Introduction: Box Lamp

About: Maker & tinkerer. I work in hardware technology. My interests include technology operations, sustainability, Right to Repair and innovation management. I also like to camp, kayak, bike and run.

This idea was first inspired by seeing a tabletop box lamp in a Scandinavian furniture store. Later, I found a lamp fixture discarded in my apartment building's trash, and decided to salvage it and make this lamp. There's something about the volume and design of box lamps that I find very attractive. It is the perfect accent furniture addition to any room. In my experience, it has also been an excellent conversation starter; so many people comment on it and want to know more about it. I hope this tutorial will inspire you to make your own lamp because it is really so simple!

Step 1: Design Your Lamp

I designed my lamp using Sketchup; however, you can also use Autodesk FormIt or Autodesk AutoCAD. You can find my personal .DXF and .SKP files attached here in this tutorial. Feel free to use my design or expand upon it (I only ask that you not engage in any profit-seeking activity through the use of these files).

This process can be far more time consuming than you might anticipate. I estimate that my design took about 12 hours of work in SketchUp. I would test out how your CAD program translates to your particular laser cutter before you complete all of work.

As an aside: my design is closely modeled off of the "Tree of Life" design by Frank Lloyd Wright. My design is different than the original design; however, in an abundance of caution--and with a sincere respect for Frank Lloyd Wright's work--I sent photos of the design and lamp to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. I provided the Foundation the opportunity to express any concerns they might have about my intended design and personal use of the design. For me, my caution went beyond not violating any copyright per se, but I also did not want to inappropriately imitate his work, offend the foundation or dilute the reputation of the Frank Lloyd Wright non-profit foundation. The foundation did not express any concerns with my design or intended use. All this is to say: if you're going imitate someone else's hard work, you should perhaps ask them for permission first.

EDIT: User manueldthomas informed me that my files were not completely square; that is, the images were a bit crooked. He generously offered to correct my errors. His (corrected) files are called "lampcorrectv2.dxf" and "lampcorrectv2.dwg". Thank you, manueldthomas!

Step 2: Head to the Laser Cutter

I used an 80 Watt Rabbit Laser Cutter, which is similar to some of the top-of-the-line laser cutters you see by Epilogue. As you may know, a laser cutter can be prohibitively expensive, not just in terms of the initial price tag but also in terms of the ongoing maintenance, upkeep and energy usage. You may be surprised to learn that laser cutters are actually fairly common, and you're very likely to within driving distance of a public laser cutter, which you can use for little or no expense. The laser cutter I used belonged to a local makerspace (Tinkermill in Longmont, CO). Your local library might even have a laser cutter available for use. You can start your search for a local MakerSpace using this map.

Once you have the .DXF file, the laser cutting process is easy and automatic. In my case, I just had to be careful that the laser didn't start a fire. I used 5mm (1/4 inch) birch plywood available from the Home Depot for about $14. Lowe's offers a similar product; however, in my experience, the material from Home Depot is higher quality and cuts cleaner. The material from Lowe's seems to have more glue and ignite on fire more.

Obviously, you want to be sure that you're operating safely within your laser cutter's operating capacity. Additionally, ensure that you have proper protection from the laser light and proper ventilation. Finally, given the fact that a fire can start, be sure that you have fire suppression safety equipment.

Step 3: Prepare the Wood Parts

The next thing you want to do is gently sand the wood panels. Some of the Lamp's pieces are super small and fragile. I actually had to remake one of the panels because the orbital sander chipped off a piece. Ideally, you want to do this part by hand. Keep in mind that panel already comes sanded; what you're really doing here is sanding off the burn marks from the laser.

At this point, I decided to dry fit the panels together. Next I had to cut the edges of the panels at 45 degree angles so that they can fit together cleanly at the corners. Before you cut these angles, you want to cut several practice panels. It is very easy to mess this up because you're taking off such a small strip of wood. I also put masking tape along the edge to prevent tear out.

Step 4: Finish the Wood Panels

This step is pretty straight forward. I used three coats of clear polyurethane with a light sanding in between each coat.

Usually polyurethane is heat sensitive, and you wouldn't want to use it on a lamp; however, I am using low heat LED and compact florescent lights. Also, in addition to the top vent, the glass is heavy and provides pretty darn good insulation. Heat hasn't been a problem.

Step 5: Glue the Panels Together

When gluing the panels together, I followed this method.

Once you glue it together, you can sand off the excess glue and refinished the edges.

Step 6: Prepare the Glass

The glass panels were made and cut in Toledo, Ohio. As you may know, Toledo is the glass capital of the world thanks to its industrial history when three sizable and separate companies, all manufacturing glass products, were headquartered in Toledo, Ohio. Dozens of other glass manufacturers followed and located in Toledo. Today, the city still produces several million square feet of high quality glass that can be found everywhere from skyscrapers to residential homes.

To cut out holes for ventilation and the ability to access the switch, I went very slowly with a diamond edge hole cutting drill bit. You actually want to adjust the drill settings so that the bit rotates as slowly as possible. You should go slow and pause often to squeeze water on the glass to clear glass shards/debris and keep the piece cool.

I took a tiny grinding bit and smoothed out the sharp edges so they won't knick your fingers as your handle the glass.

Step 7: Enjoy Your Finished Lamp

I ended up re-purposing an old lamp shade and cutting out panels to put in between the glass and the wood panel to soften the light. Previously, the light was too bright, and with the lamp shade, the light is calmer and more yellow.