Outdoor Copper Water Wall

I got this idea in my head as soon as the weather broke (for a weekend) and the warmth of Spring seemed to be on the horizon.  As soon as that happens, I’m always itching to get our backyard in order for the warmer months to come.  Bust out the patio table from its winter hibernation, stick the tiki torches in the ground, hang up the string lights, bring out the yard decorations, you know….clean up the winter haze that has been hanging around for months.

I designed and built a water fountain about two years ago for our backyard using stacked flower pots.  It served us well that summer, until it suffered an ugly fate.  Dan is no longer allowed to chop firewood that close to the house in case another chunk of wood goes flying through the air.  You live and learn, I guess.

Last year’s summer focus was our new swimming pool – it was enough to derail me from worrying about a fountain.  But this year I’ve been really wanting to make a new one.  I started plotting and planning – designing something in my head that would (hopefully) make sense when put in motion.  Luckily I had the help of my Dad – an ex-plumber and purveyor of all things copper – to help bring this idea to life.

Inspiration Piece

I found the above image during a Google search that turned up ZERO results on a How-To.  I liked the way it looked, but found no instructions on how to make it.  So I decided to write one myself in hopes of inspiring someone else to create a really cool outdoor feature.

Here is the assembled “frame” of the fountain to give you a visual before going into the measurements and materials.  The finished size of my fountain was to be 2′ wide x 4′ tall not including the legs that would be inserted into the ground.

frame

Below you will find a list of almost all of the materials/supplies we used to create our fountain.  Most of the materials needed can be purchased at Home Depot or hardware stores, which the exception of the copper foil which I purchased on Ebay.  Other items were ones we had on hand.

materials

 

1.  Propane Blow Torch

2.  1/2″ copper pipe cut at 30″ for the legs

3.  1/2″ copper pipe cut at 16″ for the cross bars

4.  1/2″ copper pipe cut at 40″ for the side bars

5.  (2) 1/2″ copper 90 degree elbows and (2) 1/2″ copper T-Joints

6.  plumber’s cloth

7.  fitting cleaning brush

8.  pipe cutter

9.  solder flux

10.  solder

materials2

 

11.  30″ plastic window box liner

12.  30 GPH fountain pond pump

13.  bag of 1/2″ copper tube straps

14.  10′ coil of 3/8″ copper refrigeration tube

 

Other materials not shown:

-5/8″ piece of plywood cut to appropriate size

-pipe bender

-1/2″ stainless steel screws

-plumbers dope

-1′ of 3/8″ ID (inner diameter) rubber flex tube

-awl

-hammer

-large sheet of cardboard or soft cloth (to protect the copper foil)

I purchased my copper foil from an Ebay distributor whom I highly recommend.  The owner, Jim, was very helpful and lists his phone number to contact him with any questions.  He gave me recommendations on the size of copper I would need, what kind of tools I might use, and a few troubleshooting tips he had experienced or heard about.  I would definitely purchase from him again!

-2′ x 4′ piece of 5 mil copper foil – purchased from Nimrod Hall Copper Company via Ebay

DSC_0271

The first thing we did was measure and cut our 1/2″ copper pipe (sold in 10′ lengths at Home Depot – we bought two 10′ pieces).  You could definitely use a hack saw instead, but the pipe cutters were much easier and faster.

cutting the pipe

cutting the pipe

Our next step was getting the pipes and fittings ready to be soldered.  Using the plumber’s cloth (which is a lot like sandpaper) and fitting cleaning brush we cleaned the edges of all the pipes as well as the insides of the elbows and t-joints.

using plumber's cloth on edges of copper pipe

using plumber’s cloth on edges of copper pipe

using fitting brush on inside of elbows and t-joints

using fitting brush on inside of elbows and t-joints

You will notice where you “cleaned” the pipe because it changes the finish.

copper pipe after being cleaned for solder

copper pipe after being cleaned for solder

Next, we brushed the solder flux onto the areas we just cleaned.

brushing solder flux onto the pipe-end

brushing solder flux onto the pipe-end

brushing solder flux into the elbow

brushing solder flux into the elbow

These few steps were unbeknownst to me.  I was under the impression you could just solder the pieces together and call it a day.  My dad made me aware that the cleaning with the plumber’s cloth and the solder flux allow the solder material to actually adhere to the copper rather than just slide around it.  Therefore, don’t skip this step!

Once that was finished, we began to assemble the copper pieces together, laid out on a large tabletop.

assembling the pieces

assembling the pieces

the assembled frame laid out

the assembled frame laid out

Using the blow torch and solder material, we heated up the copper and soldered it together.

The frame is up on little wooden blocks to keep our cardboard work surface from burning and so the solder could drip around the whole pipe.

soldering the pieces together

soldering the pieces together

soldering the pieces together

soldering the pieces together

After all of the joints had been soldered, they looked like this:

joints after being soldered

joints after being soldered

The overall frame looked like this:

finished copper frame

finished copper frame

Now we moved on to the plywood base and copper foil that would be attached to it.  I used a piece of 5/8″ thick plywood that we cut down to 21″ x 44″.  The copper foil that I purchased measured 24″ x 48″ and we needed a few inches to be able to wrap it around the plywood and secure it on the back.

Here is the plywood with the copper foil laying on top:

copper foil and plywood base

copper foil and plywood base

After this, we flipped the whole thing over and wrapped the copper around to the back of the plywood.  Be careful what you place the foil on.  It is very thin and permeable – we used a clean piece of cardboard, but a soft cloth or blanket would work, too!

Using a hammer and awl, we poked through the copper to prepare for the stainless steel screws.

securing the wrapped copper to the plywood

punching the copper and plywood with the awl

securing the copper to the plywood

securing the copper to the plywood

Now here is where you could go a step further.  We did not use any adhesive between the foil and the plywood.  The foil is only held on by the stainless steel screws on the back.  Adhesive could have been used to insure the foil remained flat and smooth, but it wasn’t a critical step and I decided to forego it.  However, if you are more particular than me, you can go ahead and use an approved adhesive to attach the two together.

Once all four sides were wrapped and secured, we flipped it back over and were left with this:

DSC_0282

Now we needed to attach the frame to the back of the plywood.  Again, laying the copper face down on a clean surface, we used the 1/2″ tube straps to secure the frame in place.

attaching the frame to the plywood

attaching the frame to the plywood

Okay, here is where things get tricky.  I’m not even really sure how to explain this because we just sort of made it up as we went.

We had planned on using the 3/8″ copper coil as the tube that would connect to the pump and draw the water up to the top.  The process for creating that involved several bends and twists using a pipe bender.  There really is no “explanation” or How-To to explain it, so hopefully these pictures are enough of a starting point for you.

bending the copper coil

bending the copper coil

copper2

Now, somehow the pictures got flipped, but the above piece was then attached to the frame as seen below.  The part that wraps around the front is where the holes are drilled and the water will spray out.

drilled holes in the top of the coil that wraps around the front

drilled holes in the top of the coil that wraps around the front

layout of copper coil

The 3/8″ coil was soldered to the 1/2″ frame and run down the length of the piece so that it could be connected to the pump.  More to come on that in a minute.

copper3

 

Hopefully you get the gist of how we bent the copper coil and soldered it to the frame.  The holes were drilled in it at an angle so that the water sprayed against the copper sheet and ran down, rather than just spraying directly down.

Now the plastic window liner comes in to play.  This is what will hold the pump and catch the water to be recirculated.

plastic window liner and appropriate pump

plastic windowbox liner and appropriate pump

With a few modifications of the plastic, we slipped the liner onto the bottom of the plywood and secured it with screws.

plastic liner in place

plastic liner in place

closeup of plastic liner in place

closeup of plastic liner in place

We had to snip the plastic away on the back so it would lay flush around the copper frame.  We then just used a few more of the stainless screws and attached it to the plywood.

DSC_0302

snipped plastic on the back

The store-bought pump got a bit of a modification so that it would work with the copper.  Depending on the actual pump that you purchase, this could vary.  But we used a 1′ foot piece of rubber flex hose (from Auto Zone) that would fit over the plastic attachment that came with the pump.  The hose ran from the pump to the copper tube in the back.

Pump and Flex Hose adaption

Pump and Flex Hose adaption.

we've got water!!

we’ve got water!!

In the above picture, the pump is sitting inside the plastic tray.  Once all of the pipes and tubes were hooked up, we tested it out by filling the tray with water and seeing what happened.

The copper legs on the bottom are what will be inserted into the ground, leaving the plastic liner to sit directly on the ground.

I built a wooden box from a cedar fence post (Home Depot) to slide over and hide the plastic tray.

And here it is:

Finished Fountain

Finished Fountain

A few things to point out:

1.  Copper is sensitive to water, as in it changes color easily.  I knew this going in and wasn’t bothered by the fact.  I realize, however, that some people might not like the streaks and spots that appear.  To me, the more the better!  But, with a small bit of Googling, there are plenty of home remedies that can be sprayed on the surface to clean the copper.

2.  My cedar box gets filthy when the rain splashes the dirt from the garden up on to it.  I’m not bothered by this either because when the plants in our garden finally start growing, they will most likely hide the box and plastic liner anyways.  This way, it will appear as if the copper wall is floating among the greenery (my plan all along!).

3.  I found that trying to capture this piece in a photograph was really difficult.  From the picture, it appears as if little to no water is even falling – I assure you it is.  And it gives off a soft splashing noise that is my favorite part of an outdoor fountain.

4.  One thing I noticed very early is the filter on the pump.  It doesn’t actually filter much of anything (except maybe rocks).  Therefore, anything that falls into the plastic tray (tree gunk, bugs, leaves, etc) can get sucked up the tube and clog the holes where the water sprays out.  I’m currently working on a remedy for that and will update if I find one – thinking of using a piece of screen mesh??

copper8

 

 

copper9

 

The back isn’t exactly attractive looking since I left it the plain plywood.  It faces the corner of the backyard, though, so I’m not too worried.  Plus, if it was up against a building, it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

I’m fully confident that it will look even better once the garden starts to grow in and we clean off the patio.

 

And that’s it!  We were able to do the majority of the work in one afternoon, with some fine-tuning afterwards.

If you have any questions or if I didn’t explain something well enough, please feel free to email me!  Jessica@jparisdesigns.com

 

 

 


4 Comments

  1. Kirk Kim

    Can I make the wall bigger then 21×44 ? I would like to go 40″ wide by 72″ high. We have a wall we can anchor the fountain to.
    Thanks
    Kirk Kim

    • Jessica

      As long as you can find copper sheeting that is that size, I don’t see why not. But yes, I would recommend anchoring it to something for stability purposes. Good luck!

  2. what was the estimate cost of the project ?
    I know that copper can been expensive
    thank you

    • Jessica

      Maxine, the copper sheet cost me about $60 and I had a little bit left over. I got is as thin as recommended by the seller. I would say overall, with supplies, it was around $100 total.

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