The steel pipe fixture craze was cool, but sometimes over-kill for small spaces and also fittings can get expensive. If you’re looking for a smaller scale shelf, love the look of copper and playing with fire… here’s your DIY.
My friend (and W&F alumni), Ali Brislin, was in need of a small shelf setup for her Hi-Fi. She’d looked at some vintage cabinets, but nothing was perfect. I’d told her of my idea for a simple copper pipe shelf unit and she was intrigued. Since we have a very similar aesthetic, she trusted me and agreed to accept whatever creation was in my head. I tried to sketch it out, but nothing beats filling a basked full of copper fittings and just going for it.
Part of the fun here is playing with a torch. You’ll want to review some how-to videos on sweating copper pipe. It’s pretty easy to do, but seriously an art form when done by an experienced plumber. There’s a lot steps involved to make it clean and water-tight, however, since we won’t be using it for a pressured water supply, you can make it a little messy. With practice it’ll look better and better with each fitting.
Tools involved are a propane torch, solder and flux (or instant solder), pipe cutter or hacksaw, sandpaper, measuring tape, sharpie marker. You’ll need some half-inch copper pipe, plenty of fittings and some boards.
- six t-fittings and eight elbow fittings
- six 14” cut copper
- six 1.5” cut copper
- two 7.5” cut copper
- two 5.5” cut copper
- one 28” cut copper (determines your width)
- wood to create two 14”x30” shelves
The first step is to cut all your copper pipe down into pieces using the pipe cutter. This can also be done with a hack-saw, but for the cost, a pipe cutter is a cheap investment. The cut list I’ve provided will be plenty large enough for a vintage receiver and more, but it can always be customized for your own needs.
After all parts are cut, test fit everything. Make sure all your fittings are correct, then disassemble and prep your pipes by cleaning/sanding all the fitting areas. Once prepped, add your flux (or instant solder formula) and re-assemble. I soldered things in sections, and that might make more sense unless you have lots of clamps and a metal bench to do everything at once. I soldered up the sides, leaving the cross piece loose until the end, so it can be assembled square. Copper does bend easily, but it’s always good to have your pieces square before forcing into shape later.
Once the assembly is done and cooled, I drilled some mounting holes for wall attachment. For strength purposes, I drilled though fittings. Also, since copper is soft, use washers on your mounting screws where necessary. Four screws were enough going into a thick plywood backed wall, but if you don’t have that, try and find a stud.
Lastly, it’s time to slide your shelf boards into the frame. You can drill through the copper to screw your boards in place, but I decided to just leave them loose. There’s not much danger at Ali’s house of them being knocked. Once the stereo is in place, put on your favorite records and load the rest of your shelf up with plants and tchotchkes!