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As alcohol aficionados, many of us have inadvertently become collectors of such tokens as beer caps, corks and colorful or otherwise-alluring bottles over the years—they fill corners of drawers, stand at translucent attention atop cabinets and congregate in lustrous clusters on the fridge. The party hosts among us are all too familiar with the heavy, clinking loads of a festive gathering’s aftermath. But what is one to do with all of that glass and associated trappings? Recycling is a great service to our planet, but before you go hauling your empties to the curb, we’d like to invite you to consider taking a different approach: try your hand at any one of these upcycling projects (or other ideas you are inspired to attempt) and turn those old containers into your own personalized glassware, furniture adornments and other decorations. Regardless of your level of craftiness, there is something everyone can do at home to create unique repurposed accessories.
Disclaimer: Drinking before using tools, glass and/or superglue is probably not the best idea you’ve ever had … so, yeah … don’t do that!
Seen on the Scene
Our search for examples of locally-crafted upcycled artwork led us to the virtual doorstep of David Guilfoose, a self-taught artist currently living in the Madison area who produces many different forms of repurposed glass art shaped from reclaimed wine bottles. There is something innately inspiring about the concept of reclaiming what some would call junk and transforming it into things that are both useful and beautiful. His background in psychology and working as a therapist marry well with the inspiration behind his artwork: Mr Guilfoose’s impressive collection of vases, jewelry, lamps and other works are, in his own words, “meant to inspire creative efforts towards living a greener life.” In today’s world where so much is viewed as being simply disposable, that’s an idea we can certainly raise our glasses to; should you find yourself similarly moved to support his upcycling efforts, you can purchase his work or contact him directly through his website at greenwinebottles.com.
Whether you already have a healthy-sized stock of empty bottles or you’re just inclined to test out a new project, give one of these suggestions a shot—if not constructed for your own abode, they can make great personalized gifts for holidays or centerpieces for various celebrations.
Beer Bottle Candle Holder
• decorative candle holder/fixture
1. Clean bottles. Remove their labels by soaking in water for at least 15 minutes and scraping them off with fingernails or the back of a butter knife. Goo Gone or oil also helps.
2. Take one taper candle and find the width that fits into the bottle opening. Using a hot knife, cut the candle about a half inch down from that point. For our candles, 5 inches of candle is showing out of the bottle. About a half inch is inside the bottle.
3. Repeat step 2 with all bottles. Set aside the prepared candles for later.
4. Determine the placement of the bottles within the fixture. Using the sandpaper or emery board, lightly etch the bottle and fixture where they meet. This is where you will place the glue.
5. If your fixture lines up the bottles at the same height, you can skip this step. If yours has one or more bottles that are elevated off the surface when adhered to the fixture, keep reading this step. Using various blocks, shims or other stable, flat objects, bring the bottle up to the height it needs to be to meet the fixture. For this project, we used a spare block of wood and a plastic shim stacked underneath the bottle. Elevate any bottles that need it until the whole display is in place.
6. Carefully apply a thin strip of glue over the etched markings on the bottles. If you apply too much in any one area, slowly wipe away excess with a cotton swab.
7. Allow glue to dry for 24-72 hours.
8. Once the glue is dry, you can clean up excess glue with a utility knife by slicing slightly above where the excess meets the main strip and peeling it off the bottle. If you use the recommended glue, it should peel off easily.
9. Using a lighter, carefully and lightly melt the bottom of one cut candle to soften the edges. Immediately press the melted end into the opening of a bottle and straighten. This will secure the candle in place.
10. Repeat step 9 until all candles are in place.
Spirit Bottle Old-Fashioned Glass
• one empty cylindrical or rectangular spirit bottle (can also be a narrow wine bottle)
Editors’ note: We recommend practicing this whole cutting process on similar spare bottles until you get the hang of it. You wouldn’t want to botch your prize bottle! We did not use the tapper that is included with the kit, as this places undue stress on the glass and will likely give you a jagged edge. This water application method is the best we tried, and it has about a 75% success rate. Try not to get discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time. This is the nature of working with glass. It is unpredictable, but very rewarding when it does work! We used a Great Lakes Distillery Kinnickinnic Whiskey bottle for the glass pictured above.
1. Clean bottle(s). Remove the label(s) by soaking in water for at least 15 minutes and scraping off with fingernails or the back of a butter knife. Goo Gone or oil also helps.
2. Fill the bottle with the desired amount of liquid. We used 8 oz of water, measured with a jigger. Mark the bottle about an inch above the top of the water line. This is where you will cut the bottle.
3. Set up the glass cutter according to the included instructions. Align the scoring blade with the mark on the bottle. Using light pressure and a steady hand, rotate the bottle and score it once completely around the bottle as evenly as possible. It is important to only go around once, but completely, and to go lightly. Even thick glass is very fragile and only needs a slight distress line.
4. Boil water and let it cool for a minute or two. Don’t use boiling water, as it’s too hot for the glass and will over-stress the etch. Bring the kettle over to the sink. Place the dish towel in the bottom of the sink (this is to prevent the glass from shattering once it falls away from the top of the bottle). Hold the bottle by the neck and place over the sink. Keep the bottle a few inches above the bottom of the sink and angle the base of the bottle slightly lower so the water runs away from you.
5. Very slowly and carefully pour a thin stream of the hot water over the etch line, slowly rotating the bottle until you cover all sides. This step is easier with two people—one person pours the water, the other rotates the bottle.
6. Run a soft stream of cool tap water over the etch, also rotating to cover all sides. You should hear faint crackling.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until the base of the bottle falls away from the top. Our bottle took two hot/cold water applications before it broke away.
8. If the break was smooth and there were no cracks into the edge, then you made a successful cut and can use this base as a glass! If it didn’t work, repeat steps 1-7 until you get a clean cut. It’s a good idea to have a few prepared bottles etched and ready for the water application so you can keep going.
9. While wearing a dust mask and eye protection, follow the included instructions for sanding and polishing the edges. This is the longest step, so be patient! Use the included emery sandpaper (this type is black, not the typical brown). As mentioned in the included directions, you can wrap the paper around a dowel to help create a rounded lip. Be sure to finish the edge as completely as you can—keep in mind that you will be drinking out of this! The lip should have a sateen finish and feel completely smooth to the touch. You can purchase finer-grit silicon carbide (carborundum) paper or a carborundum stone if you want a shinier finish.
10. Rinse and wash your brand new, hand-crafted Old-Fashioned glass. Drop in an ice cube or two, pour in your favorite spirit and enjoy. Cheers!
Beer Bottle Cap Tabletop
1. Glue wood trim around the tabletop edges, making sure there are no gaps between pieces where liquid resin could escape. Take care not to leave visible traces of glue, as everything will show through the resin layer once it has dried.
2. Glue down your bottle cap design onto the tabletop (you’ll want to make sure they are firmly stuck on there to prevent them from floating out of position once the resin is added). Bottle caps come in every conceivable variety of colors; work with what you have to display your creativity along with your preference of cerveza.
3. Prepare the polyurethane resin per instructions and carefully pour over the top. If bottle caps do begin to float out of position, lightly tamp them back down until air bubbles are released.
4. Set your creation aside to dry for the allotted time specified by the resin product’s instructions. We found that it takes about 24 hours for the table surface to harden sufficiently without any leftover stickiness.
Other Project Ideas
Your Work, Your Words!
Perhaps you have already encountered examples of repurposed alcohol containers recently. Maybe you know someone who has taken up the hobby and have been deliberating whether to give such projects a shot in your spare time. Upcycled pieces generate a lot of interest and serve as excellent conversation starters. Regardless of your motivation or the scope of your success, we want to hear from you! Please visit our Facebook page to share pictures of your work and anecdotes regarding any experiences you’d like to share about your crafting quests. Also keep an eye on our online store, as we’ve been inspired enough to begin regularly producing upcycled bottle art and glassware. Now that you’ve shared in our delight at the boundless potential of repurposing, we hope that you’ll think twice before tossing those potential treasures.