Saturday, September 22, 2012

DIY Light-Up Copper Cane

I've wanted to make a copper cane ever since I spotted this easy tutorial over on Frenzy Universe, so my Lady Vadore costume was the perfect opportunity. My cane has the added feature of interior lights, but the overall structure is still the same:


This cane is perfect for any steampunk out on the town, and the interior LEDs give the illusion of fiber optics in low light, which is always a bonus in my book.

Here's what you'll need for the cane itself:

- a length of 3/4" copper pipe (available in the plumbing aisle of your local hardware store)
- a copper coupler, which is the smaller pipe piece (optional)
- a pipe cutter (a small tool that looks like this and costs less than $10)
- a decorative antique doorknob - metal or crystal (check ebay- mine cost about $8 with shipping)
- a rubber leg tip or metal pipe cap for the bottom of your cane

Copper plumbing pipe comes with a lot of ink on it; you can see all the red in my photo above. To get the ink off you *could* scrub it with acetone or a Magic Eraser, but we found the easiest method was sanding it with a medium grit sandpaper.

As a bonus, the direction you sand your pipe will give you one of two very pretty finishes:

The brushed-looking side on the left was achieved by sanding the pipe vertically. For the shinier side on the right, we sanded horizontally by holding the sandpaper in our palm and twisting the pipe inside it. Pick the finish you like best and sand accordingly.

[NOTE: If you're planning on adding lights to your cane, you don't need to sand your pipe yet. Wait 'til the end.]

Determining your cane height: The top of your cane should reach the inside crease of your wrist, which is usually about half your height. My cane is exactly 30 inches, because I'm only five feet tall. Odds are yours should be between 32 and 36 inches, so measure yourself first, and then go ahead and cut your pipe to the proper length.

Depending on the size of the shaft of your doorknob, you may need some epoxy adhesive to glue it inside the top of your copper pipe. The knob I found, though, had a slightly graduated base, which allowed John to wedge it into the pipe so securely that I couldn't remove it no matter how hard I tugged:

John's able to pop the knob on and off, though, which gives us access to the inside of the pipe.

See how there's still a sliver of brass showing at the top there, where the doorknob base can't go down the pipe any farther? That's what the copper coupler is for:
In addition to covering that little gap, the coupler also adds a pretty decorative element to the top of the cane. Just slide it up; it should be snug enough to stay in place on its own, no adhesive needed.

Here's a better look at the base of my doorknob, after I'd sanded off all the corrosion and paint:

To complement the brass lip on the knob, I carefully rounded a bit of brass filigree with pliers and then glued it to the copper coupler:

Now, if you're not adding lights to your cane, all that's left to do is pop on a rubber tip to the end, and you're ready for a steamy song-and-dance routine! (You can also use a metal cap for the bottom, but since I sometimes lean on my cane I prefer the rubber end. A metal tip would no doubt slide out from under me, sending me sprawling in a most undignified manner.)

If you *do* want to add lights to your cane, though, next you'll need the following:

- A dremel
- A dremel drill press
- A long length of string or ribbon
- one strand of battery-operated LED lights

To get the criss-cross pattern on my cane, I first wrapped it with ribbon like a candy cane:

I used a ruler to make sure each section was the same distance apart, and then used a marker (you can use a permanent marker, since you'll be sanding the cane again anyway) to place dots all along the ribbon. I just eyeballed the spacing of the dots, but try to get them less than a quarter of an inch apart:


This was my first big project using the drill press, and WHEEE!! So fun! It was a breeze to use, and I zipped through the whole pipe in no time. (Well, ok, maybe ten or fifteen minutes - but that's not bad at all!)

A few safety precautions: WEAR EYE PROTECTION. (Ideally better than my little glasses.) Put down a large board or paper on your work surface to catch all the copper shavings and dust, because it gets everywhere. You'll also need to wear a heavy glove on your left hand - something I discovered just a few moments after John took that photo. Here's why:

Those curly metal shavings sticking out of the holes are extremely sharp and snaggy. Once you're done drilling you can sand them all off, but 'til then, you'll need a glove to hold the pipe as you go.

You might notice that in that photo I'm re-drilling all the holes to make them larger. Learn from my mistakes: start with an 1/8 inch drill bit. It will seem kind of big, but trust me, it'll look MUCH better than my first teensy-tiny holes.

Once you finish drilling your first spiral of holes, sand off all the snaggy bits and then go back and repeat that whole process for the second spiral:

When you're done you'll have a lovely diamond spiral pattern of holes down your cane. Now all that's left is a final sanding and adding your lights!

Originally I planned to drop in a "warm white" LED strand I found at JoAnn's for less than $8. I couldn't find it on their website, but this one from Amazon looks to be the same thing, and also only costs $8.

Here's the LED strand inside the cane:

The only problem with these lights is that the switch and batteries are just slightly too big to fit inside the copper pipe. That doesn't have to be a deal breaker, though; you could glue the switch to the outside of the pipe right under the knob, and if you paint the housing copper, odds are no one will ever notice it. (Note that you'll need to feed the wire through one of the holes, and then reattach it to the battery casing on the outside.) I planned to do exactly that, but then John decided to wire his own LED strand from scratch.

John's version is much more expensive (I think he spent $30 on all the supplies), but also packs a lot more LEDs into the pipe, making it brighter:

(Here's he's using a heat gun & heat-shrink to attach each LED to the wiring.)(And yes, he's wearing a Boba Fetch shirt. The boy likes cute geek tees almost as much as I do!)

Even so, I'd recommend going with a pre-made LED strand. It's just easier. And cheaper. Plus they come in several different colors - although sadly we couldn't find one in green.

To make our clear LEDs green, we wrapped the strand John wired in a single layer of green cellophane before shoving the whole thing inside the pipe. (The cellophane had the added benefit of padding the LEDs so they didn't rattle around while I walked.) The lights are powered by two AAA batteries, which are also shoved in the cane bottom.

Here's a shot of my cane before I enlarged all my drill holes. You can see it was still somewhat dim:

And here's a no-flash pic from Dragon*Con, where you can really see how much brighter the larger holes made the whole cane:

And that's it! I hope this helps some of you dapper steampunks out there, or anyone else looking for a snazzy cane!


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!


  1. Fantastic tutorial! Much easier than I would have imagined and lots of ways to tweak it for different versions. Now I'm trying to figure out a reason to make one.

  2. Thanks for this! I'm 30 and I have to use a cane, so something like this would be wonderful for me. I'm so tired of looking like I'm 80!

  3. I love your staff!! I wish I had a drill like yours but I am scared to ask how much it would cost. Awesome job!

  4. Oh man, why didn't you post this three months ago when I had an injured knee and was using an old lady hospital cane? This would have been sooo much better!

    Awesome job though, love it!

  5. wow...that's a tedious drilling process... but i can see how the effect paid off... great job guys.... :)

  6. For a second I thought the top of your cane was a glass Death Star! I saw the cane, along with the rest of the outfit, at the Oshkosh Steampunk Exhibit and it was amazing!!

  7. This is SOOOO COOOL!!!

  8. What did you do for the tip?

    1. I used a flexible rubber cap on the bottom - you can see the one I used in my materials photo. You can buy them in packs of 4 at a hardware store; they're meant for padding chair or table legs, I think.

  9. Awesome tutorial and perfect timing. I'm recovering from surgery and need a cane for an upcoming covention. Taking inspiration from you I would also like to illuminate my cane with LED lights. What voltage of battery and how many did you need?

  10. Excellent instructions. I'm making one now for a Steampunk event. One other thing I did was drill through the bottom of the glass knob brass holder and installed a Neopixel led with an arduino controller to make the doorknob flash different colors. It's bright and very cool!
    I also suggest you spray the finished cane with a clear finish to keep it looking shiny.

  11. I have been searching for almost 1 hour about how to remove the ink markings from Cu water pipe for a non-cane relate craft project. Thank you VERY much for posting this! I was worried I would have to waste money buying various solvents until I found something that worked. Sandpaper is cheaper.

  12. Great job on the end product, and thanks for sharing the techniques.

    Try hammering some thick wall copper pipe and see what you think.

    Now, when you get a small lathe to make tops and bottoms, you're really going to have a blast.

    On a final note, I use rubber stoppers for my tips. I drill an slightly undersized hole through the plug and the bottom of the stick/staff, then run a deck screw in. It makes for a REALLY nice, tapered bottom, which can be sanded to match the thickness of the stick.

    You can see "some" of my walking sticks at Lumberjocks woodworking web site:


Please be respectful when commenting; dissenting opinions are great, but personal attacks or hateful remarks will be removed. Also, including a link? Then here's your html cheat sheet: <a href="LINK ADDRESS">YOUR TEXT</a>