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A campfire is the perfect thing to warm up a room, but since I don't own where I live I don't think I can build a fire in the center of the hardwood floors and still get my deposit back. But that's okay, because I can make a fake campfire.

Perfect for:

movie nights
indoor camping
dinner party centerpieces
romance
night lights
Halloween
couch forts
adventurer clubs
school plays
having fires in rooms without fireplaces
rainy afternoons

Just look how practical it is!

The inspiration for this project is two parts - one, my inability to walk past wall of clearanced after Christmas LED twinkle lights without buying some, and the other is the video of a fireplace my grandparents had at the holidays with it's convincing illusion of warmth.

Step 1: Supplies

- Blender (or other 3D modeler, optional)
- 123D
- chipboard
- lots of wood glue (white glue would work, but last time I was shopping for it I bought the wood glue gallon size, so I used that!)
- tissue paper, about 30-40 sheets (recycling packaging is A.O.K. here)
- wall repair plaster
- water based paint
- battery powered LED lights, preferably with a "twinkle" setting

Do NOT use incandescent lights for this. It is literal and figurative kindling - if you want to start a real fire go do it outside or in a fireplace. LEDs generate less heat and are a lot safer. If you're planning to run it a lot and leave it unattended, give the whole thing a coat of a fire retardant - you can order it online.

Step 2: 3D

There are a lot of ways you could build a thing like this. I like to be pretty confident in a project before I start using actual materials, so I 3D modeled it first. Then I sliced it up with 123D and had it laser cut from chipboard.

Want to make the exact same thing? In the 123D community search "campfire" and you'll be able to find these exact pieces.

This is, in many ways, a campfire playset - a ring of "rocks" and a few logs to stack onto the fire. I originally made embers, too, but my LEDs were too weak to really glow through. I ditched the embers and just used the lights.


I made the parts in Blender. I wanted the rocks to look like mountain rocks (as opposed to beach rocks) so I started with a ring of icosahedrons and I moved the points around to soften them into rounder shapes. I joined them and exported as an .obj for 123D, which is a lot less picky about files than 3D printers are.

The logs, as you probably guessed, are based on cylinders.

Step 3: Slotting Together

If you loved those little slot together animal puzzles as a kid, you're in for a treat. The pieces from 123D come with numbers to guide what slots together with what. You can also play an animation in the program to show you how to do it.

But when it comes to using real materials, you'll probably have to assemble part of it, then glue some, then assemble more. It's smart to test assemble all of it before gluing anything. The more glue you use, the more stability the parts will have.

Assemble and glue it all, then let it set overnight before continuing with the next steps.

Step 4: Paper Mache

There are a lot of ways to paper mache. This is my favorite because it dries really hard and drum tight.

Tear down some tissue paper, aiming for 1 inch wide strips (at least to start.)

Apply a line of (wood or white) glue to a strip of paper. Wrap that around the form. Add some more strips, up to 4 or 5.

Mix some more glue with some water - the best ratio is so that the mix is just a little thicker than water. Brush that over the strips, making sure it runs under the edges. Let that dry, the tissue will tighten as it does. Repeat.

The form will be very fragile for a while, but after you accumulate 4-5 layers of tissue over the whole thing it will be really sturdy and smooth.

Make sure to add layers in different directions and angles to increase the strength.

Step 5: Faux Bark and Stone

I used wall plaster to create a natural texture over the paper mache. The pre-mixed kind is the easiest to use. Apply it with a putty knife for smooth areas and bark, or with you (gloved) fingers for softer rock shapes. Layer it on and let it dry completely.

If you want crack lines - useful for emulating bark - put a thick coat of plaster on and set it in front of a fan to rapidly dry.

If you want really big crack lines apply a thick coat of plaster, let it set up for a few minutes, then apply a coat of water based paint. The different drying times of the two materials will make the lines larger.

This step is really simple - don't over think it, just try to make it look wild.

Step 6: Paint

I have a lot of real wood in my home (check out my other instructables!) so I knew that it was unlikely I could faux paint this well enough to look absolutely real. Since it is a completely for fun piece I decided to go with a grey/black/white palette so that it would look like a black and white photo of a campfire.

Water based acrylic or latex paint is a good idea because it helps to stabilize the plaster. (After a few weeks the plaster will be cured enough to not crack, plaster is like that.)

Fresh plaster devours paint, so expect this to take a few coats.

Step 7: Lighting the Fire

As I mentioned earlier, I had embers to go over the LEDs, but these are too dim to power through (look out for "super long battery life" labels if you want to avoid the same fate.)

I arranged the lights inside the ring of rocks, added the batteries, and set the logs over the top. Once it's turned on it's pretty convincing, especially for really just being a stylized lamp!


(The light in some pictures looks blue - that's from the long exposure photos, it's much more yellow in real life!)
Great Idea. I really love it. What was it about the embers that didn't work? Although they aren't essential, it's the small things that aren't noticed that make it all come together.
get some red plastic wrap and make flames and place a fan with the light and you have faux flames..
I decided against using a fan because if you're close to the faux fire and you're feeling a cool breeze it pretty much kills the illusion of warmth.
Ha! This is awesome. I don't have a wall fireplace so this would be a great alternative :)
Thank you! I spend so much time trying to make really practical projects that it was fun to make something that was purely for fun once!
This is so cool! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks!

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