Introduction: Fiber Optic Steampunk Squid Lamp

This is a lamp made from solid brass and copper, as well as walnut wood and electrical components. It is designed to fit the Neovictorian or Steampunk style, but also refrains from using decorative cogs, etc. The goal was for the lamp to feel at home on Captain Nemo's desk. Many species of squid are able to emit light and also change color. Inspired by this, the lamp has a built-in arduino pro mini, which controls LED's for 114 fiber optic lights along the squid's body as well as its LED eyes. Each light can be made to turn red, blue, green, or a combination of the three. The lights can of course be reprogrammed, but currently they are set to flash in a sort of travelling pattern, like the lights around an old marquee sign. This pattern is inspired by the comb jelly, which displays similar patterns of color along its edges. The base includes an exposed USB port on the back, allowing the lamp to be used as a cell phone charger. The colored lights and USB port can be switched on and off independently of the main light bulb on top, via a three-way switch in the lamp's base. The metal work in this lamp was quite difficult, but fitting all of the electronics in the base was also tough and the threading of meters and meters of optical fiber was the most difficult part of all. If you're going to use optical fiber, I suggest finding a design with better access to the inside of the lamp.

Since many of the parts of this lamp are random pieces of brass, it would be nearly impossible to duplicate exactly, even if I tried to do it again, so this instructable is meant to serve mostly as inspiration as well as share a few tricks I've learned along the way. This is probably the most challenging thing I've ever made, so if you want to tackle something like this, think twice.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Many of the components are recycled from various brass objects. I found mine mostly at garage sales. Other parts such as the tubing and wire can be found at construction supply stores. I got mine at Home Depot. For the squid lamp, I think that the main thing to find if you want a lamp that looks a bit like this is a brass wine "glass" (or goblet?). Mine was originally silver plated and engraved with something like "Happy Anniversary". (A lot of the silver plated stuff out there is actually good brass underneath.) There are probably one or two goblets like this in pretty much any thrift store. Also, there is a removable glass cover over the main bulb which is actually a spice jar. It easily fits over the nightlight style bulb I use sometimes, but when I switch to a bigger halogen bulb I just leave the cage without glass.

Not everything is shown because I'm putting this instructable together after the fact, but I hope this gives you an idea.

Basic list of materials:

Brass goblet, copper wire, copper tubing, solder, flux, glass jar, wood scraps


Arduino Pro Mini, thick fishing line (optical fiber), USB adapter, light bulb socket, three-way switch, wire


Dremel, drill, butane or propane torch, sandpaper, steel wool, pliers, thin copper tube for threading fiber (you'll see what I mean), acid for etching brass

Step 2: The Metalwork

Unfortunately I don't have any good pictures of soldering this thing together. But here's a picture of some fish my wife made next to the torches I used. I live in an apartment, so I do all of my soldering on the stove top because it's a great heat-safe surface. So my wife and I take turns with the stove sometimes. If you use a stove as a soldering bench, just be super careful to keep lead-containing solder away from your food!

The first step is cutting the brass and copper. This could in principle be done all at the beginning, but I built the lamp in stages, cutting and adding pieces as I went. For this squid lamp, you have to cut the bottom off of the goblet to make the squid's body. The top of the lamp is from a candelabra. The eyes are mostly the feet off of the base of another lamp, with some little plumbing parts soldered in and wire to help hold the glass watch lenses. There are also two main brass parts that would be very difficult to find again. The lower part of the squid's body to which the arms are attached is actually a piece from an old brass fire grate. The brass baseplate was actually from a pair of those brass geese that seem to be everywhere. It would probably not be too difficult to find a piece that would work instead of this one.

There are also the parts from Home Depot. The cage around the light is made from some thick electrical wire. There is also a short length of copper pipe to hold the socket. The arms at the bottom are from some thick copper tubing, while I found some thinner tubing for the squid's two long tentacles. The "clubs" at the end of the tentacles as well as the fins are cut from a brass flower pot.

Unfortunately I don't have many pictures of the brass soldering process. I'm sure there are many very good references for soldering brass and copper. Basically the first step is to cut your pieces to fit as tightly as possible. The closer the fit, the neater the final joint will probably be. You want to also work on cleaning the parts that you want to fit together. This is best done with something like sandpaper. You can then apply some flux to the joint where you would like the solder to flow. You can now begin heating the joint with a torch. When the joint is hot, touch the end of the solder to the joint and solder will begin to flow. It takes practice to get the solder to flow where you want it, but it is a combination of where you apply the flux and where you apply the heat. Solder will flow towards the heat.

One important thing to note. You have to be careful to not melt your previous joints when soldering a new one. During the project I was working on soldering part of the lamp where the bulb socket would go, when suddenly the entire cage fell apart. Not a good day. The pros actually use an oxy torch to braze their brass, and can use brazing rods with higher melting points first in order to protect their previous joints. Someday I will learn to braze. First I need a hotter torch. In the meantime, I found that I could usually protect my solder joints by wrapping them with wet paper towels while I worked on nearby joints. As long as the paper towels stay wet, they can hiss all they want, but they should keep the solder from melting.

Step 3: Woodwork

I wanted to use a beautiful dark hardwood for the base of the lamp, but wasn't sure where to find it. I ended up getting a inexpensive wooden box at a thrift store and breaking it up. I believe it to be walnut because that's what it smelled like as I was cutting and sanding it. I used wood glue to reassemble a box approaching the dimensions of the brass base, then sanded the wood to match the curves of the brass. I finished the wood with some extremely fine sandpaper (like 2000 grit). Sorry I don't have photos of the woodworking process, but it was basically just cutting, gluing, and sanding.

Step 4: LEDs and Fiber Optics

Now we come to the fun part. How to thread a whole bunch of optical fiber and 9 LED's into the cavity of the squid, when you only have access through a couple tiny openings. Before you start this you need to make sure that you're done soldering. You don't want to heat up the brass again and melt all the electronics and fiber inside. Drill all of your holes and decide where the wiring will go. Mine goes through a couple of the squid's arms. Label everything so you remember which fiber goes where. For my design, I had three LED's in each color red, green, and blue. Each hole I drilled held three fibers, one for each of the colors. I had one row of 8 holes on the top of the squid and a row of 15 holes on each side of its belly. I estimate that I probably used about 30 feet of fiber (9 meters) for this lamp. If you build a lamp like this, you'll probably do something different, so I'll just explain the basic process in case that's helpful for you.

It was difficult to work with only a couple of small access points to the interior of the goblet. Really really difficult. Do yourself a favor and leave more room to work.

First thing I did was thread the wire for the LED's from the base through the top of the goblet. You can see this in the first photo or two. This is relatively easy. I just doubled the wire and tied some thread at the bend. Then I think I blew it through the base with some canned air (keyboard duster). The blast of gas pushed the thread right out the access point and let me pull the wire through.

I threaded the fishing line in from the outside, but I had to find a way to guide it out through one of the small access points. To do this I used a thin piece of copper tubing shown in the picture. I poked the tube in through the opening at the rim of the goblet, then used a flashlight to shine light into the inside. I carefully guided the end of the tube inside the squid until it blocked the light through the small hole I was targeting. When that hole went dark, I knew the tube was lined up and I poked the fiber into the small hole from the outside. If I was lucky, the fiber went into the tube and came out at the end I was holding. I could then remove the tube and have the fiber threaded through the small hole and through the access point at the goblet's mouth. You can imagine that this got more and more difficult as the inner cavity held more and more fiber. You can see some of the pictures of the process. This is why I suggest that you find a way to leave larger access points to the inside of your lamp if you are going to be using fiber.

Once you have both the fiber and the wires threaded, you can wire up some LED's. I used some copper tubing that nicely slipped over the LED. Then I stuck the ends of the fiber in the other end and crimped it strongly to hold them in place. You may want to add some super glue to make sure they don't come out. Solder the LED to two wires and wrap with electrical tape. Make sure everything is sturdy. You do not want anything coming loose once it is inside the lamp!

Once I had an LED wired up and hooked up with some fiber, I carefully pushed it into the squid and gently pulled the excess fiber and wire out. Eventually, all of the LED's were in place. I again carefully pulled out the excess fiber and wire, then used generous amounts of super glue to anchor the fiber to the small drilled holes. In retrospect, I probably should have used the best epoxy I could find. Anyway, with the fibers now glued in place, I trimmed off the ends almost flush with the brass and sanded them down smooth. In the end, everything was inside the squid, and only the ends of the fibers are left in the drilled holes.

Step 5: Electronics

I won't get into much detail about the electronics, but basically I needed mains power (115 V AC) to go to the main light bulb, and 5 V DC to power the Arduino and the USB charging port. I took apart an old cell phone charger to power the 5 V stuff and wired everything with a 3-way switch. So now I can have everything off, just the light bulb on, both the light bulb and the LED's on, or just the LED's. It was quite hard to fit everything into the small wooden base. A couple things to note here. Be sure to include resistors for your LED's. You can find some good websites that can tell you what resistor to use for each color of LED with 5V power. I used slightly stronger resistors because I didn't want to take any chances with my LED's after all the work it took to install them.

Also be aware of how many LED's you're powering with your Arduino at one time. You don't want to draw too much current from the Arduino at once or it might burn out. My code only powers a few LED's at a time.

Take full advantage of the Pulse Width Modulation (pwm) capabilities of your Arduino. You can look it up, but it's basically a way to control LED brightness with a digital output. I used this to make the red LED eyes of the squid fade off and on. I also noticed that one of my LED's controlling the fiber seemed brighter than the others. Maybe it was placed so that it had shorter fiber to illuminate or something. I got lucky and found it was attached to one of the pwm pins on the Arduino, so I was able to tone its brightness down in software without rewiring anything.

Step 6: Programming

Once the electronics are done and everything is complete, a lamp like this can then be programmed to display a wide range of light patterns. One limiting factor is that there are only 9 LED's controlling the fiber optics, so each LED controls several lights at once which cannot be individually controlled. But within those limits, you can implement just about any pattern I want. Plus I can control the two LED's in the eyes individually if I want. As I mentioned in the introduction, I started with a travelling light pattern inspired by the comb jelly. Later I switched to a different pattern designed to make the squid more lifelike. This is kind of hard to describe in words, but involves the light pattern travelling both up and down the squid repeatedly, almost like breathing. This travelling pattern is made by setting lights in a pattern like rgbrgbrgbrgbrgb, then shifting it by one place like gbrgbrgbrgbrgbr. Each time step moves the pattern by one place. The hope is that the shifting pattern can look like motion to the human eye, like colored lights are racing along the squid's body, though the effect isn't always the most convincing. Squid can move by pulling water into their bodies then forcing it back out, so I programmed the lights to slowly move up the lamp, then more rapidly move back down, as if following the flow of water. I made the eyes increase and fade in brightness in sync with the fiber optic lights.

I've included the two versions of the code in case you want to have a look at it.

Step 7: Etching

I wanted this lamp to incorporate some elements of old Victorian brass work. At my school there is a display of antique scientific instruments that show really good craftsmanship. Many of them are made out of brass. I personally love a lot of the maker's marks on these pieces. Usually it is a beautiful engraving of the maker's name or company and their location. I included a picture I took of one of these pieces. You can see the beautiful engraving that says "John Browning, London". Well, I'm not any good at engraving, so I decided to etch mine. I wrote out my name as best as I could in pencil, then covered the signature with melted wax from a candle. (You can use a torch to warm the brass to make the wax melt evenly.) I then used a very small screwdriver to trace my signature in the wax, exposing the brass. I bought some gold testing acid on ebay and used it to etch my name into the brass. It isn't as beautiful as the old masters, but I'm pleased with the result. In case the picture isn't clear, it says "Jordan Bell, Providence". Providence isn't the nicest city in the world, but it is one of the more steampunk cities in America in my opinion, being associated with Lovecraft and all. If I lived in Miami or something I probably would have left that off.

Step 8: Finished

I've done several steampunk projects over the past few years, but so far this squid lamp has been the most involved by far. It has some flaws, but I'm still very happy with it. I hope this instructable has been helpful!

Halloween Decor Contest 2016

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Halloween Decor Contest 2016

LED Contest

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LED Contest

Lamps and Lighting Contest 2016

Participated in the
Lamps and Lighting Contest 2016