In the Architecture of Happiness, writer Alain de Botton postulates that our relationship to architecture arises from an intense and universal human need: to exist in the Goldilocks Zone between the security of an ordered, categorized, predictable world that we control, and the delight (even relief) of an infinitely diverse, mysterious, and spontaneous world that we can only admire in wonder.
What does this have to do with a copper pipe DIY? I submit that a tube cutter—the Stephen Curry of any copper pipe project—offers DIYers the complete Goldilocks Zone experience right in their very own living room. Here's how to use one to make this hanging pipe display, and why you should.
Try snapping a copper pipe in half and it resists. But with a $10 pocket-sized tool, you can bend it to your will through a series of concentric score marks. Still, the pipe determines the precise moment it will yield—the snap is sudden—and the surface of untreated copper evolves, developing patina in response to invisible environmental forces. (As well as slightly more visible forces, like the oil our skin emits when we hold it steady with greasy fingers!)
Hifalutin philosophical musings aside, the thing is, tube cutters are fun. They’re also practical, inexpensive, and space efficient. In fact, this whole DIY is about as simple and adaptable as it gets: One cut in the pipe, a handful of tools and materials, but the applications are legion.
Hang it low and sling magazines over it. Hang it high and hook a plant on it. Attach posters, photographs, or art prints with washi tape. Use copper s-hooks to turn it into an entry rack for hats, scarves, and coats. Illuminate it with string lights or loop a pendant cord set over it. Weave flowers or vines around it. Or, follow in our footsteps to string up a party time garland.
The project is yours to customize! Just be sure to properly secure your swag hooks to the ceiling and crimps around your monofilament (more on how to do those two things, below!), and keep the materials’ weight limits in mind.
Measure the length of copper pipe you’d like to be your finish length. Mark the cut line with a Sharpie. Measure that same length on your ceiling (parallel to where you want your pipe to be suspended) and use a pencil to mark each end; this is where you'll install the swag hooks. If you want the pipe to hang parallel to a wall, too, be sure that each of your marks are a consistent distance away from it.
Swag hooks are typically sold in a set of two, with each hook comprising three parts: the hook itself, a hanger bolt, and a butterfly clip. Most sets are sold with two types of hanger bolts, which you’ll select from depending on what you plan to drill into:
If you’re drilling into a drywall ceiling, you’ll pair the butterfly clip with the hanger bolt that has smaller, consistent threading. Thread the butterfly clip onto one end of the hanger bolt, with the “tails” facing the middle of the bolt. Thread the hook onto the other end.
Select a drill bit that’s just slightly larger than the width of the butterfly clip when the clip is squeezed shut. (Don’t worry if it feels like you’re making a big hole in your ceiling! The hook will cover the circumference of the hole once installed.)
Drill a hole into the ceiling at each of your pencil marks. Squeezing the butterfly clip shut, push it through the hole (it will spring open once through the hole). Tighten the hook by twisting it counter-clockwise, until it sits flush against the ceiling.
If you’re drilling into wood (like a stud or joist), disregard the butterfly clip and use the hanger bolt that has smaller threading on one end and wider threading on the other. The wider threading is designed to screw into wood. The smaller threading is designed to screw into the swag hook. Select a drill bit that matches the diameter of the hanger bolt underneath its threading. Drill a pilot hole into the ceiling at each of your pencil marks. With the hook attached to the end of the bolt with smaller threading, tighten it by twisting counter-clockwise, until it sits flush against the ceiling.
The complete Goldilocks experience. Open your tube cutter all the way. Place the copper pipe inside its jaws, the blade aligned with your Sharpie mark.
Then, tighten the tube cutter (making sure the blade doesn’t veer from your cut mark) until you can feel resistance and can no longer move the pipe side-to-side, but still have enough leeway to rotate it.
Rotate the pipe within the tube cutter (or, rotate the tube cutter around the pipe), tightening it with every couple of rotations. As you deepen the score mark, you will need to tighten more often. (Hint: if you have sweaty palms, try using gloves with a grip or even a silicon kitchen pat!)
SNAP! At some point, the end will drop off abruptly and cleanly. You will feel immense satisfaction and delight.
One note: the cut edge will be very sharp. Please be careful and, if your hang height means it’s at risk of being bumped into, I strongly recommend reaming/deburring it.
The best way to determine your drop height (how far you'd like the pipe to hang from the ceiling) is to hold up the cut copper pipe and eyeball it. If you’re planning to hang something specific from it, like a piece of artwork, a plant, or even a coat, you may want to temporarily attach that object to get your drop height right.
Once you’ve got your pipe positioned at the right height, measure from the inside curve of the swag hook to the top of where you're holding the pipe. This figure is your drop height!
To suspend your copper pipe from the swag hooks, you're going to cut a piece of clear monofilament to thread through it and loop over each hook. The basic formula for your monofilament length is: (drop height x 2) + length of copper pipe + 1 to 2 inches. The extra 1 to 2 inches are for making loops at the ends. The smaller the loop, the more visually discrete; but a bigger loop can be easier to work with.
Measure out your monofilament and cut it using scissors.
Put a crimp sleeve around each cut end of the monofilament piece and slide it down about an inch to 2 inches from the cut end. Create a loop by doubling a 1/2-inch to an inch of monofilament back through the second channel in the crimp sleeve.
Using pliers, squeeze the crimp sleeve hard. You can test whether it’s securely crimped by trying to slide one end of the monofilament while holding the other steady. Once the crimp is squeezed hard enough to lock both threads of the monofilament together, it won’t budge.
If your monofilament is relatively straight, you should be able to simply drop it through the copper pipe. If it’s still wavy from being spooled, it might give you trouble. If it isn’t dropping through easily, you can attach a wire to one of the loops to help guide it through the pipe, like this:
Hang the copper pipe from either end by slipping the monofilament loops over your swag hooks, and level it out, sliding the pipe to the center of the monofilament line.
Here's what the finished pipe looks like with a party garland affixed to it—but like I said before, how you use it to decorate is up to you (and the options are endless)!
Now, let your creativity run wild! How would you use this copper display pipe in your home?