Upcycle Scrap Metal Into Crafts

metal craft animals made from cans
  • Intermediate
  • 5-5,000
What You'll Need
Welding machine
Forge
Steel tongs
Scrap metal
Cutting torch
4-6 pound ball peen hammer
4-6 pound sledgehammer
Anvil
Metal scrib
Metal speed square
Soapstone
Tape measure
Tin snips
Welding rods or wire
Welding gloves
Welding hood
Cutting goggles
Leather apron or welding sleeves
Wire brush
Water tank
Oil quenching tank
1 or more charged and appropriately rated fire extinguishers
Adequate ventilation

Many people are finding new and creative ways to upcycle scrap metal into beautiful works of art. It would take a long time to teach anyone any level of artistic skill so we're going to learn how to cut, bend, drill, and weld or otherwise join metals and let the individual artist do the crafting as they see fit.

In the following do-it-yourself article we are going to explore a few of those crafty items and how easily you can turn a discarded soda pop can into a beautiful hummingbird feeder, or if you dare to go so far you might even do a bit of forgery, not as you might think, but in the forging and basic welding of iron and steel.

What's trash to some people's eyes can be refined into gold in the hands of an artisan.

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Where To Find Free Materials

scrap metal in a large dumpster

The beauty of working with scrap metal is that you can find it almost everywhere. An old metal bed frame and headboard can make a flower bed that adds unique curb appeal to any front yard. Abandoned cars, bicycles, any number of usable scrap metal can be found no matter where you are simply by looking around, or you can call your local scrap yard. You can buy new metal of every size and shape imaginable, but in most instances, you can find the same thing in salvage somewhere.

Welding

Welding is the process of combining materials like metals and plastics by melting them under high heat and combining them while they're soft.

There are as many ways to weld metals as there are metals. Believe it or not, you can even weld metal as thin as the silver foil on a stick of gum using a welding machine and a paper clip. It's not a difficult skill to learn, if you have a good working arc welding machine or if you're going to forge a weld in a fire you must learn what type of welding materials you'll need.

person welding metal with a torch

Then you must determine the process for welding by referencing the type of metals you intend to weld and adjusting your welder to the correct settings. Learn how to spot weld first then learn how to weld a bead by practicing until you get the hang of it. You can grind it off and try again on your project piece. Follow all of the manufacturer's instructions for the safe use of any arc welding machine. You'd be shocked at how easy it is to get electrocuted.

Forgery?

Welding two pieces of metal in a forge is far trickier, as is hot iron soldering but these unique skills are well worth the effort it takes to learn and to eventually master them.

Cutting Torches

Using a cutting torch is very easy to learn. Setting up the torches correctly is crucial to your continued good health so if you don't know how to do it find someone who does, and have them teach you. Never guess, or mess with the gauges on a cutting torch if you do not know what you're doing, and never damage or use damaged Oxy-Acetylene bottles, gauges, hoses, tips, or torch heads.

It can never be overstated how dangerous this set-up is if it's done wrong but I'm going to try anyway. These procedures must be followed to the letter every single time you set up a cutting torch. Thoroughly inspect the torch set-up every time, prior to hooking it up and never compromise safety for the sake of convenience.

The Oxygen and Acetylene bottles must be standing upright and be secured in a bottle cart. or they must be securely tied to a column or other suitable structure to keep them from falling over. Inspect all screw couplings for damage, oil, and dirt. Never use any kind of oil; in or around oxygen, its fittings, or hoses as pure oxygen can flash oil into flames.

Never use the oxygen to dust yourself off; unless you're a big fan of going up in a flash fire yourself that is. It's not compressed air, it's compressed oxygen and highly flammable. All it takes is one spark on clothing that's saturated and filled with oxygen to literally blow your skirt up.

Always have a suitable fire extinguisher close to hand. Small fires can become big fires in seconds, and explosions can happen much faster than you care to find out.

person checking date on fire extinguisher

Remove the cap from the Acetylene bottle and use a 12-inch crescent wrench to attach the gas gauge by turning the threaded connecting nut counter-clockwise into the mouth of the bottle. Gas fittings are always turned to the left to tighten them. Torque it by turning it just a few hairs past snug-tight to seal it. Never leave gas fittings loose. The acetylene lead is always orange or red, and oxygen is always green. They cannot be mixed up as the gas is male and the oxygen coupling is female and has right-hand threads.

Repeat this process to hook up the oxygen gauge then attach the ends of the hoses to the gauges and snug them down. Attach the other ends to the torch head and snug them down. Make sure all of the valves on it are closed before proceeding.

The acetylene bottle requires a special key to turn the gas on and off. This key must be kept with the bottle in case it has to be shut off in an emergency. Use it to open the gas just past where it pressurizes the gauge. It should read no more, and no less than 7 psi ever. The brass T handle on the face of the gauge is for adjusting the pressure but turn it very slowly and never beyond the red danger zone. If the pressure shoots all the way up shut the valve and turn the T-handle all the way down until it's closed before opening it again. Then you can adjust it slowly until the pressure is right at 7 pounds.

The oxygen bottle is much the same except you have to open the top valve all the way up. The gauge wants to read 40 psi. If not then adjust it as you did the gas. Now you're ready to light the torch. For this next step, you'll need a punk. No, that does not mean use your little brother or kid sister either. Do not a disposable lighter, matches, either, use a metal striker. They're cheap and readily available at your local hardware store.

At the bottom of the torch-head are 2 knobs that open the air and gas to the head. Open the oxygen knob and leave it on because the larger round knob located mid-way up the torch-head controls the flow of oxygen in the cut along with the long brass lever that runs down along the gas pipes on the head.

Barely crack open both knobs and strike sparks in front of the tip of the torch with the punk until it lights. If it doesn't light, turn the gas up a tiny bit and try again. Once it lights you'll want to adjust the flame so that it'll cut steel.

A Little Gas Goes A Long Way

person with large safety mask welding metal

Oxygen does most of the work of cutting steel. The gas heats it to the melting point starting the cut and the oxygen blows the molten steel out of the cut while pushing it across the surface. The flame on the tip of the torch should be no more than 1/4 of an inch long. It takes less heat to cut thicker steel than thin so don't suppose that hotter is better.

Once the puddle has melted on your mark for cutting, depress the lever on the torch gently and blow oxygen into the pool to blow it gently but firmly out of the cut. Angle the tip into the scrap piece at a slight inward, and downward angle to keep the pool moving ahead of the tip and straight down along the line you're cutting. Move slowly but steadily using your free hand to steady the head of the torch as you go. It's okay to stop and reposition the torch for the best results. You can lamp a straight-edged piece of steel along the mark for a smooth straight cut, but care and patience can achieve the same results without a guide.

Use your bucket of water to cool off any hot work by dunking the piece in the water until it cools off.

Note that one edge of the flames will be your cutting edge. Also, take note as to where your slag is landing. Especially if it's landing on you! And never cut steel with a disposable lighter in your pocket. Any pocket. Leave it beside the bottles until you're finished.

Taking the torch down is the opposite of putting it together except that you must shut off both bottles and open the valves on the torch head to allow the Oxy-Acetylene to escape before you begin taking it all apart. remove the torch, then remove the hoses and roll them up for storage then remove boh gauges and put the caps back on the bottles and you're done.

Snips, Brakes, and Shears, Oh My!

clippers cutting a thin sheet of metal

There are two other ways to cut scrap steel but with force, not with fire. A high-quality pair of tin snips are invaluable for cutting thin steel or tin sheeting. How can you tell which one to use? Right-hand snips are for when the scrap is on your left, left-handed snips work the opposite way. Offset handles will keep your hands up out of the cut. The edges of cut steel are razor-sharp so always practice the utmost caution and wear leather gloves.

When you go to cut the metal always lay the material flat on the cutting edge of the snips. You can cut the scrap out of your way at any time if it helps make the cut.

A metal shear is a large machine that does just what its name implies. It shears off pieces of metal. They range from a gigantic pair of steel scissors to a huge machine made for commercial use in factories, and metal fabrication shops. Very few do-it-yourselfers will have a full-size metal brake or shear in their home workshop.

Grinders, Hacksaws, Cutting Wheels, and Tiger Paws

metalworking with a grinder throwing sparks

A minimum of a 4-inch grinder is a must-have for any metal master or junkyard artist. They can quickly remove unwanted features or welds and shape pieces to fit or form.

Cutting wheels are typically made from abrasive materials and are solid but there are paper cutting wheels that work as well as a hacksaw with practice but it's still a good idea to have a good hacksaw in your toolbox.

Tiger paws are an unusual but very effective type of grinding pad that will remove rust, paint, even welds, and other unwanted surface metals from your work materials.

Soldering Irons

soldering iron

These tools use high heat to join two or more pieces of metal together usually as a tack weld and are a bit trickier to learn to use correctly, but again the effort is its own reward in the skills you learn from mastering its usage.

Drills

It's very easy to fire up the cutting torch and pop a hole or three in a piece of steel but it's far cleaner and sound to use a drill and the proper metal cutting bit to make any holes you need unless the rough cut aspect is what you're trying for. Whenever cutting a hole this way it helps extend the life of the bits to use cutting oil while drilling the hole. This will keep the tip from getting heat-treated and hardening or breaking during use.

There are other metalworking tools and techniques available if you care to delve into them further on your own. Although I wouldn't recommend using it, Leonardo DaVinci welded metals using a magnifying glass. Who knows, it might turn out to be handy again one day, you never can tell. It will, however, add a great new dynamic to your own skill-set to learn those techniques, master them, and integrate them into your artwork.

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