Introduction: Lampshades: Support Hardware & How to Choose Them

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Martha…

Step 1: Lampshade Support Hardware

Step 2: Harps

A harp is the most common way that American lamps hold up shades. The harp saddle is built right into the lamp (under the socket cap), while the top is removable. We used harp saddles in every lamp in this lesson except the Bottle Table Lamp. (smaller lamps work best with clip on shades)

NOTE: European shades (i.e.: IKEA) don't use harps and are supported directly by the sockets. I'm not as big of a fan of this style as their fitter doesn't work on all conventional North American sockets. They're just too specialized.

Harps come in a wide range of sizes - from 4" - 15" in mostly 1/2" increments. This offers a lot of flexibility for getting your shade the exact right height on your lamp.

There are both regular and heavy duty harps available, but there's never a need for heavy duty. I recommend getting regular weight only = plenty strong, unless you're trying to make a shade out of a bathtub. (But don't really ever do this.) They also come in different finishes so you can match the harp to your hardware!

To attach the harp to the saddle, squeeze the harp ends in until they fit into the saddle 'holders'. Lower the sliding caps over the connections. (like pictured above) This locks the harp in place.

This strong wire structure will support any commercial shade.

Step 3: Risers

Shade risers can be used in place of a taller harp. If you are trying to extend an existing harp, a riser will be cheaper than buying a new, taller harp.

Step 4: Bulb Clips

If you're working with a smaller lamp that doesn't have a saddle, bulb clips are a great way to attach shades to lamps, via the bulb.

NOTE: These will not work with most compact fluorescent bulbs.

There is both a tall and a short bulb clip available for shade height adjustment options.

They work on both incandescent and LED bulbs.

Bulb clips in action!

Step 5: Finials

Finials are like the hair pins of lamps - both functional and aesthetic, they secure the shade to the harp or bulb clip. They come in SO MANY shapes, sizes, materials, and metal finishes. I recommend getting fun with these. They are an inexpensive way to add to the style/look of a lamp. Their female threads are 1/4-27F.

The images above show a finial in action!

You can even buy finial bases that you can customize with your own objects / ideas! Even MORE fun to be had!

Step 6: How to Pick a Lampshade

Picking a lampshade to go with a table or floor lamp has more to do with personal taste than it does hard fast rules, but there are a few great guidelines that can help make the choosing process easier.

1. A shade should ALWAYS cover the socket and non-decorative hardware. Think of the socket and inner working hardware as the Wizard of Oz. No-one should be able to see behind the curtain - it would ruin the magic.

A neck is considered decorative, so seeing 1/2" - 1" of that is A-ok.

The above lampshade is sitting at the perfect height. Shade height can be adjusted up or down by swapping the harp for a taller or shorter one, or you can add risers to the existing harp - but often if a shade is too small for the lamp, no amount of adjusting will make it cover the hardware.

This shade is sitting way too high and is a perfect example of seeing too much non-decorative hardware.

2. Hardback shades (plastic backed drum & 'A' shades) work best with modern and contemporary lamp bases, while fabric backed shades, especially those with piping, are great for more classic and traditional bases.

Modern hardback shade.

Traditional shade that's fabric backed w/ piping.

3. Trust your eyes! The right shade will often just 'feel' right, while less appropriate ones will seem 'off'. I know this isn't a clear 'if this then that' guideline, but I have faith in your gut. Here's a few examples of what I mean:

Too tall and skinny. And it comes down too far.

This one's too small and traditional for the ruggedness of the base.

Hahaha, this one's just HUGE! It's swallowing the base.

Aaahh, this one's just right. It sits at the perfect height, the color compliments the base, and the proportions work.

Ok, here's a better hint than just 'feel' it: A shade's height should be about 2/3 the height of the base. In most cases, this creates a visually balanced relationship. (I'm always open to exceptions!!)

4. TAKE YOUR LAMP WITH YOU SHADE SHOPPING! And when you're at the shade shop, find a table that's the same height as the one it will live on at home to try shades on. The table height will affect perspective. A shade that looks great on your lamp when it's at counter height, may completely cover/eat your base when it's on a low side table.

5. If the lamp will be a reading light, go for a light colored shade. If not, then you're free to go with whatever color works best with the lamp base and the decor of the room it's going in.

6. A shade's shape should follow the contour of the lamp. Round shades go with round bases, square shades go with square bases. Generally. But of course, not always. If you have a round base on a narrow table that's in a hallway, you might choose a square or rectangle shade so that it sits flat against the wall and doesn't stick out into traffic.

If you're having trouble deciding what style/size/color to go with, I'm happy to help! Just send me a message via my Instructables profile page along with photos and dimensions of your lamp and I'll make some suggestions of shades to try.

Step 7: How to Sell Homemade Lamps

If you have hopes and dreams of eventually selling your homemade lamps, here is my take* on the low down.

While it's not illegal to sell a portable (swag pendant, table, or floor) lamp without having the assembly tested and certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory, it really gets down to liability, aka who's legally responsible if a lamp you make causes a fire.

If for example, you are making shades or lamp bases only and selling them with commercially pre-assembled and certified cord sets (with the socket, plug, and switch pre-wired) that the customers add to the shade/base themselves, the legal responsibility would fall on the certification lab and the manufacturer of the cord set if something were to happen (like a fire) and you should be free of liability.

If you are doing the assembly/wiring yourself for portable lamps, you can sell them legally without having them tested and certified, but I would consider following the steps outlined below to lower your liability risk:

  • Ask a business lawyer what type of business structure would protect you best from personal liability (LLC, S Corp, etc.) and make it so.
  • Get liability insurance. Really, do it.
  • Have a local UL certified lamp repair shop check out your parts and assembly to make sure that you are doing all you can to satisfy the safety requirements, making your risk as low as possible.
  • That same shop might be able to approve and add a UL listed sticker to a small batch of your lamps for a reasonable amount. (My local shop charges $75 for 12 lamps.) But remember that they are assuming some liability by doing that, so not all shops are willing to take on that risk.
  • Alternatively, you can buy a printed version of the UL 153: Portable Electric Luminaires standard, which outlines all the safety requirements and tests done on portable lamps, for about $900 here. This way you can make absolutely sure that you're following all the guidelines.
  • Make sure to specify to your customers that the lamps are for home use only. Anything sold that goes in a work environment is subject to OSHA standards, which are much more stringent. Read their Frequently Asked Questions for Product Manufacturers and Suppliers (at bottom of page) for more info.
  • Also consider adding a 'Terms & Condition of Purchase' section to your website (and maybe even your sales tags) that makes it clear that the customer assumes responsibility for determining if the lamp is safe for their intended use of it. Farmstead Iron Works does a great job of wording this. See their terms and conditions for this product.

*This is not legal advice, just my own thoughts on this topic. Be sure to do your own research and move forward with what you think will be best for you.

Step 8: Bonus Lamp Project!

Here is one last lamp project instructable that you will now be able to tackle with your new skillz!

Tripod Floor Lamp

In this instructable, I show you how one small (but mighty) adapter makes it possible to seamlessly attach lamp hardware to any tripod.

This is my favorite style of floor lamp, because of its adjustability and simplicity. So if you've been needing a floor lamp to illuminate a corner of a room that doesn't have built in overhead lighting, I highly recommend giving this super easy to make lamp a try!

Step 9: What's Next?

I hope you've enjoyed this class and that you will continue to keep illuminating the world with your creations.

If you do come up with a new shade or lamp idea that you'd like to share, I encourage you to make an instructable so that everyone can benefit from your smart pants and creative spirit! To create an instructable, click here and to see if your instructable qualifies for any of our awesome contests (with awesome prizes), click here.

Please let me know what you thought of this class by sending me a message via my Instructables member profile page. If you have any suggestions on ways I can improve it, I want to hear about them!

Thanks again and happy making!