Introduction: Minimal $1 Reading Lamp

The object of this project is to construct a lamp using found or discarded materials--spending only $1 if needed. Hopefully, being resourceful in this way, we can work toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. This particular lamp is made from paper, metal, and wood--featuring a bookend to hold your novels and notebooks. Construction time is around 5 hours (not including drying time).

Step 1: Gather Materials

For this lamp you will need:

  • 2 pieces of hard wood (I used 5x16'' pine but size depends on what you have or want)
  • 1 13'' piece of aluminum sheet metal
  • 1 2.5x20'' piece of heavy metal
  • 2 pieces of 12 gage copper wire (approximately 14'' or longer)
  • Paper scraps (I used tracing paper)
  • 1 balloon
  • Tape
  • Epoxy
  • Elmer's Glue
  • Wood Glue
  • 2-4 clamps
  • 1 functioning lightbulb
  • A power cable (I used one from a Christmas candle window light)

Step 2: Bend Metal

First you will need to shape your four pieces of metal appropriately. (1) Bend your two copper wires into rounded arches that almost complete a circle. (2) The 5x20'' piece of heavy metal should be formed into the shape of a boxy 'U'. The bottom section should be about 5'' with the two side sections rising to the same height. (3) Form the 2.5x13'' piece of aluminum sheet metal into a cylinder. Make sure to round the edges if possible to avoid a sharp finish. Connect the two ends by slotting together, welding, or gluing.

Step 3: Make Your Light Diffuser (Paper Maché)

Blow up your balloon to a reasonable size and rest it on top of your aluminum cylinder. Test out the size by placing the copper wires over it, crossed in the middle. Once you have reached the correct volume, take off the copper wires and begin adding gluey paper scraps until they cover the entire balloon. I used a simple solution of water and glue. Tracing paper also tends to work better due to its transparency but any white paper should work. Keep adding the paper scraps until you have a solid thin layer, making sure the pieces overlap. When finished, let dry.

Step 4: Cut and Prepare Wood

When your paper maché light diffuser is drying, start working on the wood structure of your lamp. At the end of one of the wood boards, trace the circumference of your aluminum cylinder. Then, using a drill press, drill a hole on your circle. Then, using a scroll saw, cut out the circle you have traced. Test it to make sure the cylinder fits. When finished, sand out any remaining imperfections.

Next, using a wood carving hand tool, carve a ravine down the middle of your other wood board. It should be deep enough to place your electrical wire in. At the bottom, cut out a small "mouse hole" for the electrical cord to escape out the back. Don't worry about how this looks because it will be hidden in the final product.

Step 5: Glue Wood

Place your electrical wire down the ravine you have created, taping it down. Make sure there is enough space at the hole where your lightbulb end will be. Using wood glue, spread an even layer down one of the boards and press the two wood pieces together so they fit as snug as possible. To avoid any spacing, clamp the two boards down with 2-4 clamps and leave to dry overnight. Wipe any glue that is seeping out the sides--it will be harder to get off once it is dry.

Step 6: Drill Holes in Aluminum Cylinder

Once your paper maché orb is dry, pop the balloon inside and clean up any dripped glue left on the aluminum cylinder. Next, drill 4 holes spaces equally along the top section of the aluminum cylinder. I used a piece of tape that I folded into fourths to measure the distance equally, then marked where the holes should go. Then use a drill press to drill the holes. Make sure the drill bit is the right size so that the copper wire will fit through snugly.

Step 7: Attach Paper Orb

Next, using tape or glue, attach the paper maché orb to the top of your aluminum cylinder. Poke holes in the paper where the copper wires will fit through the to make it a little easier when you attach them.

Step 8: Attach Copper Wires

Using epoxy, stick the copper wires through the holes of your aluminum cylinder and glue them to the inside. I used tape to hold them in place while it dried. Make sure the copper wires cross in the middle. This should take about 5 minutes or so to dry.

Step 9: Sand Wood Section

Once the wood boards have been glued and dried, prepare to sand them. Tape the electrical cord so that it is out of the way and won't be damaged by the sander. Then, carefully sand each of the 6 sides of the wood board until it is even and smooth.

Step 10: Prepare Light

Once your wood board is sanded, use epoxy to glue down the lightbulb socket to the center of the cut circle area. After it has dried, screw in the lightbulb and adjust accordingly. Make sure to test it with the aluminum cylinder to make sure it fits properly.

Step 11: Attach Aluminum Cylinder to Wood

Simply push the aluminum cylinder into the cut out circle area on your wood board. Make sure to keep it free of glue so you are still able to change the lightbulb if it burns out.

Step 12: Add Bookend Piece

For your last step, add the metal bookend to the end of the wood piece however you see fit. I didn't attach it to the wood so that I could continue to move it if needed...and you're done!