Getting Started

Welcome to My Lamp Making Class!

In this beginner class, I'm going to teach you how to make your own custom lamps! You don't have to have any prior experience or be a certified electrician, you just have to have a few hand tools and a desire to light up your life in your own unique way.

I'll teach you about basic lamp parts and show to wire them together safely, then show you how to turn found, or easily purchased, items into stylish lamp bases and shades. Making great lighting doesn't have to be a workshop challenge or break the bank!

Why Make Your Own Lamps?

Reason number one for me is: Saving Money. Quality store bought lamps are expensive and often not exactly what I want. Which brings me to reason number two: Customization! Making your own lamps allows you to have something that is 100% your style - offering choices of color, shape, size, length of cord, and material. Once you've learned the skills I'm about to teach you, you'll be able to save $$$ in the pursuit of home or office illumination AND enjoy the great satisfaction of getting to use something you made on a daily basis that compliments your interior decor.

And you don't need to have much building or workshop experience! I'm going to show you how to make lamps from found objects to get you started, so that you can focus on what this class is about: safe wiring.

What You'll Learn + Make

Choose your own lamp adventure!

I'll teach you how to safely wire a variety of sockets, switches, and plugs to create your choice of two interior lamps: one hanging pendant, and one table lamp. I've provided different lamp designs to choose from in both styles of lamp. While they each have valuable and new information, and you're free to make as many of them as you like, I don't expect you to make all of them! Just two. :) Here are the choices:

Pendant Lamps

A-1a,b,c - Waste Basket Pendants / Turn easily found objects into surprisingly stylish pendants.
A -2 - Faux Dixon Pendant / Make your own affordable version of an expensive designer piece.
A-3 - Jello Pendant / Use a vintage jello mold to create a pendant with a Victorian look.

Table Lamps

B-1 - Bottle Lamp / Find a great looking glass bottle and turn it into a lamp with a classic and classy look.
B-2 - Thermos Lamp / Use a vintage thermos to create a nostalgic table lamp.
B-3 - Stacked Mug Lamp / Tupperware mugs re-imagined into a fun retro lamp.
B-4 - Tripod Floor Lamp / Use the Bottle Lamp wiring technique to make this handsome floor lamp.

TIP: Ordering parts from the online lamp part suppliers can take up to 2 weeks, so I recommend looking over the project lessons and choosing the ones you want to make now, so you can order the parts and any specialized tools you need all together.

In this class I'll also be covering best practices for choosing lamp shades and selling your homemade lamps.

HOMEWORK: I will be asking you to upload a few photos of your practice wiring and projects along the way. Doing this, along with the quizzes, is a requirement to getting the class badge!

Once you’ve completed the lessons, you will have all the skills, tools, and confidence necessary to design and build almost any kind of standard socket lamp!

NOTE: This course will not cover halogen, fluorescent, outdoor, or hard wired lamps/fixtures.

About Me

Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and building. Out of this love for creating things, I pursued a BFA in Product Design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. (A plant supporting lamp that I made for my senior thesis project was selected to be part of a show at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in NYC!)

The air purifying LumenAir plant lamp.

After school, I worked for 5 years as a designer/fabricator at a lighting company in Burlington, Vermont where I used both new and vintage parts to build lamps of all kinds. (It was such a great job!!) I've also done work for Martha Stewart Living, Sunset Magazine, Fossil, Design*Sponge, and my own ceramic design company. I now have the most fun ever as a full time designer and content creator for Instructables, making a wide range of projects from food recipes to furniture. You can check out all my Instructables here and my ceramic work here. The following are a few of my favorite Instructables projects I've made so far:

Twin Socket Pendant Light

The Scent-imental Notification System

24 Carrot Cake

Terrarium Table

"When Thomas Edison worked late into the night on the electric light,
he had to do it by gas lamp or candle. I'm sure it made the work seem
that much more urgent."

- George Carlin

Some Light History

Since the beginning of human time, light, and ways of creating it, has been a necessary focus of inventive minds.

As far back as the 7th century BC, the Greeks were developing terra cotta oil lamps to replace the almost exclusively used handheld torches. The word lamp is derived from the Greek word lampas meaning torch.

Fast forward to the mid-1800's when gas lamps were gaining popularity and inventors, chemists, and physicists began pushing even further. Mankind began exploring the possibilities of electricity and electrically powered incandescent lights. By the early 1900's, these had been developed enough to begin mass implementation in modern cities all over the world.

By the late 1950's, power stations that provided the electricity that fueled incandescent lighting had made their way to even the remote regions of most developed countries.

Can you imagine living in a time when you couldn't just flip a switch to fill a room with as much light as you'd like? Noting that there are still parts of the world that don't have access to consistent (or any) electricity, as a citizen of 21st century North America, it's nearly impossible for me to imagine. Memories of going to our summer cabin as a child, where the only light sources were battery powered lanterns and wall mounted gas lights, offer me a hint of what it would have been like. But really, thanks to all the hard work, struggle, failures, and ultimate successes of some great inventive minds of the last two centuries, we have the power to 'get bright' any time we'd like.

So I'd like to personally thank those great minds and their smart pants for their contributions to my well lit world:

Benjamin Franklin - USA, 1750 - studied lightning and verified the positive/negative nature of electricity and recognized it as a flow, or current.

Heinrich Göbel - Germany, 1854 - invented an incandescent lamp by passing an electric current through a carbonized bamboo filament that was placed inside a glass bottle. (The first recorded light bulb.)

A.E. Becquerel - France, 1867 - coated electric discharge tubes with luminescent materials, a process that was further developed in later fluorescent lamps.

Henry Woodward - Canada, 1875 - patented an electric light bulb with carbon filament. (Yeah Canada!)

Pavel Yablochkov - Russia, 1876 - invented the Yablochkov candle, the first practical carbon arc lamp, for public street lighting in Paris.

Sir Joseph Wilson Swan - England, 1878 - patented his incandescent lamp.

Thomas Edison - USA, 1879 - patented the carbon-thread incandescent lamp. (After 10,000 unsuccessful attempts. He gets an extra high five for determination.)

Nikola Tesla - USA, 1893 - used cordless low pressure gas discharge lamps, powered by a high frequency electric field, to light his laboratory. He displayed fluorescent lamps and neon lamps at the World Columbian Exposition.

Peter Cooper Hewitt - USA, 1901 - demonstrated the mercury-vapor lamp. (Large, long lasting and efficient bulbs historically used in lighting warehouses and factories.)

Hertha Ayrton - UK, 1906 - was awarded the Hughes Medal by the Royal Society for her work on electric arcs

William Coolidge - USA, 1909 - developed ductile tungsten wire, making the "modern" incandescent lamp possible. (Way to go William!)

Georges Claude - France, 1911 - developed the neon lamp. (What would diners have done without Mr. Claude?)

Edmund Germer - Germany, 1926 - patented the fluorescent lamp. (While not my favorite color of light, it's still light!)

Nick Holonyak Jr. - USA, 1962 - developed the first practical visible-spectrum light-emitting diode (LED). (Welcome to the future.)

Let's not forget the hundreds of assistants and patrons who helped make all the above possible.

Now with our gratitude hat in hand, let's go celebrate our electrical powers by making some lamps!!

'Current' Affairs

I'm not going to dive into the deep end of electricity know-how, but there are a few important tidbits I want to share before we get started; like the basics of what a circuit is (the combination of the lamp cord, socket, plug, and switch creates one), electrical current (the fuel flow that lights the bulb), why portable lamps aren't grounded, and what materials will conduct electrical current.

A CIRCUIT is a closed loop through which charges (current) can continuously move.

In our case, a circuit consists of a power source (breaker box > wall outlet), two conducting wires (lamp cord), and a small lamp to which the free ends of the wires leading from the power source are attached (socket & bulb). When the connections are made properly, the circuit will “close” (controlled by a switch) and current will flow through the circuit and light the lamp.

The CURRENT is a flow of electrical charge within the circuit that powers the lamp.

The current flows into the lamp cord via the 'Hot' wire and returns to the source via the 'Neutral' wire. As a result, most lamp (or zip) cord is made up of two wires. Some cord, used mostly for hanging pendants, has three wires and the third is what's called the 'ground'.

A GROUND is an additional wire, a backup path, that provides a bypass through which electricity can flow if there's a short in the system (i.e.: a 'live/hot' wire is touching metal that is touching skin). Instead of passing to earth through the person, it will go through the ground wire. This will be in the form of the round prong on a three prong plug or a green wire in some lamp cords (yellow in Europe).

Due to the improved designs of modern lamp parts, there is such a low risk of live electricity making it's way to touchable lamp parts and as a result, most modern interior portable lamps are not grounded. (Portable = any lamp that is not hardwired into the wall or ceiling.) As long as both wires of the cord (Hot and Neutral) are isolated from the exposed metal parts and isolated from coming in contact with the exposed metal parts of the lamp, there is no need for a ground.

ELECTRICAL CONDUCTORS are types of material that allow the flow of electrical current in one or more directions. Metal is one we take advantage of for this class in the form of lamp cord wire and plug/socket prongs, threads, and terminals. It's important that no other conductive material come in contact with the 'live' metal, so even though the parts are designed to prevent this, your awareness of what materials are potential risks is important.

Here's the short list of all the materials that should NOT come in contact with any live metal on a lamp:

  • other metal (eg: the lamp body, harp, or metal shade)
  • graphite* (ie: pencil led)
  • electronic circuits (they're made of a conductive polymer)
  • water
  • our bodies (all that water...)

*Fun Fact: Graphite, while shouldn't be connected to any live wires, is an excellent lubricant for stubborn threads of a socket! If you're having trouble screwing a lightbulb into a socket, unplug the lamp and rub graphite onto the inside threads of the socket. And ta da! Problem solved without interrupting conduction.

Working Safely

Electricity Wrangling

As kids we are taught (for good reason) to fear electricity, and how to navigate it safely.

The same rules still apply; metal, water, and our bodies are good conductors of electricity, so please never combine any of these things with live (in our case, plugged in) electricity. And never, under any circumstance, for any reason, put a fork in an outlet. :)

Luckily in this class, we won't have anything to do with live electricity until we've built our lamps, so there's little to no reason to be apprehensive. Just remember to never plug in one of your lamp creations until you've tested it. (More on this in Lesson 7)

General Safety

When drilling into any material (i.e.: a lamp base or shade), please wear safety goggles, and NEVER wear gloves! If the spinning bit gets ahold of the material of the glove, it could potentially pull off the glove and parts of you along with it. This risk is much lower with a hand drill of course, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Quiz Time!

    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "Through which wire does the live electrical current flow into a lamp?",
    "answers": [
            "title": "Neutral",
            "correct": false
            "title": "Hot",
            "correct": true
    "correctNotice": "You got it! It comes in through the Hot and out through the Neutral",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
    "id": "quiz-2",
    "question": "Out of the list below, which material DOES NOT conduct electricity?",
    "answers": [
            "title": "Our bodies",
            "correct": false
            "title": "Metal",
            "correct": false
            "title": "Rubber",
            "correct": true
            "title": "Water",
            "correct": false
    "correctNotice": "Nice work! The other three are great conductors of electrical charge.",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
    "id": "quiz-3",
    "question": "Should you wear gloves when using a drill?",
    "answers": [
            "title": "Yes",
            "correct": false
            "title": "No",
            "correct": true
    "correctNotice": "That's right! If the glove gets caught in the bit, the momentum of the spinning can pull your glove in towards the tool which can pull it off - and potentially some of you along with it.",
    "incorrectNotice": "Please never do this!! If the glove gets caught in the bit, the momentum of the spinning can pull your glove in towards the tool which can pull it off - and potentially some of you along with it."


Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project