Introduction: Air Plant (Tillandsia) Display/Habitat From Old Electrical Insulators

About: Be limited only by your imagination.

In this Instructable, I describe how I made an air plant (Tillandsia) habitat out of a variety of wood I had in my scrap box. I also had four electrical insulators and I used these, inverted, as the vases to hold the air plants. Because I mist the plants, I used polyurethane to protect the wood.

Air Plants come in many different shapes and sizes. Better Homes and Gardens Article on Air Plants
The design of this project lets you choose where to put the shorter and taller plants. They don't live in soil and that makes them perfect for this kind of habitat. Once a week through the year I take them out and put them in room temperature water that has been aged for at least a day to remove chlorine. I leave them there for about an hour. Then I shake the water off and lay them on a towel to dry. Once they are dry again they go back into the habitat.

Especially when it is dry, and that can be with air conditioning or during the winter, I will mist the plants every two or three days. Two or three squirts from the mister are all they need. You don't want to have them sit in water. I remove the planter (electrical insulator) from the base to do this because I don't want to build minerals up on the base over the years.

I hope you like this project. I think it makes a nice display. And I was happy to finally figure out a way to use the remaining electrical insulators I had kept for years.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

  • Materials
    • 3/4X13X13 inch board of mixed woods for the base - I would have used a solid piece of oak or joined oak if I had it. This used to be a shelf in my basement.
    • (2) 1/2X 12 X5 inch oak for the leaves
    • 3/4 X 18 inch dowel
    • 1X1X1/4 inch slice of ebony for the contrasting cap inlay
    • 4 electrical insulators found on Ebay
    • Various Air Plants, also on Ebay. I bought 12 plants for 20 dollars.
    • Tite-bond 2 glue
    • Oil-based gloss polyurethane (I used Polyshades Honey PIne)
  • Tools
    • Table saw
    • Table saw sled with a nail in order to turn the base into a circle
    • Router table with a roundover bit
    • Drill with a drill press guide to make the hole in the base perpendicular
    • Drill press with
      • 3/4 inch Forstner bit to bore out the dowel holes for the leaves
      • 3-inch hole saw to make the hole for the insulator
    • Bench sander to shape the dowel top
    • Random Orbital Sander to sand the entire project
    • Simple home-made jig to cut the inlay slot for the upright (see STEP 4) on the table saw sled
    • Paint brush for polyurethane
    • microfiber cloth to remove sawdust
    • tack cloth to remove more sawdust
    • mineral spirits to remove skin oils and any residual sawdust prior to staining
    • various rags
    • green Choreboy scouring pad to scuff between polyurethane coats

Step 2: Making the Base

  1. Cut the base to basic 13 inch square and find the center
  2. Drill a hole thru the center for a small-diameter brad
  3. Measure on the sled 6 1/2 inches in from the blade and about 8 inches up from the base of the sled (the piece should be able to spin using the brad as an axle).
  4. Repeatedly cut the square on the tangent until the square becomes a circle and remove from the sled. Here is a Youtube video showing the technique. Make a Circle on a Table Saw
  5. Because this was a reused piece of wood there were some old screw holes and I filled these in with wood putty and sanded this down.
  6. Sand the circumference and top of the circle.
  7. Use a roundover bit on the top of the base.
  8. Drill a 3/4 inch hole using the Forstner bit in the exact center of the circle (use the drill hole you used for the brad to find this spot).

Step 3: Making the Leaves

  1. Using a 5-inch circumference can, draw a circle
  2. Measuring 12 inches from the top of the circle and directly thru the center of the circle, draw a second line.
  3. Using the can, draw a second circle.
  4. Using the outside of the can draw a line so that you have made roughly a figure 8 shape
  5. Cut the shape out using a bandsaw, jigsaw or coping saw.
  6. Trace the pattern to another piece of wood and cut that out too.
  7. Drill a 3/4 inch diameter hole using a Forstner bit on a drill press. This has to be exactly perpendicular or the leaves will tilt.
  8. Using the 3-inch hole saw, drill the cut-outs for the insulators
  9. Sand all surfaces and soften the edge of the leaves.

Step 4: Making the Upright Dowel

  1. Cut an 18 inch length of 3/4 inch dowel. Make sure that the cut is perpendicular to the dowel so that it sets at 90 degrees to the base. This doesn't have to be exact since it is seated in the base and if your hole in the base is perpendicular the dowel will be too.
  2. Optionally, cut a slot that is 1/4 inch wide and 3/4 inch deep into the top of the dowel. I created a jig by drilling a 3/4 inch hole through a 2X4. I then marked the dimensions of the slot and repeatedly ran the jig over the table saw using my sled. When I was done I removed the dowel and had a perfect slot for the inlaid ebony.
  3. Cut a piece of ebony, walnut or other contrasting wood that is 1/4 inch wide by 1 by 1 inch.
  4. Sand this piece until it is a tight fit but slips into the groove.
  5. Liberally coat the ebony with Titebond II. Insert it into the groove.
  6. When it is finished sand the excess off and again optionally round the top over as you like.

Step 5: Gluing It All Together and Applying Polyurethane

  1. Sand everything to 110 grit or finer
  2. Glue the bottom of the dowel and tap it into the base.
  3. Slide the first leave so that it sits about 2.5 inches above the base. Apply Titebond II liberally to the dowel just below the leaf and slide it another 1/4 inch onto the glued section.
  4. Repeat this with the second leaf 8 inches above the first leaf. Make the leaves perpendicular to each other.
  5. Let this dry.
  6. Sand wherever there is glue squeeze out.
  7. Use mineral spirits to examine the area around the glue joints. They will reveal any glue spots. Sand these away. This is important or your finish will blotch.
  8. Sand the remainder of the project again.
  9. Vacuum or blow sawdust off the project
  10. Use a microfiber cloth to remove more sawdust.
  11. Use a tack cloth to remove yet more sawdust.
  12. Wipe the whole project down with mineral spirits and allow to dry. USE GOOD VENTILATION FOR THIS STEP AND ALL THE STEPS BELOW.
  13. Apply two coats of Polyurethane following the manufacturer's directions. Scuff with a green choreboy pad between coats.
  14. Let it dry overnight, again being careful to protect it from dust and dirt.
  15. Insert the insulators
  16. Place the Air Plants in the insulators.

Enjoy your work

Step 6: Re-finishing the Base

After several weeks I decided to sand and repaint the base gloss black. I did not like the mix and match wood of the base and I thought that the gloss black base complimented the ebony inlay at the top. What do you think?