Introduction: Cardboard Pendant Lamp (The Gourd)

First instructable! Hi guys :)

This project was inspired by Graypant’s Scraplights. I saw them online and was impressed by their simple but beautiful forms, and their eco-friendliness. I liked the idea of using maligned materials and making them into elegant designs (Graypants gets a majority of their materials by dumpster diving).

However, I was pretty unimpressed with their pricing. $279 for a lamp made from free materials? No way. I experimented a bit using Maya, ReplicatorG, Skeinforge, and Illustrator and found that the process was not altogether that difficult. I tried to use all free software. ReplicatorG and Skeinforge are offered as free and open source software. Admittedly, Maya and Illustrator are not free. However, if you are a student, Autodesk offer a full featured educational suite of Maya for free at . If not, you can try your hand at Blender, or Google Sketchup. If there is enough demand, I will try to write an instructable for SketchUp. You can use Inkscape instead of illustrator.

Also, parts of this process will eventually be rendered obsolete by the release of Autodesk’s 123D make application, which can cut out some of the tedium.

I am lucky to have access to a laser cutter. My friend operates a hackerspace called The Build Shop in Los Angeles, and has a laser cutter that can be used for a pretty good hourly rate. If you look up local hackerspaces in your city, you will find that a lot of them have laser cutters you can use. You don’t need to use a laser cutter though! If you have the patience, you can print out your files and exacto knife the cardboard yourself.

Step 1: Materials

Things you’ll need
CARDBOARD-- lots of it. Go dumpster diving, or cut up some old boxes you have on hand
A bulb set and cord - I bought the Ikea HEMMA for 3 dollars online (
A lightbulb -- I bought some reallly cool edison lightbulbs on Amazon which add a really cool warm and vintage glow to the cardboard shades. example here:
Wood Glue - I like wood glues that have a small nozzle, as it makes it easier to control and be precise
FOR SAFETY (and we want to be safe)
fire retardant (I use No-Burn because of it’s zero VOC and effectiveness on paper)
Access to a laser cutter, or a service like Ponoko or Shapeways. Alternatively, an exacto knife, a printer, and lots of patience

Step 2: Go Dumpster Diving!

This is honestly one of the most fun parts of the whole process. If you haven’t gone dumpster diving before, GO DO IT. Overcoming your fear of social stigma is a nice little side effect of going-- not to mention, you can find THE COOLEST stuff when you root around in people’s garbage.

If you are located in a large city with a decent community, you may find others who go dumpster diving, which may help you reduce your anxiety. For residents of Los Angeles -

The back of large retail stores is a good place to start, as they go through tons of cardboard in their day to day operation. Furniture stores are also a good place to look, as well as bike shops, as they both have large packages come in on a really regular basis.

Try to find boxes with side panels measuring at least 16” as they’ll be the most efficient to cut (although this depends on the size of your laser cutter’s working space). If you’ll be cutting this by hand (bless you) you don’t need to worry about this so much.

Step 3: Change Some Settings

This part is admittedly pretty boring.
You need to download a free Maya plug in that will allow you to export .STL files (which is the file format that most rapid prototyping technologies will need to use at some point in the workflow). Go to and download multitool for your OS (it’s free!). Run the installer and you’re set.

Also download ReplicatorG here:|

and Skeinforge here:

Install ReplicatorG, and unzip Skeinforge into a directory that you’ll remember for later.

Boot up your copy Maya and get ready.

There are a few settings we need to change in Maya before we start that are going to make this project a lot easier later on.

Click on Window -> Settings/Preferences -> Preferences and then click on the Settings tab in the left menu. Change Linear to inch (This will be under Working Units). This sets our default units to inches. If you’re international and use the metric system, y’all should skip this step. Apply the settings, close the window. Now click on Display -> Grid [] (There’s a little square. click on it!). Switch Length and Width to 15 Units, Grid Lines every 1 unit, with 1 subdivision.

Oh, and I almost forgot! Make sure that multitool is loaded. Window -> Settings/Preferences -> Plugin Manager. MultiTool.bundle should be displayed somewhere in the window, and should be loaded. If it doesn’t appear, click on browse and locate the directory in which you installed Multitool.

Apply and Close and you’re ready for the next step.

Step 4: Designing!

Okay, that was all pretty mundane, but now on to the fun part!

Make sure you’re in the “Polygons” menu.

Click on Create -> Polygon Primitives -> Sphere, and click the little box. Make a sphere of radius 6, with 50 axis and height divisions. If Maya asks you to selNow select the sphere by dragging around it. Click on Edit -> Duplicate (or Command - D on OSX or CTRL - D on Windows).

Now click on the Scale Tool (on the left side, illustrated by a cube with two arrows) and resize the new sphere so that it’s slightly smaller than the original sphere. Select both spheres and go to Mesh -> Booleans -> Difference. What this does is subtract the smaller sphere from the larger sphere, leaving a hollow sphere polygon.

Now you’re going to create the top and bottom openings. Create a cylinder polygon of radius .75 (this will make a top opening of 1.5 inches in diameter, which fits Ikea lighting fixtures) and height of 1. Move this cylinder to the top of the sphere so that it comes out of the top of the sphere but remains inside of it slightly. Now select both polygons and boolean subtract both. Now create another cylinder for the bottom opening. This time make a cylinder with radius 2 and height of 3. Move it to the bottom of the sphere, select the sphere and cylinder and boolean subtract both again. You should now have a sphere with a small hole at the top and a large hole at the bottom.

Now you can leave it at this if you just want to make a globe lamp, but I like to get a little bit funky.  Mess around for a bit with your model (but be sure to keep the smaller hole the same size, as that’s the size of the bulb set). This is a great time to learn a bit about 3d modeling. I won’t go into too much here, but I suggest you check out tutorials on youtube (there are thousands).

Step 5: Exporting to .STL and Resizing Using ReplicatorG

Now that you’ve finished modeling your lamp, you’re going to want to export it to .STL so that it can be read by ReplicatorG and Skeinforge. Click on File-> Export All. For format, select STereoLithography (*.stl), and save it with a name you like, in whichever directory you choose.

Boot up ReplicatorG and open your newly created .STL file. Your model should appear as a very tiny figure in the viewport, and it also should be on its side.

Click on rotate on the right side and hit X+, which should rotate the model to be laying flat on the grid. Now click on Move and hit Center. Click on Scale and enter 7.5 for the scale value and hit scale. The model should appear much larger, and will now be correct for slicing. For reference, I don’t know why the scaling ends up incorrect when transferring the files from Maya to ReplicatorG. If someone knows, I’d love to hear why.

Finally, save your model and close ReplicatorG

Step 6: Running Skeinforge and Chopping Your Model

Go back to where you unzipped Skeinforge and open up Terminal (on a mac), and drag into the terminal window. Hit enter and a window should open. On a PC, you should just double click on and it should open up Skeinforge. Choose a profile type of “Cutting” and Profile selection of “Laser.” Then click on Craft.  on the top menu. A new set of options should open up. Click on Chop and select your .STL file.

Now measure the cardboard you’re going to be using. My cardboard measured about 4mm thick so I changed layer thickness to 4mm. You can view my settings in the pictures on this page.

Hit save all, and a file called (yourfile)_chop.svg should appear in the directory where your model was located. Pat yourself on the back! You’ve just successfully modeled a 3d file in Maya, converted it to STL, resized it to its correct proportions, and sliced it into pieces that you will cut out! You should feel really good about yourself now. Celebrate with a beer. Or a soda.

Did you celebrate? Good. Because now it’s going to get tedious again.

Step 7: Organizing Your Pieces.

I am aware of the extraordinary tediousness of these following steps. I’m sure there’s some sort of script that makes this much easier, but I’m yet to find one. If you know of one, please let me know, and I’ll update this ‘able

Download this script for Illustrator and put it into a folder that you’ll remember for later

Open up Illustrator (or Inkscape, but I’ll be teaching with Illustrator) and open the newly created SVG. Also create a new document that’s the same size as the cardboard you’ll be cutting.

You’ll see a large amount of rings stacked on top of each other. You’ll want to select all (command-a or ctrl-a) and ungroup them (right click on windows, ctrl click on mac). Select them and start moving them into the new document (control-x or command x) and start arranging the circles within each other to get the most efficient use of space. I alternate between odds and evens. You’ll most likely need to create more than one document, depending on the size of your cardboard and your laser’s printing bed (I use a 32” x 18” cutter, and I needed 7 documents, though some cutters have ENORMOUS work beds). You can see how my files turned out if you download the zip.

This is optional, but it helps A LOT when you’re trying to assemble your pieces. I number each ring so that they get engraved when the parts are being cut so that I can see which order to glue them in. Eventually you'll get something like the document that I've uploaded here.

Finally, select all and click on File -> Scripts -> Other Script, and open the script I just had you download. This will ungroup all of the objects in the document, allowing you to delete each of the numbers that Skeinforge grouped with each ring. Delete the numbers, and you’re set.

Step 8:

Step 9: Assemble!

Sorry, no pictures of assembly. It totally slipped my mind, but it should be pretty self explanatory.

Fun part! Start assembling your lamp by gluing the pieces in sequential order. Be careful with your glue, and use it sparingly! It’s very effective. Let the your lamp dry out for a while, but bask in its beauty and glory, and now really pat yourself on the back because you’ve endured a lot of tedium. When it’s dried for about a day (I’m actually always way more impatient and do this earlier) spray on the fire retardant and let it dry.

Attach your cord set. If you’re using the Ikea HEMMA set, you should screw it into your top hole. It should be pretty easy. Screw in your lightbulb and you’re done! now plug it in and pat yourself on the back.

I hope you enjoyed this instructable. If I am unclear on any part, please let me know, and I’ll try to revise it.

Happy making :)

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