DIY Rain Chain (2 Ways To Make A Beautiful Copper Rain Chain)
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.
Rain chains are one of my favorite outdoor home accessories. Like water features and garden art, they look beautiful in your yard and they’re functional, too!
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
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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
- Broom handle or other long round object
- Bench vise*
- Reciprocating saw*
- Metal cutting reciprocating saw blade*
- Jig saw
- 24 TPI Thin Metal Jig Saw Blade*
- Cordless drill
- Drill bit for drilling metal*
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.
Comments or questions about our DIY rain chain? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on July 6, 2016 but was updated with new content on November 20, 2021.
I liked the step by step instructions with pic’s! Excellent instruction, I want to do this too!
Thanks for sharing
Thanks, Debbie! It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, so I’m sure you’ll have no problem making one, too 🙂
How long was the finished chain when using 20 ft of tubing and using broom stick sized “links”?
It was a little longer than 5 feet…which was just the right length for hanging over a rain barrel from the eaves on the first story of my house.
I like rain chain for our garden club project. I will most likely make the chain parts ahead of time.
Hi Patricia…I think that sounds like a fun garden club project! But I think you’re right that you might want to do some of it ahead of time…some of the steps take a little time to complete.
Maybe when putting the copper in the vise after coiling, you could create a small wooden block. It would be like drilling the coiled copper sized hole in the block, then cutting off approx. the top 1/4th. This wood “mold” would be just deep enough to fit the coiled copper into, and just enough height on the sides to fit against the vice clamps to give more stability to the copper and less chances for damage. The opening at the top for the saw would be about the same as you have pictured to be able to cut the rings. Especially great if you create more rain chains.
Thanks for the suggestion, Mary Beth! That sounds like a good idea for holding the coil in place while you are cutting it…especially (as you say) if you were making a few of them.
Looks great and love the clear instructions. Just one question: How did you keep from cutting fingers and your hands on the metal edges?
Thanks, Dorlis! To be honest, I ended up with a few cuts on my fingers 🙂 That copper sheet metal is really sharp so I tried to be careful when I was cutting the leaves. It might have helped to put on a pair of gardening gloves (the ones that fit pretty tightly so you can still fiddle with them), but that didn’t occur to me at the time.
What about leaves and debris in the gutters? Did they just easily pass through the hole?
Hi Reuben…Yes, the debris usually passes right through. The only time I have to clear it is in the fall when there are a lot of leaves falling…but I used to have to do that when I had downspouts, too.
what is another area I could hang the chain? Does it have to replace a gutter?
Hi Sandy…no, it doesn’t have to replace a gutter. If you want it to be more decorative, you could hang it from a garden hook (the type that you would normally hang a plant from), a tree branch or pretty much anywhere that you will keep it off the ground. Or you could make a fountain out of it…hang the chain up over a basin, then use a pump and water line to pump the water up to the top and let the water run down through the chain. Hope this helps!
This is certainly a lovely way to look, see, and hear rain. Pintrest is the only way I’ve seen them. I have a troublesome down pipe and out flow onto the roadside that was built to puddle not flow past the outlet, so it has always backflowed up my downpipe, causing my gutters to overflow…. and blocked any run off. So..yes my problem will always be run off, even with a pebble install over ground pipes. If I ignored that problem, and still put one there, what would happen to the large single cement block foundation to the house?
Also if the copper pipe coil, was streched, not cut, would that work effectively.
Hi Catherine…I would probably put some kind of rain barrel under your rain chain. It will catch the rain as it falls, and they often come with a drainage hose that you can use to divert the water away from the foundation. I haven’t tried using the copper pipe as a coil instead of a chain, but I think that would probably work, too.
Just found this post while looking for things for my new home! Great ideas, where did you get your rain barrel? Love the chain plan on DIM!!Thanks!
Thanks, Melissa! I got the rain barrel from wayfair.com. I’m not sure that they still carry the exact same one, but if you do a search for rain barrels, a bunch of options should come up.
Thank you sooooo much! I’m so excited to make this!!!
Hi there! We are thinking of making this with our MS students for our spring auction.
A couple questions:
– how long did it take you?
– did you use copper sheeting or copper flashing (less $)
– What is the thickness of the sheeting?
Thanks so much,
Hi Julie…I think this would be a great student project! The plain rain chain went together pretty quickly…about an hour. Adding the leaves takes longer…about 2 hours to cut out and attach. I used copper sheeting, but I think copper flashing might work, too. The thickness I used was .020 inches. Good luck with it!
which method did you end up using to attach the chain?
Hi Sherry…I went with the V-hook. My gutters are not flat, so the water ended up running under the plate of the store-bought one, which causes it not to run down the rain chain.
When I try to wind the tubing around the pole, it always flattens. How do you get around that?
Hi Deb…I didn’t run into that problem when I was making them. Maybe the tubing you’re using is softer? I would try winding the tubing around more loosely or using a thicker pole so it doesn’t have to bend as tightly. I hope that helps!
I’ll try that. Thanks.
Hi, what was the cost of the materials for your project… love it.
Hi Lisa…I think the cost was about $20…but I made them 3 or 4 years ago so I’m not sure if that is still true.
could you please tell me what size of copper sheets you used and how many sheets it took to make your rain chain?
Hi Deborah…I used 1 12″x24″ piece of copper sheet to make the rain chain leaves (there was some left over). But how much you will need will depend on how big you make the leaves and how much space you leave between each one on the chain.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your great idea! I am curious to know if over the years since you installed this beautiful creation, if it naturally tarnished with that beautiful blue/green (teal?) patina that copper gets? If so, Id love to see a photo of it! Thanks again. I think I need to go find some copper piping!
Hi Alana…no, it hasn’t tarnished. They must put some kind of coating on the copper to prevent that because I was expecting it to 🙂
Thank you for this guide! I just have one question – what thickness/gauge copper sheet did you use for the leaves? You linked to a product that was thinner than I expected and it was copper/aluminum, so, before I bought that, I wanted to see if its actually what you used. It turned out great.
Hi Morgan…the copper/aluminum sheet in the link was what I used. You don’t want it too thick or it will be too hard to cut…and I think having aluminum in it makes it less expensive 🙂
I’m afraid to ask, 😖…..
How much did yours cost? 😱
It is beautiful❣️
Hi Ashlyn…The rain chain supplies were about $20, so it wasn’t that bad. Although that was a few years ago, so some of the supplies might have gone up by now 🙂