Easy Patina Copper Cactus With Kitchen Ingredients

11 Materials
1 Hour

This fun project is a homage to my adoptive state of Arizona, also known as the Copper State. One of our most recognizable symbols is the mighty saguaro cactus. I created this decorative project with soldered copper plumbing parts and and made it patina overnight into beautiful turquoise and brown shades
I started by cutting and dry-fitting copper tubing into the various T fittings and elbows I'd need to create the cactus. One was 1/2" pipe, the other was 3/4". I cleaned the joints with a wire brush and applied a thin layer of plumbers flux on the mating surfaces.
I carefully heated the fittings until the flux began to sizzle.
Touching the seams with an extended piece of solder at the right heat melts the silvery metal and draws it into the joint.
After a few back-to-back soldered joints, I'd cool and clean the piece with a damp rag. I continued the process with the larger, 3/4" cactus.
Now it's magic time. I made a concoction of vinegar and salt, close to a 50 / 50 mix.
That delightful potion got poured over the work pieces and soaked into a good wrapping of damp paper towels.
While the soaking pieces sat outside for a while, I cut and toasted a scrap piece of butcher block with my torch to make a base.
I drilled some planting holes and gave the wood a coat of spray lacquer.
With the based masked off, I painted the surface with wood glue and dumped on some desert dirt, from our obliging front yard,
After the copper had soaked for a while, it started to gray a little. While it was still wet I gave it a coating of salt before leaving it overnight in the garage.
The next morning was magical. The colors continued to deepen throughout the day.
I finally locked the colors in with a coat of spray urethane and planted the beasts in the base with a good dose of hot glue.
The colors turned out incredible. It was a super easy project and only took about an hour of actual work time to build. It took a couple days to complete due to the drying time and the time for the magical elixir to do its work.
Check out the whole story with a whole lot more detail and pictures in the blog post. I'd love to hear what you think. I wonder, what other copper creations can we give this salty, overnight aging treatment to?
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John @ AZ DIY Guy

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 14 questions
  • Cathy
    on Mar 29, 2019

    No I will not try my pipes are plastic. but do you have a solution to unclog. A washing machine maybe draino??? Anybody. ??? Need a solution that inexpensive??

    • John
      on Jul 1, 2019

      When purchased you should have received a manual of sorts with it. It may or may not cover clogs. If not call the manufacturer. They know their machine better than anyone. Google it if necessary to get their contact information.

  • Maria
    on Mar 29, 2019

    Is okay if use it crazy glue to connect the elbows and T fittings for that project

    Cuz I have kids and I want them to help me in that

    • Jill Ron Pike
      on Mar 30, 2019

      You should be able to use crazy glue or E-6000 to connect the pieces. Be sure to use something that will hold up through the salt and vinegar solution.

  • Marcia
    on Mar 29, 2019

    Would it possible to get same finish if copper is older? (I'm thinking in terms of going to scrap yard for larger diameter pipe.) How will the patina hold up in rainy weather (Maryland much wetter than Arizona)? Will that surface blue wash away in water?

    • John @ AZ DIY Guy
      on Jul 29, 2019

      I agree, I'd just forget the whole salt treatment and let it patina naturally if it's going to be an outdoors thing.

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