Introduction: Vintage Ceiling Fixture to Steampunk-esque Table Lamp
I found this old ceiling fixture at a local thrift store sitting upside down on the shelf. It immediately struck my eye as being “right side up” and just as quickly the idea came to me to refurbish it into a table lamp.
This particular fixture may be few and far between, but this Instructable should give you a good idea how easy it can be to turn other ceiling fixtures into a table lamp.
Step 1: Safety
- Mains electricity can be dangerous so be sure to follow proper safety precautions
- NEVER work on a lamp while it's plugged in
- Check that all parts are rated for the current and voltage you are working with
- If you are unsure about something, always consult a licensed electrician or a credible online source for answers
- Use proper safety equipment when working with tools (gloves, safety glasses, etc)
Step 2: Materials & Tools
- Old ceiling fixture (check your local thrift stores or Habitat for Humanity Re-Store)
- Wood for lamp base (I used a scrap wood wheel from an old wagon)
- Wood Stain (your favorite color)
- Lamp cord with plug or Extension Cord (I used the extension cord since I had one already)
- On/Off Switch
- Screw on Wire Connectors (optionally you can use Solder/Flux/Shrink-Tube like I did)
- Galvanized Steel Gutter Guard
- Galvanized wire (or some other wire to tie the gutter guard together)
- Bulbs (I used these Edison style LED Filament Bulbs)
- Thread lock
- Palm or Orbital sander (optional)
- Drill & Bits
- Dremel / Rotary Tool & Diamond Tip Bit
- Wire Strippers
- Tin Snips
- Protective equipment (gloves, safety glasses)
Step 3: Making the Wood Base
I used this old wooden wheel from a toy wagon as the base for the lamp. The wheel was already the right size and just needed refinished. Starting with some 60 grit sandpaper on the palm sander I rounded the edges even, finishing it smooth with 220 grit.
The hole in the center where the axle went was already the perfect size but I needed a new hole to run the cord through the side. I clamped the wood to a secure surface and using a 1/2″ bit, drilled through the side of the wheel to the center.
The fixture mounting bar has long slots that will attach it to the wood (originally to the ceiling electrical box) and two threaded holes where the fixture nuts attach. I centered the bar on the wood and marked all 4 holes.
The fixture nuts are long threaded posts that can be adjusted depending on the needed height for mounting to a ceiling. This leaves a lot of excess length so I drilled an inch deep into the wood to allow the threaded post to go down far enough when screwed into the mounting bar.
With the base drilled and ready, I put 3 coats of Minwax Red Oak stain and finally clear coated it with Minwax Polycrylic Satin.
Step 4: Installing the Switch
I decided to put the switch front and center on the curved edge of the metal fixture base.
First, I used a diamond tip Dremel bit to mark the spot where I wanted the hole. It can be difficult to drill straight/steady on metal and the curved edge makes it even harder. The indent created by the Dremel gives the drill bit a place to steady itself when starting.
This switch also has a special washer with a tab that helps keep it from spinning freely when mounted so I marked another spot with the Dremel below the main hole and drilled it out. The tab would then rest in the smaller hole.
Step 5: Socket Refurbishing (optional)
As I began to do the lamp wiring I could see the original wires were old and rough looking. The insulation around the copper was cracked from age. Looking closely where the wires go through into the socket I noticed you could actually see the copper. That’s no good and downright dangerous! It's important to make sure that any vintage lamp or fixture is inspected for problems. I could have replaced the sockets with brand new ones like these but I opted to refurbish them with new wiring.
The sockets are sealed shut with a rivet preventing easy replacement of the wires. Using a drill bit slightly larger than the rivet hole, I drilled the rivet head until it was released.
I snipped the old wires off the bulb contacts and soldered new 1 1/2 foot long 18AWG wires to them. The center contact is Hot/Live and gets a black wire while the side contact is Neutral and gets a white wire. With the new wires on, I used a small nut and bolt to replace the rivet and hold the socket together.
Step 6: Lamp Wiring
Before attaching the wires together I had to route them through the center pipe. The sockets attach to a plate that have a “hickey” (special threaded coupling) to hold the top half of the lamp and glass together. I fed the wires from the sockets through the opening in the hickey, through the threaded hickey hole, through a lock washer, through the plate and finally through the main pipe.
After the wires were fed through, I put a dab of thread lock on the pipe threads and screwed the hickey onto the pipe until it was snug.
I fed the wires through the hole in the base and the nut that holds the base to the pipe. I used some thread lock and tightened the nut. I made sure to align the light sockets with the holes that hold the lamp base to the wooden base.
The external lamp cord I used is actually a brown extension cord. I measured 6 1/2 feet from the plug, cut the wires, and stripped the ends with wire strippers. The wire was fed through the hole on the side of the wood base and pulled up through the center hole.
We only need a few inches of the plug wire for inside the base and we need to secure the cord so it cannot be pulled out of the fixture. I tied a special knot in the cord called the Underwriter’s Knot to keep the cord secure and the lamp internals safe in case the cord is yanked somehow.
I opted to use solder and heat shrink tubing to wire everything together. If all of your parts have wire leads on them, you can use screw on wire connectors for a much easier build.
Strip the insulation off all the socket wires first. The white wires from the sockets attach to the ribbed wire on the lamp cord which is the neutral wire. The black wires from the sockets attach to one side of the switch and the smooth wire from the lamp cord attaches to the other side of the switch which is the hot wire.
Step 7: Lamp Assembly
I adjusted the wires in the base so they were out of the way of the screws and set the lamp on the wood base. Shining a flashlight into the holes on top of the lamp base, I rotated it until I saw the threaded hole on the mounting bar. I dropped the screws in the holes and twisted a little to get them started on the threads. The lamp base was centered on the wood base and finally the screws tightened.
There is a metal piece to cover the socket wiring at the top. I put that on first, then a lock washer and nut (with thread lock). A cloth washer helps protects the glass which went on next and I added a brass washer to give it some more stability.
I screwed in the 2 LED Bulbs, put the glass on top, the brass washer next and lastly the decorative finial. I plugged it in, flipped the switch and voila, light!
Step 8: Final Touches (Light Dampening Screen)
The two LED bulbs output a LOT of light. They each output about the same light as a 20W bulb but only consume around 2W each. This lamp is meant to be more decorative so to dim the light output I decided to add a mesh around the bulbs to soften the light output.
I picked up these galvanized gutter guards at the local home improvement store that just needed some trimming to fit inside the glass. I first cut a strip of paper and wrapped it around the inside of the glass cover to determine the length of mesh I would need and cut a piece of mesh with tin snips. This can be sharp so wear gloves. A large food can was used as a ‘form’ to help bend the mesh into a cylinder shape. Then, I used tin snips to cut the correct height.
I used some galvanized wire to secure where the mesh end pieces met, forming a cylinder shape. The wire is fed through holes on both edges of the cylinder and twisted together. One twist on each end and one in the middle was enough. The metal mesh holds itself in place inside the glass without anything for support.
The addition of the metal mesh gives it a more industrial / steampunk look, don’t you think? I really love how it turned out!