Introduction: Autumn Leaf Lamp

About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building out…

This colorful hanging lamp is made from fallen autumn leaves and a section of salvaged tree trunk.  It's nearly free to make since almost all of the parts are provided by mother nature, and helps preserve the awesomeness of autumn all year long in your very own home.  Even if it's not autumn where you live, you can still collect and press different types of pleasing foliage - flowers, plants etc...  

Luckily I live in Oakland, where the leaves change color for an abnormally long amount of the year - the concept of seasons is certainly confusing to me where I live since the weather is almost always nice, so perhaps it's tricky for the trees to figure out too.

Step 1: Collect Leaves

Keep your eyes open for nicely shaped and spectacularly colored fallen leaves.  Roam the streets, comb the gutters, get a crook in your neck by staring up at trees and do your wind dance to summon a gust to blow them down to your grasping hands.  Green leaves also look great when pressed, so don't think they've all got to be in the prime of their color changing show.  Having lots of candidates is a good idea since some of the leaves tend to get  damaged in the drying and spraying process (future steps). 

This wasn't exactly what it looked like when I collected leaves...

Step 2: Press Leaves in Books

Once you've collected a sufficient amount of leaves (I gathered 200 or so), it's time to press them.  Grab a set of encyclopedias, if you haven't thrown yours out already, or any other kind of large, hardcover book.  Place the leaves into the pages of the book, making sure that they are laying flat and don't have any of their tips folded over.  Stems are ok, but are not necessary, so fee free to cut those off if you like.  

This step is sort of a long one - you've got to wait until the leaves are dry before you can move on.  Expect to wait a week or two depending on how humid of a climate you are in.  

If you're in a rush, it's possible you could put them into a food dehydrator, or dry them underneath a high wattage bulb, but be sure that you fashion some kind of a net or mesh to hold them all flat while they dry since they can tend to curl on you.  The book method is tried and true by years and years of the collective work of kindergarteners everywhere, so if you've got the time, wait it out.

Step 3: Find Log and Remove Center

While the leaves are being pressed in the books, it's a good time to move on to working on the wood round that will make up the lampshade for the project.  Find a medium section of a tree branch that's about 6" or 7" in diameter and 12" long.  The piece of wood will need to be long enough to house the fixture and bulb that you are using, so find something that matches your specific project requirements. 

Take a 3/4" - 1" slice of the wood off at one end of the round by running it through a bandsaw or using a handsaw as an alternative.  The slice will be put back on later, so register it's location on the rest of the round by making a tick mark with a pencil that spans the cut you just made.  Drill a network of holes in the back of the slice to let hot air vent out of the fixture.  See the last photo below for how I arranged mine.  Then, in the center of the vent holes you just drilled, drill another hole that will fit a medium to large (3/8" or so) eye bolt - this will be where we will hang the lamp from later.  Set the slice aside.

Focus your attention back on the remaining section of the log.  Using a spade bit (ok), forstner bit (better), or large auger bit (best), and a corded drill, drill a honeycomb of holes through the center of log being careful not to get too close to the outside of the log.  Drill the holes as close together as possible - if the drill jumps over into the next hole don't worry about it.  Using a drill press will help in this process if you have one, but I've done this with a hand drill several times and had great success.  The goal here is to remove the center of the log leaving an outer ring behind.  Think about it as making a "log tube", or long and skinny "log donut".

Keep drilling holes until the the honeycomb network is ready to be knocked out.  A good way to break the inner network away from the outer shell is to remove a hacksaw blade, slip it through one of your holes, reconnect it to the saw handle, and then saw in a ring around your honeycomb.  There are lots of ways to break the center out, hammer and chisel, random and wild hole drilling at odd angles, do whatever works for you, being sure you don't damage the outside - that's the lamp shade!

Once the center section has broken free, use a dremmel tool or sanding drum at the end of a drill to smooth out the inside of the round a bit and get rid of any wood shards hanging out on the inside of the log.  Since you've already made a mess, take a moment to do some sanding around the outside of the wood, being careful to preserve the natural look and feel of the tree round and not sand away all the details completely.

* Please excuse my stock photography here in this step.  These photos are from another project long ago, where I built small speakers out of trees.  It shows exactly the same process for slicing the backs off the log and removing the center section of wood in tree rounds.

Step 4: Take Care of Any Cracking

Take care of any cracks or checking in your wooden shell as it dries and stabilize them by either gluing them closed, or, as I've done in the picture below, "sew" cracks closed with steel wire.  The crack that appeared in the piece of wood I was working with wasn't causing much harm structurally to the wooden shell, but I thought it would be a fun time to experiment with sewing wood pieces together with steel (Instructable forthcoming) anyway.

Drill holes along the edge of the crack and using thin gauge steel cable, sew back and forth across the crack.  Secure the cable with either a knot (hard due to the wire's springy nature), or ferrule designed to secure steel cables (easy and strong).

Take this opportunity to finish the log (including the slice) with a polyurethane, varnish, or protective oil.  I used a water based polyurethane from minwax called polycrylic.  It doesn't smell bad, is easy to clean up, and has a nice satin finish.  I'm a big fan of the stuff.

Step 5: Clear Coat the Leaves

Once the leaves are fully dried, take them out of the books and using straight pins, affix them to a cardboard box, or something else disposable with a lot of surface area that's easy to pin I said, cardboard box.  

Spray all of the leaves with an enamel clear coat, or clear artists varnish.  I've found the Krylon clear enamel paint to work the best since even after it dries, it stays pretty flexible and helps the leaves retain their color.  I like using a semi or high gloss finish on the leaves to realyl make them pop.  You can of course choose another finish. 

The clear coat is not a permanent protective finish.  I've found that slows the browning of the leaves down to around 6-12 months when applied carefully, and that after 1 year, the clear coat begins to flake off, thus requiring the leaves to be swapped out.  I'm ok with this annual changing of the leaves, since freshly fallen leaves are so much prettier to look at and real fall leaves only retain their color for so long.

Step 6: Drill Holes in Wood

Go to the hardware store and get several lengths of thin steel rod called "piano wire" or "piano rod".  Then, grab a drill bit that matches the diameter, or is a bit larger than your piano wire.  Check the different thicknesses of piano wire available at the store to see what will support your leaves - I chose to hang one sprayed leaf on each wire, so I simply stuck it on the wire at the hardware store and purchased the wire which supported the leaf nicely at the length that I wanted - 6" to 12".

Take the drill bit and drill many small holes through your wood shell.  My pattern was a bit random, but was more or less evenly spaced all over the log.  Shoot for as many holes as leaves as you've collected and distribute them up and down, and around the log.

Step 7: Insert Piano Wire

Insert the piano wire into the holes you just drilled, bending the wires on the inside of the wooden shell with a small "L" so that they don't slip out.  Start at the deepest part of the log first (top of wooden shade) and then work your way towards the shallowest (bottom of wooden shade) part so you don't end up scraping all the ends of the wire by your hands as you reach in and out a hundred me, I learned the hard way.

Cut the piano wire to varying lengths of your choosing using a wire snips.  You want them to be somewhat random and artfully arranged so that the leaves all don't end up in the same plane.

Step 8: Glue Leaves Onto Wire

Using a silicone adhesive like DAP All Purpose Adhesive Sealant, glue the leaves onto the ends of the piano wires by stabbing the wire through a meaty portion of the leaf and then placing a small dab of silicone on the back of the leaf.  I've found silicone glue to be the best adhesive to use since you're joining metal to enamel coated leaf, and you want something that won't drip and make a mess.  Hot glue here is a definite NO since the strings that it creates as you pull the gun away will wreak havoc on your lamp and sanity.

Step 9: Wire in the Fixture

Pass a $4 IKEA HEMMA light cord through the screw eye, tying it in place if you wish, and then thread the lamp cord through one of the vent holes that you drilled in step 3.  You will need to remove the wire from the IKEA fixture head in order to do this, but that's easily done using a screwdriver.  Once the wires have been passed through and are inside the wooden shade, re-wire the fixture head and install a bulb.  I used a CF bulb so it wouldn't generate too much heat...something I was mildly concerned over due to the wooden lamp shade and the relatively close quarters of the entire fixture.

Step 10: Screw the Slice Into Position

Using the registration mark you made before in step 3, line up, and screw the backer slice onto the top of the lamp.  Drill pilot holes for your screws so you don't crack the thin wooden lamp shade.

At this point the lamp is built and you just need to hang it somewhere in your home.  

That's how to make an Autumn Leaf Lamp, thanks for reading and please leave feedback below in the comments section.