Copper Sheet From Copper Water Pipe

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Posted in WorkshopMetalworking

Introduction: Copper Sheet From Copper Water Pipe

Ever choked at the price of a small copper sheet from the local hardware store? I recently did and decided to do something I did years ago, to unroll a piece of copper pipe to make a sheet of copper.

Step 1: Cutting the Copper Pipe

First cut a section of the pipe which is the length you want. This can be any reasonable amount, though I wouldn't go above what would result in a square sheet. To make a square sheet, multiply the diameter of the pipe by pi (3.14), then cut off that length of the pipe. A vise and hacksaw will do the job, although it'll be more likely to be square if you use a pipe cutter. The disadvantage of the pipe cutter is that it will result in an edge is slightly curled up. The disadvantage of the vise and hacksaw is that a steel vise may mar the surface of the pipe. That scratching will be in the part of the pipe that we don't use, but it could cause problems the next time we want to do a project.Then cut the pipe lengthwise with a vise and hacksaw. We want to unroll this, but the metal is too hard at this point.

Step 2: Anneal the Metal

The process of softening metal is called annealing, Basically, you heat the metal up to a certain temperature and then let it cool off. This can be anywhere between the time the copper is covered with a black oxide, up to the point where it is glowing dull red. My first choice for a heating device is the burner on a gas stove. The second is a propane torch, and the third is the burner on an electric stove. The gas stove and the propane torch will allow you to heat to a dull red glow, I used the electric stove, and while the copper didn't get red, a black oxide coating appeared on all of it. on it. When it has cooled off, a little pull on the copper will show that it's soft now.

Step 3: Forming the Copper Into a Sheet

The first thing I did when it had cooled enough was to unroll and flatten the copper with my fingers. It was a little uneven at spots, so I used a pair of pliers to help. Don't get too carried away, the copper will work-harden, and you'll have to anneal it again. Once the copper was flat, I used a file to get the edges clean and nice. Then I used 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxide layer and shine it up some. For some projects, working up to a finer grade of sandpaper, then polishing could be used. I was using a piece of this as an electrical contact, I didn't worry too much about the finish, it was to be tinned with solder before use.

We're done now. Time for you to think of something made with copper!

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    20 Comments

    Sometimes it's way easier to get hold of plumbing fittings to convert into sheet than to get actual sheet plus price difference can be minimal (although extra work involved. Several years ago I needed a solid copper ead gasket for single cylinder motorcycle. Used a 4-1/2" coupler split and flattened. as it was cheaper than buying 0.050" thick piece of sheet at the time. Used exact same method to anneal though

    3 replies

    I have a 1973 BMW R75/5 motorcycle. Everyone made fun of me making a copper washer for the oil drain. "It only costs $0.50 at the dealer! OK, the nearest dealer is an hour away, and mail order would involve shipping and waiting days. So I took a piece of copper sheet I had on hand (probably annealed water pipe, but this was 20 years ago and I just can't remember). I just made a hole in the sheet for the ID, cut out the OD with metal sips, and cleaned it up with a file. Maybe 10 minutes, and I had it the same day. I think it makes sense.

    Second dealership I worked in was Suzuki-BMW-Vespa so I know exactly which one you mean. I was there before the 'Flying Bricks' (K series) came out, good motor , uber reliable (200,000+ miles) R series were always 'softer' tuned but for long distance riding, unbeatable.

    My /5 has about 175K miles. It really needs a top-end job, but that will have to wait a couple years for money reasons...

    Why not anneal first, so the machining is with soft copper?

    7 replies

    Actually, cutting annealed copper can be a lot more difficult. It may be counterintuitive, but the metal gets so soft, it's actually kind of "sticky" and tends to gum up the cutting tool. Hard copper is still way softer than any tool steel you'd be using to cut it, and the chips will clear the kerf more easily.

    I have noticed that soft aluminum "gums up" files, I noticed this a little while filing the bur off the flattened piece.

    Thanks!

    Oh, yeah, files are a pain for working with soft metals! They load up so quickly and are hard to clean One handy trick to at least make cleaning the file easier is to first use it on a piece of paraffin wax or an old candle stub. After each time you clean the file with a file card or bristle brush, hit it with the paraffin again.

    Chalkboad chalk is best for loading up a file when dressing soft metal

    Hmm, chalk; I'll have to try that. Seems like the chalk wouldn't really stay in the teeth for long, but it's certainly worth testing. I suppose the paraffin I have always used has mostly been a matter of what's at hand in my shop.

    It would be hard to get enough heat to the pipe, copper is very conductive to heat and it will be drawn away from the point you are trying to heat. Not impossible, but it's much easier to wait. You wouldn't gain much anyway, soft copper is not much easier to hacksaw than the work hardened copper, the saw just slices through the copper even without any heat. Assuming a sharp blade.

    I do this by cutting along the length of the pipe with a Dremel cut off wheel. New pipe has straight lines along the length of it that you can use for a guide. After it’s annealed it’s soft enough to flatten with a rubber mallet.

    2 replies

    You should make an Instructable from that!

    Very interesting! Could you tell a bit more about annealing process, please?

    Does it mean that the tube makes flat with no additional efforts? You do not need to unroll it manually? Just wait while it cools down?

    3 replies

    You have to unroll it with you fingers after it cools of. It's easy to unroll as it's pretty soft at that point.

    The annealing step just softens the copper so it is easy to bend. The copper in copper pipe is hardened and difficult to work without annealing.

    You need to unroll it manually. The annealing just makes the copper a load way softer and easier to bend.

    That's a neat way to reuse materials on hand :)