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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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!
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!
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.