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DIY Pendant Lights

Discover just how easy it is to make your own lamp. Almost anything can be made into a light fixture. You just need a little ingenuity (and have to get over your fear of wiring).

When my sister was living in Cambridge, she was just a poor college student. One day, when I was visiting, we found these two old lamps sitting on the curb. They were obviously meant for the trash but we rescued them. An hour later we were at the hardware store buying light kits and getting advice.

Rewiring them was actually a snap but I have to admit that neither one of us wanted to turn the lights on. We though we might get electrocuted! Eventually we figured out a system where I would flick the switch and she would stand ready with a broom handle (wood doesn't conduct electricity) to push me back should I be frozen by a wayward electric current.

Luckily, the broom was superfluous and the lights were fantastic! We learned that the rewiring job was only difficult in our heads and once we put our minds to the task we were rewarded with two beautiful lamps.

The same theory can be applied to making your own lamp. Just take the first step and soon you'll be "shining" with delight.

Top hats (whose insides are gilded) make a whimsical and fun hanging light.
Top hats (whose insides are gilded) make a whimsical and fun hanging light.

How to Make Your Own Light Fixtures

You first have to decide whether you'll be making a hanging light or a lamp. Just about any material can be used for either. After all, we're really only talking about forms that either cover the lamp wiring or that cover the bulb. That form can take on any shape and color and be made out of any material. Your only real limitation is making sure that the shade material is resistant to heat. That said, you still have a ton of stuff, including paper, to choose from.   Below, I'll give you the details to several types of DIY lamp and hanging fixture projects.

Bottle Pendant Lights
Bottle Pendant Lights

Using Found Objects to Make a Light Fixture

One of the absolute easiest ways you can make a completely unique lamp shade is by using found objects. The only thing you'll need for this project is a lamp kit. Whether you plan to use a bottle, mason jars, or any other objects, I have several excellent kits listed on this page that will do the trick.

You'll also want to make sure that the object is big enough to properly illuminate the space where you're planning on using it, keeping in mind that a well decorated room has several types and sources of light like spots, washes, up-lights, task lighting, etc. Here's a handy formula for estimating how many watts per square foot a well illuminated room needs.

Recycled Tin Food Can
Recycled Tin Food Can
Chinese take out, anyone?
Chinese take out, anyone?
Bird Cage
Bird Cage

How to Determine How Many Watts Are Needed in Your Room

Determine the square footage of your room by multiplying the length by the width. For example if your room is 10 ft. x 15 ft. your total square footage will be 150 ft. Then, multiply this number by 1.5 to arrive at the minimum wattage needed for an average room. If you'll be working in the room, you'll need to increase the wattage by 2 to 2.5 times the square footage.

150 square feet x 1.5 = 225

For our example, you'll need a minimum of 225 watts. Then, divide 225 by the wattage of each individual bulb (just look on the box or on the head of your light bulb for wattage information) to arrive at the perfect wattage for your room.

Where to find Interesting Objects to Use as a Lighting Fixture.

Finding intriguing objects for your lamp base or shade is not nearly as hard as you think. Try browsing:

  • garage sales
  • ebay
  • etsy
  • in thrift and second hand stores
  • at flea markets.

Keep your eyes open for interesting shapes, intriguing patterns, and unusual materials.

Suitable Objects for Making a Lamp Base or Shade

  • Vases
  • Glass jars
  • Wire baskets
  • Umbrella stands
  • dust bins
  • (clean) chinese take out boxes

Old Fashioned Seltzer Water Bottles from the 1930's
Old Fashioned Seltzer Water Bottles from the 1930's
Chandelier made out of CD cases
Chandelier made out of CD cases

How to Drill a Hole in Glass

This is one of those projects where it's helpful to have an assistant. Make sure that they wear protective gear as well.

Supplies you will need

  • Drill
  • Diamond drill bit
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker
  • Goggles (don't skip these!!)
  • Rubber Gloves (this will keep the glass from slipping out of your hands while at the same time protect them from splinters and shards.
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Piece of cloth
  • Silicon-carbide sandpaper
  • Clear silicone
  1. Draw a dot on the spot that you plan on drilling. Keep in mind, you'll want to stay at least an inch and a half away from any edges.
  2. Put on your goggles and rubber gloves. It's also a good idea to wear long sleeves to protect yourself from glass splinters and there's also the possibility that the glass will break.
  3. Have your assistant spray the spot you plan on drilling. This will weigh down the glass splinters so that they don't fly off the glass as easily. It will also prevent the glass from heating up to much (which can cause the glass to weaken and break).
  4. Begin drilling.
  5. Make sure your assistant keeps the spot you're drilling damp with sprays of water.
  6. When finished, wipe the glass down with a dampened cloth.
  7. Sand gently with your silicon-carbide sandpaper.
  8. Rinse your cloth (to remove any splinters) and wipe the glass down again.
  9. Add a bead of silicone around the cut edge. Even though you sanded, the edges can still be sharp and you wouldn't want them to (eventually) cut through electrical wires.

TIP: Drill slowly, it can sometimes take up to an hour just to drill a simple hole in glass. If you try to rush by adding pressure, you may end up breaking the glass.


Making a Base or Shade Out of Paper Mache

Paper mache can be molded to any shape, so your options here are really limitless. First decide whether your paper mache form will be the base of the lamp or the pendant lamp shade. For my example, let's assume we're making an hanging lamp shade.

Supplies:

  • giant exercise ball
  • grocery bags torn into small pieces (when these dry they're practically indestructible)
  • wallpaper paste
  • rubber gloves
  • drop cloth
  • craft knife
  • vaseline
  • small round cardboard disk with a hole large enough to pass the plug of the lamp kit through
  • hanging lamp kit

Here's how it works:

  1. Lay your drop cloth down over your work surface
  2. Follow the instructions to mix the wall paper paste
  3. Put on your rubber gloves and smear the ball with Vaseline
  4. Dip the paper pieces into the paste and stick them onto the ball
  5. Repeat until half of the ball is completely covered
  6. Let dry completely
  7. Remove dried paper mache from ball
  8. With your craft knife, cut a hole just large enough to pass the plug through
  9. Then thread the plug through the cardboard disk and then through the top of the pendant lamp.
  10. Paint or decorate as desired (make sure to cover the socket with newspaper and tape before you paint).

Vintage Architectural Wire Urns
Vintage Architectural Wire Urns

Turn a Wire Garden Urn into a Light

Vintage wire urns or architectural wire urns make really beautiful and dramatic hanging lights. You can find they at architectural salvage stores and you can also find replicas at garden outlets.

To turn a wire urn into a pendant light shade, you'll need:

Supplies

  • Some heavy gauge wire
  • wire cutter
  • a pair of strong pliers (you also might want to wear work gloves to protect your hands from the sharp edge of the cut wire).
  • hanging light kit from Amazon

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Loop the wire through the open part of the urn (what was originally the base) so that if forms an X
  2. If you're planning on painting it, do it now. Make sure to sand, clean and prim the urn with metal primer. Then paint two coats of paint that is compatible with metal.
  3. After it's dry thread your hanging light kit through the X and hang.

TIP: Consider using a light bulb with a mirrored top. Not only does it look good but it will stop the down glare as well, which is important when using such an open and airy shade.

How to Drill a Hole in Ceramic

As I mentioned above, ceramic vases and pots make great lamp bases and even shades.  If you plan of using the ceramic object as a shade, just make sure it's not too heavy to hang from your ceiling.  Also you might want to consider gilding (see below) the inside to increase illumination.

Supplies

  • Drill
  • Masonry bit
  • Sharpie
  • Large, sharp nail
  • Masking tape (this will help keep the ceramic from shattering and also keep splinters from flying)
  • Spray bottle
  • Water
  • Goggles
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Old towel

How to Steps

  1. Make sure your ceramic object is clean and dry
  2. Mark the spot where you want the hole to be with your Sharpie
  3. Scratch an X over the spot with the nail
  4. Cover the X with another X of masking tape and mark it again with the Sharpie
  5. Make sure you've got your protective gear on (goggles, gloves and long sleeved clothing).
  6. Generously spray down the inside of the vase with water.
  7. Place the ceramic vase upside down on the old towel.  This will help to hold it in place and keep it from vibrating while you drill.
  8. Spray the surface you plan on drilling with water.
  9. With even pressure begin drilling.
  10. When ever the vase or pot begins to look too dry or begins to feel too warm, flip it over and spray the inside with water.  Then, turn it back over and again spray your drilling location.  
  11. Continue drilling until you've created your hole.

How to Make String Pendant Lamps

Right now big, globe pendant lights are really in style. In the stores these can cost upwards of $150 but you can make yourself a trio of these fab lights for less than $50.

Supplies and tools

  • 3 bouncy balls, one small, one medium and one large
  • Clear drying craft glue, I use elmer's which works just fine.
  • String, yarn, hemp, raffia (or whatever appeals to you) in varying weights. you'll want to use the thickest string on the biggest ball and the thinnest on the smallest. Figure that for every 10 inches of diameter, you'll need about 100 yards of string. TIP: Don't skimp on the string. You can always take the unopened packages back to the store but if you run out in the middle of your project, everything will probably be ruined.
  • Vaseline
  • Plastic gloves
  • Drop cloth
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker
  • Ball inflating needle (available from sporting goods stores) If you don't care to save the balls then just use a craft knife to puncture the balls and deflate them.
  • Light fixture and hardware from amazon
  1. Protect your work surface with the drop cloth and put your gloves on.
  2. Draw a circle on the ball with a permanent marker. This is your "string free" zone.  Make sure not to cover it with the string as you'll need it clear in order to install the light kit and have access to the bulb.
  3. Apply a thin layer of Vaseline all over the ball.
  4. Apply the glue by squeezing a nut size glob into your hand then pull the string through the glue and wrap the gluey string around the ball. You should repeat this process until you achieve the desired effect. Some people like a denser amount of string, which also makes it stronger, while others prefer a light, airy look achieved using less string. TIP: Don't methodically criss-cross the string, try to use wavy, random motions and make sure NOT to cross you circle.
  5. Repeat the process on the other two balls.
  6. When the glue has dried completely, use the inflating needle to deflate the balls. When the balls are void of air you can just gently pull them out through the hole you left (circle area).
  7. Follow the instructions included with your hanging light kit. You'll want to make sure that the bulb hangs in the middle of the sphere. You can use some extra string or wire to secure it in place.

You could also use some extra string to wrap the cord that came with your light kit. This would give it a great, custom look.

Well, I hope I've "lit" the fires of your imagination (sorry, couldn't help that) and you now see that a one of a kind lamp could be made out of just about anything.

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Comments 14 comments

American_Choices profile image

American_Choices 5 years ago from USA

Awesome! Great job and they look so professional too! Wonderful photos and explanations.


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 5 years ago from Munich, Germany Author

thank you, American Choices! I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your comment.


Scarlett My Dear profile image

Scarlett My Dear 5 years ago from Missouri

LOVE it!

Bookmarked.

I really enjoy your style, edelhaus, in your ideas and your writing! If it weren't so darn close to Christmas, I'd Definitely use this idea today.

Thank you! Will be looking for more.

~Scarlett


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 5 years ago from Munich, Germany Author

thank you, Scarlett! I'm glad you stopped by.


iZeko profile image

iZeko 5 years ago

Amazing ideas! I love the bottle lamps and the recycled can.


danielleantosz profile image

danielleantosz 5 years ago from Florida

I love the CD case light! I always try to use found or recycled items. Great ideas.


Crystal 5 years ago

OMG. I totally had several brilliant (ha, ha...) ideas while reading this page. Thanks for the creative boost — I'm stoked about making my own pendant lights now!


Janna 4 years ago

great ideas...but can you take an existing pendant light and somehow use a light kit to hang it? i don't have overhead lighting, but i have a nice old metal pendant light i'd love to re-use!

please help


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

All I can say is WOW you've got my creative senses going crazy now. Beautiful work, helpful ideas, and truly amazing creativity. I'm following you... (Voted up & etc.)


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 4 years ago from Munich, Germany Author

Hi Janna! Sure you can. You can find a light kit at just about any hardware store and if you dont see anything you like, try some google search terms like, lamp repair parts, light fixture parts, canopy for light fixtures, wiring for light fixtures, etc.


Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

Awesome ideas I can see where I would have some creative fun with these...

Hugs from Canada


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

This is really unique, interesting and beautiful! Sharing!


prektjr.dc profile image

prektjr.dc 4 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

Great and very unique ideas! Love the hats! You really opened up the possibilities for any room! Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting! Sharing this with others!


Ellie Shay profile image

Ellie Shay 2 years ago

These are some really cool ideas! Thank you! As a recent first time home buying, I have been glued to anything home decorating or DIY. I have a bar that needs some new pendents. So this hub gave some great inspiration.

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