Introduction: Japanese Lamp From Recycled Materials

A cheap but attractive paper "shoji" style lamp that uses mostly recycled parts and is easy to put together.

DISCLAIMER 1: The overall design (and possibly the whole idea) of this lamp was influenced by atarax's shoji lamp Instructable. The motif on the side was influenced by Nick Falzone's superb Sangaku and Yuugou case mods. I did not steal either of their ideas.

DISCLAIMER 2: This is probably one of the safer non-computer Instructables I've written. However, hot glue is hot, scissors are pointy, bamboo can give nasty splinters and this Instructable involves wiring a mains lightbulb socket. If you are unsure of how to do that safely, I disclaim all responsibility for electrical mishaps.

DISCLAIMER 3: Yes, I got the parts images from Google image search because I built this thing before taking the photos, and couldn't be bothered taking photos of a light socket and corrugated cardboard. If I am using your image and you would rather I didn't, let me know and I'll replace it with one of my own.

Step 1: Materials

You will need the following.

  • Glue gun
  • Craft knives
  • Scissors
  • Diagonal/wire cutters or nail clippers


  • Strong corrugated cardboard, preferably 2-layer
  • Paper- I used regular lined paper but if you wanted to be fancy you could used textured craft paper or tracing paper
  • Bamboo/wooden chopsticks or kebab skewers
  • Straight batten lightbulb socket
  • Plug
  • A couple of metres of flex (2-core or 3-core is ok)
  • (optional) Inline switch
  • Lightbulb- I use an 11W CFL, I'm not happy about the idea of an incandescent bulb in a box made of paper

Step 2: Make a Frame

Before doing this you will need to decide how big you want your lamp to be. You are constrained by the length of your chosen framing material (unless you want to go hardcore woodwork and make joints) and the size of your paper. I chose a shape a little smaller than the A4 paper I was using in roughly the same aspect ratio. If you are very keen on mathematical aesthetics you might like to use the golden ratio, but a slightly tall rectangle is generally a good way to go. Avoid a shape wider than it is tall, your lamp will look squat and weird.

Cut two stick-like things (hereafter referred to as "sticks") to the height of your frame and two to the width of a side.

Glue a short stick to a long stick. (Image 1)

Glue another short stick to the free end of the long stick, then get as right-angley as possible and glue the remaining long stick between the two short sticks. (Image 2)

Step 3: Motif, Part 1

Now you have to decide what, if any, motif you want on the side of the . I used this asymmetric square pattern because I liked the way it looks- anything within the bounds of reason that you can construct with a glue gun and bamboo skewers, go for it. I will provide instructions on how to construct this motif which can be generalised to many rectilinear patterns.

I was intending for the small rectangle in the middle of the motif to be square, but screwed up my measurements, and by complete chance it ended up having the same aspect ratio as the side which actually looks much better. The exact lengths are unimportant but I will assume you have "short motif sticks" and "long motif sticks".

Measure one short motif stick length from one long side of the frame, at the top and bottom (Images 1 and 2). Glue a long motif stick to one of the points you just marked, along the line connecting the two points. (Image 3)

Step 4: Motif, Part 2

Essentially, repeat the process at 90 degrees to the first stick- measure away from one edge with sticks of one length and glue a stick of the other length along the line. (Image 1)

Repeat for the remaining sticks, gluing all the points they meet at. (Image 2)

Step 5: Skin It

Now you should have a glued-up frame. Admire its spindly beauty.

Now grab a piece of paper and lay it on top of the frame. (You can turn the frame over if you are worried about the "handedness" of your motif, ie it doesn't have reflective symmetry). Apply dabs of hot glue along one of the short sides of the frame to stick the paper to it. Work towards the other end, tacking the paper with dots of glue- seams are unnecessary and get strands of glue everywhere unless you're very handy with a glue gun, and the paper isn't structural so enough to keep it held to the frame is ok. (Image 1)

Once the glue is set, trim the paper along the edges of the frame, as neatly as you can because this will be on the outside of the lamp. (Images 2, 3)

Step 6: Make Some More

Yep- time to make three more side panels and a top panel if you so desire, exactly the same way as last time. I made all the frames in one go and then skinned and trimmed them, it's a little less frustrating if you are only doing one task at a time.

Step 7: Wire It Up

First, strip the outer insulation of your flex a few cm, and strip the individual wires' insulation about a cm (no more, the more you strip the higher the chance of a short. If there is exposed copper outside the cable connectors you should trim the stripped conductor). Wire one end of the flex into the socket- a plastic batten socket is unlikely to require an earth connection.

Strip the other end of the flex similarly and wire the plug. Check that an appropriate fuse is installed- you should only need a 1 Amp fuse for an 11W CFL, but higher wattages (especially in 110V mains areas) will probably need a 3A fuse. If you have a 13A fuse replace it with a lower value.

Install the torpedo switch close to the socket end of the flex if you desire. You can now plug it in and perform a quick test to check all your electrical parts work- if it's going to catch fire, better to do it while it isn't glued into a box made of paper and cardboard.

Step 8: Make the Base

Cut out some squares of corrugated cardboard the same width as the width of your side panels. Laminate them with more glue gun glue, alternating the direction (or "grain") of the cardboard for maximum strength. I recommend at least two layers of double-layer cardboard or four layers of regular (like in the image).

Cut a shallow groove from one edge of the base to roughly the centre, to accommodate the flex. Glue the batten socket into the middle of the base with the flex in the groove.

Step 9: Attach the Sides

Assemble the sides of the lamp around the base and mark where the corners sit. Now run a seam of hot glue along the inside edge where the base of each side panel meets the base, and up the insides of the side edges. Don't glue the base on, as you will need to remove it to change the bulb.

Step 10: Switch On, Stand Back, Admire!

And you're done!

A few notes- the lamp is very light and not very strong, so don't put it somewhere it will get knocked around. With an 11W CFL it gives a soft glow that is ok to read by but won't light up a whole room brightly.

Running for an hour with the lid on, the paper on the lid was slightly warm to the touch and the sides were room temperature so it's probably safe to leave on for long periods, but if you are using an incandescent bulb I would suggest not using the lid.

The lamp is not at all fire safe- don't even think about using a naked flame or other combustion-based source of light in this rather than the lightbulb. Again I accept no responsibility for what you do outside the scope of these instructions.

Step 11: Reader Submissions

More than any other Instructable I have written, this one seems to have inspired people to try it out for themselves. These pictures were submitted by four readers who built their own lamps, and all added something to the design.

Thanks to all of them for sharing their work and inspiring me to keep making projects!

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