Introduction: Contemporary Japanese Table Lamp

About: Hello! I'm an engineering student in Wisconsin. I enjoy woodworking, machining, and fixing things.

My mother was eyeing the Asian-style lamps at Target and World Market, so with Christmas approaching, I decided to build her one. This project can be completed with basic woodworking skills and less than $20 worth of materials. If you're interested, read on!

- Jigsaw: I purchased a Makita 4329 and have been happy with it. Make sure to get good blades too.
- Dowel Drilling Jig
- Drill
- Sandpaper
- Electric Sander 
- A Clamp or two
- Ruler
- Try Square or similar: The $2 polycarbonate square I found at Menards is one of my most used tools. It can be clamped and used as a jigsaw-guide.

- Wood: Maple, about $20 for a 6 foot section. About half was used in this project.
- Dowels: I bought a 3 ft long quarter inch dowel and cut it into pieces - much cheaper than pre-made dowels
- Lightbulb Socket: Can be scavenged from an old lamp or purchased at a hardware store
- Wood Glue
- Textured paper for shade: I found a nice "cloud" pattern in the scrap-booking section at Michael's craft store.
- Wood Finish: I used Arm-r-Seal Urethane Gloss, but any finish works. 
- Bulb: I used an orange CFL to reduce the risk of fire and create a more classic look. 

Note: Not all these tools and/or materials are needed to complete this project. Much of the sanding was done by hand. The pieces could be cut with a hand saw, and dowels are not necessary. There are many other choices of wood as well.

Safety Equipment
- Glasses
- Hearing Protection
- Dust Mask or Particulate Respirator (A good respirator lasts much longer and works better than disposable masks)

A few words on safety
Power tools are dangerous and cause hundreds of thousands of injuries each year. It takes less than a second to lose a finger or an eye, and hearing damage, while more gradual, cannot be healed. Always understand proper power tool operation, don't work while tired, and use personal protective equipment. This video by "thinitz12" gives a good idea of how quickly power tools can turn dangerous:

A few more words on safety
Woodworking and electrical wiring involve many health hazards. If you are not 100% comfortable with either, ask for assistance.

Step 1: Design

A quick Google image search for "Japanese Lamp" turns up many nice designs. The lamp that stuck with me was this one:

The gently curved legs, in particular, looked much nicer than the typical "box" styles.

If working with a nice (and pricey) wood, it's good to first make a prototype/half mock up from scrap (Menards has a bunch of $1-2 "utility wood", usually pine with bad knots or warping). The initial design included some roof element and cross pieces to support the paper. As the project progressed, I discovered they weren't really necessary, and decided to eliminate them for simplicity, and what I think is a more elegant look.

Step 2: Cutting the Legs and Sanding

A cardboard template is used to cut the legs. I didn't want to waste wood, so the pieces are "nested" against each other. This resulted in some slight differences between the pieces, but it's not very noticeable on the finished product.

I tried both a "fine curve" and "straight cut" blade and found that the straight blade worked best.

I don't have much jigsaw experience, so the pieces required lots of sanding to correct errors. I used an orbital sander for the flat surfaces, and did the rest by hand. 
Start with a coarse grit (100 works well) and use progressively finer grades. Skipping from a "shaping" grit to a "finishing" grit will leave scratches on the wood.

Sawdust is not very good for your lungs. I recommend wearing breathing protection or using a dust extraction system when using a jigsaw or sanding. 

Step 3: Crosspieces and Dowel Joints

The crosspiece is made from three pieces of wood, slightly thinner than the legs, and is the only thing connecting the four legs. See crude text diagram below. The long horizontal piece has a hole drilled partially through it to accept the lightbulb socket mounting screw.

The lamp, as seen from above:


A dowel drilling jig was used to drill matching holes in the crosspieces and legs. The crosspieces were lined up in the jig by sight and clamped firmly. The dowels help mostly with alignment during assembly. They do provide more strength, but since it's a lamp, that's not too important.

Step 4: Assembly

With the dowels in place, assembly and glue up are fairly simple. I first glued the crosspiece together. It is connected together without dowels - just butt joints and glue. Making this piece first allows for further sanding to level the crosspiece. After that dries, the legs can be connected and glued. They can be lined up by sight fairly well.

Due to a fall, and subsequent poor re-gluing, my lamp was re-assembled almost 3 times. This is where the dowels are really helpful. If your lamp looks out of alignment, you can break the joint and re-glue.

If you drill the lightbulb socket hole with the right size bit, the mounting screw should screw in snugly. A dab of glue helps too. Don't mount the bulb socket yet

Step 5: Finishing

With all the pieces glued together, it's a good idea to go over the frame with some fine sandpaper to clean up the glue joints and check for any remaining scratches. The Arm-R-Seal polyurethane recommends sanding with no finer than 220 grit. 

Clean off the frame with some rags. Some recommend mineral spirits as well. A blast of compressed air from a can or compressor will help dislodge any fine sawdust particles.

A gloss finish is achieved by applying a thin coat of varnish, letting it dry, and sanding with very fine paper (300 and up). This process is repeated 3-5 times. Clean off the surface before each application. Don't worry about sanding too much of the varnish off - the point of the sanding is to even out the surface- all the low spots will remain filled with varnish, even if you get into the wood. Don't use thick coats of varnish. Though tempting, this results in uneven drying and drip marks. 

FIRE HAZARD: Rags used for finish application must be disposed of properly as they can spontaneously ignite. Linseed oil is particularly well known for this, but it can happen with any solvent. Don't pile soaked rags together. Spread them out on a fire-safe surface (like concrete) and let them dry before disposing. As it was winter, I stuck mine in the fireplace to dry (not burning). 

HEALTH HAZARD: Most stains and finishes contain volatile organic compounds that aren't very good for respiratory health. Minimize exposure to fumes. If possible, work outside, or in another well ventilated area. If you have a respiratory illness, I recommend using a respirator with vapor cartridges, though consult a doctor beforehand. 

Step 6: Bulb Socket Wiring and Lamp Shade

Please read this section carefully. Incorrect wiring is dangerous.

With everything dry, the bulb socket can be assembled and screwed into place. Make sure to connect the right wires to the proper terminals on the socket - you will find on most plugs a wide and regular prong. This is known as a polarized plug. The wide prong is the "neutral" and the regular prong is the "hot". You can guess which side has the ability to deliver a nasty shock. For this reason, the hot wire (regular prong), is wired to the bottom point of the bulb (the brass screw), and the neutral wire (wide prong) goes to the screw portion of the bulb (nickel/regular screw). The neutral wire usually has some sort of marking or rib on the insulation. It is also recommended that prior to screwing the wires, you knot them with an "underwriter" knot to keep them from pulling out.

Use of an older non-polarized plug is not recommended - new cords cost $1-2 and are much safer.

Make sure the cardboard sleeve is in place and not worn out (if using an old socket). This insulates the socket's exterior from the exposed wiring and prevents shocks and short circuits.

Here is a good article on light socket wiring:

Lamp Shade

The shade is just a piece of patterned paper rolled into a tube and taped together. I tried glue, but it caused wrinkles. It just drops into the frame, which allows for easy access to the bulb and socket switch, as well as the possibility for different shades.

Step 7: Last Remarks

At this point, you should have a working lamp. Depending on what bulb you use, it can be a functional piece or just a mood light,

If you decide to build this lamp (or one similar), please post a picture - I would love to see what other people come up with. 

Thank you for reading - if you have questions, suggestions on how to improve this Instructable, advice, random passing thoughts, feel free to post. 

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