Thursday, July 30, 2020

DIY Copper Bookmark - Painting With Fire

DIY Copper Bookmark
DIY Copper Bookmark

I have always been a maker.  At the moment, I find myself fascinated with copper as canvas. There is something entirely mesmerizing about painting with fire on copper.  Over the past few days, I have experimented with the creation of copper bookmarks.  I'd like to share the process for those who might enjoy giving this a try.

You can do so much with copper, but I am focusing, right now, on hammered, stamped, and annealed copper.  I call the annealing of my pieces "painting with fire."  It is my absolute favorite part of this project.  When you take a torch to copper, you never know exactly how the finished piece will look.  I am always delighted to see the surprising effects of heat on my metal works of art.

My M.O. (modus operandi) happens to be the repurposing of materials.  I love nothing more than to bring new life to those things that have unseen, or unused, potential.  In this case, I was fortunate enough to reclaim some small copper sheets that were the remnants of a solar installation.  Though the metal was scratched and tarnished, with irregular edges, I knew it held great promise, and a beauty to be found when its true colors were revealed.  These are the steps I took to transform the copper.

Step One: Cutting the Copper
I first considered using a hacksaw to cut the copper sheets into bookmark-sized pieces.  After trying that, I decided it would be much faster and easier to use my Dremel Saw-Max with the metal cut-off wheel.  That worked perfectly.  The important thing was to protect the surface of the copper using painter's tape.

cutting the copper
Cutting the Copper Using Dremel Saw-Max

Step Two: Filing the Rough Edges
After cutting the copper, the edges needed to be deburred to remove the sharp slivers of metal.  I used a round file for this step.

metal bookmark
Filing the Metal Burrs

Step Three: Rounding the Corners
Because the corners of the bookmark were sharp, the next step was to use my Dremel rotary tool, with a sanding bit, to gently round off those points.

rounding the corners of a piece
Rounding the Corners Using Dremel Rotary Tool

Step Four: Cleaning the Copper Surface
Before heating the copper, I needed to clean off the surface tarnish, fingerprints, etc.  The simple way to do this is with fine steel wool (00 grade) and a little elbow grease.  When I was done, the copper was nice and shiny (see the center image below).  I chose to leave some of the character marks (a few nicks and minor scratches).  My work is not meant to have a machined look.  I want it to be wabi-sabi (where the imperfection is the beauty).

preparing metal
From Tarnished to Bright, Shiny Copper

Step Five: Painting With Fire
I love this step!  My bookmark blank is now laid on a moist sand mound.  I place the front side of the bookmark facing down (because that is the side of the copper that will have the most colorful effect after I torch the back side).  I use a mini butane torch to paint (anneal) the copper.  Basically, I just heat the metal until it begins to turn vibrant purple, blue, and fuschia colors.  The possibilities are endless and no two "paintings" are ever the same.

butane mini torch
Butane Mini Torch and Fuel

painting copper with fire
Painting With Fire - Torching the Copper Blank

copper bookmark
Newly Torched Copper Bookmark

painted copper bookmark
The Infinite Variety of Fire - Painted Copper Bookmarks

Step Six: Water Bath
Using a forceps, I then plunge the hot metal into a cool water bath.  Next, I pat dry the copper with a soft cloth.  (It's also important to wear clean, soft gloves so you don't mar the metal surface with fingerprints, etc.)

cooling torched copper
Cooling the Torched Copper in a Water Bath
Step Seven: Stamping the Bookmark
At this point, I used metal stamps (Impress Art uppercase alphabet set) to imprint a message on the front of the bookmark.  This is the hardest part of the process.  Getting the spacing and impressions right can be extremely challenging.  I had to leave the perfectionist in me out of the equation and just go for it.  What will be, will be!  And that is okay.  It is the charm of handmade art.

stamped copper bookmark
Stamped Copper - Rumi Quotation

Step Eight: Edging the Bookmark
Depending on the look you want, you can leave the edges of the bookmark plain, but I wanted a hammered copper look.  This is where I used a ball-peen hammer to make some shallow depressions all around the perimeter of the piece.

hammered copper edge on bookmark
Creating Hammered Copper Edge Using Ball-Peen Hammer

Step Nine: Finishing the Piece
I used a tiny bit in my Dremel rotary tool to drill a hole in the end of the bookmark (for attaching a chain and embellishments).  Next, I applied a finish wax (a natural carnauba wax) to protect the surface from fingerprints, tarnish, etc.  Finally, I chose a pair of wing charms to be a whimsical play on my chosen sentiment.

finished copper bookmark
Finished Copper Bookmark

Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love,
Which linger and continue to uplift others
Long after your sharing.  ~Rumi

I may consider creating a few custom bookmarks for my Etsy store.  Most likely, though, these pieces will be offered as gifts because they are truly a labor of love.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. These are beautiful! Thanks for you helpful step by step process. How interesting to see your procedures.

    1. Thank you, Mary Beth. I hope others will feel inspired to go and make something unique for themselves or another book-loving friend. There is enjoyment to be had in creating something with your own hands and imagination. I appreciate your visit and comments.

  2. Definitely unique and having a special beauty all it's own due to the love instilled by the creator of these bookmarks. A very original idea and a fascinating DIY process. Very clever, Diana.

    1. Thank you, Elf. I am enjoying the growth of trying something new. There is so much beauty that lies hidden until revealed through exploration and experimentation. This process has opened up my eyes to so many new possibilities. Could it be that we, also, have a beautiful iridescence that is revealed when we go through trials by fire?

    2. I definitely agree with you, Diana! Life is full of 'trials by fire' and how we handle them brings out the best (or the worst) in us depending on how we handle the situation. The 'fire' within us can become a shining beacon in the darkest of times. My.... I'm being very philosophical today. :)

    3. Philosophizing _is_ good. I appreciate your insights.

  3. They are gorgeous bookmarks Diana! As I was reading, I thought how they should be sold in at a craft fair. However, I do understand the desire to give them as gifts instead. Often, the hours of labor and love in a craft creation far exceed any monetary value, especially something so original. Really beautiful!

    1. Thank you, Mouse. I may sell a few of these copper bookmarks, but could never recoup the kind of time and effort that goes into them. That is probably true of most handmade crafts. You just have to make things for a different kind of value or reward. I think makers create because it is impossible for them not to exercise their imagination.

    2. EXACTLY! We create because we can NOT. :)

    3. I knew you could to that relate, Elf. You are constantly in a state of creation.

  4. Diana, these are amazing. You are so creative and the outcomes are really brilliant. I love to make things out of "slavaged" goods too, but would never have thought of this as a project to undertake. Maybe, just maybe I will have to give this a try! Thanks for the tutorial, it's clear and easy to follow, even for me!

    1. I appreciate your kind and generous feedback. Thank you! Salvaged materials are the best. It's like they appreciate a second chance and give you their very best. I hope you do give it a try if you get the chance and can get your hands on what you need for this project. I don't like to spend a lot on getting equipped for crafting. Fortunately, I had most of what I needed (except for the mini torch and butane). Copper can be really expensive, so I was fortunate to get those remnants for free. Score!

  5. Diana, I love, love, love your flame-painted, stamped, and hammered reclaimed copper bookmarks. It's wonderful to be able to bring out the beauty in objects and materials that others throw away, and especially satisfying to make them both beautiful and useful. One person's trash really can become treasure in the hands of a creative and talented individual, someone like you, who also has a gift for imagining and bringing out the hidden beauty that others don't see in something discarded. Your enormous range of DIY skills never ceases to surprise and delight. I love seeing how you transform simple materials into something very special! I've only tried my hand at flame painting copper briefly, but would love to get my hands on some discarded copper sheet on which I could lavish some TLC and practice my as-yet minimal flame painting skills. Thanks so much for sharing your step-by-step transformation of scrap metal into beautiful works of art!

    1. Knowing your immense talent, anything you flame-paint in the future will be exquisite! Wouldn't it be fun if we could share a studio and "play" together every now and then? Your lovely comments and affirmations are the true colors in my every quest to push artistic boundaries. Here's to transformations and to bringing out the beauty yet to be seen.

    2. Thanks so much, dear friend. I would so love a chance to share some creative space and time with you. I join you in a toast to powerful transformations and bringing out unseen beauty. <3 <3 <3

  6. Beautiful! Love the colors and hues!and of course the quotes. What a creative way to re purpose- on purpose :)

    1. I like that: "repurpose on purpose." Intent makes all the difference. I'm glad you like the combination of hue and word beauty ("huety" perhaps?). I do so love to make up words!

  7. Wow, this is truly incredible, I love them. Very creative and what a wonderful gift addition for people, especially when you've gifted a book!

    1. Thank you! I do plan to send some combo gifts (giving a book along with the bookmark). I know I would be delighted to receive that kind of present.

  8. I really love copper as a material and you are very talented to make this beautiful bookmark. Gorgeous and creative. Thank you for sharing how you made this. Stunning!


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