Aside from supplying 5 gallons of tasty beverage, my responsibility as a member of the Jersey City Brew Club was to create tap handles for our jockey box (my other option was to walk around the event dressed as Lady Liberty... I think I chose wisely). Since Jersey City is home to Liberty State Park, at the doorstep of the Statue of Liberty, Lady Liberty's torch was a natural pick for our tap handle design.
Step 1: Supplies & Tools
- Spray foam (any polyurethane-based foam from the hardware store will do)
- Cardboard, corrugated cardboard or any other rigid substrate
- Chair leg (check molding department of the hardware store)
- Screen gutter guard
- Nut (to fit the thread of the chair leg bolt)
- Washer (to fit the chair leg bolt and nut above)
- Threaded brass insert (see furniture hardware or nuts/bolts section)
- Usually 1/2” wide, female threads must be 3/8”-16 UNC
- Paint (spray paint or brush-on acrylic)
- Masking tape
- Mod Podge (not pictured, optional)
- White or wood glue (not pictured, optional)
- Strips of paper (not pictured, optional)
Tools you'll need for this project (not pictured):
- Razor knife
- Wire cutters or heavy duty shears
- Drill or drill press
- Varying sizes of drill bits up to 1/2"
- Flat screw driver
- Paint brush (if using brush-on acrylic paint)
- Small hacksaw or hobby saw
Step 2: Designing Your Torch and Making the Flame
After laying all your tools and supplies out the first step you'll want to do is design your flame to fit together with the torch handle (chair leg) and what is effectively the balcony surrounding the torch (the gutter guard). We will need to trim the length of the gutter guard to make it look more like the balcony, this will be addressed in the next step, for now just make sure the flame isn't too wide for the circumference of the gutter guard.
Once you have an idea of the proportional height and width of what the flame should be, sketch it out on your cardboard. I decided to put a little neck on mine (visible at the base of the flame sketch) to help elevate it in the balcony. Once you sketch your flame you'll want to also include a notch at the center of the base to recess the nut into, this is important for the assembly of the final torch.
Now that you have your torch sketched out, cut it out with the scissors and razor knife. It's a good idea to perform a test fit at this stage before you go any further. You can test the fit of all your components by assembling them in the following order, from the bottom up: chair leg, gutter guard, washer, nut and flame. You may want to skip ahead at this point to the next step, cutting the balcony, to better envision the assembled torch.
Knowing that all your components will fit together nicely, it is now time to flesh-out the flame. Prepare your cut cardboard flame substrate by inserting the nut in the recessed notch in the base of the cutout and securing it there with tape. You don't have to tape it in too much, just enough to hold it in place, the spray foam will do the rest. Begin by testing the spray foam out on a scrap of cardboard following all manufacturer's instructions and precautions. Once you have an understanding of how the foam will cover, spray it to fully cover the cardboard cutout, waiting the prescribed amount of time in between layers if needed (I needed two layers on each side for mine). Once cured, flip the flame and do the other side.
With the spray foam completely cured and covering your cardboard cutout, begin to shape the flame by cutting away bits of the foam little by little with the hack/hobby saw and the razor knife. Use the cardboard cutout and the nut as your guide, once you hit both with the saw/knife you can start finding the original shape. Cut the base of the flame flat and flush with the face of the nut. This part is messy so plan accordingly, also please keep your respiratory health in mind and wear a dust mask and work in a well ventilated area as the spray foam may still off-gas potentially harmful vapors.
Step 3: Cutting the Balcony
Now that you have an idea of how tall your balcony should be from your test fit, take your wire cutters or snips and cut all the way around your gutter guard slightly higher than desired.
Using the pliers, bend the extra bit of the top down around the whole crown of the balcony, this gives the dual benefit of protecting anyone from scratches while simultaneously providing extra rigidity. Just be sure to have the correct circumference set before you bend since you will also be bending across the two end sections to secure them together. Also, go slowly in this step since the metal can be brittle when bent.
Step 4: Preparing the Handle
Preparing your chair leg to become the handle may take one or more steps. Ideally you've found one that is already the appropriate length and style with an embedded bolt at the top. If not, install a length of all-thread or a double sided bolt (threaded at each end, usually with a collar in the middle to tighten with a wrench) in the top of the handle or cut the chair leg to length.
The most important aspect of this step is to have a surface at the base of the torch handle wide enough to accept the insert, this will of course depend on the wood and your technique. Mine was barely 3/4" in diameter, not ideal for a 1/2" insert, but manageable with enough care.
This part is best done with the chair leg in a vise or jig on a drill press, since I didn't have either I improvised. I cobbled together a support on my workbench that would hold the chair leg perpendicular to the work surface with the base facing upward (in other words the handle is upside-down) and squared the drill off to the base of the handle. With a narrow drill bit I drilled a pilot hole in the center of the base slightly deeper than the insert. With each pass I increased the size of the bit until I was one size away from the width of the insert.
Once the hole was ready for the insert, I gently screwed it in with a broad, flat-head screwdriver. Take care to go slow and not use too much force to avoid splitting the wood. If a split does occur it can be patched with some wood putty or a paste of glue and saw dust. If it feels like the hole is too tight try another size up on your drill bit or use a hole file to widen the hole. Remember this is a tap handle so the insert doesn't have to fit tightly, just snug enough to not come out during use.
Step 5: Patching, Sanding and Painting
This is the last step before final assembly, but it's also the longest depending upon what finish you want. Given my time constraint of a week, I went for a middle of the road finish. I'll let you decide what's best for your application.
I started by sanding my spray foam flame (again, wear a dust mask) and patching any holes in the surface with a mixture of glue and sawdust. I sanded it once again then completely covered it in a couple layers of Mod Podge to aid the adhesion of paint and to seal it since some paints can melt the foam.
While waiting for the Mod Podge to dry, I spray painted the handle, washer and balcony with spray paint to look like oxidized copper. I just went with an exterior grade paint rated for wood, metal and aluminum. Since I wasn't trying to be too realistic I didn't spring for any fancy patinas or finishes to really replicate the look of oxidized copper. Just make sure to mask the threads on each end with some tape.
Once the Mod Podge dried I loosely screwed the flames on the handles without the washer or balcony. I did this to make sure there was nothing obstructing the assembly and to use the handle to dip the flame into primer. You can also just paint it on, but I was running out of time and I wanted a nice even coat (one of the images above shows them hanging to dry after this step, I made three since we have three taps).
With the primer dry I skipped the gold spray paint and just used some gold acrylic paint I had lying around. I did this to help fill in some of the divots in the surface of the flame.
If I had another week to work on this, I would have applied paper mache or plaster strips following the Mod Podge then sanded it smooth. However, if you need yours done quick you could probably skip almost all work on the flame and just sand it and paint it with the acrylic. It may take an extra layer of paint, but since it dries within minutes that's not a big deal.
Step 6: Finished Handle
All you have to do now is let the paint dry, assemble, mount, pour, and enjoy!
Remember the order, from bottom to top is: handle, balcony, washer, flame.
Don't tighten everything too tight or you risk breaking the bond between the spray foam and nut. I also had to hammer some of the gutter guard flat on one of the balconies because the bolt protruding from the handle was too short.