Guest Post: How (Not) To Build a Copper Table by MicroPalace Amy

Guest Post: How (Not) To Build a Copper Table by MicroPalace Amy

Maxwell Ryan
Sep 14, 2005

(Today is truly Amy's Big Day as she is featured in our house tours as well)

Too many months ago, I emailed AT about finding/making a copper covered table (inspired by Moustache and Hampton Chutney Company, refusing to pay Room and Board prices), and several people asked if I would send in my "how to" if I decided to make one.

Under the gun for Jill's upcoming final AT house tour visit, I finished it this past weekend -- timely, given the bit on copper counters in this week's House and Home. I love my table the way I love an out of proportion dog (see photo 1)-- and someone else could build best-in-show learning from my trial and error.

But if nothing else, my table was closer to $14/sq. ft. rather than the $140/sq. ft. quoted in today's paper.


1 32"x50" sheet 3/4" fir plywood from Metropolitan Lumber on Spring Street. Mistake #1: it's worth paying the extra money for the birch plywood, as it's much less likely to be warped, or warp further.

1 3'x8' 30 oz. (~23 gauge) sheet copper from B B Sheet Metal in Long Island City (~$75) They were great, they always have this size in stock, and if you are bigger/stronger than I am, you could do the whole thing by subway (they're a few blocks from the Hunters Point 7 stop). They will call you a car service if you need one. If you want to make a wider table, they have other widths, but may not have them on hand, so call first.

Lots of 1/2" sheet metal screws. Possibly mistake #2 -- it was too noisy to hammer in nail/tacks (my downstairs neighbors were so nice about my renovations, I couldn't do it to them). Maybe screws are indeed the way to go, and I just need a new drill bit.

Table legs. Drama #1. A set of plain metal table legs is $20 at IKEA and $200 at Room and Board. Unfortunately, ordering the legs online from IKEA is impossible (a week later they send you a "your order has been cancelled because the item is on backorder" email), so I went with plan C -- the only 28" legs in town I could find, from your 4th grade reading group table, with plates that they screw into, $30ish for the set at Metropolitan Lumber. I will replace them when I find better ones.

Metal shears. You can get them at B+B or at National Wholesale Liquidators on Broadway (Houston/Bleeker) for under $10.

Spray lacquer to keep the copper from tarnishing.

Paint for the underside of the table.

Drill, screwdriver, hammer, rawhide mallet, metal punch, sandpaper/polishing cloths.

The Saga

I painted the underside of the table to look like the ceiling at Grand Central, using Sirius the Big Dog as the constellation, so my friends' kids can hang out under the table and play with trains.
I put a blanket on the floor so that the copper wouldn't get scratched, as copper is very soft. Mistake #3 was not putting a sheet on top of the blanket, which filled with copper filings, and is now in the garbage. Remember that the side facing down will be the top of the table--one side will likely be more pristine, you want that side down. It will get scratched, but at least each scratch will be a story. I did a rough cut to make the copper close to the size I wanted, to be cleaned up later.

I centered the panel on the copper, with my sizing, I had a 2" overhang on all sides. My plan was to cut the corners out, then fold the overhang up, and solder the seams together --this is how it's done at Hampton Chutney--but I ended up going closer to the Moustache route, lovingly and messily folded over, with with mitered corners. I have worked with copper before, but not on this scale. The copper was much stiffer than I expected, as the fold needed to go over 4' at the longest point.
My floor is completely warped, and I could tell the board was warped, but not what was the board and what was the floor. I ended up sitting on whatever part of the board I was working on, so at least it was as true as possible. If you can do this project on a level table, your back will thank you.

I clipped the corners so I could fold up the edges.

Starting at one of the narrow edges, I folded up the metal working first from each edge, coaxing it up a little, then went from end to end a few times to get the metal vertical. I suggest using the rawhide mallet at this point, tapping it along the part where the board and the copper meet to get a cleaner edge. I messily (mistake #4) clipped the corners so they theoretically would meet when folded down. Holding the copper flush with the board edge as much as possible, I folded the copper again as previously described. I did this for 2 sides first, attached the copper with screws as described below, cut the ragged edge to be the right size, then did the third side completely before finishing the last.

Working in from each edge, I punched and drilled holes, holding the copper in as tightly as possible, then screwed the metal to the wood. I kept stripping the screws, so some are a little sharp. I filed the rough parts, will put hot glue over the parts that are still sharp. I don't know if nails/tacks would work better. You would still need to drill the holes in the copper. I also was able to press down the edges to be more flush with the board after the screws went in.

As you can see, my corners are not even. I put smaller pieces of copper in the gaps and hammered in the two edges until they met. To deal with the sharp corner, I hammered it down. When the table was done, I went over the edge with a rawhide mallet, and hammered the corners again to make it cleaner, with some success, and may file/sandpaper if it still seems sharp.

I attached the plates, then the legs.

Final issues:
Dealing with scratches. I used polishing cloths, which are like sandpaper, but backed with cloth, not paper, at a 1000+ grit. You can get these at Metaliferrous, on W. 46th Street (between 5th and 6th, south side), Second Fl.

Lacquering the copper. As described in House and Home today, if you want untarnished finish, you need to lacquer the surface. I will do this after I practice on some of the leftover copper and polish the surface to my satisfaction.

Wobbliness. These legs are too spindly. I want chunkier straight ones, so I can brace the top if it's still unsteady.

I love my table, for now called Sylvia -- compellingly luminous, but deeply unstable.

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