Introduction: Lava Lamp From a Wine Bottle

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This is my first Instructable, and I'm proud to say that I've revamped the lava lamp for DIYers- the project is designed for multiple wine bottles, so you can change the color of your lamp in just a few seconds. In a few days, I'd used many formulas to create what I believe are not only functional but elegant and beautiful (and groovy) lava lamps. I'm looking forward to sharing my experience.

Step 1: Materials

  • 1”x8”x4’ white wood board
    • All wood pieces were cut from this board. Remember that what’s sold as 1” thick wood is actually only ¾” thick. This is expected.
  • Nails and nail gun (or hammer)
    • You can use another preferred method of adhesion, but be prepared to deal with boards that don’t exactly meet up. I had originally used wood glue but found that it was not strong enough to hold such a tight fit.
  • 75-watt soft glow bulb
  • Porcelain (or other material) standard light fixture no larger than 4” in diameter
  • Electrical tape
  • Extension cord (two-pronged)
    • You’ll be cutting this. If you don’t already have one that you’re willing to cut, you’ll need to buy one.
  • Standard 750mL wine bottle
  • Cork or wine bottle stopper
  • Wood caulk
    • There were a few places in my lamp where light was escaping; I used wood caulk to seal the cracks/edges.
  • Baby/mineral oil
  • 70% isopropyl alcohol
  • Antifreeze
  • Oil-based artist’s paint or oil pastels
  • Food dye (optional)
  • Spray paint (optional)
  • Lacquer furniture finish (optional)

Step 2: Creating the Base Plate

It’s important to remember that while the base I used was a truncated pyramid (and therefore relatively complex), you have the creative liberty to create whatever shape you’d like as long as it can store the light fixture and bulb and have a wine bottle sit on top. The base that I created requires basic woodworking skills and tools, including a chop saw and a table saw, among others. The website can assist in the calculations of the angles of a truncated pyramid. Thanks to JGDean for the comment with this information!

Begin by cutting a 6” square base plate from your wood. I used a table saw, but you can use whatever tool you’d like (as long as it gets the job done!).

Next, cut the extension cord using a wire cutter.

Next, use the wire cutter to strip the wire an inch or so back.

Keeping the two major wires separate, twist the wires together firmly. Attach each twisted major wire to a screw (wire terminal) on the light fixture. Because we are dealing with a light bulb, we do not need to know which wire goes to which terminal.

Using a screwdriver, drive the screws ensuring that the wires stay as twisted together as possible and do not fray. Cover the bottom of the fixture with electrical tape.

Next, drill holes in the base plate to allow for the insertion of screws with which to attach the fixture to the base.

Step 3: Creating the Sides

The sides of the base are perhaps the most complicated parts of the project. The following images summarize the cuts required to form the truncated pyramid. I have described the cuts below, but the pictures will undoubtedly be more helpful in the production of the necessary pieces. You will need a combination of both a chop saw and a table saw to form these cuts.

Using a table saw, cut 15 degree angles on both sides of the board. Make two corresponding cuts in the wood for the base to fit into using these blade positions.

Using a compound miter saw, set the bevel angle to 33 degrees and the miter angle to 15 degrees. Perform the appropriate cuts.

Produce four of these pieces (which are about 7” at their bottom and 4 ¼” at their top) to fit around the 6” base. One of the pieces should have a small cut to allow the wire to exit.

Step 4: Creating the Wine Bottle Holder

This piece is very simple; it’s a 4” square with 15 degree sides. I cut a hole in mine using a hole saw, and created a wedge for the wine bottle to sit on using a dremel.

Step 5: Assembly

Attach the four trapezoidal pieces together. I used wood glue to stabilize the pieces while I nailed them together.

Fit the base and light fixture into the truncated pyramid. Be sure to line up the holes you created for the wire to exit. I pre-drilled the base into the four side pieces and inserted screws so I’d be able to change the bulb out if I had any issues.

Lastly, attach the top piece (which holds the wine bottle) to the pyramid using wood glue.

At this phase, I highly recommend spraying the inside of the enclosure with a high-heat spray paint. If you don't do this, the wood will release sap and char.

Step 6: Chemicals

NOTICE: (11/13/16) Updates complete! I have found the perfect formula!

To have a functional lava lamp, you really need to understand how lava lamps work. The “lava” in the lamp is usually an oil, and the transparent liquid is an alcohol solution, so the two do not mix. The real magic happens when the light bulb heats the oil. Because the densities of the oil and alcohol are so close, just the heat from the light bulb is enough to make the difference in which is denser. When the oil becomes less dense than the alcohol, it rises, and as it cools, it becomes more dense again and sinks. This cycle is what causes the lava lamp to function.
The precision necessitated by a functional mixture is very large. I’ve many hours trying to find the right ratios of various chemicals, including antifreeze, turpentine, vegetable oil, baby oil, isopropyl alcohol, water, paints, pastels and food dyes and I still have not found the perfect answer. I’ve spent made some working lamps, though, so I’ll try to summarize a few of the most effective mixtures I’ve created.

As standard procedure, mix all oils and oil paints together and all water-based/soluble liquids together separately before mixing in the wine bottle. Adding the chemicals too quickly or in the wrong order can lead to cloudiness, among other complications.

  1. Measure out:
    1. 15 mL antifreeze
    2. 630 mL 70% isopropyl alcohol
    3. 20 mL soy wax
    4. 30 mL baby/mineral oil
  2. Stir together the soy wax and the baby/mineral oil. Add oil paint if desired. This mixture will be referred to as "the lava" from now on.
  3. Place the lava (in its container) in a pot of simmering water. Stir continuously until there are no more clumps and you achieve a thin, consistent solution. Carefully remove the lava and allow it to cool while you work on the alcohol solution.
  4. In a separate container, mix together the antifreeze and alcohol.
  5. Pour the alcohol solution into the wine bottle. It is very important that you do this before pouring the wax in. If you do not, the wax will cling to the sides of the bottle and the lamp will not work properly.
  6. Pour the lava into the wine bottle as slowly as possible. The slower you pour it in, the less cloudy the lamp will be at first (so you'll have to keep the lamp on longer to undo the cloudiness).
  7. Place the cork in the wine bottle and set it on your light fixture! Allow about one hour for the mixture to be fully functional.

Making your own mixtures

If you’d like to make your own mixture, I wish you good luck! I highly recommend the website; it was very helpful to me in the creation of my lamps. When making your own mixtures, you will be benefited greatly by the use of a gram scale to calculate densities of chemicals. When mixing the oils and water-based chemicals, your goal should be to have the oil on the bottom with a reverse meniscus facing into the alcohols.

For all of these mixtures, leave space in the top of the bottle to account for the expansion of liquids.

If the lamp gets cloudy

Put the lamp on the heat until it is fully liquidated. Then, refrigerate the wine bottle for a few hours and then set it back on the heat. The small particles of lava causing the cloudiness should coalesce.

Have fun with your lava lamp(s)! If you've got additional knowledge to
share about making lava lamps, please share it with me in the comments so I can add it to this Instructable!

Step 7:

Lamps and Lighting Contest 2016

Participated in the
Lamps and Lighting Contest 2016