How to Make Copper Rope

Introduction: How to Make Copper Rope

About: An experimental physicist and a chemist/psychologist who like to make things themselves. Enough said.

In this instructable we will show you how to make your own rope (or call it cable if you like) out of copper wire. This technique has been very useful to us and can be done with minimal tools. The resulting rope is quite strong, very aesthetically pleasing and can be used for a variety of projects, especially decorative ones that require some strength. It is also somewhat steampunk.

We will show you how to make 3x3 rope (3 strands of 3 wires each). At the end of this instructable we will have a few photos of the projects we have used this rope for to hopefully give you inspiration.

This project is done using minimal tools so you can easily make it yourself. Yes, we know there are other methods of making rope, but we wanted to keep this as simple as possible, and this is what we had on hand as well.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You will need:

Drill, with variable speed that you can control with the trigger
Spare battery and charger (if your drill is battery powered)
Copper wire (32 gauge enameled "magnet wire" is what we used)
A lovely assistant, or at least another pair of hands: you can do this alone with short ropes.
Wire cutters
Strong rubber band
Duct tape (or other adhesive tape)
Some things to work on/tape wire to
Space to work, such as a long hallway.

Allocate about three hours for this project on your first attempt. After some experience you can get it down to about an an hour and a half or less.

Optional, but very useful:
Vicegrips (in place of the pliers and rubber band)

It is also a good idea to have some kind of safety googles and other protective gear, especially if you've never done anything like this before.

We usually work in the hallway of our apartment, which is about 25 feet or so long. This ultimately makes 18 foot lengths of rope at a time.

The amount of wire you will need really depends on how long you want the final product to be and how much space you have. You can roughly calculate how much wire you will need by:

Total wire length = (1 / compression factor) * (number of strands) * (desired final length)

For example:

Total wire length = 1.39 * 9 * desired final length

So for an 18 foot final length of rope, we would need 1.39*9*18 = 223.5 feet of wire.

Step 2: Safety

The biggest danger of creating wire rope is that the rope may (will!) snap eventually and could come back and hit you like a whip. Thus, safety goggles/face shields are strongly recommended, and some clothes to help protect you in case you get hit.

The tension in the rope depends on three factors:
1) How thick the wire strands are
2) What material the wire strands are
3) How much twist you have in the rope

That is, thin copper wire is safer than the same gauge of steel wire because it can build up less tension before it breaks. Thick copper will be more dangerous than thin copper for the same reason. The tension will depend on how tight you want the twists in your rope to be, and hence more twisting can build up more tension in the rope.

All that said, we've never actually been hit doing this. Usually the wire will just twist around itself and not go anywhere, leaving just an annoying tangle instead of injuries.

Nevertheless, if you try this you do it at your own risk. If you or anyone else gets hurt or anything is damaged it's not our fault: you have been warned.

Step 3: Setup and First Run

At each end of your workspace set up a couple objects you can wrap 9 wires around. We used a floor fan and a wooden stool, but just about anything will do as long as you can't easily pull it over with the wires.

Try to use things that don't have a slope in them as that can cause variation in the lengths of the strands.

Anchor the end of the wire to one of your uprights with a piece of duct tape.

Step 4: Run the Wire

Unroll or otherwise extend your wire to the end of your workspace, and wrap it around your other upright.

Step 5: Go Back to the Start

Continue unrolling the wire back toward the initial starting point. Be sure to keep some tension on the wire at all times as this helps greatly in achieving consistent wire lengths.

Step 6: Continue Unrolling, Then Cut

Continue going back and forth between your uprights taking care to be consistent with the unrolling and trying to keep tension on the wire.

Use duct tape to anchor any unruly wires to the uprights and keep from losing tension.

When you have unrolled 9 strands of wire, you are done. Cut the wire from the roll and set the roll aside for future projects.

Take a piece of tape and wrap it around your set of wires to keep them from escaping.
Cut the wires at the point where they turn around (in the middle of the turn). Do the same for the other end. You should now have 9 wires of nearly equal lengths.

Step 7: Separate the Wires Into Groups of Three

Undo the duct tape from the previous step, and separate the wires into three groups of three wires.

It's easiest to start at one end and slowly walk down your workspace and work three wires out of the others.

Set each set aside so you won't step on it and it won't get tangled with the other wires.

Step 8: Load the Drill

Put three of your wires into the chuck of your drill. Take care to make sure one wire is between each of the jaws and that they bend in the same place on all three.

Close the chuck, and lock it down. The wires should come straight out of the center of the drill.

Step 9: First Twist

Now come the difficult parts.

Have your lovely assistant hold the drill (or at least prevent it from moving) while you make sure your wires are separated and not bound or tangled up.

If you find the wires are bound up or tangled, often you can fix this by placing the affected area between your fingers and drawing away from the drill. After two or three attempts almost all tangles can be removed.

When you have untangled all of the wires and reached the end of the wires, clamp the wires in the pliers, taking care to make sure all the wires are the same length at the clamping point. If there's extra past the clamping point, that's okay, we won't be needing it, but it may limit the final length of the rope.

Place the strong rubber band over the end of the pliers and wrap it repeatedly: this is a poor-mans vicegrip. If you're using a real vicegrip, make sure it's locked.

All the wires should be anchored on both sides. You should not have any loose wires or uneven wires. If you do, adjust until you've fixed it.

Step 10: It Takes Three to Tango

You can now anchor the pliers down with a piece of duct tape.

Have your lovely assistant hold the drill while you get ready to walk the twist down the wires. Make sure the drill is on its lowest speed setting.

The initial twists are the most critical ones for making an aesthetically pleasing and smooth final product. Take your time on your initial twists as this has an enormous impact on the final product.

Beginning at the drill, separate all three wires with your fingers. You are ensuring that the wires will twist together uniformly.

Kindly ask your assistant to slowly start the drill and keep it at as low a speed as possible. Your assistant will need to keep a gentle tension on the wires, just enough to keep them taught. Your assistant must keep the drill parallel to the rope, otherwise the chuck will cut through the wire and your workpiece will snap off: this is not fatal to the project, but is very annoying.

You will see the twist start to form beginning at the drill. Continuing to use your fingers as a guide, slowly walk toward the other end of the wire, keeping just ahead of the twist. If you need to stop the twisting to untangle something, tell your assistant to stop. Again, you're going for a smooth initial twist.

When you finally reach the other end, you can wait for the twist to catch up to you. Stop the drill and get ready for the next phase.

Step 11: Round and Round We Go

Now that you have your initial twists done, you can pick up the pliers to manage the wire.

You will want to hold the pliers in your hand so as not to allow the rope to build up too much tension and snap. The tension will cause your rope to break before you're done twisting it and this can be dangerous: the rope can act like a whip with too much tension.

Keep a gentle tension on the wires. You can now have your lovely assistant start the drill on a high speed.

You will feel the rope become shorter and you will have to move toward the drill to keep a constant gentle tension.

The wire will become shorter by approximately 4-5% of the initial length. For this case, it lost about 12-14 inches during the wrapping.

When you are done with the twisting of the strand, hold the wire firmly in one hand and carefully release the clamp. The wire will spin in your hand and release the residual torque.

Congratulations! You have made one strand of your rope.

Repeat steps 9-12 for the other two sets of three wires.

Step 12: The Last Spiral

Once you have all three strands completed, it is time to make the final product. The procedure is almost identical to the one for making the strands.

Take your three strands and place them into the chuck of the drill, and clamp them down as before.

Have your lovely assistant again hold the drill as you separate the strands and walk back to make sure there are no tangles.

As before, clamp the strands into the pliers and anchor the pliers down with tape.

Again start at the drill, on low speed, and walk the twist along the strands.

Once at the end, again hold the pliers to manage the strands.

Increase the speed of the drill.

Pay close attention to the rope. You will lose length very quickly in this stage. You can easily over-tension the rope.

You will lose around 9-18% of the length of the rope in this stage, or 2-4 feet for 22 foot strands.

We would not recommend passing about 18% decrease as this may become dangerous.

When you're done, again gently release the tension in the rope by holding it firmly in your hands and unclamping one end. The residual torque will cause the rope to spin in your hand.

Congratulations! You have made your own wire rope.

Step 13: Some Examples

Here are some examples of what we've done with copper rope. We hope it inspires you.

Thanks for reading!

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    4 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I love the look. I hope it is one of those things that get easier as you execute it. With my lack of dexterity I might need two lovely assistants. (Too bad clothing is required safety gear ;)


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    It's really quite straightforward to do, all you're really doing is cutting wire and spinning the wire in a drill. The first time we ever did it it took several hours, but now it takes us about an hour and a half. We could probably make it faster if we pushed or did shorter lengths.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This is so cool! I've always loved the look of twisted wire.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! We've found a lot of uses for it. It's our favorite decorative rope-like substance.