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143: Laser Cut Standpipe Covers

December 15, 2012

Before we get to the something this week, a little background.

If you live in a city, you see these things all the time.

Rainy day

They’re called standpipes, and they allow firefighters to hook up hoses and pump water into buildings. Usually, these pipes are connected to a fire sprinkler system inside, and usually they have a cover.

At least they’re supposed to.


As you can see, they rotate freely to allow a fire hose to be easily screwed into the socket. And since people steal the brass caps that are installed by default, many sprinkler/standpipes are covered with these little red things:


I finally figured out, after exhaustive Googling, that these red covers are called “break caps”. They’re designed to be broken off easily, with a pipe wrench, so the firefighter can quickly access the pipe. They come in plastic, or aluminum.

So, that’s the background information you need to know.

I’ve often wanted to do something with all these break caps I see. With their ability to be slipped on or off easily, they appeal to my sense of non-destructive graffiti. They’re bright, vibrant little canvasses for creativity, and they seem pretty easy to replicate.

Plus, as I walk around this city, I notice dozens of uncovered pipe openings. I’d be providing a public service by covering these standpipes, making sure these holes don’t become bird houses or trashcans.


S0, I ordered some break caps online. I figured I’d modify them somehow, and attach them to any uncovered pipes. I wanted to change this in some way that would be impossible for a casual graffiti artist to do, unless he bought his own, fixed it at home, and installed it. It was was important to me that it be clear to any onlooker that I was providing this, not altering one someone had already attached to a building.

And maybe, since these things rotate, the design should be equally interesting right-side-up and upside-down. … Hmm. I do have experience with that kind of thing.

Laser cutting! That was a perfect plan, but the laser cutting place said no. They said they don’t know what it’s made of, and the cutting process could release toxic gas if it contained any nylon… Fair enough. I’ll just make my own.


I took some measurements from the original, and laid out everything in Illustrator. Then I cut everything out of %100 laser-safe acrylic.


This was my first time ever using a laser cutter, and I must say it was super cool. I will absolutely be making more things.


Once all the paper backing was removed, the shiny plastic was glorious. This is going to be a very nice, disposable pipe cover.


I went with a “turn” ambigram, and another design that is always wrong, no matter which way it’s pointing. I read it as “up” and “dn” (like “down”), but it still works if you just see an upside-down “up”. Hopefully these will encourage people to turn them.


On the back, there’s a slight laser etch, so I know where to glue the black piece. You can also see the little score-lines along the tabs to ensure they’ll break off cleanly. I don’t want to inhibit firefighters in any way.


Then the black piece goes on, to perform 2 functions. It covers the holes (I’m trying to make a functional cover, after all), and it provides slots to glue the vertical tabs.


A slight modification that performs the same function as the curved tabs on the original.


All glued up, they’re beautiful. I could have used acrylic glue, but I had superglue on hand.


Here’s the target, downtown. I’ll only be covering 2 this time, but I may come back to get the others.


I like this location because it’s in a high-traffic zone, and the openings are relatively high on the wall.


Looking good, cappy.


As you can see, they work well.


That was fun and painless. If you would also like to provide this service, and have access to a laser cutter, leave a comment and I’ll send you the .EPS file. I know of 2 spots off the top of my head that could use some sprucing up.


As I often say, “I wonder how long these will stay up.”

See you next week.


It’s been more than a week, and they’re still there. Oh boy!


A month in, and the one that says “turn” is still there.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2012 6:46 pm

    So cool! I like them both, but I think “turn” is my favourite.

    I wish there was some guy in MY town who did random somethings every week and put them out on display…

  2. Susanna permalink
    December 15, 2012 8:11 pm

    This is awesome.

  3. December 16, 2012 8:09 pm

    I love street art even when it isn’t serving a useful function, so I love this a whole lot.

  4. Deborah Hepworth permalink
    December 17, 2012 7:22 am

    I would be totally amused and intrigued to see these on a street in my town!

  5. William permalink
    January 18, 2013 9:00 pm

    I am a fire captain in the metro Atlanta area. One things that fire companies do is territory familiarization. We take great pride in knowing were standpipes and were other pertinent things are in our territory. It would be neat if you could make a emblem of the fire company whose ‘first due territory” the standpipe is in… For intance an emblem of a 21 if that is the station number that would respond there first in a fire… We take great pride in this.

  6. April 7, 2013 2:37 pm

    Love this – Good Job!

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