Recently, Manhattan User’s Guide featured a chic cast iron book bar from Beekman 1802 in a round-up of gifts under $21. It’s designed to hold open the pages of a book, while providing a horizontal guide for reading. It is 7 inches long by 1/4 inch square and weighs 4.4 ounces; with shipping, it costs $23.
We thought it was a great idea, being non-fru-fru, elemental and totally utilitarian, qualities we value in our attempts to keep things minimal. We wondered if we could fashion one ourselves out of a softer metal – say copper, which would oxidize nicely but presented no danger of rusting. First we looked up the relative mass of copper and cast iron to see if they were in the same ballpark – they are. Then we started searching for copper bars. On Amazon, we found a 12-inch length of 3/8-inch-square copper bar for $16.21. (Amazon is, curiously, a great source of industrial supplies.) We imagined that the 12-inch length would not only make a great book bar, but a terrific paperweight, able to hold down the whole length of a page against passing breezes.
We then found that we could buy a 36-inch length of 3/8″ copper bar for only $12.57, and imagined the potential: several chic, inexpensive book bar/paperweights cut from one piece of copper. So we emailed our Projects Advisor Nina Saltman to see if we could cut it down ourselves to make several book bar/paperweights.
“1/4-inch bar is pretty heavy stuff, but copper is basically a soft metal, so a good hack saw should cut it. Clamping it down at one end would make the cutting easier. Of course if you needed to cut a whole lot of it, the hack saw will get really old really fast. I would probably use my chop saw with a carbide blade, but then, I have “tools” and LOVE power tools, and ADORE my chop saw.”
We couldn’t find our hack saw so we just started in with a flimsy saw a friend had bought us from Costco. Using our weight, we found a way to hold the bar against a work surface steady enough to start sawing. We also tried clamping it with a vintage cast-iron table clamp/anvil we’d bought on Ebay some time ago.
Sawing the copper with a lousy saw wasn’t hard work that took about 25 minutes. We figure a real hack saw would cut that time in half. And the chop saw Nina recommended would zip through in a few minutes.
Although we prefer oxidized copper, we couldn’t help but polish half the rod with vinegar and salt to see how it looked. Either option has it’s own beauty.
We ended up with the cool, useful, unfussy, uncluttering multi-purpose paperweight we imagined. A perfect gift.
(It’s also great for propping up a wonky window).