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Copper Rooflet

A copper rooflet isn’t made of wood, so what’s it doing in THISisCarpentry? Well, working with copper requires a lot of the skills that we use every day working with wood. In this project, the rooflet is meant to “look” like wood, and it serves a purpose that is generally filled by wood. Sure, I use some skills that are not technically considered “carpentry,” but if you’ve ever sweated a pipe-fitting, or made a pan-flashing for a window or door, or flashed a cricket, valley, or chimney, you’ve got the skills. So, brush off that dusty skill set, use your imagination, and apply it to a project that just might be screaming COPPER!

I created this illustration using a combination of Adobe Photoshop, hand coloring, and sketching.

First, some background on this project. The client has very eclectic tastes—with a home to match—and seems to enjoy one-off details. He has an awning made from sailcloth, and the house is detailed with copper flashing and gutters.

The owner wanted a small roof to cover a frequently-used side door, but did not want to stand in a shadow. This door is on the north side of the house, and is already shaded by a rather large oak tree.

I visualized a copper roof with a glass panel that would seem to “float” above the door. After several sketches, I landed on the design, which I presented to the client. The client liked the design, and after some time (nine months), he decided to go ahead with the project.

Now I needed to source the profile and figure out the particulars of the construction. While copper crown profiles are available, they’re expensive (at more than $15 a running foot), always a special order, and an open profile. My plan called for the profile to be surface-mounted. I needed a closed form, so whatever profile I got, I would have to create that closed form by boxing in the profile.

After sourcing profiles, I realized I could achieve my desired look using common, locally-sourced copper “K”-style gutters. Around here they run $6-$7 a lineal foot. This would help keep material costs down, and the final price would remain attractive to the client. 20-oz. cold-rolled coil worked well for the gutters, and I used commonly-available 20-oz. flashing for any other pieces I would need in the visible profiles.

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Since my design included glass panels—which would add considerable weight to the piece—I planned to reinforce the structure with a tubular internal “skeleton” made from commonly available 1/2-in. and 3/4-in. type “L” copper plumbing pipe and fittings (see photo, LEFT). Type “L” is about twice as thick as type “M”, which is used for hydronic heating systems. I also decided to use lead-free solder and flux paste—readily available at any hardware store or big box outlet (which meant I could easily get more if I ran out). The glass panels needed to be tempered and laminated for safety and durability, but I could not special-order the glass until I had the main structure assembled for precise measurements.

Assembly

I cut the gutter stock (see below) using my table saw with a finish blade. The blade had a negative hook angle, or at least it was close to zero, so the copper was chipped away rather than torn. I did this to eliminate distortions, since even cold-rolled copper is rather soft.

 

I flipped and reversed the cut-off piece to use in completing the “box” of the closed profile (see photo, RIGHT). There is a rolled-edge to the gutter lip that I wanted to reduce, but not eliminate, because I thought it would add to the strength of the finished piece. I “squashed” it using a locking-pliers-type hand seamer—this allowed me to “set” the squash, which meant that I could easily repeat the process for consistency.

I initially attempted to use a commercial soldering iron to solder the seams, but found that the “air gap” in the lip hindered heat transfer. I switched to my trusty, dusty Oxy/Acetylene torch kit, and used the welding/brazing tip. It’s important to stress that using a wider flame—as seen in a common sweating torch for plumbing—spreads the heat too far and creates a lot of distortion. If you can weld or braze with Oxy/Acetylene, you will have no problem with speed and flame control. I decided to forego the iron—even for flat areas—because I wanted to stick to a single method, and not have to constantly switch back and forth.

I assembled two ten-foot lengths of the profile, and then cut them down to the required lengths. For this step, I used my 12-in. SCMS, with the same type of blade as the table saw. I can’t stress enough that you have to take your time and let the tool do the work. If you go too fast it will rip, tear, and distort the profile.

The left-over pieces were crucial for practice fitting. Since the profile side undulates and changes planes a lot, I had to figure which slight bends would fit and still give me a big enough surface for the solder to take to.
The flat area was simple—I went at it with an automotive flanging tool, and hit the inside corners with the hand seamer.

I assembled the pieces one corner at a time—first the skeleton, then the crown over it.

First, I inserted the 1/2-in. pipe and soldered it in place, including a punch-through with a TEE that formed the mounting boss for the support bracket.
The first corner took me about three hours to assemble and solder, making sure to check often for square. Wherever the copper was scuffed and pasted, that’s where the solder will go and stick to.

I worked my way around the piece corner-by-corner, using pony clamps to keep things butted tight, careful not to apply too much pressure, so as not to deform the copper.

There are two internal support frames. One of 1/2-in. type “L” tubing and one of 3/4-in. type “L” tubing.
They are also joined in the midspans by TEEs. I also used strategically-placed copper pop rivets to hold things together for soldering pieces that were not clampable.

The “skeletons” exited straight back through the profile to engage the vertical legs of the brackets.

In most places, I soldered the reinforcing “skeleton” through and behind interlocking parts—this helps avoid weak links. The center spine consisted of two 1/2-in. tubes connected to the main frame using pop rivets (see photo, BELOW), soldering multiple layers together. I then formed a box out of 20-oz. copper and soldered that to the main profile and the spine.

Center spine, consisting of two 1/2-in. tubes connected to the main frame using pop rivets

Glass-support lips

When I got to this point, I measured for and ordered the glass panels. I was originally told three weeks for delivery, but it turned out to be six weeks. The specialty panels all come from one or two national suppliers, so if your glass guy gives you a lead time, figure on doubling it.

While I waited for the glass to arrive, I formed and applied the glass-support lips. I added copper pop rivets through to the “skeleton” for added strength, as I knew the panels would be heavy.

Next, I turned my attention to the support brackets. Initially, I designed for gently curving struts, but when I loaded some weight on the assembly, it flexed more than I wanted it to. If a branch were to come down on it, for example, it would simply slump down, blocking the door from opening, and the profile could split wide-open.

I decided to use a more robust support made out of straight 3/4-in. tubing reinforced with 1/2 in. tubing inside. (I looked into using stainless steel rod in the center for strength, but availability and cost made that a no-go.)

To increase strength, I integrated the rear flashing and box into one. This piece slid over the vertical legs to be soldered and riveted to the hidden area in back, one layer reinforcing the other.

At the lower back, the 1/2-in. tubing was inserted into the vertical leg and soldered. Then the 3/4-in. tubing, which was formed to fit the surface contour, was soldered in place.

The vertical legs were formed by taking 1 1/4-in. copper tubing, making a wooden mold, and hand-forming them into a “D” cross section. This gave me a flat area against the house wall with a visually rounded area.

For the wooden mold, I made a block form that had the front contour of the vertical leg which allowed me to hammer the back flat without severely deforming the rounded front, or leave marks, since that would be the surface that was seen.

The glass arrived in a crate sturdy enough to survive a car accident.

The flashing became discolored and slightly distorted, but I was not concerned, because it would eventually be covered by a counter-flashing and cedar shingles.

The finished assembly seemed to be a moving target, constantly forcing me to reevaluate my approach and keeping me on my toes. Keeping clean is also important. Wipe off the flux paste with a hot, wet towel often, and wipe your hands, as well.

After I finished the assembly, I washed the whole piece down with hot soapy water and a red scotch-bright scrubber (available at auto body suppliers), to get off all the residual flux paste and discolorations. The scotch-bright removes any remaining varnish from the copper, so the patina will be even. I did not apply a varnish since the client specifically wanted the piece to age and patina.

When the glass was finally delivered, it came in a crate sturdy enough to survive a car accident. After unpacking, the glass installation was pretty straight forward. My measurements were snug, but the panels went into place without headache or hammer. I used DAP Ultra Clear silicone to fix the panels in place.

Installation

It took about three hours to install the rooflet. The crown molding around the door had to be notched to allow the vertical support legs to tuck behind it slightly (see photo, RIGHT). This made it easier to install, because the rooflet was held in place, which allowed us to free up our hands instead of having one person constantly holding the piece until a screw was set.

We first removed three courses of shakes (shingles) down to the house wrap, which was…non-existent. We added butyl flashing to the area directly behind and above where the rooflet was to be mounted. Since it was a chilly fall day, we had to staple the butyl flashing in place because it wouldn’t stick to the house. Of course, it had no trouble sticking to itself!

Next, we mounted the rooflet. We started with three coated screws and stainless steel finish washers in the bottom rear flange. This kept the piece in place so we could focus on different tasks.
I set the two main upper stainless steel lags in place while Ed worked on the primary flashing.
A steady push, and then a few firm raps with a block, formed the flashing to the house wall. We nailed it in place with ring-shank copper roofing nails. We then cut and applied a 16-oz. 8-in.-wide counter flashing, also secured with the ring-shank copper roofies.

Ed installed some filler shakes up top while I added the lower stainless steel lags to the support legs. Then we added the finish shakes. All the partial shakes below the rooflet were predrilled so they wouldn’t split while being nailed into place. Although we came prepared with replacement shakes, we ended up not needing them. We just had to touch up the opaque stain. I added matching shake fillers behind the lower lag bolts to avoid deforming the lower portion of the support legs.

After the final touch-ups, the client—who had been pacing back a forth inside the house, and sneaking peeks like a kid at Christmas time—came out to look at the final result. Not only was it very much like the concept illustration he had gotten almost a year before (see beginning of article), but he could now fully appreciate the airiness the glass panels provided. After inquiring about the time it would take for the patina to start setting in, I informed him that he could accelerate the timeframe by rubbing a cut lemon or a vinegar-saturated cloth over the surface. His wife wants it to occur naturally, but something tells me he will be up on a ladder within a couple of weeks, lemon in hand.

All-in-all, this was a fun project, and I enjoyed the creative freedom I was allowed in making it happen. I hope this story inspires some of you to stretch beyond your usual routine, use a skill set that has gathered some dust, and have some fun!

•••

AUTHOR BIO

Phil Herzegovitch is owner of Daedalus Design LLC in Danbury, CT. Working on his 3rd and 4th full-time careers (remodeling contractor and Dad) he’s come to the realization that life is one long (hopefully very long) learning experience.

After leaving engineering school, Phil became a Master Automobile Technician and a Graphic Designer. He stuck with those professions, concurrently, until he lost the passion for both. Having been a cabinetmaker’s apprentice in high school, and a woodworking counselor at a summer day camp, Phil still had a love of creating things he saw in his mind, and translating that vision into 3D with his hands. So, after a year managing a body shop, he decided to park his toolbox and switch gears into the remodeling industry.

As a design/build remodeler, Phil still gets a thrill out of creating a vision and translating it into something that will last for many years. All of his past experiences contribute to an ability to come up with novel ideas to solve so many of the problems we run across in the building industry.

When not working or completing items on the honey-do list, Phil enjoys spending time with his kids, swimming with his daughter, or wrestling (and chasing) his twin toddler boys.

Comments/Discussion

17 Responses to “Copper Rooflet”

  1. Alex

    Phil,
    Nice job writing the article and I have to admit the idea is interesting. But I was somewhat distracted by all the different fittings used to make your angles work for your supports as well as the globs of solder everywhere. I liked your Yankee Ingenuity but I think the execution fell a bit short. I would consider using a bender to make the transitions instead of all those fittings even though the soldering may be a little more challenging. My other hang up was the different colors of all the metals. I noticed that besides the copper and the gray/silver of the solder you also introduced stainless steel and what looks to be green epoxy or ceramic coated screws. All that just made it a little to busy for me. All that being said, I still like the idea and I bet the next one is a knock out.

    Reply
  2. Scott

    I had a blast following this project on JLC forums. Good to see the finished product. I bet the HO says to all his guests, “Look what I have over my back door”!

    How many hours did it take, Phil? Were you able to charge OK for it?

    Reply
  3. Andy

    I love the idea, really great concept, I think your drawing and design was really nice, proportions were really good. I would have made it a bit shorter and brought the brace back a bit, made the T lead directly to the corner equidistant, so that from the side the triangles would have been similarly sized. That being said, really great concept and great use of a copper gutter, I never would have thought to have done that but it was a neat idea. I also liked the glass lights in the top. It is easier to make corrections than to make rooflets! Good job.

    Reply
  4. Noel

    Definitely very cool. Hopefully, we will see more of Phil’s work in the future.

    Thanks Phil.

    Noel
    Long Island, NY

    Reply
  5. David Rich

    As a custom copper-smith and also a Gutter Contractor I was very impressed with this unique project. What a great use of a K-5 style copper gutter. I also loved the combo medium using the glass to cover it over with to let in lots of daylight. This was very clever and I was impressed with the execution.

    Although, I feel the mitering of the corners might still be a bit of a challenge for most handy craftsmen. That is the most challenging part of gutter work. Few professional Gutter Contractors even have the confidence in their skill to work in copper at all. My hats off to any who have the balls to attempt this. Just believing you can is the hardest hurdle to cross for most.

    Here is a light house shaped chimney cap I made for a client in Seneca Falls New York where I used a copper gutter to form the 8 sided crown molding up under the bell shaped roof over the exhaust screen section:

    Reply
  6. David Rich

    I also wanted to say you did an excellent job to document this project step by step with text and good clear photos as well. All I could add is how I think a curved pipe support would have added a nice detail to this project.

    Here was the light house chimney cap I made after it was installed using a crane:

    Reply
  7. Maurice Viens

    It’s awesome to see people willing to design, sell and create truly custom “made from scratch” work. Congratulations on a job well done.

    Reply
  8. Philip Herzegovitch

    Thank you all for the encouraging words.
    Rich, I had mentioned the curved strut arms. I used a ring roller to form gently curved support struts, but after I had them installed I was not comfortable with the amount of flexion in them, so I reverted to straight. If a tree branch or a big pile of wet snow were to land on the rooflet, my concern was that it not buckle and fold.
    Thanks for the good comments, it means a lot coming from guys that knock copper all the time.;-)

    Phil

    Reply
    • David Rich

      Hi Phil,
      Sorry about that. I did read that after I had posted my comment. I do understand. I am all about over engineering the products I make as well. I figure why use a life-time metal like copper if it is not built sturdy enough to withstand what may come over the coming half century or more.

      Most other shop seem to use a thin copper with no supports inside to shave their material cost, but with labor and their business expenses being 75% of the cost for that project that philosophy is hugely flawed. I can see you went out of your way to make sure this very sturdy.

      Most people do not even know there is tempered/laminated glass. I have done a few skylights and recommended it. I even suggested the plastic layer be a translucent white instead of clear, so it has a frosted look to disperse the rays of direct Sun light and not bleach out their carpet and furniture so badly.

      Reply
      • Gary Katz

        David,
        NICE lighthouse!! Did you take pictures of making that??? How about writing an article???
        Gary

        Reply
    • Ken

      Hi Phil,
      Please forgive, this comment isn’t article related. I am blown away by the news of our friend. I just found out.

      Reply

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