Archive for April, 2013

Budget-friendly DIY Rain Chain

Oh, how I’ve wanted a rain chain.

My first DIY rain chain attempt

Combining copper rings and river rocks to create a combo rain chain that’s both less expensive and unique.

They’re far more fun to look at than a traditional gutter downspout, and if you’re looking at conserving cash on your water bill, they go great with a rain barrel.  The problem is, rain chains tend to be quite pricey!

My plan is to replace four downspouts with these useful “water features,” but paying out $70-$200 each for pretty downspouts is not exactly in my budget.

So, I purchased a plain roll of copper tubing at the Home Depot to see if I could make one myself for less.

A 10′ coil of 1/4″ copper tubing was around $10.  Much more like it!
- 1/4" copper tubing wrapped into rings -
I rolled the copper tubing around a piece of PVC pipe to fashion the rings.  My $10 went only 16 rings far.  Not nearly far enough.

I calculated at least two, and probably three, more $10 copper coils would be necessary to get the chain the right length, and with three more full chains left to build, well, my improvise sense kicked in.  I needed more length, without sacrificing function.

Then I got the idea to make a combo chain of sorts.  I could add something decorative (river rocks) between groups of the more costly copper links to pad out to get to the needed length.

I had seen a wrapped-rock chain when I was researching ways to make the copper chains.  But, how on Earth could I get rocks to hang in a way so that they stayed put – in a pouring down rain – on a chain?

I found a post online where someone else had used items from the dollar store to do a rock “wrap” chain, so I headed to the Dollar Everything store to see if I could do a variation on the same.  From what I’ve found online, your creativity is the limit.  Here’s a link to some fancy wrapping.  I may try this style after I get more adept.  .

Bag of river rocks, a 6' coil of floral wire and a $1 pair of snips

Floral wire, river rocks and a little pair of snips were all I needed to make my river rock links.

At the Dollar Everything store I found floral wire, in an assortment of bright colors, and selected a (more or less) copper-complementary gold color.  The wire was both flexible and sturdy, and a 6′ roll was only $1.  I bought seven rolls of the  floral wire.  On the same aisle, I found a bag of river rocks – also $1.  And finally, a tiny pair of snips – again, $1.

Seriously – $9 – plus the $10 spent for the copper coil = $19 rain chain!  My budget was happy, but now, I had to make it all work.  This is what I did.

Remove the coil

The copper tubing will form a tight spiral that can be cut to make the individual rings.

Step 1 – Roll the 1/4″ copper tubing tightly around the PVC pipe to form a coil spiral of soon-to-be copper rings.  Hold an end piece against the pipe while you wrap to keep the rings consistent  and go with the “established curve” of the coil for best results.

When you’ve finished wrapping the coil, just slide it off the open end of your circular form.

Make your cuts with a hacksaw

By arranging the spiral around the hacksaw blade, I was able to cut through the tubing to make the rings.

Once you have your copper tube “spiral,” you’ll need a way to cut a straight line across all the circles to create the open rings.  I used a good ole hacksaw.  This was the least fun part, but it wasn’t too bad.

I took off the blade and ran it through the center of the spiral and then retightened the blade to the handle, so the cutting blade was surrounded by my circles.

There are, no doubt, less manual labor ways to make the cuts, but I went with what I had on hand, held the coil firmly and cut a straight line through the bottom of the spiral, and it worked just fine.

As each ring is liberated, they will be open – be sure to apply pressure only in a side to side motion to close and open the ring.   This will help keep the cut ends lined up right, so your circles stay circles.

I experimented with quite a few configurations and eventually found a system that seemed to work best for me.  You may do yours completely different, but no matter how you wrap the rock, you’ll need to create a hook at both the top and bottom to connect the rocks and the copper rings together.

Step 2 – Wrap the floral wire, like you did the copper coil, on a circular form (choose a form to match the size you want the hook to be) to create the first hanger.

Begin by wrapping the floral wire around a circular form several times to get a small spiral.  Remove the spiral from an open end of your form.  On the first loop, I also pulled the loose end of the wire around and back through the spiral to provide additional support in a type of knot.

Wrapping the rock

Step 3 – Center the rock and wrap the wire around, making sure to secure the sides.

After you have the top hanger, next, you’ll want to center the river rock and tightly pull the floral wire around the rock in a design that holds it securely in place.

Wrap, wrap, wrap.

Tying up loose ends

To finish the piece, repeat the loop making step on the other end. The two end loops will alternate 90 degrees to precipitate straight hanging.

Then, place your circular form at the point where you want to start the final loop and wrap a new spiral back toward you.

Unlike the top, this loop will not get knotted.   To keep things straight, I generally think of the last loop as the bottom of the piece.

The reason you leave the bottom loop open is so that you can link the pieces easily.  It’s a little like the old school key rings where you separate the end of the wire slightly and “spiral” a second closed circle in to the center of it to link the two pieces.

One helpful tip too, the two ends should also alternate orientation – with one running flat side matching the rock- and the other end 90 degrees offset – so the pieces will all hang straight when they are linked.

Snip, snip

Finish the piece by snipping the wire to free your masterpiece from the rest of the wire.

Use the little snips to separate the piece from the remaining wire.

And now you can finally assemble your bits.  Find a spot high enough (maybe the gutter) for the chain to hang on as you build it to length.  I alternated four copper links, then three river rock links all the way down.  It looks like this…

Which one to choose....

I hung my chain next to the downspout to compare the two aesthetics. For $19 and my first attempt, not too bad!

Once you are happy with the configuration, it’s time to remove the gutter’s downspout and hang this new chain in place.  I’m also adding a rain barrel – that’s after I rid the deck of the yellow jackets who have moved in – that is not how I want to come off a ladder.  Good times…. till next time.

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April 20, 2013 at 6:50 am Leave a comment


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