Want to replace your downspout with a rain chain but don’t want to spend too much money? Learn how to make your own copper DIY rain chain with this easy step-by-step tutorial.
As you may remember from the post I did on rain chains a while back, I am a little obsessed with them.
My goal is to eventually replace most (if not all) of the downspouts on my house with one of them.
I had seen this one on amazon* and really liked the idea of having the leaves hanging from the chain. But I didn’t want to spend as much as they are charging and didn’t need one that long.
So I decided to make my own, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out!
Read on to get the step-by-step instructions for making a copper DIY rain chain.
What You Need
Materials – For The Chain
Flexible copper tubing* – I used 1/4″ thickness that was 20′ long. The chain ended up being 5′ long…if you want a longer chain, you’ll need more copper tubing.
Materials – For The Leaves
Make The Chain Links
The first part of the process is to form the copper tubing into the shape of chain links.
To do this, you will need to wind the copper tubing around a long round object. I used the end of a broom stick, but you could use any long round object (such as PVC pipe) that is at least 1½” in diameter. The larger the diameter of the pole, the larger the links in your chain will be.
1. Start near the end of the broom stick and wrap the copper tubing around the pole. Try to get it as close to the pole as you can…that will give you the best round shape.
2. Wrapping the copper around the pole can be a little tough, so after you have a few rings to hold on to, try pushing it on to the pole instead of wrapping it. To do this, start with the copper behind the pole.
3. Hold on to the rings that have already been wound. Then push the copper tubing over the pole to the opposite side.
4. When the tubing has wound around to the other side of the pole, flip the rotate the pole backwards so that the loose end of the copper is back on your side of the pole, and repeat. I also found that I was able to make the rings more even by pushing the copper over the pole this way.
5. Keep doing this until you have wound all of the copper tubing around the pole.
6. Remove the wound copper from the pole by pulling it off the end. I found it was easier to do this by rotating the copper in the direction it was wound as I was pulling.
You should end up with a roll of copper tubing that looks something like this.
Cut The Links
Next you will need to cut the copper tubing to form individual links.
I tried a couple of options before finding the solution that worked the best (and fastest!)
My first option was to use pliers or tin snips to cut the tubes…which worked but caused the ends to flatten. Not what I wanted for a chain!
Next I tried a hacksaw blade (the blade was easier to use by itself than it was with the saw). This also worked, and did not flatten the tubes…but took forever!
Finally, I decided to try a bench vise and reciprocating saw with a blade meant for cutting thin metal.
This worked perfectly! Make sure not to put too much pressure on the copper (you don’t want your links to lose their shape).
Rest the bottom of the reciprocating saw on the top of the bench vise to give it some stability. Also make sure to saw at an angle so that you don’t cut through the bottom of the links as well.
Then saw away. When you get to the last few links that are still in the vise, you will need to move them up to the front. This helps to keep them stable in the vise which makes cutting easier. I was able to cut the whole length of tubing in less than 10 minutes.
Assemble the Chain
Now you will make a chain out of the links that should end up looking like this.
1. Use the pliers to open the ends of one of the links. It should be wide enough for another link to fit through. I tried to look for links that already had the biggest gaps to use for this purpose. I also found that using two pairs of pliers (one on each end of the ring) was the easiest way to open the link.
2. Find a ring that has the ends pretty well aligned already. Use pliers to close the gap. Groove joint pliers work well if you need to squeeze the ends together from outside the ring.
3. Add the closed ring on to the open ring.
4. Use the pliers to squeeze the loop closed.
5. Continue adding rings alternating an open ring and a closed ring like this until you reach your desired chain length.
For me, the 20′ length of tubing created a chain that was a little more than 5′ long…which was pretty close to the length that I wanted it to be.
If you like the idea of having a plain chain for your rain chain, you are done! Skip the next step and go straight to hanging the rain chain.
Add The Leaves
This step is a purely optional decorative option for the DIY rain chain. If you don’t want the extra embellishments (or just don’t want to do the work), skip to the next step of hanging the chain.
1. To cut the leaves from the copper sheet metal, use a jig saw with a blade meant for thin metal. Since the leaves are really just 2 arcs that join at the top and the bottom, I didn’t bother to draw them. I just cut them freestyle. However if you would like all of your leaves to be the same size and shape, you might want to cut the shape out of a piece of cardboard and draw it on to the metal. I made 2 leaves for each link in the chain…which is a lot of leaves…and a lot of cutting! You can adjust the number you make depending on how you want your chain to look.
2. When you have cut a row of leaves, cutting off the used portion makes the metal easier to work with.
3. Remove the plastic covering from the copper leaves.
4. If the edges are sharp, sand them with 120 grit sandpaper to smooth them off.
5. Use a 1/8″ drill bit that is meant for drilling metal to create a hole at the end of each leaf.
6. Cut a 2″ to 3″ long piece of copper wire.
7. Stick the copper wire through the hole in the leaf.
8. Wrap it around the chain link twice going back through the hole in the leaf.
8. Cut off any ends that are sticking out.
9. If you are using 2 leaves per link like I did, attach the second leaf on the other side of the chain.
10. Repeat until you have added leaves to all of the links.
How To Hang The Rain Chain
1. The first step to hanging the rain chain is to remove your existing downspout. Usually this is just a matter of undoing the screws that attach it to the house…sometimes easier said than done if those downspouts have been there for a while.
2. You should end up with a hole in the gutter like this. Sorry for the dirt…I obviously hadn’t cleaned it in a while #keepingitreal 🙂
3. To make a rain chain installer, bend another small piece (mine was about 15″ long) of flexible tubing into a V shape with ends.
4. Pull the chain through the hole in the gutter and attach the gutter installer to the end of it.
5. Let the chain fall back down through the hole so that the V comes through the hole. The ends of the “V” should hold it in place.
6. Or if you prefer, you can buy a rain chain installer like this one*.
It gives a little more polished look.
I did try using just a standard piece of straight pipe laid across the inside of the hole. It works fine for holding the rain chain in place. But since the water doesn’t get funneled down the chain, you end up with a lot of water coming down outside of the chain area.
7. If you added leaves to your rain chain, re-position any of the ones that are pointing out so that they point down. This will let the water continue to flow down the chain. Otherwise you will end up with a lot of water splashing outside the chain.
Enjoy Your Rain Chain
You can test your rain chain by putting a hose in the gutter and letting the water run down.
If you added the leaves, you may have to do some adjustments to the leaf positions to make sure the water goes down to the bottom of the chain. This version will splash a little more than the straight rings because the leaves have ends that cause some of the water to drip.
Adding a barrel under the rain chain will catch the water.
Using a barrel with a water outlet at the bottom will let you attach a hose and disperse the water into your garden.
Even when it’s not raining, the rain chain adds some interest to the garden.