Introduction: Iron Pipe Lamp With Cast Concrete Base
I've been tinkering around with the idea of putting together one of those iron pipe lamps that suddenly seem to be showing up all over the place. I also keep seeing cool stuff cast out of concrete and wanted to give that a go while I was at it.
That said, I'm not by any means a professional electrician. I'm just a DIYer and wanted to try this out. I've looked at a lot of these and read a lot of the safety concerns that people have had with poorly constructed ones and hopefully I've got all that covered here. Be careful, don't do anything you aren't comfortable with, and if you aren't 100% sure of your own safety attempting something like this, then don't.
That said, here's my take on an iron pipe lamp with a concrete base.
Step 1: Parts and Prep
I wanted to use 3/4" iron pipe and I wanted to incorporate a valve, and make the valve functional. Here's the parts and tools needed:
3/4" floor plate (1)
3/4" close (1)
3/4" 90 degree elbow (3)
3/4" 90 degree street (1)
3/4" x 4" pipe nipple (1)
3/4" x 5" pipe nipple (1)
3/4" x 6" pipe nipple (1)
3/4" x 8" pipe nipple (1)
3/4" x 1/2" reducing coupling
3/8" x 6" pipe nipple (1)
3/8" 90 degree street (1)
1" x 3/4" hex bushing (2)
1" brass gate valve (1)
small piece of 1/4" ID tubing
rotary switch (1)
1/8" female x 1/4" male brass fitting (1)
1/4" female x 3/8" male brass fitting (1)
1/2" x 1/8" lamp nipple (1) (the hollow ones)
bulb socket (1) I used this
grounded 3 wire electrical cord
Portland cement (I used the white stuff)
various screws, fasteners, and the paint of your choice
Really not too much needed in the tool department...iron pipe and concrete are pretty easy to work with
soldering iron/heat gun/heat shrink (or wire nuts and electrical tape)
Step 2: Building the Base
First, you'll want to find something suitable to use as a mold for casting your base. I used an old Tupperware I had laying around.
**If you use something relatively flimsy like Tupperware, make sure your mold is sitting on a flat, level surface while the concrete sets, otherwise the weight of the concrete will twist and warp your mold and you'll have to do a lot of extra work to get your lamp to sit level.
I wanted to have easy access to change out or repair any electrical component of this if I ever needed to, so I set some pipes into the concrete to run the wires through.
Assemble the 3/8"x6" iron pipe with the 3/8" 90 degree street elbow. This will be what your power cord runs through to actually power the lamp. In retrospect, I should have just used a regular 90 degree elbow instead of the street elbow. The opening on the street elbow is tight enough that I had a hard time getting the power wires fished through. I also should have run the wires before setting the pipe in concrete, but I was being lazy and didn't want to drill that big a hole in the side of the Tupperware. I also didn't have anything to seal the hole with on hand and was concerned about concrete leaking out before it set.
I then used a couple pieces of coat hanger and rigged up something to hold the pipe where I wanted it. I ended up putting a small hole in the end of the Tupperware and ran hanger through the pipe, then bent it over at the end to help hold the pipe flush against the side of the Tupperware. Then I just bent up a coil of hanger wire and set it under the pipe and bent it until it held it at the right height.
I tried suspending it and a few other things, but coat hanger isn't very forgiving in that application and I didn't have any string close at hand. In any case, it ended up working out just fine.
You can see in the photo after the concrete has been poured that the end of the street pipe protrudes just a bit above the concrete. This is going to be positioned directly under the floor plate which supports the lamp, so make sure that it's centered and positioned accordingly when you're securing the pipe.
Then I mixed up the concrete. Let me preface this part by saying that I've never used concrete before. I brought home the bag of Portland cement, read the back, and was a little intimidated by all the warnings. Use your protective equipment here-don't breathe that dust and keep your skin and eyes protected. If you haven't used it before, believe me when I say that concrete dust gets everywhere.
I mixed the concrete in gallon size plastic bags and just kept adding water until I got a uniform consistency and all the concrete was wet. Once it was mixed up well I just poured it in my mold, taking care not to pour it into the pipe. I ended up having to do two bags this way in order to fill it up to the depth I wanted in the mold I was using. I mixed it up a bit inside of the mold to ensure uniformity. Then just let that concrete sit and cure for a few days. I left it for the weekend.
Step 3: Meanwhile, Valves and Paint and Such
While the concrete cures, you can take some time and prep the rest of your parts.
The pipe comes coated in an oily residue to protect it from rust. I'd recommend cleaning all that gunk off unless you want your hands to change color whenever you handle the lamp. Soap and water works, or goof off if it's really bad, or any number of other methods strewn about other pipe projects. I usually use simple green or just plain dish soap, a sacrificial sponge, and some good old fashioned elbow grease. Be careful and take your time. Occasionally there will be some sharp edges from the manufacturing and thread cutting-I've gotten small cuts all over my fingers more than once cleaning iron pipe. Once all that is finished, if you're worried about corrosion, either paint all your parts or use a clear enamel to protect it. Just be careful to protect the threads when you do this. I just left mine as bare metal.
I ended up using a galvanized pipe floor fitting, mainly because I'm a combination of lazy and impatient, and HD was out of black pipe floor fittings in the size that I wanted. Since it wasn't going to match the black pipe, I decided to paint it. My modified brass valve (more on that in a minute) obviously won't match either, so I decided to at least make them match each other and spray painted them. I used the rustoleum hammered finish paint. Don't ask me what color, because I'm colorblind, HD's shelves are a mess, and they don't do the courtesy of printing the color on the can. I picked what I thought would look good and went with that. While I was at it I painted the handle red. (photos 1-3)
As for the valve/switch, I basically stole the design from this. I used a 1" brass gate valve. I initially tried to use a 3/4" valve but I couldn't get the switch to fit inside it. Maybe the switch I picked up at HD was just too big, or maybe the author's advice about not using gate valves has some merit. In any case, even with a 1" valve, I still had to do some modifications. Photo 4 is of the gate after it's been removed. The gate comes out very easily-just threads off once the stem is out. Photo 5 shows the valve stem after it's been removed. I then trimmed down the stem with a hacksaw, (marked in photo 6) and bored out the inside of the actual valve (where the gate passes through) with the biggest hole saw I had that wouldn't mess up the threads on the valve. A drill press is extremely useful for this-don't think I'd have the patience to do it with a hand drill. Also, the right kind of drill bit makes all the difference in the world. For some reason I tried to bore it out with a spade bit at first, before I remembered that I've got a decent assortment of hole saws lying around that are actually meant to cut metal. Went a lot easier after that. Once all that's done, the switch fit inside the valve. A small piece of 1/4" ID tubing fit just tight enough over both the remaining valve stem and the knob of the rotary switch to allow the valve to actuate the switch. I thought about securing the switch in place with a bit of epoxy, but it seems to fit tight enough that I'm really not worried about it. With all that done, the valve can be reassembled as a functioning electrical switch.
Step 4: Break the Mold and Clean Up the Base
I didn't take any pictures of this step. It's pretty straightforward. The concrete base slid easily out of the mold with practically no effort or manipulation. From there I used some 60 grit sandpaper followed by some 120 grit to clean up and smooth out the surface of the concrete. I'm not looking to polish it or make it glassy smooth so that was sufficient for my purposes.
Step 5: Fish the Wire and Make Some Connections
One of the biggest concerns I always see in the comments section of these types of lamps is safety, particularly in the fact that these things are built by people who aren't electricians, are electrically conductive, and are ungrounded. This is a gift for my girlfriend, and I decided I really didn't want to accidentally kill her via electrical shock, so I'm grounding my lamp and doing my best to make sure that all the connections are clean, safe, and secure. My lamp would have inadvertently been a death machine the first time I plugged it in had I not grounded it. The hot wire accidently got mashed in the threads of one of the pipes, turning every metal component of the lamp live. If those metal components weren't grounded, the first time I grabbed the knob to turn on the lamp I'd have shocked the hell out of myself. Instead, all that happened was a blown circuit breaker, and an hour of troubleshooting and disassembling and re-assembling the lamp. Moral of the story, Be careful, ground your lamp, and if you don't know what you're doing with electrical work, get help from someone who does.
A. Fish the grounded wire through the base
First, place the floor plate on the concrete base and mark where the mounting holes will go. The center hole of the floor plate should be centered above the exit point for your power cable (the end of the 3/8" street elbow embedded in the concrete). Then move on to the electrical.
I wanted a low profile wall plug and this was the only thing I could find when I was out buying parts. Just cut off the three outlet banana tap, then fish the cut end of the wire all the way through the pipe set in concrete. This may be a bit tricky as the 3/8" pipe has a fairly narrow diameter in comparison to grounded wire. I pulled some string through the conduit and attempted to use that to pull the wire through. As soon as it got to the elbow, the string broke. I thought about using thicker/stronger string, but that would only make the whole thing bulkier to try and pull through that tight elbow. Then I tried splitting the wire and pushing through one wire at a time. This seemed to work at first. Got the first wire through with no problem. But then I could never seem to get the second wire to follow it around the bend. Finally, I ended up pushing through one wire, and trimming back the other two. I wrapped a bit of electrical tape around the cut wires to make them smoother, then used the one wire already through to pull the whole assembly through. That did the trick and my power line was finally fished through. I pulled through about 5 extra feet of wire to fish through the pipes to the bulb.
The ground wire (the center one) gets bolted to the bottom of the floor plate. Cut it short, leaving about 5 feet extra (depending on your lamp design) of the other two wires, and bolt the ground wire in place. I covered the connection in epoxy to minimize any chance of corrosion.
Once the epoxy set, I secured the floor plate to the concrete base. I drilled out a hole for the bolt holding the ground wire and a path for the ground wire so that the floor plate would still sit flush on the concrete. Then I used masonry screws and screwed down the floor plate with the three remaining mounting holes.
**A quick note here: use the right size drill bit for the concrete screws you're using. I didn't have the right size. I drilled one with a size up and the hole was too loose. The next hole I drilled I used a size down, and cracked the concrete in half and had to start over. On attempt two I ended up setting the floorplate in the unset concrete. It sunk into the wet concrete, creating a whole other mess of issues I had to fix on the fly and didn't photograph, which is why my final pictures don't exactly match what's shown on this page.
B. Start fishing
**Note: Make sure these get screwed in tight, or your lamp will be wobbly and move when you touch it**
Once your [UNPLUGGED] power cord is through the base, properly grounded, and the floorplate installed, you can begin fishing the wire through the lamp assembly. Being 3/4" pipe, it should be easy to fish the wire through. Start with the pipe 3/4" close nipple. It gets screwed directly to the floor plate.
Next, assemble 2 90 degree elbows on each end of the 4" pipe nipple. Fish the wire through and screw the assembly to the base. Follow this with the 6" nipple and a 1" x 3/4" hex bushing. At this point, you'll need to do some electrical work.
Step 6: Splice the Hot Wire
Wire the Switch
Grab your valve switch assembly. Make sure one wire is coming out each end of the valve. Using a sharp knife, separate the hot and common wire on the piece of lamp wire. Cut the hot wire (the smooth one). The common wire will be ridged. Leave yourself about 6" of wire above the end of the pipe assembly to work with. Strip the end coming out of the base of the lamp. Twist the wire together with the loose wire coming out of the bottom side of your valve switch, solder, and heatshrink. (*note: this will leave you with a terminated wire, so make sure you don't forget to thread the heat shrink onto the wire before soldering.) Push the rest of the lamp wire through the valve switch assembly, and do the same on the top of the valve assembly with the hot wire -- twist, solder, heat shrink. Once the connections are made, screw the valve in place, and make sure the rotary switch still works. Mine clicks audibly so it's easy to test. You've got a lot jammed in that valve at this point so it's a good time to make sure it still seems to be functioning correctly.
Next, assemble another 1" x 3/4" hex bushing to the end of the 8" pipe nipple. Feed the wire through and screw it into the valve switch. Next is another 90 degree elbow and the 5" pipe nipple. The last part before it starts to get weird is the 90 degree street elbow. Once that's in place, we start the assemble to actually mount the bulb.
The biggest thing that's held me back from making this is how to actually mount the bulb. I've seen a lot of shoddy connections on these things. And when they aren't shoddy or weak, they seemed most often to not really give good details on how they actually got it together. I finally found a couple good ones that used brass fittings to mount the bulb socket securely. I like the stability, I didn't like combining the brass with the iron pipe (for purely aesthetic reasons). I thought about painting the brass fittings to match the valve and the base plate, but then I found what I think is a pretty cool solution that conceals the brass fittings.
Mounting the bulb socket
Next, you'll need a 3/8" male x 1/4" female bushing, and a 1/4" male by 1/8" female bushing. Screw them together and thread the wire through, with the 3/8" male threads facing towards the end of the 90 degree street bushing. Obviously, the two parts aren't made to fit together this way. Force thread the brass fitting into the inside of the street elbow. Use a pipe wrench to make sure it really gets in there tight. FYI, if you do this again and again like I did, you'll eventually grind away the brass threads and it won't fit in tight anymore. I used some 5 minute epoxy on the joint to take care of that and make sure it stays. Next, fish the wire through a 1/2" long lamp nipple (a hollow piece of 1/8" pipe thread-find it in the lighting section with the other lamp kits and such). Finally, screw the 3/4" x 1/2" reducer onto the street elbow over top of all the brass fittings. Now, you can trim the wire down, making sure to leave yourself enough to wire the actual lamp socket.
Wire the socket
Take the end cap off of your bulb socket. Go ahead and thread the wire through and screw the cap onto the lamp nipple inside the reducer. Connect the hot (smooth) wire to the brass screw on the bulb socket, and the common (ribbed) wire to the silver screw. Shove any excess wire back into the pipe assembly, then push the bulb socket into the cap until it clicks securely in place.
Step 7: Finally...
Mount the bulb protector to the bulb socket, and install the bulb of your choice. Put some felt feet on the bottom of the concrete base (I secured mine with epoxy, since nothing sticks well to concrete).
Plug that beautiful chunk of iron and concrete in and enjoy the ambience.