Got Too Many Old Keys? Make a DIY Key Wind Chime!
I love wind chimes. They offer a peaceful tinkling sound to accompany me when I spend time on the porch. My favorite kind is the type made from pipes and a wooden circle in the middle. Of course, those also seem to be the most expensive.
As usual, I always try to find a way to make things for myself instead of buying them. I have not ventured into making a pipe-style wind chime yet, but I have come up with another kind: a spiral string of keys! Sometimes a wind chime can be so harsh and loud, which is awfully irritating, but this version makes a nice sound.
As a bonus, you likely already have most of the materials in your home, and you'll only need to make a few purchases from the store.
Materials List: The Three Main Elements of a Wind Chime
Finding what you need to make a wind chime can be challenging when you first start out. I will tell you about the main elements of a chime and then elaborate on options you can try.
1. Body of the Wind Chime
Basically, this is the "thing" that all the other things will dangle from. Look for an item that is sturdy and will hold up to weight being hung from it and holes being drilled/punched in it. You can use a lot of things for the body, depending on the placement of your wind chime or what you want it to look like.
What to Use for the Body
- Old food cans, like bean, fruit, tuna, and vegetable cans (If you are going to use a can, remove the paper label and the top and bottom "lids" first, and wash it thoroughly.)
- Heavy-gauge plastic bottle (This offers the advantage of being relatively weatherproof.)
- Tree branch
- Grapevine twisted together into a mini wreath
- Slice of a tree stump with the center hollowed out
- Rim of a broken flower pot
- Yogurt container with the bottom cut away
- Old sturdy bracelet
- Metal washer (Get a really big one!)
- Metal coat hanger
- Small picture frame (either round or square)
I do not recommend any items made from paper or very thin plastic or metal. Even if the paper is coated in glue or resin, it will not hold up to the elements for very long. Extremely thin plastic and metal (like from a 2-liter pop bottle or soda can) has a similar problem, and it can also be very sharp.
2. Objects to Hang Off the Body (Noisemakers)
It can be surprisingly challenging to find good noisemakers—things you think will make a great sound often don't sound good in practice! Meanwhile, things that you don't expect to work may produce that perfect tinkling noise. Expect to go through some trial and error, or borrow one of my suggestions below.
What to Use for the Noisemakers
- Keys (Obviously, these sound awesome, or I wouldn't be writing this article!)
- Heavy bolts
- Washers (Some work, and some don't; generally, the thicker the washer, the better the sound.)
- Glass pieces (Make sure they don't have sharp or jagged edges.)
- Ceramic pieces
- Metal pipe
I don't recommend using nails, screws, or nuts. These do not make a good sound because they simply don't have enough density to vibrate well.
You can use the material of your choice to tie the noisemakers to the body of the chime. I've listed some common options below.
What to Use for the Strings
- String (obviously!)
- Sturdy thread
- Fishing line
My main recommendation is to avoid cotton string or thread, since it won't hold up to the elements. You want to use a string/thread that contains plastic or vinyl or some other sort of manmade non-biodegradable stuff. I found a polyester/vinyl cord at my craft store that works very well. Fishing line and wire are also good options.
When I helped my children make wind chimes, I discovered that a heavy-gauge thread is not a good idea. The weight of the dangling object must be greater than that of the thread, or the wind chime just sits there silently! Keep this in mind if you're considering another heavy material, like wire.
Materials List: Other Supplies and Tools
- Outdoor paint or varnish (optional). If you like a rustic, rusted look, then ignore this. Otherwise, you'll want to finish the body of your wind chime to protect it from the weather.
- Drill or awl (optional)
- Safety goggles
- Safety gloves
- File or pliers (optional)
- Super glue
- Washer or key ring for hanging the wind chime
Step-by-Step Instructions for Building a Wind Chime
The process of building your wind chime is relatively straightforward, so this next part should be fairly easy. But let's go through it step by step just to be sure.
Step 1: Check if You Need to Drill Holes in the Body
If you are using a can or some other cylindrical object, you will need to drill/punch holes in it. If you are using a bracelet, branch, or something else that could easily have string tied around it, then holes are not necessary.
Step 2: Measure and Drill the Holes (Optional)
Decide beforehand how many holes you want to have, and measure out the spacing if you want to be precise. (I didn't measure, and you can't tell.)
If you're drilling into a metal can, make sure you do this outside on some sort of table, railing, or other surface so the metal shavings don't fall on you. And wear your safety goggles and safety gloves! The metal shavings probably won't be too fine, but when you're working with metal, you can't be too careful. Metal slivers in your skin can be very irritating, and you don't want those suckers stuck in your clothes, either.
You could also consider punching the holes into the metal with an awl, if the metal is thin enough to allow that.
Step 3: File Down the Edges of the Holes (Optional)
After drilling the holes, you may need to get a file and smooth down the edges, especially if the body is metal. I took a pair of pliers and "smooshed" the sharp edges down, and that worked well, too.
Step 4: Finish the Body With Paint or Varnish (Optional)
If you've decided to use outdoor paint on the body of your wind chime, now is the time to paint it! If you're using a wooden body and want to varnish it, this is also the time to do that. Make sure you allow the paint or varnish to dry completely before you proceed.
Step 5: Tie Strings to the Body
Tie a long "string" (or wire, fishing line, etc.) through each hole. I used a slipknot so that the weight of the dangling object would always pull the knot tight instead of pulling against it and potentially untying it. I also put a spot of super glue on each knot, just to give it a little extra weatherproofing and durability.
Step 6: Tie Noisemakers to the Strings
Determine how far you want each key (or other object) to hang, then tie it on. Again, I used a slipknot so the weight continually holds the knot tight, but if you know of a better knot, use it. I also used the super glue again.
Make sure each item hits the item next to it. I like the spiral look, so I started with a short cord, and I hung every subsequent item a little bit lower (see the photo above).
Step 7: Add a Hanger on the Top
Tie an old key ring or washer to the top to hang your wind chime.
Tips and Suggestions
- Try different weights. Experiment with different weights for both the strings and the hanging objects. Alternate heavy and light strings or heavy and light objects, and see how it sounds. Have fun with it!
- Add beads for sparkle. You can add small glass or crystal beads to the strings before you tie on the noisemakers, if you want a little extra sparkle. I did not have any glass for a wind chime I made for a friend, so I put beads on the strings just before I tied on the keys. It added a very nice touch.
- Paint the noisemakers. You can paint both the body of the chime and the hanging objects for added splashes of color.
- Have the kids join you! This is a project that children can do, with some supervision.
Can You Drill the Glass?
The photo above shows a wind chime made out of keys and glass. I drilled holes in those pieces of glass, but I do not recommend it. It would be far easier to find the right shapes of glass, wrap them with thin metal wire or fishing line, and suspend them that way.
To get the holes in those small pieces of glass, I had to use a Dremel with a diamond bit. I had to continually stop and dip the bit in water and keep the hole I was drilling wet as well. I broke the first bit because I didn't use water initially; it snapped within three minutes. The heat made the bit far too brittle, and it couldn't withstand even the slightest movement. Even after using the water to keep things cool, I still snapped two more bits. I was able to finish drilling my holes, but at the cost of some very expensive tools.
Enjoy Turning Old Keys Into Art!
Have fun making your wind chime! It's amazing how you can turn a pile of seemingly worthless junk into a piece of art that creates beautiful music. I hope you enjoy completing this project and listening to it sway in the breeze. Happy crafting!
Starkster on October 03, 2020:
How do you keep the keys from tangling?
Cheri mello on July 25, 2020:
Thank You For Sharing
LopezUnleashed (author) on May 20, 2013:
Thank you for your feedback BlondLogic. I wish you could enjoy the beautiful sounds of a windchime more, it really is relaxing. Glad you found my hub to be easy to use and havin good pictures, I try hard to include pictures that are helpful.
Mary Wickison from USA on May 19, 2013:
I don't have wind chimes where I live because we live in a constant strong wind. However, when I stayed at my friend's house, whose is much more sheltered, I listened to them all night. She had wooden ones. What a beautiful sound! It reminded me how much I miss hearing them.
Your explanation and pictures are fantastic. I will share this one definitely.
LopezUnleashed (author) on January 27, 2013:
You are very welcome. It was fun, enjoy! Let us know how it goes.
Bonsie007 on January 27, 2013:
Very cool hub! I love wind chimes as well. I'm going to give this a whirl. Thanks for posting!