Introduction: Custom Homemade Lamps for Cheap!

About: Sneakers, photography and more.

I wrote this instructable to enter in the "Dorm Hacks" contest going on right now. As I am a freshman in college, I decided to build something that could be done in a college dorm, on a college budget. I needed a lamp for my desk, so instead of buying one, I made one myself (actually I made 2).

This inscrutable will show you instructions for a concrete lamp as well as a wood lamp. The materials you choose to make your lamp out of are only limited by your imagination! I tried to design a lamp that needed minimal tools, because all the college students I know don't have an entire shop in their dorm. The prices for each lamp will include EVERYTHING needed to make it, including tools.

Step 1: Concrete Lamp: Materials

The concrete lamp can be made with no tools other than a small knife and a screwdriver, but I will include some tools I used that made it easier along the way.

I also want to mention that the first time I tried to make this concrete lamp I failed miserably. I will let you know where I messed up along the way so that you avoid making the same mistakes I did.


60lb bag of quikcrete brand concrete mix - $3.30 (from home depot)

Mixing bowl - $1.00 (from dollar store)

Cup - $1.00 (from dollar store)

Lightbulb - $1.00 (from dollar store)

Wirestrippers, screwdriver, mixing spoon - $2.00 total (buy these at a pawn shop or thrift store)

PVC pipe - $1.67 (from home depot)

Power cord, and light bulb socket - $5.00 (thrift store)

Switch $1.67 (walmart)

Total cost: $16.67

Before I start, if you buy these things all from the home depot, your lamp will probably cost more like 30 or 40 dollars. I was stupid and bought a power cord and a lightbulb socket from the home depot, and it cost like 15 bucks. When I made my second lamp, I realized I could just gut an old lamp from the thrift store for much cheaper. The PVC pipe in this build is somewhat optional. I'll show you how to use it, but I actually ended up not using it in my lamp. If you do buy the PVC, you will probably also have to buy a hacksaw to cut it, the one I bought was like 5 dollars.

Step 2: Concrete Lamp: the Electronics

When you are searching for your lamp from a thrift store, you want to find a lamp that fits a normal sized bulb, and plugs into the wall. Also, make sure it works. As a bonus, try to find a lamp that already has a lightbulb in it, and a switch built into the chord. That will save you 2 dollars. I couldn't find a lamp that had a switch built into the chord, but mine did have a lightbulb included!

I forgot to take some picture of me disassembling the old lamp, but it is a pretty simple process. Start by cutting off the power cord at the base of the lamp I shouldn't have to mention this, but make sure it isn't plugged in. Next, pull out the lightbulb socket. Most likely, this will be held in place by a small nut on the back of the lamp. Just unscrew the nut, and push the socket out. The socket will be connected by two wire, cut those off. Your socket may be enclosed in some kind of casing, In order to get to the place you need to attach the wires of the plug you cut off the base of the lamp, you will have to remove this casing.

Once you have your socket out, you are going to notice that the two wire from the old lamp are held in place by two screws. We are going to attach the end of the power cord we cut off to out socket by unscrewing those screws, placing the wires from our cord under the screws and tightening them down. To do this, separate the two wires on the power cord, and strip the ends of each. Twist the ends of the exposed wire so that it stays together, and then bend them into a loop. Place this loop on top of the screw holes, and then screw the screw down tightly on the wires. Make sure that the wires are held in place tightly, and that they are making contact. Once you have done this, screw in your light bulb and plug it in. Your lightbulb should light up. If you leave off the casing, make sure you don't touch the exposed wires, or you will get shocked. All of this is illustrated in the pictures above.

Step 3: Concrete Lamp: Preparing the Mold

We are using a plastic cup I got from the dollar store as a mold for our concrete. I messed up the first time I attempted to make this thing. I ended up using a disposable plastic cup the second time around. It worked great.

You can use whatever container you want, to achieve whatever shape you want. Just remember that when you choose your mold you have to be able to make a hole for the wiring to go out of, and you have to be able to remove the mold afterwards. Glass/ceramic containers are not going to be idea, because it will be difficult to make a hole for the wiring in them without cracking the container, and it will be difficult to get the mold off after the concrete has cured, without damaging the concrete.


I was having a hard time deciding how I wanted to protect the electronics inside of the concrete. I decided to house them inside a piece of PVC pipe. I cut the PVC to a length that would work, and then cut a hole in the bottom of the cup that the power cable could fit through. The issue with doing it this way, is that the base of your lamp will have to sit on top of the power cord. The way I did it the second time, was by poking a small hole in the side of my plastic cup near the bottom. I detached my lightbulb socket from the cord so that the cord could fit through the small hole that I made in the cup. Once I fit the chord through the hole in the cup, I attached the socket. This is how I would recommend doing this step.


When I was making the lamp for the second time, I decided to leave out the PVC pipe part. This worked great, except there was nothing protecting the electronics. When I poured the concrete into the mold, water seeped into the socket. I soaked up the water that had gotten in the socket with a piece of toilet paper, and then crammed a bunch inside the socket to absorb any more water that might seep in. If you choose to leave out the PVC pipe, make sure that you seal up the bottom of the socket with hot glue or something. I plugged in my lamp to see it if worked before the concrete was fully dry, and I could hear water boiling, and saw steam coming out of the top of the lamp. Be sure to insulate your electronics

Step 4: Concrete Lamp: Pouring the Concrete

The first time I did this I did it outside, but the second time around I mixed the concrete and poured it inside of my dorm. If you choose to do this inside, make sure you put down something to protect the surface you are working on.

To start this step, I poured a bunch of concrete into a bowl and added just a little bit of water. Start out with maybe four parts concrete to one part water. Add water if you need it until your concrete is about the consistency of oatmeal with rocks in it. BEFORE YOU START POURING IT make sure that the top of your socket is covered with tape or something. I forgot to do this and spent a ton of time picking concrete bits out of my socket when I spilled concrete inside of it.

Hold your socket up out of the way of the cup while you pour the concrete in. The concrete I used was a little to thick to pour, so I just scooped it into the cup. Once you have the base of your concrete poured into the mold, pack it down really well with your spoon. The cup I used the second time around was clear, letting me see where I had gaps, this was very helpful. After you have a solid base free of air bubble, place your socket in the mold, and fill concrete around it. Every once in a while be sure to pack down the concrete and fill in the air bubbles. Once you have filled the concrete as full as you want it, flick around the container to try to bring any other air bubbles to the top.

The reason my first lamp didn't work out was because I was impatient with my concrete. I didn't wait long enough for the concrete to cure, and when I took it out of the mold it fell apart. MAKE SURE you wait at least 20 hours before you even touch the concrete.

Step 5: Concrete Lamp: Finishing Up

Once your concrete has dried for at least 20 to 24 hours, it is time to remove it from the mold. The concrete should feel very strong, and you should not be able to feel any moisture. If you can still feel moisture, let it sit for longer.

Removing the mold from your concrete will depend on what you used for your mold. I used a thin plastic cup, so I just ran a knife down the side of the cup, and cracked it open. You probably won't be able to just slide it out, because your power cord running through the side will be in the way.

After your lamp is out of the mold, you can go ahead and screw your lightbulb in and test it out! At this point you can decide if you want to add a switch in or not. I recommend adding a switch, because it isn't that difficult and it is super useful.

If your switch is different than mine, just follow the directions on it. For the switch I chose the most important thing to know is to only cut one wire. For this switch, you need to cut the hot wire. The way I identified which was the hot wire on my power cord was one of the wires in the cord said 105 degrees on it, so I figured that was the hot wire. Making sure the lamp is unplugged, carefully cut only the hot wire. Once you have done this, remove about a half an inch off each side to make room for the switch. Be careful to not cut to much, or it won't fit. Run the wire you didn't cut across the top of the inside of the switch. There will be two places with sharp barbs on them. Push your wire on top of the barbs. You don't need to strip your wire, because the metal barbs will pierce the insulation and make contact with the wire inside. Once you have it set up, plug in your lamp, and test the switch. If it works, go ahead and screw the switch housing together.

The lamp shade on this lamp is nothing more than a piece of printer paper rolled into a tube, and placed on top of the lamp. I plan to replace the printer paper shade, with something made out of plastic to reduce fire hazard.

The last thing I did was place a small foam pad on the bottom of the lamp so it doesn't scratch up the desk.

Step 6: Wood Lamp: Intro

This portion will be much more brief, because you should already know how to build a lamp with your knowledge from the concrete lamp! The wood lamp is much easier to make, but more expensive unless you already own a drill. The materials for this saw are as follows


Drill - $25 (I got mine with the battery and charger from a pawnshop)

Spade bit big enough to drill a hole that your lightbulb socket will fit in - $0.25 (Pawn shop, also the bit I used was 1 inch, it was too small.)

Regular drill bit big enough to drill a hole your power cord will fit through. - $0.25 (Pawnshop again)

Backsaw - $5 (Walmart!!)

Hotglue gun and glue - $5 (Walmart)

Sandpaper - $1 (local hardware store)

Wood - $5 (I really should have just found a piece of wood in the forrest, but this was convenient, and I liked the shape. I bought it as firewood from the grocery store)

Fancy lightbulb - $10 (home depot)

Another old lamp - $5 (thrift store again)

Total: More than I should have spent

Step 7: Wood Lamp: the Build

The first step is to pick your piece of wood. I wanted to go for a really natural look, but I didn't really want to strip a bunch of bark off of a log, so I got a bundle of fire wood from the grocery store and picked the one that was shaped the best. Next I cut a piece off that was the size I wanted. This took forever. I was going for a pretty rustic look here and I hate sanding, so I only spent about 5 or 10 minutes sanding this thing down. Mostly I was just trying to avoid getting splinters.

Once you have prepared your piece of wood, it is time to turn it into a lamp. When I was digging through bins of drill bits at the pawnshop, I wanted to find a 1-1\4 inch spade bit, but the biggest I could find was 1 inch. Unfortunately, this was not a big enough hole for my light bulb socket to fit into :( Thankfully, I was able to make the hole a little bit bigger by using every technique my high school shop teacher told me not to use. Basically I just moved the drill bit around a whole bunch while it was inside the hole, and it widened out enough. Once you have drilled a hole deep enough for your lightbulb socket to fit into, take your other bit, and drill all the way through. This is the spot your power cord will fit through. Once you have drilled that hole, you need a hole that the power cord can exit through, other than the bottom. I lined up where the hole was in the center of the piece of wood, and then drilled a hole into the side of the piece of wood that connected with the hole going down the middle of the piece of wood. Once I had done this, I threaded the ends of my power cord through the hole, and pulled them through. Next I wired my power cord to the lightbulb socket just like I did in the concrete lamp tutorial. If you need a refresher, take the two ends of your power cord and strip the wire. Place the exposed wire under the screws found on your lightbulb socket. Tighten the screws down on the wire so that they make a connection.

At this point I was pretty much done. Since I wasn't able to drill a hole the exact size of my lightbulb socket, I used hot glue to secure the socket in place. This power cord had a switch already attached on it, so I didn't have to add a switch, but if you do have to add a switch, follow the instructions from the concrete lamp tutorial.

Step 8: Closing Thoughts

I spent way more money on this than I meant to, but I did learn a lot about making lamps, and I love the final products. I didn't end up staining the wood lamp, but I do have a stain sample that I thought about using. Let me know if you think I should stain the wood lamp in the comments.

If you are a college kid like myself, you probably don't want to buy a drill just to make one lamp, but I have several projects planned that I will need that drill for, so it wasn't a big deal for me. If you are a college kid, buying a 60 pound bag of concrete and bringing it into your dorm probably sounds pretty daunting. I definitely got some odd looks from my roommates, but it actually wasn't too much of a hassle for me. I have a little storage room I can use, so I saved the rest of my bag of concrete for later projects, but you can definitely just throw the rest of your bag in the dumpster, it was pretty cheap.

If you have a garage full of tools and materials I highly encourage you to get creative with this. Don't limit yourself to using wood or concrete. One lamp design I wanted to try, was adding a lightbulb to the top of a small desktop guitar amp. This instructable was meant to show you how to put together a plug, socket, and switch, while giving some design ideas along the way. I would love to see what kind of lamps you guys choose to make in the comments section!

Thanks for reading, please vote for me in the "Dorm Hacks" contest!

Dorm Hacks Contest 2016

Participated in the
Dorm Hacks Contest 2016