Introduction: "Hollywood" Style Lighted Vanity. 1st Instructable!

About: I'm a completely insane Marine Corps vet that multiplies when wet... sometimes.

Does your wife always remark on the bad lighting in your house or apartment while doing makeup? Does the management punish you for knocking out walls and rewiring the shoddy job they had done? Make a portable or permanent lighted mirror.

My first intractable, I've already noticed my failures and mistakes thus far, so go easy on me, I really NEED that wood lathe! :D

I decided to do a little research and find the cost of one of these light bulb surrounded mirrors. I don't know the official name of this type of vanity, but the $400 dollar products made of plastic, garbage, and shame all had names like the aforementioned.


-Beautiful alternating tigers eye maple (corners and centers of the sides/top are maple), cherry makes up the difference, all stained with red mahogany and finished with oil modified water based poly.

-Dual grounded 15amp outlet with two USB ports, the two USBs supply a total of 3.2amps combined.

-Standard rotary dimmer switch.

-Mirror measures 18" by 25" (this is the relative size I was finding when searching products like this, you can make it what ever size you might desire.)

The wood was scarps I had been gifted, any wood will do on a scale this small.

This is a VERY easy project. I've been addicted to woodworking for a little over eight months and I am definitely an amateur. I've been using borrowed tools, my own very old personal tools, and the rest, very cheap tools.

I'm going with the assumption you know that I'm not here to teach you how to be safe with tools. Darwin is with us all, and he and I are drinking buddies.

There are lots, and LOTS of ways to get all of the steps done, I'll explain how I did this prototype, including my mistakes, changes, and lack of foresight.

Step 1: Cutting Corners...

The frames overall width is 3.5", which you can just do strips of 3.5" boards and half lap the joints, or biscuit them, or trust end grain glue ups (which at this scale might be ok, but end grain glue ups are very week, but it will work).

If you want to do these kinds of corners, cut four 5" squares, measure 1.5" inside one of corners of each square, this will be the box that we drill out, or use a jigsaw, or what ever makes you calm enough to forget your normally homicidal thoughts...

Inside of this box, measure in 3/4" from two sides of the box and mark the center.

To help keep the bit centered of your drill press, or drill, and a spot to drop the pin from your compass in to draw the circle for your jigsaw, use a small nail punch or an awl to make a perfectly centered divot.

Now that you have the divot and/or marked the quarter circle. Use a 1.5" forstner bit, or maybe even a hole saw bit, maybe? or jigsaw/handsaw cut out the holes, you'll be left with some ears that you can just straight cut off along the straight lines from the square you promised you'd actually draw when i mentioned it earlier, or just eyeball it and hope it doesn't look terrible.

Step 2: Planning Where to Electrify It All, and What You'll Need.

Now you got your corner pieces cut, and your top and sides, lay them out where they'll go in their final places, if you want lay your mirror on top of it to make sure the mirror will go past the inside edge of the square by a half inch on all sides. Do this BEFORE glueing anything together, this will make it much easier to make the holes and such for the outlet and dimmer.

Lay out the rest of the electrical related stuff and get a rough idea of placement, when I laid out the bulbs I got them as even as I could then did some basic math to find centers and averages (since I have that strips of maple in the middle of each long run), I recommend taking a picture so you don't forget how you wanted it laid out.

THE MIRROR: I called the local glass and mirror store near me, and they were happy to cut me any mirror size I wanted for very cheap. Even gave me a discount when my orbital sander made out with the first mirror.


The bulbs I got by the ten pack, they're 25w "candelabra base" (the threaded part of the bulb). I maybe wrong, though I often am, I do believe from what I researched that this is the 'ideal' wattage for a vanity mirror setup. I would have LOVED to use LED bulbs, but that was a little hard to justify price wise. I know, I know, in the long run... but I needed to try and win this competition!! So time was of the essence.

link from exactly what I bought, got two boxes.


The outlet is pretty standard, so Im sure you can find it cheaper. Here's a link to what I got.


Also standard stuff...

While we're at it, heres the rest


6 foot, or just cut it off of some appliance you no longer care enough about to fix.

and of course, the SOCKETS:

Step 3: Let's Talk About Wiring It All Up Before We Go Any Further.

I don't work for the website, as much as I'd like to, I don't. I also don't get paid to promote the site, so please trust me when I say how valuable their CLASSES are!

I took the LAMPS class, and it is fantastic! It doesn't cover soldering, which I did do in this project, but you REALLY DON'T NEED TO SOLDER ANYTHING!

You can just use wire nuts to fit everything together, you'll have access to the back of the vanity for future cases like the mirror getting smashed, or you want to upgrade the thing, etc. I designed it to be fairly easily accessible.

Remember those crappy christmas lights that when one bulb went out, they all did? It's called wiring in a 'series' where the electrical jumps from one bulb to the next bulb, so if one goes out, the circuits broken, we do NOT want to do it this way.

We want to wire it up in parallel. Basically, I took scrap wire and made two runs that reached from the outlet, past the dimmer, and around the whole frame to reach each socket. The sockets have lead wires already on them, so each socket will 'tie in' to those two wires.

see the image comparing christmas lights in series and in parallel.

See, now you're learning stuff, right? Or are you like me and skimming the instructable in such a hurry to build something? It's ok, I understand the failings of genius as well...

as far as the two main wires running around the whole frame, I just happened to have scrap wire laying around, but you can buy "lamp wire" from any hardware store or online pretty cheap.

I included a terrible hand drawn diagram of the electrical... you're welcome for the laughter it most definitely will bring...

Step 4: Cutting Out Outlet's Spot...

On the front side of the bottom board, find the center of where you want the outlet, if you have a 3.5" board, 1.75"(1 3/4") will be the middle of the board, as far as left to right of the board will be up to you on how you want them spaced.

Lay the outlet face down on the front of the board, pencil out the rectangle, drill a hole out of it in the middle somewhere, then use a jigsaw to cut out that rectangle.

you'll notice that only the white face fits in this hole, that's ok. Measure out the thickness of your outlets face, mine was just about 1/4", yours might be different.

Flip the board over and and draw a rough line around the metal brackets and the body of the whole outlet.

This is where we'll use a router with a straight bit to cut out that rough space, but minus the depth of the face of the outlet from the thickness of the board.

The last part I just used a half inch round over bit around the edges of the face.

Step 5: Cutting Out the Spot of the Dimmer.

This part is just like the other, albeit a little simpler. Measure the size of the whole face where the knob post sticks out, and square and center that where you want it.

Measure the diameter of the post, and drill a hole slightly larger than that in the center of the square. (You don't want it to rub at all but if it does a little bit it will be fine, its not a fast moving part.)

If you're not accustomed to drilling out wood, put a piece of scrap behind the wood so you don't get tear out.

start drilling it out with a really small drill bit (pilot hole) then follow that up with the final diameter, doesn't have to be pretty, the knob will cover it up.

Put the knob back on the post, and notice the gap between the knob and the face, take that measurement away from the thickness of the board and that will be your router depth. On the back side of the board route out enough space for the face of the whole dimmer to sit inside with the post going through the hole, test the fit and make sure you're happy with it.

These will be affixed to the board letter, the most fun part is still yet to happen! (sanding)

Step 6: Drilling Out the Holes for the Sockets.

This parts pretty easy. I'll explain the mistake I made and how I resolved it.

So earlier you should have figured out where you want your holes, right? Good.

Using a half inch bit, (if you got the same sockets as me, this is slightly smaller than we need them to be, but stay with me) we'll make a quick jig to ensure uniformed centers on all the holes.

take a piece of scrap the same width as all the sides of the frame, using a pilot bit, or rather a really small bit, measure out the exact center, and drill a pilot hole, then follow it up with the half inch hole. now take a smaller piece of scrap and screw it to the side of this piece (perpendicularly). This jig will be a guide for the drill bit (if you're making the frame out of a softwood, try to use a hardwood piece for this jig, the softwood guide hole will degrade much faster than with hardwood).

As you drill these holes, always clamp the jig facing the same direction, so in the picture I'm always pointing the end of the jig towards the center of the frame, this will keep them all uniform.

Step 7: Test Fitting the Sockets.

As I mentioned earlier, with these particular sockets, a half inch hole is slightly too small. This is a good thing, we can always remove wood, the reverse of adding wood is... fun? Yeah, let's go with that. Fun...

Use a rasp or a preferably the rasping drill bit you see in my picture (I don't recall who it's sized, I bought it a long time ago thinking it novel, now it finally came into use)

I drilled the rasp bit about 3/4 of the way through the hole on the FRONT of the frame, then tested the fit, I got lucky and this worked out perfectly for me. I did this to every whole, each one I tested the fit to make sure I wasn't making any of them all cattywompos and stupid. I can be pretty stupid, in fact marriage has taught me I'm very stupid, but that's an Instructable for another day...

NOTE: This is where I initially went wrong, before thinking to cleanly rasp out the holes to fit the sockets, I tried using my 1981 built Crapsmen router... it failed, epically, luckily I was testing it from the back of one of the holes, I don't recommend this unless you have a non crap router. I'm told admitting my failings is healthy, I don't feel any healthier...

Step 8: Joining the Frame Pieces Together.

First, check out this guys Instructable, it's one of my favorites, and I've made four of these band clamps so far, and they are in fact superior to store bought ones in a number of ways. Do you have to have this? No, but this clamp has come in handy so many times it's more than I could number, especially when I made a six sided frame, this thing was wickedly effective.

Anyhow, joining the frame. I'm going to assume not very many other people have a genius father in law who has every power tool you could think of, and I don't know if you can rent these, but I used a biscuit jointer for these frame parts. It's the first and ONLY time I've ever used it, and Holy Spaghetti Monster was it easy, and really cool! (in the nerdy wood working kind of way, naturally)

You can join these pieces how ever you want, even use brackets on the backside since it will be enclosed, I'll be burned at the steak for saying this but you can even just glue them, people will argue that it won't hold, blah blah blah, but when I was far more ignorant on the subject I'd done it numerous times without any issue, polyvinyl acetate winds up being stronger than wood (PVA is wood glue), and it's really impressive. I've done 100's of stress tests for fun, and build an entire scrap wall out of blocks and glue only, and I can climb it.

This would be an END GRAIN glue up, so it isn't recommend, but it will technically work.

You can dowel join these, even staple them i guess, but I stay away from things I get tempted to use on myself.

As far as the biscuit jointing goes, it's awesome! you line up the two pieces you want to join, draw a line crossing the joint roughly near the middle, then set the jointer up to what ever size biscuits you're using (they come in standard size I believe, I used #20's because they fit with the most surface area). Then you push the piece up against the centerline on the tool where it's clearly marked, pull the trigger, then push! It's pretty damn simple, and super effective!

Once all the cuts have been made, line them all up, throw a biscuit on them so you don't go crazy looking for one while glue is drying.

For the first time every I used Titebond III, which we don't need the waterproofing it provides, but the longer assembly time. You can use the regular stuff, but it's a little more stressful.

Glue them all, slap on your band clamp, then immediately check for square.

Because sanding comes next, which has lots of vibration, give it a full 24 hours to dry, I didn't, but do as I say, not as I do. It worked out fine for me, I let it dry clamped for about an hour, wood glue is amazing stuff.

Step 9: Sanding!!! the BEST Part!

I got a bizarre love relationship with sanding, I used to hate it, until I learned how to do it properly (as far as I know) and now I'm crazy about it! It makes finishing so easy and beautiful.

First I took the router and used the half inch round over bit and ran it along the inside edge, came out nice.

Sanding, timing is never really explained in anything I found online, but I started with 80 grit paper on my father in law's orbital sander. I'd say I did about 10 minutes on each grit, and it came out like silk at the end of it.

Start with 80 grit, then go to 120, then 150, then 180, then 220, and if you're insane like me, just to 320 to finish it off, you don't have to, but trust me, it's so much better than ending with 220. (this is where real woodworkers scoff and harrumph, I know, yeah they're both hardwoods, but I LIKE it like this, and EVERYONE is entitled to my opinion, are we tracking? Good.)

Again, all these grits I did about 10 minutes each, but you might have to go longer, these scrap pieces I got had already been tuned up pretty well before they made it to my shop. One source recommended 15 minutes on the first grit, but there are a LOT of variables to consider. So, because it's a recommendation use your best judgement, it's probably better than mine.

Step 10: Mounting in the Mirror.

I don't think I mentioned where to get the mirror. Call any glass shop in your area, they'll cut small stuff like this for really cheap, my guy gave me this 1/4" mirror for 18$, and gave me a discount when I dropped the orbital sander on the first one and scratched it to hell, don't use orbital sanders on mirrors, they don't stand up to it very well.

Anyhow, draw a line a 1/2" in from the inside edge of the frame on the back side around the entire frame. This is where the mirror will sit, go ahead and drop the mirror face down and aligned with these marks.

I cut a bunch of 1" and 1/2" pieces of 1/4" scrap (same thickness as the mirror) and glued three of the against the bottom edge of the mirror, and a couple up the sides, but NONE on the top, I still wanted to be able to remove the mirror if I ever need to replace it. later I'll explain how I finally secured it.

On the bottom pieces, use the 1" pieces to glue on top of the 1/2" pieces so it reaches over the mirror by 1/2". This way It can be slid into place from he top (later you'll see the top braces will be screwed on so they can be removed.)

Step 11: Staining Part 1

So some may say this was dumb, but because I'm rarely careful when building stuff, I wanted to get at least one coat of finish on the front of this thing, since I'd be working with it upside down a lot doing the wiring.

I used Minwax Red Mahogany (my favorite stain), I used a wooster sponge brush (got tired of the cheap ones falling apart) and laid a nice heavy coat and let it sit for ten minutes before rubbing it off. (I SWORE I had pictures of it before I removed the stain, sorry)

I also, for the first time every, tried water based stain. It's AWFUL, and it SUCKS, DON'T use water based stain, the planet will out live us regardless...

I did the front and the outside and inside edges (we'll deal with the back side later)

With stain, definitely let it dry throughly, especially red mahogany. Staining is easy, every says it's not, but it's really easy. Don't believe the hype.

I let it dry overnight, well over the recommended 8 hours, though as they say, low temperature and high humidity will take far longer to dry, my basement is high heat and only about 14% humidity, it's the driest place I know of, so this stuff was dry far earlier, but I finally slept after days of stress, hate, and discontent while arguing with a cisco router that didn't want to behave.

Step 12: Mounting the Sockets BEFORE Finishing the Face.

Now that the stain is dry, add the sockets BEFORE adding any finish, I used polyurethane (Minwax's 'oil-modified water based polyurethane', great stuff, low odor, can be used indoors, drys way faster than oil based, and can be used over water based and oil based stains, though, as I mentioned, never use water based stains, they're crap)

Staining made the wood expand a bit and change slightly, so the sockets didn't fit anymore, just use that rasp or rasping bit and grind them back open a bit.

I did try contact cement, but that sucked, I don't recommend it for this application.

I used a hot glue gun, I slid the socket partway in, filled it with a bit of glue, then pushed it all the way in, and capped of the base around the wire leads with more glue. Worked great. Does this to all of them.

Once they're all in place, if you want, do what I did and put your first initial thin coat of poly on the face, just to help protect it while finishing the rest of it.

Step 13: Mounting the Outlet and Dimmer.

So, I tried to hide any of the pictures that show any of the really stupid ways I tried to mount these outlets, ignore them if you see them.

The way that worked, was similar to the braces for the bottom of the mirror, I cut a short piece of scrap that would fit over the metal tabs on the dimmer and outlet, then shaved them down to be flush with the back of the frame, and glued them to a piece of that 1/4" stock to reach out of the routed holes to the back of the frame. I know this might not be clear, and the pictures fail to show it all that well, so ask questions because I'm too hung over to explain it well at the moment and I didn't find this Instructable contest until a few weeks ago, so I'm in a hurry!

once you have these little hold downs, clamp them in place, mine turned out super strong, so it should work pretty well, Im sure someone can come up with something better, I probably could have just screwed them down with half inch screws. Next time gadget.

Step 14: Wire It All Up.

The power cord will get added to a side wall later, and ignore the walls here, I'll go over that in a bit, like the dumb dumb I am, I didn't get any good pictures while wiring it together. Forgive me, it's my first Instructable and I've a bad habit of rushing things, do as I say, not as I do! :)

So remember my terrible drawing of the writing diagram? power cord will jump to the outlet first, green wire to the green screw, white wire to the silver screw, and the black wire to the gold screw.

Stop here and test the outlet, if you don't have one of these fancy little cheap outlet testers just use a lamp or something. That little test thing is super cheap, couple of bucks, and comes in handy all the time, especially around the house. The two orange lights means it's wired properly, and grounded. (I will assume my wife will be plugging high amperage things into it like hair dryers and the like...) once you verify it's working, UNPLUG the thing, or not, I'd love to see some new darwin awards. (I'm kidding, unplug it and don't plug it in again until you're done.)

As far as jumping the ground to the dimmer switch, I've no idea if this is necessary or not, but I did it just because it was there. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable will let me know. ;)

From there, that long 'hot' wire, will jump to the dimmer, then to the next black wire, to black, to black, et cetera. I cut the long hot wire at each point it reaches another socket, then twisted the two points with the black wire, (then I soldered it because why not, but it's not necessary) then I slapped one of those wire nuts on it (they are rated at how many of what size gauge wires go into them, I'm not fully educated on the matter, but the spare wire I had was over kill, 14 gauge, so I found wire nuts that fit two of those plus the tiny socket leads.)

You can cut the wire leads down a bit, but I wanted plenty of slack to ensure I could get the mirror in and out. I'm sure the wiring could be a LOT prettier, and I'll probably tighten it up all a bit later when not rushing to submit something for a contest :D

I also wrapped some electrical tape around the wire net and the wires, again, this might be overkill, but I'm the paranoid type that sleeps with a flashlight, gun, old marine corps boots, and gloves near me every night, you know, in case the zombies come...

Once it's all wired up, have a fire extinguisher near, plug it in and hope all goes well! I plugged all the bulbs in (not tightly yet, I noticed with these cheap sockets, I had to really tighten the bulbs to get them to line up properly, and considering its hot glue, I wanted to only crank them down when I was totally done.)

Step 15: Rear Cabinet: Cutting Corners... Again.

I started out making the corners that the half inch oak plywood would sit in. I had some hard wood sticks I bought as a box of "hardwood kindling" that would cutoffs from the mill making kids hockey sticks. They're all ash, and all rounded off and sanded, so they seemed perfect.

I used the table saw to cut one side 3/4" deep, and the adjacent cut 1/2" deep, that way with the two 1/2" walls meeting they'ed both have 1/2" of faces meeting for a solid glue up.

I then cut them down to size, now again, this height will depend on the highest electrical unit in the back of the frame, I believe I needed 2 3/4" clearance, but the back wall of the cabinet will be 1/2" thick, and will sit on top of the side walls, so add that 1/2" to the corner pieces, making them 3 1/4" long.

Step 16: Cutting the Sides and Back

The side walls, if you forgot, will be 1/2" shorter than your corner pieces. For the length of each piece and to figure out the dimensions for the back wall, I laid out the corner pieces on the back of the frame to give me an idea of where I wanted them placed, I wanted the front of the frame to hang past the walls by at least 1/2".

The outlet and the dimmer make it so the bottom wall corner pieces are pretty much flush with the bottom edge, this is by design, so if you want to install it on a little table or something it will technically stand on its own.

See in the pictures, I had to use the jigsaw to cut out some of the side wall to fit around the power outlet, again, it's a prototype and I such a foresight.

Figure out the lengths of the walls, and of course that will give you the dimensions for the back wall, but the back wall will NOT be glued at all, it will be screwed down so if ever the back need stop be accessed it will be possible to do so.

For the glue up, measure and mark off where you want the BOTTOM two corners, glue their bottoms to the fame and clamp them with a REALLY strong clamp, so you can still fit the bottom wall in between the two, being CAREFUL not to get glue on the face that the side wall will it in, also add glue along the bottom edge of the wall that meets the back of the frame, and clamp the ever living heck out of it without bending the wall, it's half inch, so it will start to buckle of you clamp it too hard, I've included my little custom made clamping pressure sheet I made from a few sources online. :) I keep it printed and mounted on the wall. There's a PDF copy and a JPG copy.

Repeat the process and glue all the walls and corners down, I went counter clockwise, It doesn't really matter, but even though you marked the positions of the corners, continue to check for square after each wall is laid down.

after 30 minutes for each side, use a chisel and knock off the excess glue.

Step 17: Setting Up the Back Panel

This parts pretty easy.

Draw a line 1/4' in from the outer edge around the entire back side that will be visible once installed.

mark off 3 spots on all sides for where we're going to counter sink some spots for screws.

I used 3/4" #6 screws, so if you weren't aware, there's a little more to adding screws to wood than just jamming them through.

First, lay the back panel in its final place, for my screw (see the chart I included) we'll first drill the pilot hole's, which in my case is a 5/64's bit, drill it 3/4" into each spot you marked, then, remove the back panel from where it's supposed to go, because now you need to drill the shank holes.

It's important to have a shank hole, because you don't want the screw threads to grab the back panel, if they do the screw will push the panel away from the walls, but if the threads only grab the walls beneath the panel, the head of the screw will pull the back panel tight against the wall it's screwing into.

The shank bit size in my case is a 9/64's bit (yeah i know its oak plywood, but most of it's 'softwood' in between). Remember, this bit only goes through the back panel, not into the side walls.

finish this off with a counter sink bit like in the picture. I just eye balled it, but you can go further and draw a circle around the head of the screw you'll use over the shank hole.

Now the back panel is ready to be screwed down, but set it aside for now.

Step 18: Adding the Hole for the Power Cord

this probably should have happened earlier...

anyhow, measure the outer diameter of the threads on the cord clamp that came with the power cord (if you don't have one just screw a piece of scrap over the cord inside the box AFTER everything else is stained and finished)

Once you know the diameter of the outside of the threads, drill a whole wherever you want the cord to come out.

Notice the mistake I didn't think about, I had to use a jig saw to make the wall a little thin enough for the threads to protrude, test the fit and make sure it works out, then remove it for later.

Step 19: Finish Inside Edges and Prepare Final Mirror Fittings.

I realized something when I tested the fit for the mirror for its final place, because it's 1/4" thick, from the front you can see some of the unstained wood in the reflection, so slap some stain on the inside edge of the interior for 10 minutes so its nice and dark.

I used my cheap clamps to hold the wire up away from the inside face.

Wait until it's decently dry, then place your mirror and slide it under the bottom wood tabs we did earlier.

take a 4 of those 1/4" stock pieces roughly 1/2" to 1' long, and place one on top of the other and glue them together like I did in the picture, this will secure the the mirror in place, but be screwed down so if need be, it can be removed later. Just like earlier, drill a shank hole through the these little brackets once the glue is dry, and counter sink it (if you want, though this won't be visible)

Step 20: Stain and Finish All Unstained Parts, Assemble

slap some stain on the rest of the parts, walls, back panel, et cetera, let it dry over night, then finish it with what ever you want, I used the same oil-modified water based polyurethane.

when it's all dry, you can insert the the power cord and attach it to the outlet, screw down the wire clamp in it's hole we hacked together earlier. Give it a quick power test before inserting the mirror.

Place the mirror in it's position, and place the tabs we made to secure it in place. Drill a pilot hole through the tabs, careful NOT to go deep and drill out the front of the frame.

attack the back and add the 3/4" screws we pre-drille for earlier.

Step 21: Complete and Finalize.

From this point it's done, though depending on where you put this you'll probably want to secure it.

I plan to add some legs and a dowel through the middle of the side wall to be able to tilt it, once the Mrs. decides how she wants it setup. That's entirely up to you.

I understand this instruction could have been better, I realized a lot of things through the process, and I'm still not fully wrapped around the instructable interface but I hope the next one I do will be a lot clearer, let me know if you have questions, I'll be happy to answer what I can.

Woodworking Contest 2017

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Lights Contest 2017

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Lights Contest 2017