Introduction: Water Valve Light Switch for a Pipe Lamp

Picture of Water Valve Light Switch for a Pipe Lamp

I'd seen some steampunk style desk lamps made using pipe with water valves as the switch, and wanted to do something similar for a set of lighted bookshelves made with pipe. Desk lamps using valves as switches are a dime a dozen on Etsy, but finding a source with a good explanation of what components were used to build them was difficult. A good one I found was this one, but the switch only looks like a valve and wasn't made using a real valve. However, that instructable pointed me to some really compact rotary on/off switches and that was the key to me getting mine made. Total cost for my project was a little over $15, but I've since discovered I could have done it for a few dollars less.

[Update: See this Instructable for how I've used the switch. Lighted Pipe Supported Shelves]

Step 1: Parts and Tools List:

Picture of Parts and Tools List:

For my water valve light switch I used a Mueller Industries, Proline 1/2" shut off valve (105-003NL) and a Carling Technologies R-135-BL rotary switch. I found the switch at and picked it up at a local facility near me for $6.25. I later saw that Lowes has a very similar switch that appears to be the same size for just over $3. This switch can handle 3 amps at 120V or 5 amps at 12V. It cycles through on/off in a clockwise direction each quarter turn. The water valve was a stocked item at a local Ace Hardware for about $9 but Lowes has them too. As I write this, I can't find either on the Lowes website, but I know they are a typically stocked item. Don't get a gate valve. You need the kind pictured in the cutaway where the water enters, goes through a vertical hole and out the other side. The fit is very snug in the 1/2" valve. If you don't mind using a 3/4" valve, it will all fit much easier, but might need some epoxy holding everything in place.

This switch fits inside this valve almost perfectly. Test other brands to see if they fit together as well.

Tools Required:

  • Adjustable wrench or several sizes of box wrenches.
  • A vice will be helpful in removing the bonnet nut.
  • Screwdriver
  • Drill press and bits suitable for brass, or some other way to remove threads from inside a piece (step 6)
  • Hot glue gun or epoxy (JB Weld recommended)
  • Loctite thread glue

Tools Recommended:

  • Dremel with a brass brush or something else that can smooth burrs from drilling.

Step 2: Remove Handle

Picture of Remove Handle

Most valves have a screw at the center of the handle you can remove to be able to remove the handle from the stem. This particular valve has a small nut. Turn the handle to raise the valve to full open before removing it. A later step will be easier if the valve is in the open position. Whichever is the case with the valve you use, remove whatever is holding the handle on and set the handle pieces aside.

Step 3: Remove the Packing Nut and Washer

Picture of Remove the Packing Nut and Washer

With a small adjustable wrench, remove the packing nut from the valve body and slide the washer off the stem and set them aside. You'll need the packing nut later, but not the washer.

Step 4: Remove the Bonnet Nut (difficult)

Picture of Remove the Bonnet Nut (difficult)

Remove the bonnet from the valve body. It will likely be extremely tight, so you probably won't be able to simply hold the valve body in one hand and turn the wrench with the other. I had a vice available that I used to hold the valve body while I applied a wrench to the bonnet and got it free. It's possible that threading a length of pipe into the valve might give enough leverage to do it without a vice.

Step 5: Remove the Valve Washer

Picture of Remove the Valve Washer

A screw holds a washer onto the bottom of the valve stem and will need to be removed for the switch to fit inside. You won't be reusing the screw and washer for this 1/2" valve, but they might be useful if you are using a 3/4" valve or some other brand.

Step 6: Drill Out Stem Threads From Inside Bonnet Nut

Picture of Drill Out Stem Threads From Inside Bonnet Nut

The stem will thread out of the bonnet nut at this point, but the stem needs to spin freely and not raise and lower once the switch is placed inside. Either the threads inside the bonnet nut have to be drilled out or the threads on the stem need to be ground off. I chose to drill out the threads using a drill press. [Update: Commenter jhonsvick reports that the brass is soft enough that he had success by simply gripping the stem with pliers and twisting for a few minutes to grind the threads off.] With gloves and safety glasses, I simply held the bonnet nut firmly with a wrench and ran the drill press at a slower speed so I didn't hurt myself if it got away from me, I was able to start with small bits and work my way up to a 1/2" bit, drilling out the threads. Do as much as is needed for the stem to spin freely inside the bonnet nut. In my case, a Dremel with a brass brush smoothed out the burrs nicely to help the stem spin smoothly without any catches.

Step 7: Insert the Switch

Picture of Insert the Switch

Thread the wires through the hole in the valve seat and out the side of the valve. Using JBWeld or other high quality adhesive, carefully center the knob on the bottom of the stem and glue them together. Hint: Use a dab of hot glue first to get it positioned just right. It's easier to break it free, clean it off and start over, than the JB Weld would be. Then use the JB Weld around the perimeter. Let the glue or epoxy harden before proceeding.

One person contacted me asking about how to do this if the position of the valve required the wiring to pass through it. I suggested drilling a hole through the partition that divides left from right (you can see it in the cutaway image), and he confirmed that he was able to make that work.

Step 8: Reassembly

Picture of Reassembly

With the switch and stem in place, thread the bonnet nut on far enough to hold, but not so far that it starts to bind on the knob. You want the stem/knob to turn easily. Go ahead and attach the handle onto the stem at this point and hold the wires in place so the whole switch isn't trying to rotate inside the valve.

Drip hot glue or use your screwdriver to spread some epoxy inside the valve where the wires come out to prevent the knob from spinning inside the valve and causing the wires to twist. Be careful to not put so much in, or tip the valve, so that anything gets into the upper valve area. If you use epoxy, let it dry overnight.

Attention: If you ever want to be able to disassemble the valve, omit the epoxy or glue on the wire side of the switch. You'll need something there to prevent the switch from spinning, but maybe something like plumbers putty pressed firmly into place would work and still be removable later. There's also the possibility of using the locking nut that came with the switch, but attempting to get it threaded onto the switch threads deep inside that hole would require more patience and a steadier hand than I possess.

Step 9: Finished

Picture of Finished

After the epoxy has dried, loosen the bonnet nut, apply some loctite to it's threads and retighten it to it's final position where the handle turns smoothly with a click, click, click, at each quarter turn.


aljones (author)2014-10-24

One of the best shares on the net I've seen yet thanks for helping us understand the mechanics of putting this together.

Fellintothefire (author)2014-10-07

Your step-by-step instructions - including exact names and sources for the components - make this one of the smoothest projects I've ever done. Everything went as you said. I did grind down the screw instead of drill out the bolt, and can confirm that both methods work the same way. I also threaded the switch nut onto the switch while it was in the valve. It went on in the first attempt, using a pencil to turn the nut. That made gluing it easy. Thanks you SO MUCH for the tutorial!

Awesome! I'm glad to know the other option worked for you. Did you see my shelves that I put the switch into?

BayramK4 (author)2017-10-25

I live in Turkey. Where can I get the lamp swiches for the valve. I am having trouble in the meantime, but there is no problem in e-bay or Aliexpress, but there is no product. Please help me

SirCooksalot (author)2017-07-15

Great ible! One question- when it says in step 7 "carefully center the knob on the stem" does the knob refer to the switch? So I'm going to basically epoxy the switchs top to the sorta cup shaped bottom of the stem? Thanks so much!

JenniferS298 (author)2016-10-12

Is there any other way to grind off the threads, if you don't have a drill press? I pretty much only have a dremel ... :-P

You could use a Dremel to grind off the threads on the stem or on the female part... probably easier to grind off the stem threads, with a grinding wheel or even a cut off wheel. Last resort, as noted, just use any means to get one set of threads flattened.

VelvetElvis (author)2017-02-22

Something I learned the hard way when epoxying the switch to the valve stem... In the center of the plastic knob, you'll see a metal post. This post does NOT rotate when the switch is turned. After ruining one switch, I've learned to mask that post before gluing. Only a tiny bit of tape or sticky label is required. J-B Weld works _very_ well, and will cement the post and knob together, twisting it off and ruining your switch. I suspect that this was "Slsmith65"'s problem in the comments below.

Slsmith65 (author)2017-01-04

Looking for tips on fixing short in my switch. Rotary switch I found at Lowes is rated at 3A, 125V. Using a 75 watt light bulb. Plug into wall outlet with switch already turned on, and all works fine--until I turn switch off, which causes breaker to trip immediately. The breaker won't reset unless I first unplug from the wall outlet (regardless of whether switch is turned off or on). If I reset the breaker with the switch turned on, I can plug into the wall outlet and everything works fine (until I turn the switch off again). If I try to plug into wall outlet with switch turned off, it immediately trips breaker. In short (pun intended), it ONLY trips breaker when I switch it off. What's the fix?

CYCLEGUY55 (author)2016-11-23

It will be much easier to disassemble later if you use hot melt glue instead of epoxy - you'd just need to heat it up with a heat gun or a low temperature oven to soften the glue.

Breadster (author)2016-07-02

This is super cool, is there any way to use these as a wall switch to light an entire room? And if not, what kind of modification would need to be done to make that happen?

verbosm (author)Breadster2016-11-02

It would be easy to mount the knob on a typical rotary wall switch, no need to make an entire project out of it.

engr76vpi (author)Breadster2016-08-22

The over-riding concern here would be to have a switch with a large enough ampacity to carry the load. As a rough rule of thumb, each amp of switch capacity can power a 100-watt bulb. If you have 700 watts of lights, you will need a switch with a minimum rating of 7 amps. Most standard light switches are rated for 15A @ 120-Vac.

MarkkuN (author)engr76vpi2016-08-22

A couple of notices. In Europe we have 230V so a 100W load would only need 0.43 amps. However, one cannot (easily) purchase old style bulbs with bigger than 60W due to EU regulations. Moreover nowadays it is almost a rule to use LED bulbs where the wattage (and thus amperage as well) is roughly one tenth of an old-style bulb.

Hlittle4 (author)2016-10-18

This is a great step by step explination, well done.

GuidoSan (author)2016-08-25

very well done and a great idea -many thanks

Hardik Longakshi (author)2016-08-24

That's a really good idea. Just love it!!!

theRemade11 (author)2016-08-22

FINALLY!!! Been seeing these on pre-made pipe lamsps and couldn't figure out how they fit the switch in. Thanks a TON.

steamcheng (author)2016-08-22

Very nice. Along with all the cautions to make sure to switch the hot wire, please never hold anything you are drilling with your hands and never, EVER wear gloves anywhere near a drill press or any other rotating equipment! You risk very serious injury.

ffievez (author)2016-08-22

If you connect the switch to the main, it would make sense to connect the valve body to earth, just in case of short between one of the cable and the body :)

spai (author)2016-08-21

Actually, for lamp cord, the ribbed side is Neutral/White. If uncertain, look at the polarized plug. The wider blade is Neutral and should be connected to the ribbed wire. The narrower blade is Hot and should be connected to the smooth wire. Typically, there is lettering on the smooth side identifying the type of wire it is.

Patch2008 (author)2016-08-21

Hi Guys (and possibly Girls) I like the idea of using a plumbing shut-off valve to create a switch for a project involving piping, however if I may inject a note or two of caution into the mixture The first is that there seems to be a trend in the posts where there is a lack of the basics of electrical wiring, I am not judging anyone for not knowing the construction of circuits but I would advise that anyone who is unsure of how these circuits work should seek advice from someone who does, electricity is not something which should be experimented with without a basic knowledge of how it behaves.

The second is that whenever an project is being constructed using any copper/Brass/metal tubing or component parts they need to be earthed to ensure that if the insulation on any electrical component or wire fails and comes in contact with a metal component part the earth protection will prevent or reduce the danger of receiving an electrical shock or burn. Please be carefull and if in doubt, ask.

By the way, I think the instruction of the construction is first class.

januaryfifth (author)2015-11-22

I have a question about wiring the switch into the existing lamp wire. It looks as though both wires from the rotary switch are the same color. How do you know which wire to splice onto which lamp wire in order to get it to work correctly? Are there any instructions you could pass along regarding the installation of the switch into the existing lamp wires?

coryl397 (author)januaryfifth2015-12-31

it does not matter which lamp wire that you interrupt in order to add a switch. The electrical current runs from one of the wall socket connectors, through one wire, to the bulb, back down the other wire, and back into the other wall socket connector. The switch must interrupt the current flow in either of these wires. It must be wired in series with the bulb.

oky jim (author)coryl3972016-08-21

Actuall it does matter which wire you use. The lamp is designed so the the outside of the lamp socket is connected to Neutral, This in turn can cause the lamp to be electrically hot if wired wrong. if the switch breaks the neutral you can get a shock if the switch is turned off. A side note.....the type of valve used is called a globe valve. They were never my favorite type of valve when plumbing, but are ideal due to design for this project.....

DanielB108 (author)coryl3972016-08-21

the switch should always be on the positive side - so that when off the lamp isnt still live in case someone earthed to the floor decides to put their fingers in the lamp holder

jlana (author)coryl3972016-01-15

Nope, it must connect to to the black wire (hot).

DanielB108 (author)januaryfifth2016-08-21

they will always be on the switch side

DanielB108 (author)DanielB1082016-08-21

and you can always add a coloured outer wire casing to designate your preference

FBNH (author)2016-06-16

thats awesome! i have got to make this with a potentiometer somehow (seriously), anyone has an idea about how?

Cliffystones (author)FBNH2016-08-21

I saw some 'Steam Punk" lamps in a gift shop with dimmers in place of the simple switches. I can only assume that the valve body must be large enough to accommodate a combination potentiometer/switch to operate the dimmer. But I had an idea. I'm thinking about drilling through the back of the valve behind the stem to attach the shaft of a potentiometer with the potentiometer outside of the valve. Then the valve could be mounted on a chassis with the potentiometer hidden inside the chassis. It would be neat to use as a volume control on an amplifier!

DanielB108 (author)FBNH2016-08-21

dimmer switch internals

brandegor (author)2016-08-21

this is, hands down, the best Instructabe I've EVER seen. and thank you for the effort it took.

Chamlett made it! (author)2016-07-03

Thanks so much. Couldnt have done it without these well-written instructions.

Fritzdecatze (author)2016-06-09

gvickers (author)2016-03-08

Hi Walter,

I want to thank you for your outstanding instructions. They are both clear and complete. I used them to make a bicycle lamp for my little boy's birthday. I've included a short video if you would like to see it.

Sincerely, George

walter.warren1 (author)gvickers2016-05-27

That is so nice to see! Thanks for posting that and I'm sorry I hadn't looked back here more recently to see it!

jhonsvick made it! (author)2015-08-10

Finally finished my lamp, switch works beautifully. Thanks again @walter.warren1

DarlinK (author)jhonsvick2016-05-26

Hi. Do you have your own video as to how you made it?

dacflyer (author)jhonsvick2016-02-16

love the wood base..what wood is that ?

thebdpm (author)2016-05-25

Hi. Embarking on making these lamps as gifts and for myself. I have seen plenty of these valves for sale a few places but they seem to be different and confusing me a bit. Anyone know the difference between 2 wires coming out one side, 1 wire coming out each side and 2 wires coming out each side is? Seems confusing but I'm sure one of you wizards can shed some light. Thanks in advance for taking the time to teach me something.

A-9 industries made it! (author)2016-05-22

this thing works beautifully thank you for the help

DennisM88 (author)2016-03-28

great instructable, but I must be missing something when it comes to building an actual lamp....

Both wires protrude from the same side of the valve body. How do you run wires from the power source through th valve to the light? Are people boring through the valve body or ????

gvickers made it! (author)2016-03-08

Hi Walter,

I want to thank you for your outstanding instructions. They are both clear and complete. I used them to make a bicycle lamp for my little boy's birthday. I've included a short video if you would like to see it.

Sincerely, George

murdermouse (author)2016-02-17

Thanks for this, been wanting to make a copper pipe lamp for a while. I saw places to buy valve switches, but that felt like cheating. Now I'm ready to go.

jhonsvick (author)2014-12-03

Great set of instructions here, I made 2 of these this last month for a lamp I'm working on and I thought I'd share a trick that worked for me. If you disassemble the valve as instructed, you can re attach the blue valve handle to the stem after it's been removed, and because the valve is made from brass, simply grab the stem threads with a pair of pliers and twist. Within about 2 minutes of twisting the valve stem threads inside of the pliers the threads were filed off and it fit perfectly back together. No need for a drill press or any tools other than the pliers. Hopefully that helps someone.

walter.warren1 (author)jhonsvick2014-12-15

The brass is soft enough that it can be worn down just by gripping with the pliers and twisting? If I'm understanding correctly, that's a darn good tip.

dacflyer (author)walter.warren12016-02-16

another tip... put the stem in a drill and let it do the twisting for you..

OliverG4 (author)walter.warren12014-12-23

I can verify that this method works, even if it's a bit rough on your hands :)

The brass is soft enough to shave off as you turn it between a decent set of pliers. A decent alternative if you don't have access to a drill press.

ohno706 (author)2016-02-06

So I have mast this switch but how do I wire it in to my lamp cord?

About This Instructable




Bio: Professional Engineer with The Vecino Group.
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