2. Clare says:

    Now THAT is cool … thank you for sharing this

  3. Annie says:

    One of the best DIY inspirations ever! Love this but wonder about the glue –
    whether the glue showing creates a tiny eyesore ….also why 2 part epoxy
    and having to get it mixed exactly right rather than a few spots of super glue. My experience with 2 part epoxy is that after it is opened
    for the first project, one of them ends up drying up and that it is messy and
    temperamental and it dries so fast, each holder would require new mixing.
    So would need to find out if this is the best glue choice. Still, thanks so much.

    1. Kate Pruitt says:

      Hi Annie,

      This is an excellent point; thanks for bringing it up! Epoxy is definitely not the only glue you can use for this. It’s just my personal favorite because it’s super tacky, sets quickly, is incredibly strong and durable, and scrapes easily off glass. You wouldn’t need new mixing if you made all the holders first and then placed the tubes in. But you are definitely right that there are other glues to use: I think super glue gel would work really well for this project as well, and doesn’t require mixing. Silicone glue would work also, and is waterproof. I would stay away from using an expanding glue, like gorilla glue, but super glue or similar types of extra strength glue would work well. Good luck!

  4. Rachel M says:

    I really, really love this. How beautiful and simple!

    I think it’s good that there is a spectrum of DIY projects on d*s… I might not do a more multi-step project because I’m a busy mom, but often I will bookmark a project for inspiration or for a later point when I do have the time. And the more simple/organic projects get me excited to create when I’m able. It might be the opposite for someone with different interests and free time. I appreciate seeing both.

  5. Kara says:

    Amazing! Very cearive idea1

  6. Bonnie says:

    I think this is gorgeous. I like both sorts of tutorials–ones that are detailed and others that just give the basic idea.

  7. Love these! I have been making sculpture and jewelry out of copper wire for a while but never thought of it this way. Super cool!

  8. Maestro says:

    This is very appealing. Similar could be done with 12-10ga wire or grounding copper. I agree that the glue could be unsightly and adds a onerous step. Ease of adding water and construction I would form the copper in a spiral holder for the tube (with a piece under the tube to hold in place) then proceed with the sculpture. Use a broom handle or dowel (to get closer to the tube size) to form on thus reducing risk of breakage. There’s also a plumbing tool designed to bend tubing to keep it from kinking that would be very helpful in the forming process.

  9. Oh my goodness I LOVE them!! I cant wait to make my own :) Wow those are so cool!!

  10. Beckyboo says:

    How creative! And artsy! I come from a family of Plumbers and love the idea.

  11. Legacy Fair says:

    Love the test tube copper vase. In fact, I’m wondering whether we can make a full-fledge vase…too much copper and too little test tube seems too much of a contrast…perhaps even a large tall cup, something sturdy like an Anchor Hocking, could be used. Nonetheless, got some great ideas!

  12. Valerie says:

    These are fantastic!!

  13. Christine says:

    I’ve been holding onto a few big glass test tubes for years waiting for a craft project worthy of them; I just found it! Thanks!

  14. Jeff says:

    This is such a creative idea! Copper always looks great and seems to be in always in style. Thanks for the wonderful tips.

  15. sarah says:

    You could do wedding centre pieces with the copper spelling out words or initials. Really nice idea and I love the way the flowers seem to float.

  16. Margaret says:

    I agree that sometimes a diy tutorial is better left as inspiration. Love these. I’m thinking about doing these and adding a patina. I haven’t purchased the copper yet to see if there is a coating that would have to be removed, but a super easy patina can be done by coating the copper in ammonia. You can also buy patina solutions at any craft store. Thanks for this great tutorial.

  17. Ashley says:

    Such a super cool idea, I cannot wait to do this!! We just bought a new house, so not only are funds tight, but I appreciate DIY anyway. This is right on time!! Thanks for the project and instructions!

  18. Jeanette says:

    LOVE this project, but thinking the glassware would be tricky to clean. Might just go for it anyway. Super creative and beautiful. :) Thanks!

  19. Birgit says:

    If the glass tubes have a little rim on top, you could maybe fasten themwith thin wire wrapped around the tube and the copper? Maybe in a different color? Or use any sort of fibers?
    Think about it, the options are endless. Love the idea of spelling out words. What a great idea and inspiration!

  20. jo says:

    fun idea! for ppl looking for other color schemes, oasis makes a similar wire called “mega wire” that comes in a rainbow of colors, including other metallic shades like silver and gold. you can’t get it from them directly, but probably from a craft store or floral wholesale. http://sona.oasisfloral.com/products/oasis_decorative_accessories/9d938def-af8b-401e-aa85-0a629a354caa/39b04c30-f1c0-4b2e-824f-5a780b7a0208

  21. Judith says:

    wow, that’s so cool!! i’ve gotta try this…
    xoxo

  22. I have been wanting to play with test tubes for ages (they remind me of playing with chemicals in high-school science) and now you have given me the perfect excuse. There is just the problem of sorcing test tubes locally… I’ll find some somewhere! Ohh, beakers would be cool too. Maybe I should raid the local schools!

  23. ph kitty says:

    in a similar project, we couldn’t find a curtain rod we liked so we used a long copper pipe instead. then i coiled some copper tubing much like this, to mount to the wall on each side to hold the curtains open. it looked great! this is several years back now. unfortunately, copper has gotten more expensive in recent years.

  24. Sara Grace says:

    How cool & creative!

  25. Jessie Wylie says:

    If you want to patina the copper to look more aged or turn it black, mix up a solution of Liver of Sulfur. Depending on how strong the solution, or how long you leave the copper in it, you will get a variety of beautiful colors. If you add ammonia, it will take on cool tones of purple and blue. If you add salt to the solution, it will take on warmer colors of orange, yellow and brown. It is one of hundreds of copper patinas, but the most accessible and easy to use.

  26. Maya says:

    really nice,thanx

  27. amazing very beautiful piece of art.

  28. Molly says:

    Brilliant idea and really well explained instructions Design Sponge. So true what you say about the the beauty lying in the unpredictability of the form.
    From The LLUSTRE Team. Llustre.com

  29. pkae says:

    Great idea! Also love all the ideas in comments! I did not know copper could turn so many colors, so thanks Jessie for your info! I had forgotten about the tubing that comes in colors, tho I have purchased it at craft stores before (DUH!) :-)

    This also gave me ideas for different use, as in wrapping vases+. I’m getting some next trip to stores ~ can’t wait to play and see what comes. :-)

  30. Megan says:

    FWIW, my friend and I fell in love with this post and decided to make them this weekend. It was a much harder endeavor than either of us anticipated.

    We found it quite difficult to manipulate the copper tubing in ways that we wanted; we switched to an amped up craft glue after epoxy fails, and ultimately ended up wrapping wire around the test tubes to make a ridge thick enough so that we did not need glue at all.

    They look beautiful, but this was not as relaxing of a craft as we imagined!

  31. Sara says:

    I wanted to know is it possible to take this same concept and instead of using a test tube, could you use a wine bottle? Of course I am thinking you might have to have a little bit bigger size copper and more of it to make a stand, but could it be something else to use?

  32. shower sets says:

    Its a lovely concept and copper is the right choice. You can mould it anyway you wanted. I think, it will look more decorative if you put some color wrap, sprinkle some shiny sparkles around it.

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