Copper LED Light Fixtures




Introduction: Copper LED Light Fixtures

Here I am going to share how I am making some copper light fixtures for my new kitchen I am building. The kitchen is in a timber frame addition to our house, and has a very high open cathedral ceiling. Getting lights from the ceiling is problematic for various reasons, including it is really high and there is a fan up there. When I designed the addition I had included some beams run across the middle of the space to mount lights on, the type TBD later.

Well, now it is later.

I evaluated various options, including the low-voltage track/wire kinds of lights but the price would probably have been at least $2000 (and probably a lot more) for as many as I need. Having pretty much built the rest of the structure and kitchen cabinets myself, I decided making some lighting fixtures would be a good option. I am putting copper sinks and fixtures in the kitchen, so keeping the copper theme I decided on copper fixtures of some sort.

I worked up a design using LED spot lights and ordered some bits from China to make a prototype and try it out. You can see my first lights-mounted-on-a-piece-of-scrap-wood trial. Worked great and the light was good, so I made one from copper scraps I had. That worked well and looked nice too (and got management approval), so time to go into full production mode. I need 25 fixtures so worth investing in some tools.




Step 1: Tools I Need

Of course you NEED tools!

First tool for working with metal is a shear to cut the stuff. I went to our favorite cheap tool source, Harbor Freight, and bought a 30 in. Shear, Press Brake, and Slip Roll

With coupons and sales and such the price was a bit over $300. After I got it home, unloaded, and set up (all by myself using ancient Egyptian technology, the thing weighs about 300lb) on a rolling cabinet, I tested it on some scrap copper bits I had. Turns out the "brake" feature that bends the metal is not very useful, which kinda upset me, but whatever....

I went back and got a somewhat proper brake for about $45 with coupon and sale. This also needs some clamps to hold the hold-down piece, so picked up a coupla cheap clamps too. These were actually pretty nice for $3 each.

We all know about HF but these seem adequate, and for a bit less than $400 I am now in the sheet metal business.



Step 2: Cutting and Bending the Copper

I bought 3 copper sheets 2' X 10' for my project. I had measured up all my piece requirements, did some layout of all the pieces, and determined that this would be enough, with a bit left over, and minimal waste. I got the 16oz copper at a local sheet metal shop. They use it for roofing and making various things. They had 4' X 10' sheets which they cut in half for me, kept the one 2' X 10' piece as that is a standard size they use, only charged me for 1.5 sheets and no charge for the cuts. That was a bit over $300, which is about $5 and a bit per sq ft. So I am into the whole thing now for about $700-750.

Cutting the sheets involves mostly marking on the copper where you want the cuts, sliding it into the shear and shearing on your marks. I followed my layout to get the proper pieces cut at proper length and width to minimize the waste. That was easy enough, and only require a bit of using hand shears for a few of the smaller pieces I needed.

I marked out on my brake table (a sheet of plywood on some sawhorses) the places where I needed bends on the various width pieces, then as I went to bend them, transferred the marks to the piece. I clamped the pieces in the brake, paying attention to how to bend them so they could fit under the hold-down for the next bend, after being bent. The outer fixture required 4 bends, a 1/4" 90deg bend on the long edges, and then the ~75deg angle bends to get the trapezoidal shape. I did the 1/4" bends first, then one 75deg bend then the other so the first 75deg bends up over the hold down.

I made a few test pieces from scrap too, those are shown here. After a bit of refinement of my technique the production bending started. Once I got a rhythm that went reasonable quickly for about 65 pieces all together. The hold-down piece on the brake is about 2" wide, which suited what I was bending. For closer bends or boxes, that might require some other hold-down that will allow the piece to fit under it. Some other pieces of metal I guess.

You can see the fixtures are sorta trapezoidal shape with channels inset in the main piece. These will hold the sockets and hide the wires.

Time to put the lights in!

Step 3: Fitting Lights and Making the Fixtures

In these pictures you can see the prototype fixture and how the fixtures will sit on the beams. This is an only-one-fixture piece like what will be over the periphery counters, there will be two connected fixture pieces that will straddle the beams over the island. They put out very intense light with the 3 bulbs, sit about 6ft above the island and counter tops.

I made a small channel to sit in the main fixture, to which the light sockets are attached. The wires run through this channel when it is attached to the main fixture housing.

The socket are GU-10 which are basically for 2-prong bulbs that push and twist into them. I got these and the bulbs from Dealextreme, cheepcheep.

I put 3 sockets/lights in each 24" fixture, spaced so that they will be even over the island when all are installed on the beams above. These are attached with #4 x 1/2" pan head sheet metal screws that fit well in the socket screw holes, you can get these at Lowes or wherever in 100 packs. I drilled holes in the channel piece to feed the socket wires through, you can mark/drill them when you get the sockets. The holes are a bit rough but big enough that when the sockets are attached the wires do not rub on the rough edges.

I use 18g lamp wire and nuts to connect the socket wires to the main power wire that goes into the box. The LED bulbs are only 6 or 7W so not much current involved. The socket wires are probably 24g. Everything is properly enclosed and will be grounded.

Step 4: Assembling the Pieces

There is a center support piece that straddles the beam, covers the electrical box, and attaches to the two light fixtures. This is the same shape and slides inside the fixtures about 6 inches. I had to make some cutouts to allow for some brass screws that will hold everything together.

The beams are 3.5" wide, which just happens to be the size of a standard electrical box. So the box just fits crosswise atop the beam and the center channel straddles the box, and the channel closes up the box where the electrical connections are. I had to trim down the box to fit the trapezoidal shape of the fixture. The boxes will be screwed to the top of the beams with the power lines coming in and connected, then the fixtures will screw to them with screws through the center support piece into the box screw holes at the top.

You can see the complete assembly with the 2 fixtures assembled to the center channel. The single fixtures will be just like this without the second fixture. I will use brass screws and nuts to hold the pieces together, these will complement the copper. I might make some end caps, have not decided yet.

Step 5: A Bit About Lights

I ordered some GU-10 LED bulbs of high lumen output in various configurations and colors from Dealextreme to figure out what would work best. I tried various combinations in the prototype, colors and output and configuration and finally decided on using 2 of these

and one of these

in each fixture. The white (high temperature) bulbs seem quite harsh, especially for a kitchen where something warmer works better (I think). But 2 yellowish (lower temperature) and one white seems to put out some good mix. I ordered enough for the whole project with some extra yellows if I decide not to go with the white.

The bulbs do not get too hot, much less so than similar halogens. The fixtures are fairly open too, and the bulbs have heat fins on them, so I think the whole fixture will stay pretty cool.

Step 6: Patina-ing the Copper

I wanted to darken up the copper a bit with a nice brown patina so it does not turn green. Web searches provide the answer to how to do this. I ordered this kit of chemicals that are used for putting patina on copper, will do some experimentation on scraps to see what works best.

I tried 3 or 4 different concoctions according to the recipes in the package to get something I liked. I don't remember what I finally used, but it gave a dark brown sort of color. It interesting to watch the color change, at first nothing happened then I could see the reaction spreading over the copper. I only did the outside, left the inside "natural."

First I washed all the pieces in some soapy water and used a scrubber sponge to rough up the surface just a bit and to get off all oils and dirt and whatever. Rinsed in clean water and let dry. Took a cheap brush and brushed the chemical mixture onto the outside and watched it do its thing. On some I had to apply a second coat. I washed all the pieces again in clean water just to get off whatever remained from the process. It colored up fairly uniformly, but still had a bit of uneveness that was a nice effect. It matched nicely with the tile we chose, not that any lights were particularly near the tile, but DECORATOR!

Step 7: Final Stuff

I assembled all the fixtures as above and installed them on the beams above the kitchen counters and island.

They look amazingly good in my new kitchen! They put out amazing light, and I have 4 different circuits/switches -- above the counters, above the island, above a floor area, and above the sliding doors to outside. They fit in well with the colors and the wood and beams and make it a total pleasure to work in the kitchen -- to be able to actually see well while prepping, cooking, and just hanging out.

Bulbs and sockets came to about $350, so I am into the whole project for about $1100, a good part of which was tools that will be used for other things. So that puts me at way less than half what factory fixtures would cost, if I found something I liked. Without the tools factored in, less than a third or fourth of total cost. Nothing too hard about it all, a bit of thinking and fabrication and assembly. Be careful on all the electrical work, pay attention to grounding and making sure all your connections are tight and wires are secure.

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    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great project! I like the finished copper tracks, and am curious to see how they turn out once you get the patina done. I'll definitely check back!