Experiments in wine bottle cutting

I have long dreamed of making beautiful projects which upcycle the humble wine bottle into candle holders, plant holders and the like, however, until recently I’ve been stumped about how to cut bottles with professional-looking consistent results.

Like (probably) you, I too searched the pages of Google for maker wisdom about the best way to cut bottles, looking over different ‘fool-proof’ methods to achieve ‘perfect’ cut glass at home (like these). I have diligently squinted at videos, trailed through blogs, and given up much time futilely following others’ advice (burning string, hot and cold water etc etc), resulting in nothing but cracked bottles with torn up edges.

My breakthrough (see what I did there ;0) ) actually came offline, at my friend Phil’s house. Phil makes and sells beautiful upcycled lamps made from degraded objects such as old car disk brakes, CDs and, you guessed it, wine bottles (more on Phil’s lamps in another blog post).


Tutorial: Heated wire wine bottle cutting 

Up on Phil’s balcony in the tiny, but perfectly formed village of Cipières in the foothills of the French Alpes, he explained to me that after trying several common methods, he’d come up with an almost foolproof technique. I remained sceptical (due to my many failures), but hopeful.

That hope increased, as, along with my husband and mother-in-law, we polished off a few bottles of wine to give us some empties to play with (excuses). More after the jump.

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What we used

  • Wine bottle scoring jig, like this one or build your own awesome one like in this Instructable
  • Diamond tip (taken from a standard diamond cutter)
  • Car or motorcycle battery
  • Heating wire element (more on this below)
  • Protective gloves and eyewear (OK, we didn’t actually use these, but we should have!)

 

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Step 1: Scoring

Phil upgraded a standard bottle scoring jig with a diamond tip which makes for a deeper and cleaner result. To do this, he took a diamond cutter, like the one pictured, removed the aluminium end which holds the tiny diamond, and fixed it to the jig.

The idea is that with a diamond you need only gentle pressure on the bottle (the carborundum wheel requires a lot more), so you can be more accurate.

With a steady hand hold your upgraded scoring jig against the bottle and use the other (even steadier) hand to press and turn the wine bottle against it.  Carefully and patiently (!) turn the the bottle with consistent firm pressure to create an even line, being careful not to move at an angle and to not overlap (you only go around once!).

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Step 2: Heated wire set-up

To get a good result, you need to apply high heat to the score line, uniformly (this is unlike other methods like the ‘lighter’ or ‘burning string’ technique which don’t get hot enough or apply the heat unevenly).

We used a loop of heat conductive wire connected to a car battery, which Phil purchased from a specialist stained glass shop. Unfortunately, it looks like the place is closing down and I can’t for the life of me find another similar version. Fortunately, it is possible to make your own!

DIY heating element jig: You’ll need a heat conductive nichrome wire, about 22 or 24 guage, long enough to wrap around the bottle. The wire is connected to the battery via crocodile clips with some insulated bits in-between so you can hold on and manipulate the heated part of the wire along the score line you wish to cut.

Phil handily provided a diagram of his set-up which I’ve pasted below, and there’s a video by rwg42985 with more detail here and one by Smart Beast here.

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Step 3: Heating the scoreline

Put on some protect gloves and eyewear (unlike us in these pictures…busted!). Hook up your heating wire element to the car battery and wait until it heats up (it will glow!). Be very careful not to touch it with your bare hands.

Place the wire around the bottle, lining it up to your score line. You don’t want the wire to touch itself as it may short.

Turn the bottle very very slowly with one hand, and use the other hand to keep the heating element lined up to your score line. At this point, it’s useful to have a buddy. like Phil, hold the other end of the bottle to catch it if it cuts and falls.

Be patient, you may have to turn the bottle a few times. You will hear a faint ‘clink’ sound  when it is ready.

The bottle should now just come apart in your hands. Whoop! 🙂

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Step 3: Sanding

The cut should be relatively clean, but you will need to sand off the sharp edge. The best way to do this is with wet sandpaper. There is an Instructables here with more details on that, but it should be fairly self explanatory.

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And, that’s how it’s done! Now, you’re ready to get on with your upcycling project!

I’m still mulling what project to do first…it may well be a little succulent planter for my mother-in-law and I definitely have candle holder plans!

 

(Photo credits: Hatstand: mommynoire.com, DIY candles: cambriawines.com. Other photos dead links.)

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