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Thread: Coppersmithing Advice

  1. #1

    Coppersmithing Advice

    Does anyone have any experience with copper? I have done a little, but not enough to amount to much. I am about to copper roof my cupola roof, a roof about 4 feet square, but of course pyramid shaped (hipped). I was planing on using standing seems on the corners, then flashing down over the fascia a bit.

    I was going to have the coppersmith at work do it for me, but recently he got hit twice with injuries and now will be out for a month or so. I wish him the best, but thought this might make for a great time to toy around with copper. Its just scary for me because I know Copper is about the exact opposite of the metals I typically work with (Stainless steel, mild steel and Aluminum.) Still I have a brake and shear...nothing big, just the kind used to put up sheet metal trim on a house. I think those tools will be good enough to shear and bend 16 gauge copper into something presentable.

    My question is, should I solder or pop rivet it together? I am an experienced welder, but again stainless steel, mild steel and aluminum heli-arc welding are not the same as soldering. What kind of flux should I get, and what kind of solder. As a machinist I feel stupid asking these questions, but I just don't know as I have not toyed with copper much. Any advice would be great.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    It's been a Looooooong time since I worked with copper, but I always used the same solder and flux as I used on copper plumbing, with the exception that on smaller items I really preferred silver solder, but that would get a little expensive on a project the size of yours. It will be easier to do though if you have or can get one of the flat irons they use on copper roofing as it spreads the heat more evenly over a larger area. A torch will work though as long as you have it clamped together adequately.

    Can't wait to see the pics.

    Another thing to consider is that it sometimes can add to the looks, (as well as strength), by placing a few copper rivets in strategic places like corners, etc., similar to the placement of rivets at stress points on Levis. (these would be in addition to the solder, of course).
    Last edited by Norman Hitt; 06-30-2007 at 07:33 AM.

  3. #3
    Norman thanks for responding, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get some advice on this....and man do I need it.

    If you have not used copper in a long time, don't feel bad, apparently no one uses it anymore. I looked in three different places yesterday for copper rivets and could not find any store that carried them. Even the old anvil and hammer ones are missing from the fastener shelves. I should have probably ordered some online a few weeks ago, because I plan on doing some coppersmithing today. Time lately is in short supply, but this weekend looks good and I am in hopes to get it on my cupola in time for our big annual party next weekend.

    I am nervous and excited both, as I am not well versed in coppersmithing, but I like to try new things and working with copper seems like it would be interesting. Still I am a bit nervous because I won't have a lot of scrap copper to toy with if I mess up as I only bought one sheet of copper. I figured it would come in 4 by 8 sheets, but instead it comes in 3 foot by 10 foot sheets. A little goofy I thought, but at 65 bucks a sheet, I don't want to buy any more sheets than I have too that's for sure!!

    By the way, I have a few more questions about this stuff. I had two options basically...regular copper, and some stuff they call Leaded-Copper? I bought the regular copper, but know full well that it will soon tarnish to a green patina. You would think at that price the stuff would have some sort of polish on it to keep from degrading, but that would be asking too much I guess. Anyway should I have purchased the leaded copper instead? And is there a way I can keep the bright finish on the regular copper I bought? Don't get me wrong, I can live with the green patina, but if I could keep the bright finish I am sure my wife would be happier?
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  4. #4
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    Travis, I've never worked with the stuff for roofing, but they still use it around here on some temple buildings. They consider the greening of the copper to be a normal thing and a good thing

    I watched a guy putting it on, and they cut it up into pieces, like shingles, then they overlapped them and and nailed the onto the roof, with copper nails. If I remember correctly, they punched the shingles first, then nailed them on.

    They might have done some soldering, but I did not see that part of the job.

    Not much help eh?
    The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
    William Arthur Ward

  5. #5
    Alan DuBoff is offline Former Member (by the member's request)
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    I've been looking for a metal brake recentely and have seen several lighter ones that are designed for bending copper for roofing, like this one:



    Although this one doesn't say it was used for copper, I've seen similar ones that are, the same style.

    Here's a similar one that I have seen folks using on copper:



    As for how to bend the seams, can't help you there, but a quick google should find something for you.

  6. #6
    Well I did get some coppersmithing done today, and I want to thank you for all your advice. I think I put it to good use to. I still got some more things to do like work up the corners a bit better then solder everything so it is water tight. Still I will leave you with a few pictures so you can see what I am doing.

    I also want to lower the height of the weathervane by a few inches and eventually put some sort of train, plane or moose on top of the wind direction arrow. Until then though, at least I can see which way the wind is blowing. Or better yet, call my Grandmother who lives across the street to tell me which way the wind is blowing so that I don't have to get out in the blowy weather

    By the way Stu, never be afraid to post something you know on the subject. While I did not use your copper shingled method, I could see where it would save a lot of copper. I had quite a bit of copper scrap left over, but since I was using standing seam copper roofing, I had to go down to work (40 miles away) and pick up another sheet of copper to do the other half of the cupola. Anyway, here are a few pictures of what I created.

    By the way, the reason I needed to put up a new cupola was to cover a mistake by the contractor when he mis-figured the roof trusses on my new addition, and my old house. There was a 16 inch difference so I used the cupola to disguise the error somewhat.





    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  7. #7
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    I'd say that if you don't knowing what you are doing, keep doing it, as that looks just fantastic!

    Won't stay all nice and shiny, but I like the green look myself!
    The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
    William Arthur Ward

  8. #8
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    Travis, that looks really good. About the Patina, that is created by oxidation, and that patina/oxidation, unlike rust on ferrous metals, then protects the copper which makes it last so long. The only way that I know, (unless they have come out with something new), to keep the copper shiney would be to seal it with some kind of clear finish, but then you would have to remove it, polish it and recoat it avery so often which IMHO would be way more trouble than it's worth. As to your question about the leaded copper, It's been so long that I don't even remember if they had anything like that back then, and I'm not familiar with it at all, maybe that just means that the edges are "tinned" to speed up the soldering process, I just don't know.

    They did a lot of roofs on Monasteries, etc in Europe when I lived there, but they just let them develop a patina and didn't try to keep them shiney.

  9. #9
    Thanks guys for the words of encouragement, sound advice and compliments. Its one thing to fool the fans, but another to impress the players.

    I got to tell you though, copper is pretty forgiving. It bends nice (I have the sheet metal brake in the first picture Alan) and can be easily rebent if you make a mistake without distortion or snapping it off like regular metal. Even soldering was quite easy though I have a long ways to go on that before my soldering looks good. All this means I kind of like working with the stuff.

    By the way Stu, if I was to do this again, Ithink I would use your shingling method. It would save material and look good to boot. I was just halfway into this when I read your post.

    As for the patina, well I can live with that. Its the Mrs that will hate it. She did not want to use copper in the first place because of the money it costs, and getting another sheet of it yesterday did not make her happy either. I just could not see making such a nice cupola and then capping it with chessy old asphalt roofing. That must be some sort of egregious architectural sin!!
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis S Johnson View Post
    I just could not see making such a nice cupola and then capping it with chessy old asphalt roofing. That must be some sort of egregious architectural sin!!
    Not just that, the copper ought to last well into your daughters lifetime. Asphalt shingles last a lot longer in Maine than out here, but they still don't last forever. Jean bought a weather vane for our cupola, and of course had to pay extra for the patina - doesn't happen automatically here - she likes the contrast to the metal roof color: dark grey - the color the color the copper would have turned without the pre-patina-ing.

    Cupola looks great, nice to turn the builder's goof into a feature - now if only you could backcharge him for a changeorder

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