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Sheathing with Copper on

Counter, Bar & Table Tops

a basic how-to for artists and crafters
by The Whimsie Studio craftsmen
Fine metal craft for 24 years
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Counter, Bar & Table Tops

Sheathing over counter tops and objects is all dependent on the base it is mounted on. If you have a smooth even base the result will be better. Wood must be sealed for it to remain more stable and for glue to adhere if used.
The lighter 30 gauge for light wear areas may conform better to shapes and adhere better with less expansion and contraction. The best adhesive we are hearing about is "Liquid Nails" It holds better if applied in a thin even layer. It apparently does not react with the copper over time and holds longer.
In smaller applications spray adhesives may work, such as the ones 3M company makes that are available at hardware and auto parts stores. For example premium auto trim adhesive which is sprayed on both surfaces and allowed to semi dry before attaching.
While small areas are easy to cover with copper or brass sheet using adhesives; making counter, bar and table tops with sheet metal is a bit more complicated. All metals expand and contract with changes in temperature. A 10 foot length of copper sheet may shrink in length as much as 3/8 inch when a room's air conditioner is turned on. Because of this and in our experience, large sheets of thick copper or brass cannot simply be glued or laminated to a plywood or particle board substrate. Successful countertops that we have seen rest on top of and float freely on their substrate with a minimum of attachment to allow the sheet metal to expand and contract, even with the heavy 23 gauge roofing weight copper.
We attempted to circumvent the expansion problem by using a flexible contact adhesive on a long bar project. We were very careful to seal the plywood with sanding sealer and rough up the underside of the copper so the glue would 'grab'. Unfortunately, the repeated shrinking and elongating of the copper caused by changes in temperature eventually caused the copper to release it from the glue. We ended up having to nail the copper to the plywood base using bronze boat nails. The nails gave our bar top a rustic maritime look which was OK but not what we initially intended.
On a beautiful 12' by 24' bar that we subsequently studied, we noted that the craftsman used a large bending and forming machine that would normally be used for making copper roof gutters. From the outside in, the bar had a raised lip that abutted the mahogany elbow rest. Contiguous with the lip was 20 inches of flat space and then 4 inches of sunken 'mix rail' that also had a raised lip. The entire bar appeared to have been formed off site in 10 foot sections. The individual lengths were then brought to the site, set on top of the bar base and then trimmed to length and soldered to each other. The entire surface simply rested on top of its base and was free to expand and contract. However, it needed daily polishing and even the best professionally installed tops are subject to denting, dimpling, and scratching because of the softness of copper.
Copper is very reactive to anything that is spilled on it. It will also continuously oxidize or tarnish when exposed to the air. Keeping a copper or brass surface shiny and bright is ongoing and intensive. (see our article on finishing). If a low maintenance, polished copper surface is required, there are new copper Formica-type laminates available by special order in the kitchen cabinet departments of home building supply stores. These laminates appear to have an actual layer of metal foil sandwiched in the material and are engineered to have the same expansion properties as the plywood or particle board that they are intended to be laminated to.
If you have a large area that you would like to cover with copper or brass, consider attaching it by other means than adhesives. We have heard that flexible epoxy adhesives 'could' be successful, but we have not had any experience with them. A table top could have a metal or wood trim that holds the sheet metal in place. Bronze boat nails, brass nails or tacks could be used along the edges for that wonderful 'rustic' look.
Most large professionally made tops are made as a floating surface. Hidden Tabs that are soldered underneath every 9 inches are attached over the top/behind and underneath to the sub material. Then the whole counter top is placed and attached to cabinets. See our soldering article.
Counter top contractors and ever Copper roofing contractors quite often do countertops and can advise as well.
We have heard some success mounting on a semi smooth plastic laminate with a flexible adhesive -the adhesive holds better.
In the 70's copper was often embedded in epoxy on tables and the thick top layer kept the copper fresh- though the epoxy itself yellows.


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The entire contents of this site and photographs shown herein are original and copyright protected.
(c) Copyright 2009 all rights reserved -the Whimsie Studio. Larry Henke & Ronald Bodoh
These articles and writings are for our customers personal use only. They may not be copied or published in whole or part, in any form electronically or in print without express written permission of the authors Larry Henke & Ronald Bodoh
Sheathing is unlike the work we do on our hand crafted creatures and bird houses.
All we can tell is what we have heard second hand from those who have done Architectural work.
They suggest fastening it with nails or screws. Copper, brass or bronze works in the form of screws or nails with ring shanks like roofing nails or boat nails.
We use bronze boat nails and brass tacks on our bird houses. This floats the metal and will buckle less when the wood or other non metal base shrinks and expands with moisture.
The metal is often bent under a piece and drilled before nailing or screwing. Sometimes tabs are soldered on and used to pull behind or under an object or wall.
We have been told on heavy 23 gauge material it is best to avoid adhesives as the metal shrinks and expands to much with temperature to stay down. The traditional metal for for architectural work such as stand alone hoods ,backsplash and counter tops is the 23 gauge copper or 24 gauge brass.
Although for thinner 30 gauge sheet or 36 gauge some recommend using "Liquid Nails" to adhere as it is said to bond with copper best without corrosion. It must be spread very evenly thin or it will show through thin metal.
Whatever method is used doing some practice or sample work is extremely helpful to get the result intended.
As for keeping it bright we like "barkeepers friend" a powdered cleaner used with water and rinsed. We suggest using rain water or distilled as any chlorine will eventually discolor copper.

Some coat with wax- which will keep it bright for a long while depending on what atmosphere it is in. Others use a clear coat spray- But both are hard to remove to repolish.See our articles on finish patina on our web site.
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