Introduction: Make Holiday Ornament From Bicycle Chain

Picture of Make Holiday Ornament From Bicycle Chain

Since I have a lot of bicycles and that means I do a lot of bicycle maintenance. Eventually a bicycle chain wears out and I have to install a new chain. This happens more than I would like to admit so I have a plethora of worn out chains.  Throw them away?  I say NO ! ... reuse, recycle, re-purpose!

The holidays are approaching and I decided to make a number of gifts this year. Since only my friends and family actually read my instructables those people might want to stop reading here or risk spoiling your holiday surprise!  This project is awesome because one chain produces a LOT of ornaments (I get an average of 10 ornaments per chain).  It is easy to assemble, inexpensive, and it recycles what would otherwise be in the trash.

But how do you make this awesome ornament?  Stay tuned I am about to instruct.  This holiday project can be done very quickly so buckle up and lets go for a bicycle ride!

Step 1: The Tools Needed for This Project

Picture of The Tools Needed for This Project
Most of the instructables I write can be performed with every day tools. This instructable does require a specialty bicycle tool called a chain breaker. A chain breaker has a rod that pushes the pins from between chain links and can be purchased at a bicycle shop. If you are going to be doing this project you should get a quality one because it will get a lot of use.

  • Rubber gloves for handing the chain and the solvents
  • Super glue to make the chain take on the star shape
  • Chain breaker get a quality breaker if you can find one
  • Hammer or pliers to reassemble the chain
  • Nails (not pictured) to make a jig to hold the chain
  • Wire hooks (not pictured), check the box stores in the holiday section

Step 2: Degrease Your Chains

Picture of Degrease Your Chains

For this project I re-purposed four (4) worn out chains. I put the chains in an empty 2 liter bottle and used a solvent to break down the grease/oil inside the bicycle chains. You can use Simple Green, mineral spirits, WD-40 or gasoline, just be careful to handle and dispose of the solvent safely.

Fill the bottle with solvent enough to cover the chains. Screw the cap tight on the bottle, and shake the bottle so the solvent gets inside the chain and washes away the oil and grease.

I left the chains to soak in the bottle for a long time and the grease settled at the bottom. When everything has settled cut the top of the bottle off and remove the chains.  Wipe them with a rag to remove any grease on the outside and safely dispose of the solvent. Use gloves when handling the chains to avoid getting grease and solvent on your skin.

Step 3: Break the Chain Into Lengths of Five (5) Links

Picture of Break the Chain Into Lengths of Five (5) Links

A bicycle chain has two opposite ends that fit into each other.  Keep this in mind when breaking the chain.  The key is to break the chain so the new end is the opposite of the original end.

Push out the link pin until the inner chain can separate, but so the pin is still held on by the outer link plate. This can be tricky, but is faster than pushing the pin all the way out and having to put the pin back in later.

You want a length of five (5) full links when done correctly. Keep breaking the chain until you use up all the chains. It is faster to keep breaking than to go back and forth with the next steps.

Be careful to get the chain breaker rod centered on each step. If the chain is not in all the way, the rod could bend or break. Remember to count out five full links before breaking the chain!  Measure twice and cut once!


Step 4: Put the Links Back Together

Picture of Put the Links Back Together

Now that the chain is in five link sections you want to join the two ends to make a small circle.

Line up the opposite ends place on a hard surface and hammer the pin back in place to complete the circle.

Alternately you could use the wrench to push the pin back or put the other side of the chain in the chain breaker and push the pin back in.  Hammering was much faster and statisfying.

Step 5: Make a Jig to Hold the Shape

Picture of Make a Jig to Hold the Shape

The circle of bicycle chain is pretty hard to mold into the star shape without some assistance. I came up with the idea to build a jig out of scrap lumber and some finishing nails. Use five finishing nails (the ones without heads) so you can slide the chain in and out.

To make the jig put the first chain into the star pattern. Put a nail in all five corners of the star shape so it is held tightly in there. You may need to bend the nails to adjust the fit, but make sure the chain is held tight so all sides are even.

I built two more jigs to hold a total of three stars. The jig only has to be made once and will save time when making the star shape.



Step 6: Glue the Chain Links

Picture of Glue the Chain Links

Now that you have the chain in the star shape you want it to stay that way.  I found that super glue on the interior plates of the chain works particularly well.  By the time the third star is glued, the first one is likely dry so you can remove the star.

Be careful not to glue the chain to the jig or the board. You only need a little bit of super glue on the interior plates and that holds the shape very well.  Add glue where necessary always on the interior links.

Step 7: Assemble!

Picture of Assemble!

Remove the stars from the jig when the glue is dry and repeat the cutting, joining, and gluing steps until you have made all the stars you want.

The final step is to put the wire hanger inside the chain and bend it closed. The silver wire hooks can be found at the big box stores for hanging regular ornaments. The ornament hooks are cheap and work well in this application.

I have seen other people paint the stars, that is up to you. I am giving mine as gifts to my friends who ride bicycles so I think they would prefer to see the raw chain.

If you make some of these ornaments please post comments below. I would love to see how yours turn out and if you have any improvements to the process.

One of the comments was to create alternate shapes.  By adding one link for a total of six full links you can get a shape similar to the star of david.  By removing one link for a total of four links you can get a different star.  I also created a triangle shape with a total of three links.  Check out the pictures and get creative on the shape design.

Thanks for reading, now go out and ride your bike! 

Bikes can be ridden even in the winter!

Step 8: Paint the Ornaments (optional)

Picture of Paint the Ornaments (optional)
Some of the chain did not clean up very well and still looks dirty or corroded.  I decided to paint those ornaments.  Painting is a completely optional step, only do it if you have time.

Here is what I used to paint the ornaments:
  • Acrylic paint
  • Small paint brushes
  • Something to protect your table (I used tin foil)
  • A plastic lid to hold some of the paint
The acrylic paint cleaned up with water and was easy to work with.  Some colors covered better than others. I am not very happy with how the ornaments turned out with acrylic paint.  Please let me know if you have suggestions for better paint to use.

Comments

agis68 (author)2015-08-12

pretty nice

thnx

adelem (author)2014-01-11

love this...great idea and tutorial...me and the boys will love making these :)

rachl009 (author)2013-12-21

Thanks for the cool instructable!
I spray painted mine silver because the chain I used was pretty rusty, I couldn't get them all the way clean.

rachl009 (author)rachl0092013-12-21

ALSO, for anyone else that wants to make these, I found that liquid super glue worked WAY better than gel superglue. The liquid will get in between the chains to hold them, and you can't see it as much as gel.

MattBruzer (author)rachl0092013-12-23

Thanks for the tip on the super glue! Your ornaments look great! Hope you had fun. I am glad to share this with such a creative community!

Silence (author)2013-12-08

Just made one of these for my roommates christmas tree... They love it :P
If you don't have any crazy glue to lock it up, wrap a wire around the center bits and give it a few twists with a pair of needle nose pliers so its nice and snug. Trim off the excess and push the twist into a link to hide it. Bonus, you can reuse the chain if you need to.

MattBruzer (author)Silence2013-12-08

Silence,

I had not though of using a wire around the center, but I am sure that works very well. Share a picture if you can. Thanks!

Silence (author)MattBruzer2013-12-09

One standing to show the twist tucked away, one lying on the counter and another awkwardly hanging while I try to hold, operate my phone camera and hold the chain star still at the same time.

MattBruzer (author)Silence2013-12-09

Hey Silence your ornament looks great! You can not see the wrap cable when looking at the ornament straight on. Did you use a *new* chain for this project?! That one looks way too nice to have been on a bicycle.

Silence (author)MattBruzer2013-12-10

Yeah its new chain. I just got a trike and it has an extremely long chain. Since I'm a short bugger, I had to bring the crank boom all the way in. This left me with about a foot or so of spare chain :P

This thing is gonna graduate to neck pendant when I go on my bike tour :D

DoDo729 (author)2013-12-09

This is a very cool idea, having lots of bike chains myself, I will give this a try. Thanks for sharing

canida (author)2013-12-09

What a nice, simple, awesome idea. I'm totally going to make some of these!

And yes, biking in the winter is totally possible! Did it for 10 years in Boston. Ritual goes like this: put on a gazillion layers, top with waterproof layer, hoist bike over shoulder, tromp through snow, place bike on slushy road, ride. Get there before all of the cars. :)

somethingsaurus (author)2013-12-08

Had you considered solder instead of glue?

I have made things with bike chain in the past, and as it is steel/stainless steel, you need to use a lot of flux to get the solder to take, and because of the shape of the chain and it's composition you have to really heat it up... A normal soldering iron can't do it, you would need several all at once, or a jewellers torch. It will also make a hell of a mess.

It was the first thing I thought too though. :)

askjerry (author)2013-12-08

Now all you need to do is add one link and make another jig... then you can also make hanukkah gifts.

Jerry

MattBruzer (author)askjerry2013-12-09

Jerry,

Excellent idea, I did not intend to leave anyone out. I used 2 ornaments to make an ornament with six full links to look like the Star of David. I also found that fewer links made some cool shapes too. I updated the instructable with this information.

MattBruzer (author)askjerry2013-12-08

Jerry,

Great idea! I cut up all my chain before I saw your comment. If I find any more used chains I will try that. Thanks!

willschm (author)2013-12-05

May look good painted white/red/green. Is there enough texture on the chain for paint to stick to?

MattBruzer (author)willschm2013-12-09

Thanks for the comment Will. Some of the chain did not clean up very well and still looked dirty, so I tried painting those ornaments. I updated the instructable with that optional step.

flamesami (author)willschm2013-12-06

if there isn't, then sandblast it! :D
Great instructable, though I've never had to replace a chain on my bike...did a stretch as a bike mechanic though, so I've removed chains....never kept them though, we "threw them out" (i.e.: one of the others collected the metal junk to sell as scrap)

Gadisha (author)2013-12-09

These are so cool, thanks for posting!

scot.hacker (author)2013-12-08

Huge thanks for this Instructable - the minute I saw it I knew I had to make gifts for all family and friends, and workmates too. The local bike shop sold me a chain breaker and gave me three free chains, which turned out to be good for 26 ornaments total (I wasted a few in the learning process). I was busy today, but gifts are done!

I found the jig quite a hassle to make right, and not particularly helpful. It only took ~30 seconds each to arrange them by hand.

You're right - a drop of superglue on the inner plate on each arm of one side of the star works perfectly, and capillary action sucks in the glue. When dry, you can't even see it.

I'm in love with this project! Thanks so much for posting.

MaryT8M (author)2013-12-08

I LOVE these......now to go steal (er I mean FIND.......yeah that's right FIND) an old chain so I can make some (or talk Bill into making them for me! Do you think bike shops ever give (or sell cheaply) their old chins?

MattBruzer (author)MaryT8M2013-12-08

Hi Mary,

Your Local Bike Shop (LBS) may sell or give away some of their used chains. Buying a quality chain breaker from them may help. Try it and let us know how it goes!

MaryT8M (author)2013-12-08

Sorry for my poor spelling.....of course I meant chains not CHINS

tropical reign (author)2013-12-06

nice goin' Matt! have you tried your hand @ making bike chain bracellets and such? I've seen these in stores and I'm sure you can make them too. cheers!

mjursic (author)tropical reign2013-12-08

I've made several. You have to use a clasp, because otherwise, as I found out, you can seriously injure yourself if, even at walking speed, your chain bracelet catches on something.

mjursic (author)2013-12-08

Love this!!! It is one of the awesomest little instructables ever! I am going to make these today! Instead of gluing, though, I'm going to try hammering the points to force the plates together on the pins. This should work. I used to know how to do it with a chain breaker, but I may need to experiment. Meantime, great job!

brendanoldham (author)2013-12-08

Awesome. I'm going to make these!

krwoolsey (author)2013-12-08

thanks, this is a great project, I have a bunch of chain saw chains, I think this might work on them. I use my chain saw chains to lower my hanging plants to where I can reach them.

RetroTechno (author)2013-12-06

Best one in the contest so far! You've got my vote.

batonas (author)2013-12-06

taught of it some time ago, my idea was to put a keyring or some smaller adapter to make it into a keyring pendant, one more taught was to put a coin inside a circle of bicycle chain, some coins fit almost perfectly, great job by the way, I wonder would a spot welder do the job?

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2013-12-05

Sweet!

Thanks a lot Penolopy, it means the world that you like my instructable.

It's awesome, I've never seen an ornament like it! I like that you were able to easily recreate it!

Nicapizza (author)2013-12-05

Great Guide! This will make a great gift for my uncle!

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