DIY Pendant Lights
Almost anything can be made into a light fixture. You just need a little ingenuity (and have to get over your fear of wiring). In this article, you will discover just how easy it is to make your own lamp.
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 thought 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.
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 for several types of DIY lamp and hanging-fixture projects.
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.
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 Lighting Fixtures
Finding intriguing objects for your lamp base or shade is not nearly as hard as you think. Try browsing:
- Garage sales
- Thrift and second-hand stores
- Flea markets
Keep your eyes open for interesting shapes, intriguing patterns, and unusual materials.
Suitable Objects for Making a Lamp Base or Shade
- Glass jars
- Wire baskets
- Umbrella stands
- Dust bins
- Chinese take-out boxes (clean)
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.
- Diamond drill bit
- Sharpie or another 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
Step-by-Step Glass-Drilling Instruction
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 too much (which can cause the glass to weaken and break).
- Begin drilling.
- Make sure your assistant keeps the spot you're drilling damp with sprays of water.
- When finished, wipe the glass down with a dampened cloth.
- Sand gently with your silicon-carbide sandpaper.
- Rinse your cloth (to remove any splinters) and wipe the glass down again.
- 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 a hanging lamp shade.
- giant exercise ball
- grocery bags torn into small pieces (when these dry they're practically indestructible)
- wallpaper paste
- rubber gloves
- drop cloth
- craft knife
- 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:
- Lay your drop cloth down over your work surface
- Follow the instructions to mix the wallpaper paste
- Put on your rubber gloves and smear the ball with Vaseline
- Dip the paper pieces into the paste and stick them onto the ball
- Repeat until half of the ball is completely covered
- Let dry completely
- Remove dried paper mache from ball
- With your craft knife, cut a hole just large enough to pass the plug through
- Then thread the plug through the cardboard disk and then through the top of the pendant lamp.
- Paint or decorate as desired (make sure to cover the socket with newspaper and tape before you paint).
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 them 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:
- 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:
- Loop the wire through the open part of the urn (what was originally the base) so that if forms an X
- 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.
- 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.
- Masonry bit
- Large, sharp nail
- Masking tape (this will help keep the ceramic from shattering and also keep splinters from flying)
- Spray bottle
- Rubber Gloves
- Old towel
- Make sure your ceramic object is clean and dry
- Mark the spot where you want the hole to be with your Sharpie
- Scratch an X over the spot with the nail
- Cover the X with another X of masking tape and mark it again with the Sharpie
- Make sure you've got your protective gear on (goggles, gloves and long-sleeved clothing).
- Generously spray down the inside of the vase with water.
- 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.
- Spray the surface you plan on drilling with water.
- With even pressure begin drilling.
- Whenever 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.
- 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.
- Plastic gloves
- Drop cloth
- Sharpie or another 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
- Protect your work surface with the drop cloth and put your gloves on.
- 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.
- Apply a thin layer of Vaseline all over the ball.
- 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 your circle.
- Repeat the process on the other two balls.
- 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).
- 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 can be made out of just about anything.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2010 edelhaus