Car Headlight Desk Lamp




Introduction: Car Headlight Desk Lamp

In this instructable I will try to explain how to make this retro classic: the car headlight desk lamp. And yes, the main lamp is really a headlight from an oldtimer :)

First you have to find all of the parts; the headlight was found on a fleamarket and the base was extracted from an old desk lamp. It's basically a very simple job of painting the headlight and buffing all the chrome parts with some silver paper and cola (that really works, you know!). 

Afterwards you only have to connect the 2 parts and add some electronic components and wires. It's just that easy!

List of parts:

-base of desk lamp
-transformer (not the robot kind, just a voltage supply)
-lamp foot
-shrink wrap
-halogen replacement base
-halogen lamp

For the paint job you'll need:

-spray paint
-polishing wax
-car wax

Let's get started!

Step 1: Cleaning All the Parts

First off, we'll start with cleaning the old headlight. This was painted black, but in some spots rust was showing through. So, first step is to clean all the rust off and make the surface nice and smooth (no bumps).

I did this with an angle grinder and sand paper. Just do it careful, because ones you shave it off, you can't put it back!

After the grinding off the lamp, I'll start prepping this for painting. Since the surface is already nice and course (for the paint to adhere better to the metal) I only had to clean off the dust and use some soap to remove residual oil from, for example, touching the lamp (those are bad for your paint layer).

While I let the headlight dry in the sun, I start with the cleaning of the chrome parts. This is done by pouring cola over the affected area and rubbing it consequently with the silver paper (use the shiny side). After a few rubbings the chrome will almost look as new!

For more information on that technique, visit this instructable: Chrome polishing - mythbusters style

Step 2: Painting the Headlight

Take the headlight to a well ventilated area and use some spray paint for metal surfaces to paint the lamp. Start with spraying a thin layer of primer on the lamp and let it dry for at least half an hour. Believe me and take it slow. I couldn't wait and I had to start all over.

After half an hour you can return to the lamp and start spraying a thin layer of metal paint on top of the primer. Again take it slow and wait for the paint to dry, which is, as the saying goes, very boring!

When the first layer is dry start with the second layer and repeat these steps until you have a nice and even layer of paint on that headlight.

Don't worry if the finishing layer has some small bumps, we'll get to that in the next step!

Step 3: Making It Shiny

When finished with the paint layer I noticed it being to bumpy, not shiny and smooth at all! So how do you get a car to shine I thought? Use car wax off course!

So I started putting on some polishing wax and scrubbing it with a normal cloth. I repeated the adding polishing wax and scrubbing till the lamp's surface was becoming shiny and smooth.

Off course polishing wax can still be too course for making it as shiny as your car. So I started using car wax. This will partly fill the poreus surface of the paint and increase the reflectivity, which means make it more shiny! Do the same steps as before but this time with the car wax. Keep going and it will look like a freshly painted car!

Step 4: Start Working on the Electronics

First pull an electric cable through the base of the lamp, just make it long enough.

Then I looked at the lamp inside the headlight. This is a car light and it needs a lot of amperes! So I started off with making my own replacement lamp. Take the old lamp and break off the glass bulb (be careful and watch out for sharp edges).

Next step is to drill out the base of this lamp till you can fit a halogen lamp base in it. I glued this in with some temperature resistant-glue and placed it so that a small 25W halogen lamp would fit inside of the headlight. Now your lamp should be finished!

Next step is adding a cool chrome light switch. In my lamp there was already a hole with  just the right size to add my switch. If it hasn't got a hole with the right size, you'll have to drill a hole in it before you start painting the lamp.

Step 5: Connecting the Headlight With the Base

To connect the headlight to the base, you'll need a so called lamp foot. This is used to fix for example lamp shades to the base of a lamp and it has a hole in the middle so you can still route the wires through.

I increased the surface area of this socket by adding some clip ring. It's not really necessary, but it makes the construction somewhat more sturdy.

After screwing the lamp foot into the base, you should be still able to swivel the headlight with it's own mechanism. Also you should pull the wires through the lamp base and lead them inside the headlight. Now all the wires are in the right place and you can start soldering them together. Use some shrink wrap to insulate them because otherwise they might cause a short circuit.

Take a 12V transformer (normal supply) and attach it to your circuit, try out the switch and your lamp should start working. If not, check your circuit to see if everything is connected in the right way (voltmeter).

Step 6: Put It All Together and Enjoy!

After completing the electronics, you'll want to tuck these inside of the headlight and close the enclosure. Put the lamp on your desk and enjoy a job well done!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

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    Question 2 years ago on Step 6

    How much did it cost to make overall


    Question 5 years ago

    So what if you wanted a patina look to the headlight and the screws where to keep stripping when taking the headlight covers off. (Due to being in the light for ninety years and never being taken out).
    The make and model of my light is a pair of 1928 chevrolet headlights that are still on the headlight bar since I need to make a wall lamp.


    6 years ago

    That is one of the coolest lamps i have ever seen! I will make one!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    cool light!!
    It don't take much for me to get confused tho(IE: electronics/electricity/other technical stuff)
    but regardless, I love the lamp! you did an excellent job with making this!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very good idea to use the Hushman headlights I saved for 20 years, but there's no way I can get the accessories needed for the lamp base. I'm thinking of using heavy industrial flexible coguit, but that's ugly and requires brazing. Any thoughts on nice swivel movements?
    Best regards


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I got my base from a flee market, but you can also create one from messing tubes or drape pipes. Some of those have some attachments that look like swivels.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    To get ah mirror finish on your paint use Rotten Stone, Water and ah cotten cloth.
    Its like doing ah spit shine on your combat boots and you get ah 20,000 foot shine on the object. (20,000 foot can see and ID an aircraft flying over @ 20,000 feet).