Introduction: 5 Ways to Make Hanging Lamps

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a degree in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mar…

Pendant (hanging / swag) lamps are maybe the most versatile of all indoor lamps. You don't even need a table to put them on. They can go ANYWHERE in a room because, conveniently, ceiling is everywhere! :)

In this instructable, I'm going to show you 3 different ways to make custom hanging lamps. The three styles are pictured below:

Make one, or all of the above!

#1 a,b,& c



  • Choice #1 a,b,& c: A simple case of re-imagined identity. Turn a waste paper basket into a shade!
  • Choice # 2: Riffing off Tom Dixon's 'Beat Lamps', this pendant will add a bit of industrial class to any space.
  • Choice #3: Repurposing a vintage jello mold and adding vintage looking parts = a Victorian style charmer.

Step 1: Safe Wiring Info

I highly recommend that you take (or at least read through) my free Instructables Lamps Class before you make any one of these lamps. In this instructable, I will be showing you how to construct the lamps, but not how to wire them. In my Lamps Class, I go over:

  • Electrical safety
  • The different kinds of available lamp cord and their best uses
  • How to tell which wire is HOT and which is NEUTRAL
  • How to safely wire up sockets, plugs, and switches
  • How to test your connections before plugging in

Step 2: Hanging Pendant Lamp Anatomy

Each hanging pendant lamp in this lesson has the above parts (or similar versions with the same function). The most important thing to remember to add to a pendant lamp cord set is a strain relief - whether it's the small metal one that goes INSIDE the socket like the one drawn above, or the exterior one used in the Faux Dixon pendant.

A strain relief holds the weight of the shade and protects the cord/socket connections from being pulled out.

Step 3: No.1: Waste Basket Pendant

The wonderful thing about hanging/pendant lamps is that there are so many potential shades hiding in all kinds of unexpected places! For this first pendant lamp, I went to the Container Store and found about a million options for potential shades. Thanks to low heat emitting compact fluorescent and LED bulbs options, almost any material can be turned into a shade without worry of it melting or causing a fire.

I decided on these three waste paper baskets to illustrate how to work with a few different materials to make pendant shades: natural fibers, wood, and plastic. You can choose to customize them (like I did the wood one) or not (like the plastic).

The parts you need to make one of these simple to make pendants lamps are:

*You only need this piece if you're going to use a natural fiber basket as your shade.

Approximate parts cost (before taxes & shipping): $37.75

Tools you'll need to make any of these three pendants:

Additional tools you'll need to make either the wooden or plastic shades:

Step 4: Waste Basket Pendant: Making the Cord Set

Either purchase or make your own 15' foot long cord set. I show you how to wire your own cord sets in lessons 2-6 of my Lamps Class. If you're making your own cord set, I recommend putting the line switch 2' from the plug – but of course feel free to put it wherever along the cord will be most convenient for you based on where it will be hanging. And don't forget to test your connections before plugging in!

Reminder of parts for cord set:

Tools you'll need to wire up the cord set:

  • wire cutters
  • wire stripper
  • box cutter
  • phillips head screwdriver
  • small flathead screwdriver
  • ruler
  • Elmer's glue
  • needle nose pliers
  • small channellock pliers (not pictured)
  • electrical or masking tape
  • continuity tester or multi-meter

Step 5: Waste Basket Pendant: Making a Hole in the 'Shade'

In order to transform a found object into a shade, we need to make a hole in the 'dead center' of it's top, large enough for the socket to go through. If we aren't precise about the location of the hole, the shade will be off kilter/tilted. But don't worry, it's easy to achieve this in almost all shapes and materials of potential shades. I'll cover three such ways here.

We'll start with the easiest and most low tech one, the natural fiber basket.

This one requires only hand tools, no power drill. :)

Place the socket threads over the center mark (there usually is one) of the basket bottom. You can use your ruler if you'd like to confirm that it's centered - by measuring from the edge of the socket threads to the edge of the bottom in all four directions (North, South, East, West, or every 90 degrees).

Use a thin marker or pen to trace the socket circle onto the basket.

Use the small wire cutters to cut away the fiber and connecting threads inside the socket circle you drew on - leaving the threads sticking into the empty circle about 3/8". (Remove the center knot, don't leave it like picture above.)

That's it for this one! So easy right? And you'll see that the results give you a lot of style bang for your effort buck. And given that the connecting threads of this one are plastic, I wouldn't recommend using any bulb other than a low energy LED or compact fluorescent.

Step 6: Square Containers

Next up is how to find the center, and drill a hole, in a square top wooden container:

You'll need a ruler, scissors, pencil, and piece of paper to help you find the center point of the 'shade'. (Using just the ruler and pencil to draw right on the top wouldn't be accurate enough because of that ridge that's higher than the surface to be drilled on.)

Measure one side of the square, in between the inside of the wooden side pieces. Using this dimension, cut a square piece of paper that will fit as close to perfectly as possible inside the wooden lip on the surface to be drilled (like pictured). Fold the square from corner to corner both ways to mind the center point. Mark the center with an 'X'. Slide the paper into place.

Use the center punch and hammer to mark the center on the wood.

Next, set up your drilling station. Place the grip mat down and secure the two pieces of wood in a 'V' shape in line with the table edge. Use clamps to secure the wood to the table.

This set up gives you something to put pressure against as you hold the object in place while drilling and the mat helps keep the object from spinning.

Secure the hole saw into the drill's chuck and put on your safety glasses. REMEMBER: NEVER wear gloves when drilling - even when only using a hand saw.

Line the pilot drill bit of the hole saw up with the mark the center punch made and slowly, steadily drill the hole.

A perfect fit!

I recommend always using low energy bulbs (LED or Compact Fluorescent) for pendants as they give off very little heat. But if you do prefer to use Edison style bulbs that produce more heat, it's a good idea to drill some escape holes for that heat so that it doesn't adversely affect the finish on the shade.

I'm a sucker for the light quality of Edison bulbs, so I usually add the extra holes just in case I give into the majestic power of that warm glow. You can either measure them out on your paper square, or freestyle their locations. I'd use a drill bit that's 1/4 - 1/2".

Step 7: Hard Round Containers

Now, to drill a hole in a plastic container. The procedure is very much the same as for the wooden one.

You'll notice that most plastic containers have a mark in the center of their bottoms. This is the injection site of the material from the manufacturing process, so it's very safe to assume that it is dead center. Because of this, there's no need to make a paper template.

NOTE: If you're ever trying to find the center of a round bottom that's not plastic, you can learn how to do this in the instructions for the next project, the Faux Dixon Pendant.

Put on your safety glasses and carefully drill the hole! The plastic is soft, so the pilot bit may wander a bit at the beginning. Just go slow and reposition it as necessary in order to keep it as dead center as possible.

If you'd like to add air holes to this shade, you definitely can, but it isn't as necessary as it would be for the wood, because you SHOULD NEVER use anything but low energy (= low heat output) bulbs with plastic containers. There is a real danger of the plastic melting using incandescent style bulbs.

Step 8: Waste Basket Pendant: Customizing the Shades

There are so many ways you could customize these shades. You could embroider colorful shapes on the woven basket with yarn (check out jessyratfink's amazing class on embroidery for ideas), or draw in colorful permanent markers on the plastic one.

I chose to customize the wooden one by drilling holes in a pattern I designed, so that the light would shine through, highlighting the shapes.

The first thing I did was brainstorm patterns and choose my favorite.

I went with the one in the middle of the top row and the steps for transforming my tiny sketch into a pattern of holes on the shade, is below:

On a large piece of paper, trace the side of the shade.

Using a ruler and pencil (or just freestyle it!), redraw your pattern to scale on the shade outline. I used a compass to draw a tidy circle, and then used it again to make equidistant marks all the way around to indicate where to drill. I decided on a 3/4" distance between holes.

Cut out the template following the traced shade line.

Prop the shade up so it will be easier to see when you're drilling and tape the template in place.

Put your safety glasses on, decide on the hole / drill bit size, and carefully drill all your holes. Repeat for the other three sides, if desired - with breaks in between each side so your arm/shoulder doesn't get mad at you.


This is just one of the many possible fun results of mixing a small amount of creativity energy with some elbow grease!! Get crazy! Get wild! Or stay simple. These lamps are meant to represent your style, whatever it may be.

Step 9: Waste Basket Pendant: Putting It Together

Attaching the shade to the cord set is very straight forward for the wooden and plastic shades. Simply put the threads of the socket through the shade hole and thread the shade ring onto the socket from inside the shade, making the two (cord set and shade) become one.

Insert socket into the shade hole.

Thread the shade ring onto socket threads from inside the shade.

Like so!

Same goes for the plastic one! Easy peasy.

The natural fiber basket shade takes only a fraction more effort.

Before inserting the socket into the hole you cut out, screw the extra shade ring onto the socket with the shoulder facing down.

Then you can go ahead and proceed with inserting the socket into the shade hole and threading on the second shade ring from the inside. The reason for two rings is to better sandwich and secure the thread and fiber ends.

And that my friends, is how you turn a 'waste' product into something wonderful!

Step 10: No.2: Faux Dixon Pendant

I'm a self-professed Pinterest addict. There I said it. I squirrel away beautiful photos of beautiful things. I'm always seeing lamps that I love -- and full of hope, click on the store link -- only to find out that the single hanging pendant of my dreams is $550. :(

Being a designer myself, I respect other's talent and the work that goes into their designs, but often just can't afford to get the real deal. So this pendant is all about mixing designer inspiration with elbow grease to make my own version of something that's way out of my wallet's league.

I've had a crush on Tom Dixon's Beat Lights (see above) for ages and decided it was time to see if I could make my own version. Enter the Faux Dixon pendant lamp.

Note: Making the shade for this beauty requires drilling a substantially sized hole in a metal bowl. If done slowly and properly, it's quite safe, but if you have any reservations and are uncomfortable with the idea, I would recommend choosing a different pendant to make.

Here's your shopping list for this one, should you choose to make it:

Note: I didn't add a line switch to the cord set for this one because I'm plugging it into a socket that's connected to a light switch. But feel free to add one (see Lesson 5 of my Lamps Class) if you need it.

Approximate cost (before taxes & shipping): $40.00 (NOT $550.00 !!!)

Recommended bulb: 40W Clear Globe bulb or any other shorter bulb that doesn't stick out below the shade.

The tools you'll need to make this pendant are:

Once you have all your parts and tools, it's time to get to making!

Step 11: Faux Dixon Pendant: Socket Step-by-Step

This is the one cord making info exception in this 'ible. For this cord set, I use a kind of strain relief that isn't covered in my Lamps Class, so I'll give a detailed step-by-step for how to assemble this kind of strain relief.

Disassemble the socket into its three parts: cap, shell, and socket interior -- and unscrew the strain relief, separating the two pieces.

Slide the strain relief cap onto the cord, skinny end first. Carefully slide the other half onto the cord prong end first. Do not connect them.

Slide the socket cap down to meet the strain relief bits, small end first. Screw the socket cap into the threaded end of the prong half of the relief and use your small flathead screwdriver to tighten the screw inside the cap (like pictured). This secures the socket cap to the strain relief.

Then move everything about a foot down the cord, so that it's all out of the way for the wiring of the socket interior.

Wire up the socket interior in the same way we did for the SVT practice cord set in Lesson 3 of my Lamps Class. The only thing I did differently here is to use a thin strip of electrical tape to keep the cloth cover from fraying instead of glue, since it would be well hidden under the strain relief.

Slide the socket cap/strain relief half combo back up the cord until the socket interior is nestled into the cap.

Holding the socket interior snuggly in place inside the socket cap, slide the strain relief cap up to meet its other half and, lining up the prongs with the matching slots on the cap, carefully screw the strain relief back together.

Step 12: Faux Dixon Pendant: Adding the Plug & Testing Connections

Adding the plug for this cord set is exactly the same as the SVT practice cord set in Lesson 4 of my Lamps Class.

Aaaaand wire it up!! You got this.

This is what your finished cord set should look like - unless you decide to add a line switch, then there will be one more 'bump' in the cord road. :)

Use your continuity tester or multi-meter to test the connections before moving on to the next step.

Step 13: Faux Dixon Pendant: Making the Shade

This pendant is another great example of how almost anything can become a lamp! Or part of one anyway. :)

This serving bowl was the perfect find for trying to mimic the Beat lamp's look. In order to transform it into the shade we need it to be, we must first drill a hole in it that will accommodate the diameter of the phenolic socket's threads. The 1 9/16" hole saw I recommend is perfect for the job. Here's how to make the magic happen:

Set the bowl face down on the grip mat and in the corner of two pieces of wood clamped to the table.

The secured wood gives you something to press/pull the bowl against when you drill it so it's not as likely to jump as you start to drill.

In order to find the center point of the bowl base -- the spot to start drilling -- use a ruler or measuring tape to measure the diameter of the bowl base. Divide that in two to find the radius and set your compass to that measurement.

Draw a circle at that setting on a piece of scrap paper and cut out the circle.

Use a pencil to mark the center (where the compass point hole is) with an 'x'.

Tape the paper circle in place on the bowl base and use the center punch and a hammer to mark the center on the metal bowl. Three firm hits on the end of the punch should do it.

Put on your safety glasses and secure the hole saw bit into the hand drill. DO NOT WEAR GLOVES! They are a safety hazard when using any tools/equipment that spins.

Secure the bowl by pushing down and toward the wood corner with your non-dominant hand and line the hole saw's pilot bit up with the center punch mark. Now slowly and carefully start to drill, keeping steady downward pressure on the drill.

Once the pilot bit is through and the hole saw comes in contact with the bowl, try to keep the bit flat to the bowl surface as possible or the bowl may do a little jump. Keep drilling until the hole saw makes it all the way through the metal of the bowl.

Using a half round metal file, clean up the edge of the hole if necessary, removing any burrs.

Next, fold a small piece of 220 sand paper in half and sand the edge of the hole, smoothing it even more. Use a folded piece of paper towel to run over the edge to check for snags or areas that need more filing/sanding. You want to make sure that there aren't any sharp bits that could cut you when handling the shade.

Once you are satisfied with the edge's smoothness, set the bowl aside. Now it's time to CAREFULLY clean the metal shavings up.

Remove the clamps and gently shake the wood pieces before moving them to another location. Gently pick up the grip mat, take it to a large garbage can and shake it out (while still wearing your glasses!!). Make sure there aren't any more metal bits on it before rolling it up and putting it away. Use a hand broom or folded paper towel to sweep the remaining metal bits into a paper towel and discard. Give the work surface one last wipe down with a damp cloth.

Now it's time to paint the bowl/shade!

To keep the paint from getting inside the bowl, tape the hole up from the inside using masking tape. Then, in a well ventilated area like a spray booth or outside, place the bowl hole up/face down on some cardboard or newsprint and spray the outside only with one coat of primer and two coats of matte black spray paint, letting each coat dry completely before adding the next. Spray at a 45 degree angle top down to keep the paint from getting inside the bottom edge of the bowl.

Step 14: Faux Dixon Pendant: Put It All Together

Now we get to the fun (and super quick) part of putting it together!!

Remove the shade ring from the socket threads (if you had put it back) and insert the threads of the socket into the hole of the shade.

Screw the shade ring back on, securing the shade to the socket.

Et voila!! You now have a designer pendant at the height of lamp fashion for only a fraction of the couture cost.

Step 15: Jello Mold Pendant

One of my favorite things is when unrelated objects fit together. This pendant is case in point.

Shade holders are designed to hold glass shades. The shades have a lip at the top that the shade holder's screws catch, securing the shade to the holder. The shade holders come in sizes ranging from 2 1/4" - 8".

4" antique brass shade holder

The shade holder screws hold onto and secure the shade.

And as you've probably guessed by now, I love re-purposing things and troll thrift shops looking for orphaned objects that could be incorporated into lamps. When I saw this vintage Tupperware jello mold, I had a feeling it was going to get along nicely with a 4" fitter, and I was right!!

The semi-translucent plastic the mold is made of is a perfect, lightweight light diffuser and the shape has a Victorian feel that goes well with the antique brass 4" holder that also has a yesteryear look.

I chose a keyless antique brass socket with uno threads to secure the shade holder to and twisted cloth covered brown cord and antique plug to further secure this pendant's old-world status.

Along with the natural fiber Waste Basket pendant, this is the easiest pendant to make and requires the least amount of tools. (No drill or hole saw bit)

Here's your shopping list for this guy:

Approximate cost (before taxes & shipping): $40.55

*NOTE: If you decide to use a glass shade and not the Jello mold, use SVT (18/2 or 18/3) cord instead of the Twisted. The Twisted isn't designed to hold that much weight.

Bulb Recommendation: a low watt old timey Edison style bulb, or this cool dimmable LED version of a vintage bulb.

The tools you'll need to make this project are:

Once you have all your parts and tools, it's time to get to making!

Step 16: Jello Mold Pendant: Socket Step-by-Step

We'll start with wiring the socket.

Unscrew the socket cap and disassemble the parts.

Strip 5/8" of the wires ends off. (There's no need to remove the cloth cover first.) Then slide the threaded ring that connects the cap and shell back over the cap (threads facing away from the cap) and slide the combo onto the cord, small opening first.

Wire up your socket following the steps for the SPT-1 practice set in Lesson 3 of my Lamps Class, Hot wire to Hot/Brass terminal and Neutral wire to Neutral/silver terminal.

Then use wire cutters to trim off any wild excess cloth covering. Once done, hold onto the cord with one hand the socket with the other and re-twist the cord all the way up to the bottom of the socket.

Use the small Channellock pliers to add the metal strain relief to the wires right below the socket. Squeeze tight to make sure it is securely crimped to the cord.

Slide the cap up the cord so that the socket bottom is nestled in the cap, making sure to line the socket tab up with the cap slot. (pictured above left)

Next, bring the threaded ring up over the cap, slide the shell over the socket top and screw it all back together.

Great job! Now onto wiring the plug!

Step 17: Jello Mold Pendant: Plug Step-by-Step

Unscrew the plug screws and remove the prong insert. Slide the plug housing onto the cord end opposite the socket. Prep the cord for wiring by stripping 5/8" insulation off, fanning and twisting the wires.

Make the clockwise 'U' shaped ends and wire the Hot/black wire to the Narrow prong/brass screw terminal. Use the cutters to trim off any wild/excess cloth covering. Repeat for the Neutral/white wire and the Wide prong/silver screw terminal.

Twist the cord wires back in place, slide the plug housing back up and screw the plug back together.

Ta Da! Now that's a great looking plug/cord combo!

Step 18: Jello Mold Pendant: Line Switch Step-by-Step

Now we'll add the device that makes the on/off magic happen: the line switch.

This style of switch is very similar to SPT-1 rotary line switch used in the SPT-1 practice cord set in Lesson 5 of my Lamps Class, in that it has pointy prongs that pierce the Hot wire of the cord. It just has a rocker switch instead of a rotary one.

It's also for the slightly thicker SPT-2 cord (read Lesson 1 of my Lamps Class to learn all about the different kind of lamp cord), so it's perfect for accommodating the added thickness of the cloth cover.

Unscrew and take apart the line switch. Set the screws and the top half aside.

Now you have to decide where on the cord you want to put the switch. For pendant cord sets I like to put mine about 2' from the plug, but you can put anywhere you'd like along the 15' of cord. Try and figure out, based on where you're putting the light, what would be the most convenient place for it to be.

Once you've decided where you want the line switch to go, un-twist about a 2" section of the cord.

Use the box cutter to make a tiny cut through JUST the outer cloth cover on one of the wires -- so that you know which one is the Neutral/white wire and which is the Hot/black wire.

Having determined which wire is the Hot/black wire, cut it in half.

Lay the cord onto the terminal containing side of the switch and see how much of the cloth cover you'll need to remove to expose the insulated wires underneath -- making them easier for the prongs to pierce.

Use the box cutter to gently remove the necessary amount of cloth cover. Lay the cord back down onto the switch and trim the Hot wires so that they will nestle into place once pressed in.

Use the small flathead screwdriver to press the Hot wires down onto the piercing prongs.

Like so. :)

Yay! Now you will be able to turn your lamp on and off like a boss. (Like a boss who doesn't have to bend all the way down to the plug to turn it off...)

Step 19: Jello Mold Pendant: Putting It All Together

Now that you've made this beautiful cord set, it's time to test it!! If you need a refresher on how to do this, refer to Lesson 6 of my Lamps Class.

Next, all that's left to do is screw on the shade holder, connect the holder to the jello mold, add a bulb, and hang it!

Bulb Recommendation:a (low heat) vintage Edison style LED bulb

Step 20: How to Hang a Pendant

When installing your pendant light, how high you hang it depends on how you're going to use it. If it's going over a work surface or dining table, you'll want to choose a height that allows for total coverage of your work/dining area. This is usually anywhere from 28-38" above the surface, keeping in mind you'll want an unobstructed view across the table/counter.

If you have a large area you are trying to light, you may need two or three pendants to get an adequate amount of light. The general rule of thumb is one pendant for ever 20 - 32" surface area, depending on the how large the opening of the shade is combined with how bright your bulb is.

If it's going above a couch or leisure chair as a reading light, just make sure it's high enough that you don't hit your head when getting up and down.

I recommend using a standard ceiling hook and a 'U' staple nail (or another cable wrangling piece of hardware). If you have a wood ceiling, you can use a simple screw-in hook (pictured below right), but if you have a drywall/sheetrock ceiling, use a hook with a toggle bolt (below left). The 'U' staple is to secure the cord into the corner of the wall and ceiling and help direct the cord towards the wall outlet.

(Left) Toggle Bolt Hook For Drywall Ceilings, (Right) Screw-In Hook For Wood Ceilings

Step 21: How to Secure the Cord

Once you have picked a spot, installed a hook, and figured out how high you want the pendant to hang, take a small zip tie and secure it around a small loop in the cord.

The great thing about using a zip tie is that you can leave it a little bit loose for minor height adjustments and then tighten it all the way up once you have the pendant exactly where you want it!

Step 1 - One zip tie, preferably a small one in whatever color will be most unnoticeable.

Step 2 - Make a small loop in the cord at the height you want the pendant to hang, minus the pendent depth measurement.

Step 3 - Put the zip tie around the overlapping area of the cord.

Step 4 - Tighten it so that you are still able to adjust the cord.

Step 5 - Once you've confirmed the height, snip off the excess zip tie.

Step 6 - Hang your pendant!

Step 22: That's a Wrap!

This is just the beginning of your exploration into the lamp frontier, of you boldly going where no other you has gone before.

If you enjoyed learning about lighting, you may also enjoy my other lamp instructables:

3 Ways to Make Table Lamps

Tripod Floor Lamp

Twin Socket Pendant Light

Star Light Tree Topper

Let's 'make it so'!