Introduction: Glass Gem Ball Light

I have always been fascinated with the way light refracts through and reflects from glass gems. The fascination has nothing to do with physics, but with the simple emotive effect that light has on us. Light controls mood, and the right light can inspire creativity. I think.

I don't know how I connected the dots between a vase full of glass gems and a gem ball, but the connection was made and I spent an afternoon gluing glass gems together for a unique table tea light accessory. This project requires a lot of patience, and a steady hand, but the end result is worth it.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

The tools and materials for this project can be varied according to your needs.There is nothing super critical about any of this. Here's the list of things I ended up using:

  • Cake flour - 1 cup for making a paste for the paper ball form
  • Water - 1 cup for the paste
  • 5.5" Styrofoam ball to serve as the form for a hollow paper mache ball
  • Glass Gems - 2 lb clear or colored
  • Rubbing Alcohol - (Isoproproyl 70%) which is available from any pharmacy or supermarket first aid section. I had a bunch of alcohol swabs that I "borrowed" from our first aid supplies.This is a convenient form factor. Glass gems need to be cleaned before gluing to ensure the glue adheres properly. A lesson learned....
  • Newspaper cut into strips roughly 1.5" wide
  • Cling wrap - to serve as a mold release for the paper ball form
  • Tin foil - acts as a glue resistant coating between the paper ball and the hot glue
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Sharp utility or Xacto knife - to cut the paper mache ball into two halves
  • Nitrile gloves to keep the glue and alcohol off your skin
  • Scrap wood board and 2" drywall screw to hold the styrofoam ball while making the ball forms
  • Battery powered tea light for the final illumination.

Step 2: Making Ball Forms

The plan was to make multiple paper mache ball forms from the styrofoam ball. The paper forms provide the basis for the glass gems. Once the gems are glued around the paper mache ball, taking care not to glue the gems to the paper mache forms, the paper is collapsed and removed leaving a glass gem ball.

The paper mache paste is made from flour and water. 1 cup of flour mixed with 1 cup of water is plenty for this project. Tear the newspaper into strips and wrap the styrofoam ball with clingwrap. The clingwrap prevents the paste/glue from sticking to the styrofoam so that you can get the hardened paper mache ball forms off when they have dried.

Dip the each strip of paper into the glue, wipe the excess off and wrap the ball with about 3 layers of paper mache. Once the ball has dried ( i cooked mine in an oven at 140F to accelerate drying time), use a sharp knife to cut through the paper mache to release the ball from the stryrofoam as two hemispheres. The idea was to reconnect the two halves together with more paper mache but I decided that it was just as easy to build two half gem balls and then glue the 2 gem ball halves together. This proved to be a bad idea - connecting the two glass gem hemispheres together proved to be a challenge.

Step 3: The Glue-up

The glass gems need to be cleaned prior to gluing to ensure that the hot glue sticks properly. I experimented with different glues but hot glue was the only glue that grabbed fast enough to make construction of the ball happen in real time. Rubbing alcohol works well for cleaning.

Cover the paper mache hemispheres with tin foil. The foil prevents the hot glue from sticking to the paper mache form. Even so, its a good idea to periodically slide the glued gems around on the surface of the form to release sticky points.

There is no magic to sticking the gems together. Apply hot glue to the contact points and stick the gems together. For each gem added to the structure, its a good idea to try different gems to get the best fit since each gem is a different shape and size. At some point I started feeling a strain in my kneck so raised the paper forms up by placing them back on top of the stryrofoam ball to elevate the work surface. Fixed the kneck strain but does question the value of the paper mache forms again! After what feels like an eternity, you should end up with 2 gem hemispheres. For the second hemisphere, use the tea light as a form for the tea light entry and build the hemisphere around it.

Step 4: Connecting the Two Halves

Once the two hemispheres are built, they need to be glued together. After much trial and error, I ended up inflating a balloon and used the balloon as the form for gluing the two halves together. It may be possible to avoid all the hassle of making paper forms and start the project off using a balloon. It will be a bit tricky holding the balloon still while gluing gems to the general form of the balloon, but I leave that as an experiment for you. I have glued enough gems to last me a lifetime! The paper forms at least form a stable work surface for the glue up, and once you have them, they can be re-used to make multiple gem balls..... that is if you have the time and patience!

Step 5: Let It Shine

One of the benefits of using hot glue is that the ball is immediately available for use. One of the downsides of hot glue is that you need to avoid heat or you will end up with a collapsed mess on the table. Battery operated LED tea lights are the perfect choice. Place the gem ball over the tea light and sit back and admire your custom decorative light feature.

Make it Glow!

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Make it Glow!