How I Make Fountains

How I Make Fountains

When I first started to make fountains, I was greatly helped by all the previous experience I had before.  I have always made things by hand. It started as objects in wood and metals, aiming at beautiful shapes. I made my first car, aged 19, a “special” on the lines of Grand Prix cars of the time (using the engine and chassis of a scrapped Austin 8). I even made a heated stage to hold specimens in the lens of an electron microscope. After universities, I spent many years designing and developing new products for large companies, work which covered nearly every field of science and engineering. Particularly useful were properties of materials and how they can be made into any shape. Especially how beautiful shapes can be made from malleable metals such as copper, silver and gold (I saw these first hand when I worked for the Goldsmiths Company).

In making a fountain, a vital consideration (apart from achieving the beauty of the design) is quality. The fountain must be strong and last indefinitely. It must work properly so that the water flows as it should from every part, as planned. I use copper, because it allows me to achieve this and it also weathers to an attractive patina outdoors.

Now to how I actually make a fountain. I start with the base, from which the fountain will grow.  I cut a large disc of thick copper sheet (everything is done by hand). I heat it to a bright red heat with a large blowtorch and quench it in water. This turns it from a hard springy metal to a softer one, which can be worked to shape. I then hammer it into the form of a domed shallow dish, using a hammer against an oak anvil. I then make rings of thick-walled copper tube and braze them inside the base to reinforce it (when  the fountain is finished, the inside of the base will be filled with a strong mortar, to provide a flat bottom for mounting on a plinth in the pond).

Next I make the structure of trunk, branches and stalks, which will also serve to distribute the water all over the fountain. These are made up of many thick-walled copper tubes of different diameters, carefully bent to shape and brazed together. In the case of the Acer fountain shown, water needs  to come out at different heights, so it has to be fed at 3 or 4 different pressures. This necessitates multiple feed pipes on the base, which become part of the structure higher up. The diameters of all these tubes are carefully graduated, so that water arrives at the correct flow rate at each outlet.

 Then I draw out the shape for each leaf and cut them by hand from copper sheet. After filing the edges smooth, I soften them with the blowtorch and then hammer them to the shapes I want. This is done with a series of steel chisels, using grooved oak blocks as anvils. This gives the leaves a three dimensional shape and accentuates their natural veining, down which water will flow. Final curving of the leaves is done by hand, after successive anneals with the blow torch. The act of hammering and bending the copper restores its strength and  resilience.

 Each leaf is then brazed to the appropriate stalk, ensuring that the feed of water can come out in the correct place. It is important that the two surfaces to be joined have been filed to fit exactly together, so that the molten braze is sucked in by surface tension (if not, there will only be a partial join). I always use the best braze; this is an expensive alloy of 55% silver, with about 20% copper and Zinc. It melts at 650 degC (red heat) and forms a bond stronger than the copper itself, which is totally resistant to corrosion.

 As I am making the fountain, I continually adjust the shape to look visually right and to ensure that the water flows perfectly from all the leaves. Finally I give the whole fountain a lower temperature heat treatment to give an attractive oxide colour, like autumn leaves.