Beer Bottle Lamps





Introduction: Beer Bottle Lamps

Oregon has a number of wonderful microbrewery beers for sale in the supermarkets, some with very cool designs on them. These designs are printed on, or etched into the glass rather than simply having a sticker, and I thought this property could be exploited to display how great the bottles are.
So, this instructable (my first ever) is about cutting and drilling glass bottles, wiring a fluorescent bulb into them and sealing them back up again to have a standalone light. 
There are circular LED coasters designed for lighting up a bottle- but I really wanted to turn these into something a bit more solid and incorporated than simply sticking some bulky plasticky thing with LEDs onto the base. 

Glass cutters can be found quite cheaply online, as can ceramic drill bits - there are no other specialist items needed for this  

Note: despite what some tutorials say, glass cutting in this fashion will work with almost all glass bottles - however, glass cutting can be very tricky at first.
As will be explained later, practice on some unimportant bottles is definitely a good idea if you don't want to ruin that cool bottle you might have in mind for this!  

            (cutting the bottle)

Glass bottle(s) 
Glass cutter 
Ceramic/tile drill bits 
Cordless power drill 
Kettle (you will need some boiling water)
Bucket (or large saucepan etc)
          (wiring the light)
Dual core wire
Switch (optional)
Standard florescent bayonet fitting bulb
Bllu tac  
Soldering iron
Wire stripper 
Sharp knife 
Standard superglue 

Step 1: Preparation

There are so many different methods people claim to be the best way to cut glass. Having never done it before, I trawled through online tutorials when i first got the idea for these lights. 
Finally, I found this tutorial which I think is by far the best - and the method i used in the end for all the bottles. I recommend watching it.

so, we are 1) Scoring the glass 2 )carefully treating that score line with hot and then cold water to create a split - cutting is a poor term for this process - at no point are we really cutting any glass 

Note: Before cutting glass a few things should be considered - the thickness and shape of the glass is very important. Wine bottles are usually the perfect thickness for this method (and definitely the best to practice on).  When pouring boiling water over the score line - the split tends to follow that line, which is what your aiming for. Beer bottles are significantly thinner than wine bottles, and like bottles that aren't perfectly cylindrical, this can result in the split you create moving away from the score line, and this is the issue that results in at best an uneven cut, and worst case a shattered bottle (see picture of my first failure). 
The secret to overcoming this is being slow and careful when using the hot water, as well as making a totally even line, all of which will be mentioned in detail again. 

Step 2: Step 1 of Cutting the Bottle - Scoring the Bottle

Use the glass cutter to EVENLY score a constant line around the entire circumference of the bottle. If the score line is spiraling (moving along the circumference of the bottle at an angle) then when you later apply stress to the score line you may have imperfect cuts.

The tutorial mentioned earlier, like many others, notes that the score line should not be too deep. I personally found that giving a second go around the bottle resulted in greater consistency in clean cuts - maybe i was lucky, maybe there is something in it. I recon there are too many variables to say definitely whats best every time which is why i recommend practice a few times with the type of bottle you intend to cut first!

Your accuracy will depend somewhat on the glass cutter you use. The cheap ones off ebay (which work just fine!) are handheld - essentially a sharp disk on the end of a stick, and so you will need to be inventive with how you make sure the cut is even, You could use tape to mark where you will cut, or draw a line with a permanent marker on the bottle, whatever works for you.
I used a cutter which is on the end of a jig (see picture) and this made things a bit easier - but the principle is the same and can just as easily be forgotten. Even cuts. Practice first. 

Safety. Probably a good idea to wear some goggles or glasses just in case a stray bit of glass defeats the odds and makes it anywhere near your eyes. Its unlikely, but worth mentioning. 

Step 3: Step 2 of Cutting the Bottle - Stressing the Score Line

1)Take your scored bottle to a sink.
2)Prepare a kettle full of boiled water.
3)Turn on the cold tap from the sink.
4)SLOWLY pour A VERY SMALL AMOUNT of boiling water over the score line, making sure you don't over heat any one part of the bottle too much. Then move the score line under the cold water from the tap - again slowly slowly slowly. Then use the boiling water again. Keep repeating the process.

Keep at it. You will see light coming through the score line become stronger as the splits develop. The glass may make some cracking noises as it splits - if any of these are particularly loud this is a good indicator that your pouring the boiling water too quickly or then cooling the glass too quickly. The slower the better.

If you are slow and deliberate about this you will have great results. Being impatient will result in shattered bottles or imperfect cuts. It took me several wasted bottles to figure out I couldn't rush this and simply had to take it slowly.

Eventually the half of the bottle you are not holding will just fall off into the sink. No need to sand the cut or anything - now onto drilling the hole.  

Step 4: Step 3 of Cutting the Bottle - Drilling a Hole in the Glass

Safety. Wear some gloves that will protect you in case the bottle breaks underwater. Again, unlikely - but possible. 

1)Take the bottom half of the bottle - leave the neck where it wont be knocked over. 

2)Get the drill and fit the ceramic drill bit. (In the pictures there is a regular phillips drill bit just to show what i mean) 
3)Submerge the bottom half of the bottle in a bucket or saucepan of water. This is done so as to lubricate the drill bit as you cut into the glass - without lubrication the drill bit is almost totally ineffective. 

4)Choose where you want the hole for the wire to come through and start drilling. I found that drilling slowly but with some considerable pressure worked best. This definitely takes longer than you would expect - about 3-5 minutes per hole. Take care when the drill finally makes it through the bottle that you ease off the pressure- you 'want to suddenly carry on and smash the other side of the glass.  

5)Remove from the bucket - wash off in fresh water (there will be very fine glass residue covering everything) and leave to dry fully before wiring the light. 

Step 5: Wiring the Light

From here on in its all very straightforward. 

1)Take your dual core wire, cut it to about 2/3 the length you want the cord to be in total (if you have a switch - if not, cut your total desired length) and strip the ends. 
2)Wire the plug to that piece of wire.
3)Wire the other end to the switch.
4)Wire the final 1/3 of wire you want to the switch and push the other end through the hole you drilled in the bottle. 

Step 6: Soldering the Wire to the Bulb.

I chose to solder the wire to the bulb, because using a fitting pushed the bulb up higher inside the bottle and this somewhat ruined the effect of having light come through the design on the front of the bottle. This way the bulb sits as low down as possible - (and it looks quite cool - as if the bulb is supernaturally just alight inside the bottle for no reason). 

I should mention - the reason i'm using a fluorescent bulb is because a)they give out much less heat than other bulbs and you don't want the finished lamp getting too hot b)they are a whole lot more robust than filament bulbs and will take some mild knocking without breaking - this is important because once we have sealed up the bottle there is no way of getting the bulb out again! Also for the same reason its useful that they have a very long life and so wont need replacing any time soon (usually 10,000 hrs plus) 

1)So - take your two stripped ends of wire and your florescent bulb. 
2)Take your soldering iron/solder and prepare them. 
3)Solder to the final 1/3 of wire to the bottom of the bulb (bayonet bulbs have two little metal oval nodules on the base which is where they connect to fittings (see pictures)- it doesn't matter which wire you solder to which nodule you solder to as long as your electricity is AC which almost everyone's is). 

Step 7: Securing the Bulb and Sealing the Bottle

1) Take a generous bit of blu-tac and mold it onto the bottom of the now soldered bulb.

This serves two purposes: a) you need to ensure that the connection at the base of the bulb doesn't short out - this will blow the lamp and possibly the fuses in your house! So its important to put something non-conductive between those two nodules and stop any connections occurring between them. b) you need something to stick the bulb to the bottom of the bottle. I used epoxy putty at first - but found this very fiddly and annoying and also if you make a mistake its very difficult to re position the bulb - however blu-tac will not stick as nicely to the bottom nor will it create a solid hold on the bulb. I chose to make this compromise - but epoxy putty is the better choice- i just got lazy 

2) Push the bulb to the bottom of the glass, pulling the excess wire through the hole as you do so, and push down on the bulb to secure it in place. Again - epoxy putty is better for this but blu-tac also does the job.  

3) CAREFULLY - ensuring you are in no danger of touching any exposed wires - test the connection by plugging in the lamp and turning on the switch. This is to ensure all your wiring etc is correct before sealing the bottle back together. 

4) Assuming that all well - take the neck of the bottle and match it up with the cut of the top of the bottle. No cut is totally perfect, and there will always be a few jagged ends etc that you need to match up. In fact this is quite helpful when it comes to sealing the bottle back up again, but make sure you know how the two halves match up. 

5) Superglue the top back onto the bottom half of the bottle. 

I used some fancy UV glass glue first time around thinking that this would be the best way to do it. In fact, for me I found that the UV glue took ages to set, and was eternally sticky and annoying. Superglue works just fine. 

Let the glue set and hey presto! Done! 



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    Bottom Cutting and Other Learnings:
    I ran a lot of trials on a lot of bottles and thought I would share some findings. If you are cutting the bottle closer to the top half, then the Hot & Cold water method of breaking is reliable and consistently does a great job. If you are cutting close to the bottom of the bottle, you need to take a different approach.
    Structural tension near the bottom is very high and I discovered that the thickness of the glass is not uniform but can vary very significantly from one side of the bottle to the other. The Hot & Cold water method generates a vertical crack in the glass about 60% - 80% of the time and occasionally results in a shattered bottle. The only reliable method I found was to use a small Butane torch with a very fine pencil type flame. I used both a Bernzomatic and a Tech Tool torch and both worked fine. I did not have a single cracked or shattered bottle. I also tried a regular Propane torch with a pencil tip but the flame was much broader and way hotter and every bottle I tried cracked or shattered badly.
    The setup was pretty easy. I dusted off my ancient Dual turntable and set it to 33 RPM. For a jig to hold the bottle, I cut a 7" square piece off a 2x8 pcs of lumber. In the center I drilled a 1 & 1/8th" whole using one of those flat wood drills. (Don't drill all the way thru the board - leave about 1/8 " to stop the bottle from going through. But do drill a 3/16" hole through in the center to allow hot air and any moisture in the bottle to escape. The 1 1/8th hole will in intentionally about 1/16 " too large and the bottle will wobble a bit. But I lined the wall of the hole with a small pc of Velcro. Now when you insert the bottle it compresses the velcro and makes a perfectly snug fit - easy to insert and remove the bottle.
    The pencil flame is held on the score line generating heat which is uniform, controlled, and restricted to a very narrow band of glass. After about 30 secs the glass fractures along the score line giving you a perfect of near perfect break. This worked on any bottle I tried including the Heiniken green glass which seemed to be the thinnest and most fragile.
    I found some wonderful bottles at the official beer outlet. They are from Mill Street Brewery. No labels, the bottles are painted back and front with Embossed logos and lots of text done in raised glass letters.
    I decided to use a Red colored Compact Florescent, the spiral type. They come in a bunch of colors. I soldered directly to the light's base but there was extra room in the bottle to use one of those socket adapters with the screw connectors available for $2 at you local hardware store.
    After wiring, I filled the bottom section of the bottle with GEII Silicone Sealant and just set the bulb right in it. Then applied silicone sealant to one the cut bottle edges to glue the bottle back together again. Of course I used a standard rubber grommet to protect the power cord from being chafed by the glass.
    I have attached some photos below.
    Cheers, Murray

    Turntable1.jpgTurntable2.jpgVelcro.jpgAdapter Socket.jpgMill Street Brewery Lamp.jpg

    Of all of the methods of breaking beer bottles, I find the burning twine/cord is by far the worst one. It's got the least ability to restrict the heat to a narrow defined band. Most beer bottles are very thin and they will break with a much smaller difference between hot and cold temperatures as long as the heat is confined to the closely to the score line. I tried another methode where you place two 1/4' diameter rubber bands, one on each side of the score line, and pour boiling water on the score line in between. Then dunk the bottle in a bucket of ice water. It does an excellent job leaving a straight clean break.
    Cheers. Murray

    Thanks for your input Murray,

    Do you have a tip for scoring straight without a jig?
    It'll cost me at least three times the price of a jig to have it sent over here.. :(
    Or maybe I should just wake my lazy brain and make my own jig? :D

    I tried a few different ways to do it without a jig but found it impossible. If you are going to build one I would recommend you try to copy the design used in this video. It looks fairly straight forward using straight cuts of wood and a standard glass cutting wheel available at all hardware stores.
    If you plan to purchase one, be careful because some of them are not well designed making it impossible to cut a bottle close to the bottom.
    Cheers, Murray

    Thanks for the tip, Murray!

    Cheers from Bali,

    its beautiful! well done mate - really nice!

    Brown bottles make lovely lights but I decided to try some variants. This first one uses a UV black light in a blue bottle. Technically I guess you might call it a Platinum Blue-Black Bud Light Light. Well, I guess the photo says it all.
    Cheers, Murray

    Black and Blue Bud.jpg

    seriously cool - definitely trying that one out when i get some spare time

    Cool idea. I'd cut closer to the bottle's bottom to eliminate a lit-up scar where you glue the pieces back together. Not as stable, maybe, but nicer effect, probably.

    Also, I use the same bottle jig (Ephram's, right?) and the torch/ice cube method. It works amazingly well, but I also use a lazy susan to evenly heat the score line.

    For those asking, yes, you should only score once, and LIGHTLY. It's not intuitive, but if you press really hard on your glass cutter, it will tend to make a more jagged cut, or worse, break away from the score line. I was a picture framer for years, and this is true of any piece of glass, but for in-the-round scoring, I've found it's even more important. The thicker the bottle, the more heat you need to dump into it to get the contrast between hot and cold, too.

    Of course, the other way to make a bottle lamp is to cut the bottoms off and thread a cord through the neck, attach a lamp socket, and then screw in a bulb that fits. Hang it overhead. In this case, you need to dress the cut edge, to make sure you don't have a cut hand in short order...