Introduction: Fire-Wood Tealight Holder
Firewood is a common source of wood for small woodworking projects. Tealights are an awesome source of mood lighting. And this project puts a slight spin on the concept of a tealight holder made from firewood. Or is that fire'n'wood?
- a piece of wood - I use a cutoff from a well-dried branch, but you could use any piece of solid wood you have laying around that can take a tealight-sized hole. You might be able to get awa with something laminated, too, but see the next step about that.
- a cup of epoxy - to seal the whole thing with.
- a tealight - while not strictly necessary to make this, it is required to make it shine. But read on, you could work with other sizes of candle or even LEDs, too.
- hole making implements - to create an indentation the size and shape of a tealight - or any other candle or possibly light fixture you might want to install. I took the complicated way due to a lack of sharpness in my tealight-sized forstner bit, as well as the fact that I was drilling into endgrain. But in theory, a tealight-sized bit should do the trick.
- propane torch - or any other kind of heat source that allows you to torch the piece, preferrably while keeping the heat away from the fuel source and not having to worry about tipping anything over. The usual safety rules when dealing with fire apply - no other flammable stuff anywhere near the torch, keeping an eye on it at all times, shutting down the torch whenever you do not use it, and, of course, using common sense.
- hot air gun - optional, serves to make the epoxy flow better so it does not cover up too much of the texture we want to achieve.
And just in case you are into viewing pleasure, there is a video for you to watch, too!
Step 1: Prepare the Wood
This step is pretty simple. All it entails is to cut the wood to size. I used my bandsaw a piece of branch that I had in my shop for a while, but any other saw that gets the job done works just as well. I assume the wood does not have to be completely dry for this, but it will make it easier to torch since there is less water left you need to heat up first.
The only requirement here is that the wood should be large enough to take a tealight, but in theory a through-hole of the right size would do. You can use "chunks" of wood that have been broken off when splitting logs or from storm damage, as well as a cutoff piece of beam or even scraps laminated together - although I have no idea how the glue would hold up to it. I know some wood glues are thermoplastic and might give when subjected to heat. They might also burn in odd ways and release even odder fumes when subjected to more heat.
To be clear, this is not something I would either recommend or caution against - all I am saying is that if you want to try this on a laminated piece you should do a small test run first and do it in a well ventilated area. But then again, this whole project should be done in a well ventilated area anyway.
Step 2: Prepare the Hole
Drilling the tealight hole should be easy. Here is how it should go:
- put the candle-sized bit into your drill press (or, if you are daring, a hand drill, in which case you seriously should clamp the wood down).
- set the depth-stop to the depth of a tealight (unless your project is so thin that you need a through-hole. In this case add a sacrificial board underneath so you do not drill into your drill press table)
- turn on the drill (press) and drill.
In contrast, let me show you how I made the hole in this project, due to my large forstner bit being ever so slightly not sharp enough. Some of these operations serve to allow drilling to be resumed with a larger forstner bit after the center was removed using a smaller one.
- start with the tealight sized bit and drill an indentation into the wood, a few milimeters/about 1/4'' deep. If this proves not to be tedious, then just drill all the way down and be done with it
- use a slightly smaller forstner bit and do the same inside the the first hole.
- switch to an even smaller one and drill to the desired depth.
- Use a spade bit to hog out material. Chose a bit that is small enough so that the spur can dig into the wood without drifting into the center hole, while still large enough to remove material close to the outer line.
- drill out what you can using the mid-sized forstner bit.
- Finish the hole with the large forstner. As you can see, mine burned the hole quite a bit, which is okay for this project, but definitly something I need to look into.
And last but not least, here is what I should actually have done given my bit's bluntness (other than sharpening it):
- mark the tealight hole using the large forstner bit
- hog out material using spade bits or brad-point bits. A circle of smaller holes around the circumfence combined with a larger spade bit to the center should do the trick nicely.
- drill the final hole with the big bit.
This all is of course assuming that you are doing this for a tealight. If you want to use other sizes of candle then you need to adjust your hole accordingly. You might also use LED lights to light up the final piece, such as a chain of lights, the way to go would be to torch it first, then drill holes into it through which you can poke the LEDs from below.
Step 3: Fire It Up
I think by now the firewood-pun should be obvious. This is wood treated with fire, not meant to be used in a fire.
To do that, I found the best thing to use is a torch with a flexible hose. This makes torching your chunk of wood a lot more flexible. Yes, pun intended. The reason for this is that it allows you to direct the flame, even from above in order to hit the actual tealight hole. Most torches that I know do not take kindly to being tipped over, so that is a real plus for the flexible hose. Of course, if you do have a torch that does work in any orientation then this would work just as well.
This step is actually pretty simple. Turn on the torch, aim at the wood and let it burn. The idea is not to set it on fire, but to keep torching it. It does not matter at all whether it starts to burn of its own volition. It might as well, but you should not be able to see what underneath the fire you are already raining down on it.
Just in case you were wondering, the bottom does not need to be torched, unless you happen to use a piece where for some reason it will be visible.
Needless to say, this should be done outside in a well ventilated area. Guess I needed to say it anyway.
Step 4: Keep Torching
Just keep at it. You are doing fire, I mean, fine. Make sure that you hit all sides and the top equally. No such thing as too much at this point (at least not with my torch). Once the piece has the looks you are looking for - it should be completely blackened at the very least, and the more cracks the better - you can turn off the torch, make sure that it is safely stored before you proceede to the next step.
At this point the piece is likely to smoke quite a bit, and possibly for quite a while. Hence the aforementioned next step.
Step 5: Smoke on the Water
Since we already have the look we want, and who knows what kind of smoldering might be going on beneath the surface, it is time to put a stop to it. Also, this makes it much faster than waiting for it to cool down on its own.
Douse your torched wood with water. Cold water, preferrably, but as long as it is liquid it should serve to cool this piece down. I used water form our rainwater barrel, which was already cold and cheap to boot. Make sure to flood the workpiece well and fill up the hole - a lot of water should vanish into the cracks.
Mine kept smoking for a little while after I doused it, but that is okay. If you want to play it safe, you can submerge it in a container (or the rainwater barrel) for a minute or so. Once you are happy with it - and it feels cold to the touch everywhere - you can turn it upside down and let it dry for a bit. I put mine on a radiator until the next day.
Step 6: Refine the Hole
Since the wood might not be aware that there will be tealights later on, the intense heat might have caused it to move in unexpected and uncalled for ways. On some species this may be more of an issue than with others, but it seems like a good idea to use the actual tealight sized bit to make sure that the hole still fits - especially considering that there will be a coat of epoxy later.
Since the top layers of scorched wood are pretty brittle I used the forstner bit by hand and scraped off what little material there was in the way. Make sure to get rid of all the dust thus created, either with a vacuum or by dumping it outside.
Step 7: Seal It In
While the tealight holder currently looks its best, it is also a rather delicate affair, with charcoal coming off easily and, usually, in an undesired fashion. So I chose to coat it with epoxy resin, mixed according to the manufacturer's instructions.
I wore gloves for the procedure as to not glue myself to anything, and after spreading a thin layer on the outside and in the actual hole I poured the rest of it on the top where most of the small nooks and crannies are. Since the resin I used was pretty thick, it did not actually flow into the texture but covered it up and gave the impression of a solid surface. Since epoxy is close to clear this might not be that bad and actually work out in your favor, but I wanted to be able to feel a little more of those cracks.
To achieve that I used a hot air gun to heat up the resin, which in turn flowed more eagerly into the texture of the burned wood. This treatment will also help release small air bubbles, and, possibly, allow the epoxy to seep into the wood. I do not know about the later, but it held up well enough considering that a tealight holder usually does not experience that much abuse in the first place.
Step 8: Enjoy!
Let it sit and harden for as long as the epoxy's instructions call for, and your work here is done!
In retrospect - apart from the complicated mess I made from drilling a single hole - I would have drilled it less deep in order to make the tealight sit a little higher than it does in the last picture. The way it came out, the light from the candle mainly illuminites the inside walls of the hole. A little higher, and the top surface would receive a lot more attention. Still it works as anticipated, and it should be easy enough to shim the tealight up a little, say, with a piece of thin plywood or a few washers, as long as it remains stable.
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