Copper Shelves: The Tutorial!

diy copper shelves for the kitchen

We’ve been planning to make these shelves since…..last fall? A long time. And then we finally got around to the buying the copper back in the beginning of March, and STILL we did not make shelves.

Because we were afraid.

Also because our original plans were thwarted and we had to regroup.

The shelves were supposed to be floating shelves instead of shelves with brackets. We thought the copper wrapping part was going to be trouble enough, so we didn’t want to build the shelves ourselves and opted for Lack shelves from Ikea. Because I’ve seen it done! Young House Love used Lack floating shelves in their kitchen and everything was FINE!

Ours were not fine.

The wall space available for the shelves is a little more than 2 feet wide. Lack shelves come in either 11 3/4 inches or 43 or 74 inches, so we opted to hang two right next to each other and then wrap them in the copper together so the seam wouldn’t show. We bought all our stuff and took a nice picture:

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And then we busted out the anchor screws and put the first pair on the wall:

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Ruh ro.

Yeah, so the shelves started sagging before we even put anything on them.

Here is what we figured out about Lack shelves and why this worked great for YHL and not for us: the longer lengths of shelves (like YHL used) have a continuous strip along the back where they can be attached to the wall, so you can screw them in wherever you want….like, say, where the studs are. The 11 3/4 inch shelves, on the other hand, just have two specific spots on the back where they can be screwed in, so you’re pretty unlikely to hit studs. We hoped the anchor screws would be enough. But no.

We still didn’t want to build our own floating shelves, so we decided shelves with brackets would just have to do. And, honestly, now that the shelves are up, I’m not even sure which I’d prefer if I could have had them either way. I think the floating shelves look more modern and streamlined, but modern and streamlined isn’t necessarily the right look for this kitchen, so…..

Here’s the list of what we wound up actually using for the shelves (some of these are affiliate links):

*2 mdf planks, 1 foot by 4 foot, cut to size

*Black shelf brackets (link takes you to Amazon, but I bought ours at Home Depot, and it looks like they’re cheaper there, at least as I’m writing this)

*Loctite Premium Construction Adhesive

*metal shears

*roll of 10 mil copper

*Black Lacquer Spray Paint

 

A few notes on supplies:

We considered a few different options for brackets, but finally went with very simple black metal ones. I realized after we got home with them that they’re the exact same ones we used for the shelves in Milo and Gus’s room. So I guess we like them.

I really have no idea if we made the best possible choice for adhesive or not. When we picked it out, we still thought we’d be using the Lack shelves, so we got this kind because it didn’t say that it needed a porous surface to adhere to. But then we wound up using uncoated MDF for the shelves, so that part wasn’t really necessary. At any rate, it seemed to work well.

I didn’t link to the metal snips we bought (though you can see them in the picture up there), because I wish we’d bought longer ones. These worked fine, but were kind of pain to use once we got toward the center of the long cuts we were making on the copper.

Copper: We ordered ours from Basic Copper. Prices seemed pretty uniform everywhere I looked (online; I didn’t try to find copper in B&M stores), and I liked their site because it had a lot of information about what to order for your particular project, written at a level easily understood by people like us who know nothing about working with copper. We went with 10 mil for the thickness because that was the thinnest they recommended for projects like countertops. After using it, I feel like we could have gotten away with thinner, and Dave says he would have preferred thicker. So, umm, I guess we accidentally found the perfect compromise?

We somehow managed to order way too much copper. We’ve gone over it and over it and can’t quite figure out what we were thinking. We bought a 10 foot roll, 24 inches wide, and at the time we were only planning to make two shelves (we ended up with three). So to make the 2 shelves we had planned, the six foot roll would have been plenty, and the eight foot would have worked for the three we actually made (the six might have worked, too, but it would have been cutting it fairly close). We spent $207 with shipping for the copper, but we should have spent at least $20 less than that. Now we need to come up with some more copper projects.

But, as you can see, this wasn’t the cheapest project in the world. Brackets were around $8 each, so $48 for brackets, say maybe another $20ish for the adhesive, spray paint, and mdf, and then maybe $185 for the copper we should have bought.

Okay, so here’s how we did it:

Originally, we were planning to try to wrap the copper around to cover the edges, too, but we panicked at the last minute and decided that we couldn’t handle making nice seams, so we opted to just wrap it around the top, front, and bottom, and paint the edges of the mdf black.

I won’t pretend that I’m just as happy it worked out this way, like with brackets versus floating shelves, but I am fine with it, and I think trying to do the edges might well have been a disaster. I had thought we’d be able to solder them and then file/sand them down. But as far as I can tell from google, you can’t really solder copper.

We cut the mdf board down to three 24 inch shelves and then used our Kreg rip cut to rip them down to 10 1/2 inches deep, because the shelf brackets weren’t supposed to be used for shelves deeper than that (it probably would have been fine at 12 inches, but we’re keeping fairly heavy stuff on the shelves, so we didn’t want to chance it). Then we spray painted the edges black.

Then we hung the brackets on the wall before we started messing with the copper, to make sure the big plan was going to work this time:

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And then it was time for copper. Eek! Nervous. We were.

There was some trial and error here, so I’m going to skip ahead to the part where we were on the third shelf and had sort of figured out what worked best.

Ooh, shiny copper! So pretty!

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First we laid the mdf out on the copper and measured out how much we needed for a shelf. We left enough overhang on the back (where the shelves would go against the wall) to wrap it around a little. We did this right on the kitchen island, after putting down old towels to protect both the granite and the copper (which scratches easily. I don’t expect it to stay perfect forever, but we tried not to destroy it completely before it even got to be shelves):

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We marked a line with chalk and then cut with the too short metal snips we bought. The edge was far from perfect, but it didn’t really matter since that edge was going to end up against the wall and not show. But be careful, because copper is poky! I had many band aids.

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We found that the best way to handle the next step was to wrap the copper around the mdf and make creases on the edges first, then unfold the whole thing before applying the adhesive. For the creases, we just pulled it as tight as we could get it, then one of us would hold it in place while the other went along the edge with his/her fingers and made the crease. No real science to it; we just did the best we could.

There was a learning curve figuring out the right balance between getting the glue close enough to the edges to make everything hold well, without getting too close and having it all ooze out the sides. There was a good bit of oozing and frantically cleaning up wet glue with paper towels.

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Then we wrapped the copper back around the mdf and pressed down on it really hard. And then went over it with a rolling pin for good measure:

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We thought we might need to buy a new drill bit for attaching the shelves to the brackets (through the copper), but the regular drill bits worked fine. Dave wants me to show you this series of pictures of how Gus used a paint pin to mark where the screws should go, though:

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He also wants you to see this picture of him screwing a hole through the copper while Abe watches:

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And there you have it! Copper shelves!


 

 


Comments

Copper Shelves: The Tutorial! — 15 Comments

  1. I’m fighting with sheets of decorative metal with the designs punched in them right now and the frustration of working with those little sheets has completely killed the idea of a copper desk top. But your shelves look hella amazing. Maybe target will see and replicate your idea and make it an affordable part of one of their lines and I can have swanky shelves like yours without the work.

  2. They turned out great! So much better than that ugly corner cabinet! I love the black brackets, btw. I think they contrast with the copper really well. I like the thinner shelves way more than the chunky LACK shelves.

    I really like how this project turned out! Now you have me thinking about adding shelves to my kitchen. I just cleaned up a bookcase that was in the corner collecting junk. It became a great place for recycling and compost bins. I’m thinking some shelves above them would round the space out perfectly. And since I removed the bookcase I need a new place to put my cook books. Thanks for sharing your tutorial!

    ~ Bethany @ MakingMyStead.com
    (formerly Bethany the ngnrdgrl)

    • Thanks so much, Bethany! Now that these shelves are up, I keep eyeing other places in the kitchen where I could put more. More and more and more shelves!

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  4. Of course you can solder copper. My house is plumbed with soldered copper pipe. That’s how it was done before plastic pipes. Maybe the thinner copper sheets won’t stand up to the heat?

    • Based on the reading I did the issues seem to be the availability or lack thereof of copper solder wire (there’s a lot of controversy about whether you can find something that will really match copper sheet in color) and the temperature needed to solder. We weren’t up for using a blow torch, and it sounded like, as far as I could gather, that’s what you would need–a regular soldering iron wouldn’t cut it.

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