My friend Tim Anderson taught me this trick. You need a $30 hole punching tool, but once you've got it, any coin can be turned into a washer (and the punch is useful for other stuff too). Penny's are great because pre 1983 pennies are solid copper, and post 83 they are copper coated zinc. (I stand corrected, I originally said nickel)
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Step 1: Punch hole in penny

Take your spare change and punch a hole in the center. Technically I think this might be illegal, but a non-corroding washer is a really useful thing. They can be quite decorative too. Use the pre-'83 ones if you want the best non-corrodability.

more info on penny history:

or from:

Following is a brief chronology of the metal composition of the cent coin (penny):

The composition was pure copper from 1793 to 1837.
From 1837 to 1857, the cent was made of bronze (95 percent copper, and five percent tin and zinc).
From 1857, the cent was 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel, giving the coin a whitish appearance.
The cent was again bronze (95 percent copper, and five percent tin and zinc) from 1864 to 1962.
(Note: In 1943, the coin's composition was changed to zinc-coated steel. This change was only for the year 1943 and was due to the critical use of copper for the war effort. However, a limited number of copper pennies were minted that year. You can read more about the rare, collectible 1943 copper penny in "What's So Special about the 1943 Copper Penny.")
In 1962, the cent's tin content, which was quite small, was removed. That made the metal composition of the cent 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc.
The alloy remained 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc until 1982, when the composition was changed to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc). Cents of both compositions appeared in that year.
ew00545 months ago

Just made four to fix a desk drawer. Used a drill bit, works fine.

jonaman8 years ago
Why not save the $30 and just drill a hole in it?
wokwithme jonaman11 months ago

You can use the hole section to do other stuff. The Punch make good clean holes and you can use the punch to make other stuff too.

Quick-tune1 year ago
This reminds me of an aquaintance who spent all day making washers from pennies (UK ones), to use on the rebuild of the cylinder head of his Landrover, he had to rebuild it again a few days later because most of them failed! - not soft enough as they contain nickel and other stuff apparently. I suppose he wasn't known as 'dim Dave' for nothing.
arpruss4 years ago
This might violate the US Mint's 2007 prohibition on melting or treating pennies and nickels:

The policy has an exemption for treatment for artistic, educational and like purposes but only when the coins aren't being used for their metal value. And the use of the coins as washers might count as use for metal value.
emcelhannon4 years ago
I melt pennies down for chess sets regularly.  I can make novelties like chess chess pieces or magic coins with magnets in them.  I am not allowed to melt my copper pennies into ingots and sell them as raw material. 
codongolev6 years ago
not illegal. the only reason you couldn't defile money would be if you were using it for counterfeiting reasons. I found that question asked on another instructable.
It's still illegal to deface currency, although not enforced.  It comes about because even if material costs for a penny are less than a penny, it also has a manufacturing cost.  Hence, defacing coins costs the government money.  It's only enforced in boscure situations though, such as when people starting melting 1983 and earlier pennies in mass because they were worth more for their copper weight than their face value.
Handy ! its not illegal btw Only to deface coins to forge other coins
peaceman8 years ago
What type of hole punch is featured? It looks like Matco, doesn't matter on the brand I'm just looking for a direction to find one. Thanks...anyone?
ab9go peaceman5 years ago
Harbor Freight.
Coffee bean8 years ago
What is wrong with buying washers?
You have never priced a copper washer.
Ben.land1016 years ago
i heard somewhere that this was illegal but one of my friends said it wasnt so which is it?
actually you can do anything you want to yor currency, as long as you dont try to turn it into another denotion of currency or more currency somehow: dollar bill - swan is okay dollar bill - 5 dollar bill is not okay
the reverse is also not cool with me - $100 bill into little shredded fibers inside a keychain. WHHHYYYY
actually, the shredded money you find in keychains and other things like that isnt circulation currency - money is sent to the federal reserve where it is shredded, sso that new currency can be made without killing the price of the dollar (which obviously means we need to shred more currency) if you go to the federal reserve you can buy little packets of either 324 dollars in shredded money or bricks of like $4000 in shredded cash - but be careful, when I went there once they said that the in used in the currency is toxic, and that you should be careful with your shredded money because of the inks leaking or something...
omnibot berky936 years ago
Then this and other projects that destroy money actually helps the economy? -Honey, burn the money!
good to know the reasons! it's still hard to see good money get shredded ;) isn't there a crappy movie about that? with that one old lady? eh whatevs. toxins in the money?? well, I've been told that too much money can be a bad thing... apparently it is poisonous. Ew.
tk13146 years ago
Some 1982 pennies are made of copper and some are not. An easy way to find out if you have a copper penny is to slam it down on a desk. If it "rings" it's copper if it has a dull thud, it's not copper.
Mr. Rig It6 years ago
I have to ask, why spend $30 on a puch setup when you can just use a drill and drill bit? Overkill.
hex monkey9 years ago
News Flash: Post 1983 pennies are made of copper-clad zinc, not nickel.
bronze or brass not copper
saul (author)  hex monkey9 years ago
yes. zinc. thanks for the correction.
so_simple986 years ago
I think this is more an instructable on penny history than it is on making penny washers. But a pretty good instructable all the same
lbrewer426 years ago
Actually, in 1982 there were seven different varieties of penny made. Some of the pennies were the older, 95% copper and 5% zinc alloy. Some were a new (lower cost) composition of core of 99.2% zinc and 0.8% copper with a copper plating. Both types were made at the Philadelphia and Denver mints. If not to make things more confusing, they also switched dies during manufacture. So there are small date and large date varieties of each of the above from both mints. Anything before 1981 is the predominantly copper alloy. Anything after is the predominantly zinc alloy. In 1982, the easiest way to tell which one is the zinc compound is to weigh the penny. The zinc is lighter. Yes, I have worked in a coin shop! BTW the Lincoln penny celebrates its 100th anniversary next year!
Vendigroth7 years ago
this reminds me of a thought i once had: Lyndon B Johnston was the USA's most werewolf-freindly president.
wls7 years ago
1982 was the first year they started making copper coated zinc pennies. 1981 on down were pure copper.
NOI77348 years ago
practical? yes. cheap? depends on what kind of washer/how many. but, be warned, U.S. currency is considered government property and this would be vandalism, not that I personally care about our government or thier crap, but if you are caught (not likely) it is illegal.
From the US Mint website (italics added):

Is it illegal to damage or deface coins?

Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who “fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States.” This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the Mint does not promote coloring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent.

Modifying or mutilating any US currency is only illegal if it is aimed at mis-representing the value.
Prometheus8 years ago
and pre-1973 pennies make excellent terminal washers for those not willing to pay $1.35 for 3/8" copper washers and having suitable drill bits...
patwr2g8 years ago
if I remember correctly from science in high school when we turned pennies into bronze, pre 1973 pennies are solid copper
No, he's right about 1983. These solid copper pennies also make better images if you're into penny squishing at tourist spots.
pekar8 years ago
It's a Whitney