Sculpted by Fire

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Introduction: Sculpted by Fire

Before and After Contest 2016

Runner Up in the
Before and After Contest 2016

Make It Glow! Contest

First Prize in the
Make It Glow! Contest

Sometimes I my quest for firewood I discover some unique trees, or parts of trees. This is a project made from one of those finds. I found this in an area that had been burned over years ago. Many of the willow trees were alive when it burned and so the wood was only partially consumed by the flames leaving interesting looking results. I couldn't help but think of them as being sculpted by the fire.

This one piece inspired my imagination as it actually looked like a flame in its shape and I wondered what it would look like if I put a light in the middle. This instructable is about the results of that and how the final results were achieved.

Step 1: An Unusual Piece of Wood

Although it was very weathered a lot of this willow log was still sound. One of its more interesting characteristics is the burl that it has. In this case it was caused by the tree trying to put out new branches over and over again from the same place. Burl is often sought after by woodworkers because it has unique grain patterns inside. This tree really struggled to survive before the fire finally finished it. I thought it would be fitting to make it into something rather than just using it for firewood. The top part of the tree had been burned away which left the center of the tree open and that meant it could easily be bored out.

The tree took relatively little work to clean up. I wanted to preserve as much of its natural weathered look as possible. In fact I would have loved to have left it unfinished. But the problem with that was the chard parts. The black coals still left would rub off on everything and leave charcoal marks and a mess. So after cleaning off the dirt and some of the rotten parts I went over the entire thing with a clear finish to seal it. I used an oil finish in large part because it would not mix with the char but instead coat it and seal it. I bought a satin finish one but it didn't look satin when it dried. It did work very nicely to seal the charcoal which now can be touched with none of it coming off. Since Willow is a dark reddish brown wood the overall color took on that tint. It looked pretty good with the streaks of weathered gray running through it. Overall I liked the result.

Step 2: The Inspiration for the Light

I have been working a lot with LED's lately and thought that one of these little 10 watt ones would work perfect for the light for this. It is small and uses very little power. The real problem was trying to figure out how to set up a heat sink. Even though this light has a low power use it does generate heat so it has to have a heat sink to prevent it from burning out. It occurred to me that I could use a copper pipe, left over water pipe, to both mount the LED and draw off any heat. Copper is a very good heat sink metal so it should be adequate for the job.

Checking the size of the LED I found that it would fit perfectly on a copper cap for one inch pipe. Using a reducer to go from 1 inch to three quarters inch gave me a bump in pipe dimensions which I could use to help secure the pipe in the log. The pipe gave me a conduit to run the wires and it removed the heat from the light. A near perfect solution.

I decided to use an amber color LED so it would look more like a flame.

These LED's are pretty cheap, less than $2. And if you get it with the power supply its under $5 usually. They are supposed to have a 50,000 life span so it's likely it will never need to be replaced.

If you look at the LED closely you will see that it is on a thick aluminum base. This is where the heat transfer happens. The little tabs on the sides are for connecting the wires, + and -. You need to use as little heat as possible when soldering wires to these. The mounting screws also serve as a heat transfer mechanism. So they both secure the LED in place and help dissipate heat. You need to use heat sink compound to mount the LED especially since the copper cap is not flat. It has a lot of gaps.

A trial run of the LED was very successful. It warmed up the copper and kept itself cool. After being on for several hours the copper was warm enough to comfortably hold with you hand. More amazing, the LED itself stayed cool enough that you could put your finger directly on the LED with no discomfort. Put in place in the log it all fit and worked like I hoped. And I loved the amber color light.

By the way if you are not familiar with soldering copper pipe there are instructables that will show you how its done. Or if you have a friend who can do it that is good also. The joints for this do NOT have to be water tight. They are to keep the pipes together. However, DO NOT use glue instead of solder. Glue will not transmit heat and so will prevent the heat flow that it is intended for.

Step 3: A Base to Hold It Up

I decided to make a base out of 2 X 4. The light with the log is not heavy so a softwood like fir should be OK.

I had a 2 x 4 that had some interesting looking grain. Looking at the end I could see that it was cut from the middle of the tree. This can sometimes be a problem as this kind of thing can warp or separate. In order to help minimize this risk and also because it looks cool I decided to miter cut the corners. So I had a large square piece for the middle with mitered pieces going around.

If you ever do this kind of thing keep in mind that you don't have to be married to your tape measure to do it. You cut to fit rather than cut to measurement. If you make a mistake and cut one piece a little short that is not a problem. All you need to do is re-cut everything else to match the size. The angles need to be dead on though or your joints will have gaps in them and not fit together correctly.

I used a biscuit joiner to get the boards lined up and speed up the gluing. You don't need to use one but they are nice to have. Just make sure to get them cut correctly otherwise you can have problems.

Step 4: Finished Base

I used several different sanders and papers to sand the base. A belt sander is good for starters because it can remove a lot of material. But it can also be to aggressive and leave marks, especially in soft woods like pine. An orbital sander is a lot more controllable.

I decided to round over the edges. I could have done a lot of different router edges but the simple rounded over one looks the best sometimes.

After sanding there were a few little mistakes that showed up. I filled in with wood putty and then sanded with a fine paper.

For legs I used the left over pieces cut off with the miter saw. So I glued and screwed a triangle onto each corner. I like the way it turned out. The base has to be raised up a little to allow for the wires and copper and power driver for the LED.

I used the same finish I used for the log. Again not that happy with it. I might try going over the whole thing with fine steel wool to give it a low luster look. I haven't decided yet.

Step 5: Making a Hole Down the Middle

To drill the hole in the middle I used several drills and bits. My current large auger bits were not long enough to reach all the way through. So I started with a long thin bit that was long enough to go the whole way. Then drill out the rest from the top and the bottom.

You might notice that the bottom of the log is not solid. There was a lot of rotted spots in the middle. Of course this made it easy to drill out the core but once that was done I needed to stabilize it. So I turned it upside down and drizzled a bunch of wood glue into it. After that dried I switched to liquid nails and filled some of the voids with that. That is what the white looking stuff is. The glue firmed everything up and help make it possible to mount it to the base.

I thought about filling it with that foaming stuff but decided against it because of the possibility of it expanding to much and breaking apart my log.

Another note --- Keep in mind that a 3/4 inch pipe will take a bigger hole than 3/4 inch. The size is the inside diameter of the pipe not the outside. The same is true for any size, you will need a bit bigger than what the pipe is.

Step 6: Heatsink

Once I had the copper pipe with the light in the correct spot I marked the pipe so I could cut it for the base. The idea was to spread the bottom of the pipe so it would act like a heat sink.

I used my small Dremel saw with a metal cutting blade to make the cuts. It went very fast as opposed to trying it with a hand saw. Remember, copper does not produce sparks but that does not mean that the stuff coming from the blade is not hot. Use protective cloths.

Step 7: Final Mounting

To find the spot to drill on the base is pretty simple. Put the log in place with the pipe in it and then push down and twist the pipe. It will leave you a nice perfect mark for where to drill the hole.

The same can't be said for putting in screws. There was only a certain amount of sound wood in this stump that could hold a screw. The trick was finding those spots. A tape measure helps. You can try and eyeball it but you will miss more often that way. I used 3 1/2 inch screws to go through the base and into the log. You can tell when you hit good wood and when you miss.

Step 8: Finished Project -- the Light That Glows From Within

I have to say I am happy with the way it all turned out. Besides the log itself looking really dramatic the effect of the light is really nice. It lights up the inside of the log and shines onto the chard trunk with an orange glow. It also produces an interesting shadow effect on the ceiling.

Using only 10 watts of power it can work as a night light all by itself, in which case it has the effect of still having a fire inside it. With the other room lights on it adds an interesting accent and at the right angles you can see the glint of the amber LED. It's pretty cool.

I guess I will have to look for some more of this to try other projects.

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44 Comments

Cool Idea, turned out really nice.

this is amazing! Very well done, and I must say the heat sink idea is excellent. I'll be using that idea for sure!

This looks very good indeed. Can imagine it as a top of a wizard's staff or a interesting prop for aquarium.

This is great, inspiring project, well done. I think this would make an awesome gift. Plus it seems fun to build.

The light inside really makes it look like the wood is on fire still - glowing embers like. I kind of like it better if the rest of the wood wasn't shiny and shellacked or varnished looking. Maybe for the charcoaled parts to hold them together, prevent flaking off, but a nice oil finish without the glossiness would have seemed a bit more natural. Still, a good project! Thanks for sharing!

The finish was supposed to be satin, low gloss, but it dried more like a gloss. I have been thinking of going over it with steel wool to cut the gloss. I will try it as soon as I get a chance. The nice thing is if it doesn't look good I can just put on another coat of finish.

Heh heh heh - good idea with the steel wool. Or maybe light sand blasting? Might be easier with the steel wool... 'C) So true about reverting it if it doesn't work out. Would an oil - let's say, Danish Oil / Tung Oil have worked as well?

great work! seems really nice!

can you share what brand of finish oil you used?

I used an oil base polyurethane made by Cabot. It was supposed to be a satin finish but came out more like a semigloss. It took a while for the oil smell to go away but once it was totally dry it is odor free. It is a nice tough finish that is not bothered by moisture and it has kept the charcoal from the burnt parts sealed so there is no material rubbing off on anything. I think the the best way to apply it would be to work outside on a warm and calm day in the shade and then let it season for a week so most of the oil smell abates.