Rain chains are a kind of decorative downspout for a gutter system. Rainwater pours out of the gutter and onto a series of rings or cups, which help channel the water down to the ground where it is either stored in a rain barrel or simply diverted away from the building. A set of rain chains can add a lot your house in both appearance and sound.

Note: Rain chains are not as efficient as an enclosed downspout and cannot handle high volumes of water. In heavy rains, much of the water will splash out of the cups and onto anything nearby.

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Project Steps

Decide How You Want the Rain Chains to be Set Up

The first thing that you need to decide is where you want the rain chains to be set up. I recommend a place where you can enjoy the sight and sound of the chains, such as a covered porch.

Next you need to decide what you will have below the rain chains to handle the water. You don’t want all that water just splashing down around your foundation. You could use a splash block to divert the water away from your house, but the ideal solution is a rain barrel that can store water for later use on your lawn or garden.

The last thing that you need to decide is the number and spacing of the cups. More cups will make more noise and will control the water better with less splashing.

Drill Holes in the Bottom of Each Cup

The first thing that you need to do is drill holes in the bottom of each cup. The holes need to be slightly wider than the chain that you are using. I recommend using a hole saw attachment for your drill. (I used a 7/8″ hole saw.) Try to keep the holes as centered as possible.

Drill Two Holes in the Top of Each Cup For the Mounting Chain

The cups will be hung onto the main chain with a series of smaller chains. In order to attach these chains, we need two holes at the top of each cup.

Find and mark two spots near the top of the cup that make a line going through the center of the cup. Then drill holes at these locations that are just big enough to hook in part of the smaller chain. It may help to first drill a small hole, and then gradually widen it by re-drilling with larger bits.

Remove the Sharp Burrs From the Cut Surfaces

Any time that you cut metal, there will be sharp burrs left behind on the cut surfaces. These need to be removed so that they don’t scratch up the chains.

First I scraped away the larger pieces with the edge of a file. Then I used a rounded file to further smooth the cut edges. Finally, I used a Dremel with a grinding attachment until the edges were completely smooth.

Clean the Outside of the Cups

I purchased my cups from local thrift stores, so they were all in need of some cleaning. I used Goo Gone to remove any sticker residue, then scrubbed the outer surface with a paper towel. Lastly, I used some polish to bring out the shine of the metal.

In some cases, the surface may be so heavily tarnished that you will need to use a metal brush attachment and your Dremel to scrape away the outermost layer of the metal.

Seal the Cut Surfaces

Most decorative cups will have a protective coating to prevent tarnish and corrosion. When you drill into the cups, you expose the cut surfaces. I recommend using a waterproof sealer to cover these areas. There are a lot of options as to how you can do this, but I used a thick, paint-on, clear sealer. You can apply it to the inside of the cut holes with a cotton swab.

Cut the Plumber's Chain

Cut off about a 6″ section of the smaller chain (in this case, brass plumber’s chain). Then, on each end, cut the last link so that it can be turned into a hook for hanging the cups.

Run the Large Chain Through All the Cups

Now you are ready to begin mounting the cups onto the large chain. Start by feeding the chain through the holes in each of the cups.

Hang the Cup From the Larger Chain

Now you need to attach the cups to the larger chain.

Start by attaching one end of the plumber’s chain to one of the holes at the top of a cup. Then loop the plumber’s chain through one of the links in the larger chain. Then hook the other end of the plumber’s chain to the other mounting hole in the cup. Secure the chain to the cup by pinching it with a pair of pliers so that it holds tightly to the side of the cup.

Continue this process with each additional cup. It is easiest to attach the cups if they are hanging vertically. I attached the top of the chain to the center of a doorway. This let me work on the cups one at a time without them getting bunched up on a table.

Drill a Hole in the Gutter

Now you need to make a hole in the gutter. This lets the water drain out and gives you a place to mount the chain. The size of the hole will determine how much water pours out over the rain chains. The rain chains cannot handle much water; if there is too much, it will just spill out over the sides and splash onto anything nearby. So I recommend keeping the hole small — I used a 11/16″ hole saw to make the hole.

Hang the Rain Chain from the Gutter

There are a lot of ways that you could hang the chains from your gutter. I decided to just use a half link of the chain on the top side of the gutter.

I took one link from the chain and cut it in half with bolt cutters. Then I held the top link of the rain chains up to he bottom side of the hole in the gutter. Then, on the top side of the gutter, I took the cut link and looped it through the top link of the rain chain. Because the link is wider than the hole in the gutter it was able to hold the weight of the chain without being pulled through the hole.

If your links are not wide enough to do this, you can you can make a custom hanger with tabs sticking out on each side, or you can just stick a bar or dowel through the top link. This should be sufficient to hold the chain in place.

Enjoy Your Rain Chains

Now your rain chains are complete. Whenever it rains, you can enjoy watching the water cascade over the chains and listening to the sound of a gentle waterfall. Your rain chains will also make a nice decorative accent even when it isn’t raining.

Keep in mind that a set of cup rain chains will fill up with ice in the winter. So if your gutters are not strong enough to support the weight of the chains, cups and a fair amount of ice, then you may want to take them down when the weather starts to freeze.