Introduction: Mechanical Expanding Cardboard Lamp - This Way Up!

About: Like everyone, I like making things. I'm currently a computer programmer by trade, which I adore, but I like building physical things when I can. I like pottery and lino cutting and photography, and I love t…
I'm going to show you how I went about designing and making an really neat lamp, a lamp that is small and dim for mood lighting, and tall and bright for practical lighting. It has an internal counterweighted scissor-lift mechanism, and a translucent paper shade.

The whole structure is made of old corrugated cardboard boxes and a few other fasteners from sustainable and recycled sources. It's low-impact stuff. The non-eco-neutral parts are the electrical bits, but these all stay discrete and complete enough that you can reuse them for other projects when you get tired of this.

One of the main purposes of this is to show how good corrugated cardboard is as a material - it excels as a free prototyping material (can often use instead of foam-core), can be easily sawn or cut with knives or sanded and is light and easy to handle, but is also strong enough to make certain kinds of finished product from. It isn't toxic and doesn't make dust when you cut it, so it doesn't need a workshop either. It lends a guilt-free disposability to a product, since it is intrinsically so easy to recycle (biodegradable even, if it never gets to the recycling centre), and by rescuing it from an early demise you've already extended it's lifespan considerably. It's free if you know where to look. Seriously, a lamp like this is what packing boxes dream of being made into.

The vast majority of this lamp is paper-based, and paper is easily recycled and biodegradable. The board has already been recycled at least once. It's not a half-hour project to construct this lamp, but then, that's usually the way with re-use. Instead of the embodied energy going into running a giant machine to make an injection-moulded product in a factory thousands of miles away, and flying it here, the embodied energy come from your muscles and your brain, and is gradually injected into the product over the course of a few evenings of attention.

This project was something I did initially in a rudimentary way many years ago, and then have recently been developing further - spurred on by the promise of easy fabrication services (a la Ponoko Because I've got the materials to detail the design process, I'll do that too and show how I arrived at the design using a few sketches and whathaveyou. If you just want the cold, hard facts, and none of my sparkling insight and shady drawings (I never was very good at the sketches), jump straight to the how-to on step 5.

Step 1: The Brief

I had a project once to build a lamp, with a particular customer and application in mind. I went for what I knew and started looking for something that would appeal to a handy, craft-orientated student who had to use a single room for all of his or her occasions (me).

This led to a number of conclusions pretty quickly:
1. The lamp needs to be adaptable - because it must be able to light a room enough for relaxing, for entertaining, and also to be bright enough to be usable when you actually need to be able to see things.
2. The lamp must be cheap - simply put, students don't have a lot of money.
3. The lamp must be reasonably neutral in style - Student's rooms aren't designed from scratch by interior designers, and while some might be contrived (you know the usual, mirrorballs, pink fluff and walls full of photographs), most are generic, and the lamp can't be so stylised that it'll look odd.

I've attached a few sketches that I did of what are, essentially, characterised angle-poise-type lamps. These met the brief of being adaptable - and then some, and I loved the idea. I admit I have a number of pet "things" I like to see in products, in things. One of them is the idea of a mechanical creature - a development perhaps of having a skeleton displayed (which was a staple of tv scientists laboratories when I was younger) - and these first sketches tapped into that theme nicely. I was reminded gently by my lecturer that one must be careful not to be "cheesy", and that is an extremely valid point. These kinds of design broke rule 3 by their nature.

The second sketch shows a rough working-out drawing for a modular system based on a number of lit cubes with connectors on all sides. The theory being that apart from one which would be connected to a transformer, these could just be fairly simply thrown together, and where they touched, they lit, and so light could be controlled very easily by just adding more cubes, and it could be removed by taking cubes away. Direction of light could be changed by turning the cubes, or by stacking them high, and intensity by making rows rather than clusters.

A third idea (not shown) had the lamps on a wire track system just like a lot of low-voltage lighting, but the lamp units themselves were motorised and could drive along the wires like railway tracks, and so light could be very easily moved to certain areas, and pointed certain directions, and furthermore they would be, by default, autonomous, and would drive about as and when they please. The complexity and cost of this idea was prohibitive, but I admit I still love it in concept.

The last sketch shows a petalled, nesting kind of shade.

Step 2: The Chosen Solution - Discussion and Exposition

I'm going to write a little about my design process and solution, and and not about the actual project. If you just want plans and ideas about the lamp, jump to step 5.

It's a bit of a cheat when the designer is also the client, because there's really no way to apply an objective rationale to whether something is right or not: I put my designers hat on, and say "I think the user (me) would like this to be blue", then take my designers hat off and put my client's hat on, and say "this designer is incredibly perceptive. I love blue things". We each give ourselves pats on the back for being so good.

So I won't pretend that the idea I went for was arrived at through strictly kosher design practices, but I do maintain that I have made defensible design decisions at arriving at it.

Designers do that, they are taught continuously to have faith and confidence in their own feelings about a form or an idea, and when that faith is strong (like when you are peddling your own particular aesthetic or functional dogma), it's not hard to come up with good justifications for choices, whether or not they are qualitatively the best. As if you can really measure that stuff anyway.

At university, there was a lot of energy expended trying to get us (students) to appear to put method into our decision-making. This made them defensible or sellable, depending on your emphasis. Roughly speaking, each time you have an empirical reason for making a certain choice, you have a feature that can be marketed and sold.

Which is very good, but it certainly seemed to me that many of the "features" that found their way into a design were not designed at all, in that they were not a solution to a problem, brought about by objective enquiry and experimentation. Rather, the feature was something which occurred to the designer after executing a sketch, as a way of giving that sketch - and by extension, the designer - value. It was just something the designer thought was cool and figured out a way of making it seem functional. There wasn't enough compromise for my liking - there was no clear line between when a design was right because it fit the brief, and when it was right because it was neat enough to capture the designers imagination.

Designers will tell you that they design well for precisely the same reason - they experiment with sketches and maquettes (models), then interrogate each design to identify the things that they like and the things they don't, then do another iteration, hopefully with more of the former in it, and less of the latter, then do it again and again. That's the formal design process in a nutshell, and it's good - a process of refinement. But designers will inevitably put something of themselves and their own pet styles and techniques into each project, and that was the bit that I was uncomfortable with.

It's perfectly appropriate to add some individualism, but perhaps I have a poorly constructed sense of self-entitlement, or just lack confidence in my graphical communication skills, but so many of the choices, particularly in styling (where it is very difficult to measure "rightness") boiled down to "because I think it looks cool that way".

I like clever things; machines, intricate things with levers and cams and gears. My favourite object in the world is the collapsible hood from my Rolleiflex 3.5F camera's waist-level viewfinder. It is truly a thing of beauty. Utterly elegant, looking effortless but finely tuned and engineered like a real instrument. The designer of the hood wasn't trying to put something of his own style into the device, he was making a machine that worked, treading a fine line between complexity and reliability. There is no material objection that can be made about the hood - you can't dislike the way it looks because it just looks like what it is, almost like no aesthetic choice has been made.

Of course this too is just so much conceit: The hood is styled as with any product, just as much as brutalist architecture is styled, or the latest digital camera is styled. The difference is, I feel, is that the styling is sympathetic to the object. It doesn't hide the mechanical workings because they are the ugly bit: it protects them because they are the beautiful bit.

All of this digression is just my way of explaining why I eventually settled on the kind of design I did: I just thought it was cool that way. The mechanism captured my imagination and I ran with it, afterwards coming up with lots of other justifications about why it was right. I think most designers do that. Of course craftsmen, hobbyists, artists don't have to have any such pretensions about their motives: If you like it, then it's right.

Now lets look at the design.

Step 3: The Chosen Solution

The structure of the lamp is based on a lazy-tong kind of mechanism - or more accurately, a scissor-lift of the kind used around building sites and tall buildings.

I initially anticipated using thin square box-section steel for the structure and some kind of spring-loaded, tension, or friction based mechanism for how it went up and down.

One thing I was sure of was that it had to move up and down without requiring much effort - bearing it's own weight - and it had to change it's brightness depending on it's configuration. The former was based on observing the beauty and elegance of anglepoise-type lamps where spring tension and weight is in equilibrium, but my eventual production design owes much more to Richard Sapper's Tizio desk lamp which has no locking, no friction, no tension, no nothing, just well-engineered balance.

I tried some different mechanisms using Lego and Mechano, all based on the "supported corners" idea (sketch) that I'd seen used on the Skylon sculpture that was part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. None of these designs worked: they all relied too heavily on the supports being perfectly symmetrical - something that I anticipated I could do only with a lot of gearing and engineering. I would struggle to prototype it. Which is a shame, because it would lend a lot of lightness to the design, much in the same way as Skylon appears to be floating above the ground, the lamp would appear to be floating above the base. The sketch shows dabbling with the idea of a four-way scissor mechanism, where two sets of tongs are set at right angles to one another, crossing at the joints.

Step 4: Deadline Approaches: Pragmatism Surges.

I had made a sketch model using corrugated cardboard, which is great for prototyping. The model was based on having the second-bottom pivot fixed, supporting the weight of the whole structure on two uprights, and having the lowest half-length members moving in a slot in those uprights, keeping it vertical.

This configuration benefitted from an absence of any kind of gearing or balancing, and because the loads were relatively small, the material didn't need to be particularly strong. I hung a counter-weight from the lowest pivot, equal to the weight of the structure above the main pivot and it balanced and could be moved to any position between it's extremes without having to apply effort, a la Sapper.

The downside to this was that there was now an intrusive upright in the lowest cell of the structure, and I was pretty cross about that, since it mean not only did it look a bit ugly, but it robbed the structure of it's lightness, it's elegance; it no longer seemed to float above it's base. However, deadlines approached, and I didn't shed too many tears. I figured it might get covered with a shade anyway.

My next model was also in corrugated cardboard, and as I made the first parts for it, I decided that this model should be the final article - it should be the product. The recycled ethic was right, the do-it-yourself aspect was there, the materials were natural(ish) and cardboard is very cheap. Suddenly the design was finished, and furthermore, in the early hours of the morning, after a packet of Pro-Plus, rational.

Step 5: The Finished Design

First decide on the size of lamp you want. This version is made with 30cm struts, which is actually a pretty good size. This makes it around 60cm tall when fully squashed, and 150cm tall when fully extended. I built four cells high, to house two 20W halogen low-voltage capsules and two 35W ones. The fifth cell is the one below the main pivot, the one that has the counterweight attached to it. After looking at possible wiring diagrams, I settled for one which lit the four lamps independently, depending on how tall the lamp was. This decision turned out to be pretty key for me, since it forms the main justification for the whole up/down concept and seems fairly genuinely original. When you want more light, instead of going and twiddling a knob, you just add more "lamp" and make it bigger. When you want less, just squash it away back into it's box.

Step 6: Materials

You will require:
Corrugated cardboard
These are made from recycled waste and by law need to be recycled, commercially at least. Corrugated cardboard can be found in loads of places once you're looking for it. Finding big pieces without creases and holes is harder though. You want the double-ply stuff. Art shops get their mounting boards delivered encased in big beautiful boxes, so try there, and bicycle shops get their bikes wrapped in it. Your supermarket produce might be packed in good sturdy tray-type boxes, but has often got holes in, and is squashed from the weight of melons etc. Appliances (white goods) usually come with good quality boxes so look out for anyone in your street getting a new fridge delivered. I spotted a delivery man in the street getting ready to crush some good quality boxes when I was out getting some lunch, and stepped in and offered to take them off his hands. Commercial customers have to pay a lot of money to get these cartons collected and recycled, and will usually be pleased to have someone else do it, unless it's got their address all over it. Don't be shy to ask.

From these boards, you'll be cutting (plans attached):
- 16x long struts (from double layer sandwich of board)
- 8x short struts (as above)
- 4x uprights
- 2x base connector panels
- 1x counterweight gondola
- 2x base side panels
- 2x base end panels
- 1x top handle
(all the above double-thickness corrugated cardboard)

Additionally you will need to source:
- bamboo skewers (kitchen-wares department / supermarket)
- wine bottle corks (may be new ones, or used ones if they aren't broken - brew shop)
- 100W (or more) electronic 12v lighting transformer (electrical shop)
- 4x 12v capsule lamps (household wares)
I used two 35W ones with GY6.35 size bases and two 20W ones with G4 size bases.
- 4x ceramic lamp holder with leads
These are actually the most tricky things to find and the cost varies wildly - Maplin sell some but they aren't cheap. Get the round kind with leads attached. Some have slots rather than holes, so you can fit bulbs with different sized bases, but mine don't. I dug out two for GY6.35 base bulbs and two for G4 bulbs. I originally got them from National Lamps and Components (online).
- some screw-terminal connecting blocks (3 amp ones will do).
- enough multi-strand wire to go up and down the lamp when it is fully extended half a dozen times (thicker is better, but it should be narrow enough to fit down the tubes of your corrugated cardboard - I used lamp flex, which is just less than 1mm).
- a switch for the mains power lead (foot switch)
- some fairly thick-gauge (1.5mm ish) copper wire without insulation (I used the green and yellow striped earth cable with it's insulation stripped off - DIY sheds)
- some mains cable and a plug (I used the braided flex from an old iron - swapped the 13 amp fuse for a more suitable 3 amp one)
- something heavy to use as a counterweight (I used wire nails - but anything that's heavy will do nicely)

- Knives - lots of knives. Something with a long blade for slicing corks and making long cuts in board, and something with a pointed blade for piercing in corners.
- Scribe or skewer.
- Wire cutters (I used pliers - can also be used for snipping the ends off bamboo skewers if you don't mind splinters).
- Needle file (you might be able to get away without this if you are smart, but I needed it for filing out the holes for the skewers).
- Screwdrivers (at least a small flat one for screw terminals, perhaps one to open your transformer)
You'll also need a pencil and a ruler, obviously.

Step 7: The Total Beauty of Corrugated Cardboard

Corrugated cardboard isn't a finely honed engineering material: Because corrugated board varies so much in its thickness and composition, and can be squashed and bent to a certain extent, the plans do not need to be millimetre precise - but make them as close as possible. In particular, the holes in the struts should all be aligned with each other, and at the very least, each left-right pair should be the same.

Transferring plans:
If you have printed the plans, just hold them onto your cardboard panel and use something sharp (a nail or a metal skewer - I use a scribe which is ideal) to punch lightly through at each corner on the part to cut out, then remove the plan and just join the dots using a ruler.

Cutting board:
Corrugated cardboard is a bit like balsa in that it can "catch" on a blunt blade and end up tearing, and making a ragged edge. In corrugated board board this tends to be a bigger problem when cutting along the grain. Use a good long sharp blade so you can keep the angle of the cut fairly low, and use many shallow cuts instead of one deep cut.

The base connectors and the gondola have folds in them, and that's potentially a great source of variance. To fold the board, use a straight edge and something blunt to compress the board as much as possible without cutting through it. Tearing the top layer is no problem, but be careful deeper. For bends tighter than 90 degrees, use something flat and blunt to compress the corrugations for 10mm or so either side of the inside of the fold too, so that there is less of a tearing force on the corner itself. Just keep an eye on your folds and you'll see where needs extra attention.

Laminating / Gluing:
The struts in this project are made of a double-thickness of double-layer board, just glued together. I used PVA glue. This actually adds a lot more strength and tear-resistance than just the two layers of cardboard alone, but it can be messy. You could probably get away without gluing the struts on this project, but I'm playing it safe.
When laminating, make sure any curvature in the board is opposed by the other board, so hopefully it'll dry flat. Put a generous layer of glue on one board and spread it around so there are no gaps, then put on the other board and load it up with books or some other flat stuff. Use clingfilm or scrap paper to stop the glue squeezing out the sides from going where it shouldn't. Leave overnight. The glue continues to harden after that, so it will become tougher to file and cut after that.

All the holes for the bamboo skewers should be punched through initially with a scribe or a nail or something, then gradually reamed out a little until a bamboo skewer can turn easily in it, but not so much that the skewer is loose. I found I had a thin needle file that I could use to widen the hole. It was a pain to do so many, but did the job.

Personally, I think this method of making holes is preferable to actually cutting holes (where material is removed). This way of doing it folds the material back into the hole and lines it nicely, making for a larger bearing surface for the skewers.

When working with this corrugated cardboard, you should have soft hands, like when catching a ball. It's quite easy to compress the corrugations when trying to be forceful with it, and once it's been crushed or bent, it loses much of it's strength, so be careful.

The glue layer, in particular, is surprisingly tough and I ended up compressing the bottom layer of the laminated boards a bit when trying to cut it.

Step 8: Making the Struts

Your struts are just long sticks, a few cms longer than your base lamp size. These are 330mm long and have some holes bored through them. Half of these are 20mm wide (for the top half of the lamp), and the other half are 25mm wide for extra strength. I don't honestly think it makes much difference like. If you have a stronger, thinner material, then use it by all means, but you will have to adjust the plans for the base connectors to compensate.

Cutting out:
Since they are just straight sticks, it'll be easiest to just measure the struts out by hand rather than using any template. Cut out eight long struts (330mm long) that are 25mm wide and eight that are 20mm wide. Cut out four short struts (180mm long) that are 25mm wide and four that are 20mm wide.

Making holes:
You should end up with 16 long struts and 8 short struts. Print or draw a paper template for the positions of the holes in the struts, since it's important that they are all the same. Remember that the middle hole in the long strut is not dead centre: There's a short half and a long half. As you punch the holes using your metal pointy thing, mark on each strut which is the short half - except for one set of struts, this end should always be pointing up in the lamp.

Widen the holes until the bamboo skewers are free to turn without friction in the holes, but not so much that they are loose and have space to jiggle. That's a technical term, you understand.

Here's the science:
The reason for the asymmetry in the long struts is to raise the crossover point of each strut by a few millimetres - introducing a natural "uprightness" bias into the design to counteract it's tendency to collapse flat when pushed down low. That's the theory at least. In practice however, the offset prevents the lamp from going down low enough if they are all installed that way round. I fixed this problem by reversing one layer of the struts, so the short half is pointing downwards. This seemed to get the best of both world - There is some uprightness bias, and it can still go low. I'm not entirely convinced it's worth the extra hassle of dealing with asymmetry, but hey ho, it works!

Add spacers:
A few of the struts need to have some special spacers added to them in order to fit in with the base uprights. Cut six 25mm square pieces of board the same thickness as your uprights.

Now you have your pile of struts, that's the hard boring bit done. Celebrate and rest your blistered hands! I recommend tea.

Step 9: Cut the Uprights

Mark out the plan and cut out the four uprights, but don't cut the slots for the base connectors yet, or the centre slot. And don't worry about the accuracy of the curve on the plan, it isn't significant. Each upright won't have been labelled yet, so don't cut the "punch on xIN" holes on the plans yet.

To make sure the slots were all cut the same, I punched the top hole and the one at the bottom of the slot, and threaded all four uprights onto a pair of skewers. Then I used a long bladed knife to carefully saw out each slot in all four uprights at once. (pic) Slide a piece of scrap board into the slots to make sure it's true.

Cut the central slot in each upright slightly wider than the holes, so it holds a bamboo skewer loosely - a bit of play here won't hurt, and it's better to have it loose than jamming because it's tight.

The shape of the uprights are identical, but their wiring is different. Number them 1 to 4, and mark each side "in" or "out" for which direction it will face (see pic). Turn each "IN" side upwards, and lay your plan on top, and mark the positions of the holes for each upright. Don't punch right through now, that'll come later when installing the wiring.

Cut out the two base connectors. These need folding pretty hard (see step 7 for hints about folding), but are otherwise simple.

Test the base
Do a test fit when you've got all your parts, with your uprights in their proper order and orientation, 1 to 4, left to right. You should find that there's some "smudginess" in the fit of your parts, but nothing that a bit of light twisting won't fix. Corrugated cardboard is good like that, and the base will be very solid once done. Put skewers through the holes and slots to make sure they all line up.

Remember if you find that your parts don't fit well (for whatever reason), you can always just glue them rather than rely on a friction fit. But do it later, when all the hardware is installed.

Cut out the gondola. This is the basket that you will fill with your heavy counterweight material. The design I have given you uses glued panels, but the original was simply folded and locked using the skewer that it hangs from. There's no significant difference: I was just trying to show off. I feel a bit embarrassed now. There are no real engineering factors here, but don't underestimate how much space you'll need for the counterweight material (higher capacity is better).

You will be pleased now you have something structural rather than just a pile of sticks. More tea - you've earned it, soldier.

Step 10: Circuits and Electricity

You can mount a switch on the lamp itself, and a nice neon switch (I think) looks almost indescribably fly, but it's actually far more practical for a floor-standing light like this to have a foot-switch in the power line. For this, you don't even need to worry about feeding the mains cable into the lamp yet. I'll cover this later.

A word about electricity:
Usual caveats apply. It can be pretty dangerous. Working with low-voltage lighting creates a sense of security that sometimes leads to complacency, and I electrocuted my fingers a few times working on low voltage lighting projects. I figured that it was all low voltage, so whats to be afraid of? Forgetting that the open contacts on the mains-side of the power switch were still cooking at 240v. It hurt and made me jump and made me spill my tea, fortunately not into the live electricals.

Be very wary of anything that you have plugged into the wall, and think carefully before plunging your hand into places where it might inadvertently touch wires or connectors. Think once, think twice. Think don't drive your car on the pavement.

The plan:
Acquaint yourself with the wiring illustration. There are four entirely separate circuits in total, one for each bulb. The positive lines are individually switched on or off by the position of the lowest struts against the uprights.

I went for four completely separate circuits here for two reasons: One is that the wire I was using was quite thin (1mm square) and I didn't want it being overloaded (bigger is better when it comes to wire gauge) by running two lamps off a common negative line. The other reason is that unlike my previous transformers, this one had four individual sets of output terminals. Other transformers have tended to have a bank of three positive and three negative terminals, so I had to common them somehow, and having two lamps running off a shared negative made sense. Doesn't make a fabulous amount of difference which way you go, as long as the positive lines are switched, but do be careful not to place too much load on thin wires.

The switching is implemented very simply, by having a bare wire embedded into the lower struts that comes into contact with a bare, live wire at a certain point in it's travel.

The first task is to install these switching wires into the uprights and into the lowest short struts. Onward!

Step 11: Adding Contact Switches

Tools and materials:
Copper wire. I was planning on using 1.5mm diameter copper earth wire, with the green and yellow insulation stripped off. However, once I stripped, I saw it was actually multi-stranded. Harder, or springier metal will be much better because it won't tend to deform. I used brass strip on another lamp, and that was just about perfect. I was using copper wire here, because it's easier to source and cut. This multi-strand do for now, since I don't have anything else. Grr.

Most of the wires will be terminated with screw connector blocks, so you'll need a small screwdriver. And some of your screw connector blocks, of course. Cut these strips into single segments.

Wire cutters and a knife for stripping.

Take your four 25mm short struts. These will go on the very bottom of the scissor structure.
Round the corners off one end of each, and punch a hole in each, near the hole in the rounded end. Don't punch all the way through the strut since it's just to hold the end of the wire. Now punch another hole 110mm up the strut, this one should go all the way through. These should both be a tight fit for the stripped wire.

Cut some lengths of copper wire about 150mm long and strip the insulation off. If you are using multi-stranded stuff, it's very hard to handle once the insulation is off, so you'd be best off tinning the ends with solder or putting on some kind of crimping fastener.

Bend the lengths of wire so they'll stretch between the two holes snugly. The short end should be no longer than the thickness of the strut, 10mm will do. (pic) Slide the wire through the holes, and make sure the tip is firmly bedded, tapping it home with something hard if necessary. You could even put a dollop of glue in the hole if you are that way inclined.

Cut off the excess wire that's sticking out the back side of the strut and screw a screw terminal on. (pic)

You should have marked each of your uprights 1 to 4, and each one should have a couple of punch marks on it's "IN" side. As with the struts, these holes are to accept a length of stripped wire. The bottom hole should be punched all the way through, but the top one should be punched only halfway, and at an angle. The object here is to bend the wire at a slight angle, to let it slide up and into the corrugations of the upright. This so that the struts with the other contact wire have slide more easily onto this contact wire. Be careful not to poke all the way through though. There is no shame in using a dab of glue in this hole. Even heroes do it. Bend a right angle at the other end, and feed it through the lower hole.

If your screw-terminal connecting blocks are longer than 14mm (mine were), cut half of the insulation off two of them, and use these to secure the wire out the back of upright #2 and #3. Don't clip off any excess yet. Clip the leads on #1 and #4 though, and put a regular connecting screw terminal on it, same as on the struts.

That's all the real work done. The rest is just installation and assembly!

Step 12: Skewers and Corks

OK, I lied at the end of the last step, theses corks and skewers still need to be prepared. But I promise, then the exciting bit is coming!

Slice the corks into thirds. You will need 64 of these segments in total, so cut up at least 22 corks, and jam a skewer through each one. Some corks will crumble, and once they get used, some of them won't be tight enough to use again, so have plenty spares. If you have enough used corks lying around then by all means use them, but if you have that many, then you should probably not be using knives and electricity. I bought new ones, they are very cheap and come from commercially managed sustainable plantations. In fact, with the advent of synthetic corks, these environments are being threatened, so by buying corks you are protecting niche wildlife, and helping farmers continue their centuries-old trade - that's good news.

Trim some of your skewers by sawing them off with a razor saw or snipping them off with wire cutters. The longest ones should be around 240mm long. Put a chamfer around the ends so the corks can go on.

Step 13: Get It On!

Prepare the base:
Right, almost there. Install your lower four short struts (with the wires in) and the four long struts that have the spacers attached. The struts with one spacer should go on the inside of the uprights, and the struts with two spacers go in between the uprights.

Build the scissors:
Cut a length of cardboard 150mm long. You'll use this to make sure your construction is even.
Get 14 skewers and put cork segments on the end. Lay out one layer of 20mm wide struts, taking care to make sure the struts are the right way up. Remember that the second set of long struts are reversed - they have their short ends pointing down rather than up like all the rest. If you are curious about this annoying foible (really, just the result of me trying too hard to impress you), I wrote a bit about it in step 8. Put two of the remaining 25mm wide struts on the bottom (pic). Put two segments of cork onto each skewer and then add the second layer of struts. Remember that the two sides are mirrored, not duplicated.

Use the 150mm piece of cardboard that you cut earlier to get the spacing right. It should fit between the two outer-most struts. Jiggle the corks up until they are snug either side of the struts and put another on each top.

Bring it together:
Turn the scissor section onto it's side, so the struts are on their ends, and bring it to meet up with the base section. Put in the last two skewers and corks, and raise the lamp, like Godzilla rising up from the depths!

Now, there are two possible outcomes when you do this first set up. Both have their positive aspects, so it's not possible to get it wrong.

If you are lucky you have a nice loose lamp that will fall back down as soon as you let go of it, but it isn't so loose that it bends from side to side.

If you are slightly less lucky, and much more like me, you'll have a good sturdy lamp that stays where it's put, and stays straight because everything's buttoned up tight.

If you can't move it at all, then you have stumbled into the unspoken-of third possible outcome. Carefully twist your corks and extend and retract the structure until it moves for you.

A stiff lamp is good, but relies on fortune rather than engineering to work and to continue to work. The counterbalance needs filling anyway.

Pull up the scissor with one hand and add some weight to the gondola until you feel it balance. You will find at this stage that you can pose it to any height and it will stay.

Structurally, we're done! Make yourself a cup of tea and give yourself a pat on the back. Though not at the same time or you may chip your front teeth and break your favourite cup.

Step 14: Wiring

The final cut is the last:
Right, you need to put some holes in your innermost struts to thread the lamp holder's wires through. Turn your lamp so the upright 1OUT is facing you. Mark which struts are to receive a punching. Have a look at the picture below which has notes on the struts to pierce. The holes should be at the mid-point on that half of the strut. Cut a paper template the length of the short strut, mark the centre of it and use that to measure where to mark the struts. Make a hole through the middle of the each marked strut, big enough for the trailing lead from your lamp-holders to fit through.

Add the lamp-holders:
Thread each lamp-holder lead through one of the holes in the strut, so that each parallelogram "cell" has one lamp-holder suspended diagonally in it. Trim the lamp-holder leads, the insulation (pic), and put a screw terminal on the outside to hold them in place (pic).

I decided to use two 35W lamps and two 20W lamps. Lamps bigger than 20W use a larger base size, usually GY6.35, so I installed two GY6.35 lamp-holders in the middle two cells of the lamp, and G4 ones in the top and the bottom. Some lamp-holders have slots instead of holes in them and can take both sizes.

Thread your wires:
This wiring plan makes the second top lamp come on first, followed by the top lamp, then the second bottom one, then the bottom one. The reason for the second top one being the first instead of the top one, is so that there is some space between the top bulb (hot!) and the operators hand when it's being pulled up. There is also an issue that any shade on the top of the lamp will be close to the top bulb when the lamp is down.

Thicker wires are better than thinner. The ones I used here are about 1mm square. The instructions for you transformer will probably give you some directions about minimum wire gauge - Mine says use 1.5mm square for runs of the maximum of 2m, so I'm pushing it a little, but none of my wires are 2m long, so I'm safe I think.

I got my wires from some lamp cable and just stripped the outer insulation off. It was only two core, so it means I only have two colours, which is a bit confusing, but be careful and you'll be ok.
Wires can be managed by sliding them along the tubes in the corrugated struts to keep them neat, but for any routing that doesn't go through the full length of a strut (like direction change for instance) a small segment of corrugated board threaded onto on of the skewers can often be used, or just glued onto a strut if needs be. If you are feeling lazy you can just wind them round the skewers as you go, but it'll be untidy.

I found this bit to be something of an exercise in frustration. You would think there's only so many ways to get the wiring wrong, but I kept on finding new ones. By the power of Greyskull... Follow the diagram for the big directions, and then look at the photos for how I did the corners and things. I think these are reasonably neat, and keep all the wires pretty much inboard. Doesn't matter a jot if you don't do it, but just make sure you leave enough slack at any direction changes so that the wires don't get pulled tight when the lamp is extended or squashed.

Once you've done this, you're done! More or less. You can certainly put your tools away and tidy up. I probably don't need to mention tea. I've opened a tin of Kopparberg. It is dangerously drinkable.

Finishing touches:
The four screw connectors on the outside at the bottom are where the positive lines exit the lamp. You should also have four trailing leads that are the negative lines. The lamp is big enough that you can fasten the transformer to it somehow. I used some adhesive pads. Trim all the wires and use the tubes in the structure of the lamp to keep the wires organised and feed them into your transformer output terminals, paying very careful attention to the polarity. Use a continuity or ohm-meter to check your connections again. Add the mains cable.

Step 15: Showtime - With Video

Neo-Tokyo is about to E-X-P-L-O-D-E:
Put some bulbs in the holders. Be careful with these, they get extremely hot, even if they haven't been on for long. There is a story that oil from your fingers will fry and make the glass break when it gets hot, and the the bulbs with explode. This would be very exciting, and probably have your eye out, so it's worth being careful about handling these little capsules. Use a tissue, or the little wrappers they sometimes come in.

Now. Pull it up full height and plug it in and step on that switch. If you don't hear any explosions or see any flames or smell any smoke, come out from behind your sofa and have a nose around. Hopefully you have all four lamps lit and a smile on your chops. Have another cup of tea, and put the lamp on while you drink it. Don't leave it on while you away and boil the kettle though, unless you are you are working in your kitchen. Congratulations! Your collection of cardboard boxes is now a fully operational battle station!

Nothing, not even This way up is perfect. Move the lamp up and down and make sure all the lights come on and go off at the appropriate times. If you have a stiff lamp and find that the second lamp isn't coming on soon enough when you are raising the lamp, add a bit more weight to the gondola to pull it down sooner. If all of the bulbs go off at once for any reason (faulty contact even), you'll probably have to turn your transformer off and on again. I'm not sure what the reason for this is, but it seems to be the norm on electronic transformers, probably to protect it.

Step 16: Making a Shade - Paper Part

Spots before your eyes:
Although you will rejoice in the majesty of this glorious contraption, you will probably also be stumbling around your flat crashing into stuff and screaming "my eyes!!" because the little halogen bulbs are awful bright and leave numerous spots in your vision.

You'll want a shade, for a few reasons. There's the spots-in-eyes problem described above, but there is also an interiors question - majestic though it is, not everybody wants a large cardboard machine in the corner of their room, so it needs disguised. Personally I'd love to have it naked, or have the shade on the inside of the framework somehow, but I decided a presentable shade that would help fulfill part 3 of the brief (see step 1) was essential.

Now there's lot's of ways to make a shade, I've made one from lycra (spandex) simply glued and stretched over the frame, which look rather neat, but my favourite is the pleated paper shade. This was the shade on my first lamp, and it complements the whole design very nicely. I'll show you how to make the shade here, and show some pictures on the last page of other versions of the lamp I've done, for those seeking further inspiration.

The plan:
The shade is made of four long panels of 45g/m2 layout paper, one for each side of the lamp. This is the standard paper used in design. It's good for this application because it it thin enough to let plenty of light through, but not transparent like tracing paper (which was my first natural choice), which ended up just looking dull and grey when it was turned off.

Layout paper is also light, and reasonably cheap. You may already have some in fact, if you are into designing stuff. If not, I recommend it!

The panels of layout paper are simply folded, concertina style, into inch-long pleats, and all four sides of the shade are joined into one long rectangular tube by inserting strips of a soft, crease-tolerant paper in the corner joints. I used rice paper of the sort used for calligraphy. I actually used a double-layer here, because it was so thin.

I haven't done any plans or anything for the paper part of this shade, because there's nothing to it really. I used A2-sized pieces of paper for the long sides, and A3-sized pieces for the short sides. After doing all the folding and sticking them together, I trimmed the long pieces so they were 390mm long, and the short pieces so they were 240mm long (pic).

The bottom is finished with a cardboard trim that slots into the base, the top has a handle to keep grubby fingers of the paper, and inside are a number of spars that help support the shade.

I laid a few sheets together, and put in a series of parallel creases using a straight edge and a template laid behind with a bunch of lines drawn on it. This isn't fun. I won't lie. But it'll be over with soon. Each side has 44 peaks in it, that is there's 88 folds in total. The long ones had a few more because of the how many sheets happened to fit, but that'll be trimmed. The exact number of folds is irrelevant, as is the size of the folds really. When fully stretched out, it'll be around 210cm long, but there needs to be a fair bit of slack in it so it doesn't pull on the lamp too much.

Sticking together:
Now, this bit really is ludicrous. I'll make no bones about this, and there's a good reason why I have wracked my brains to come up with alternative ways of making the shade. But I'm going to present the steps as if I had no problem executing them. So I'll buy you a pan-galactic gargle-blaster at Milliways when you've finished.

It isn't really impossible, just takes a lot of space, a bit like putting on a tissue-paper duvet cover. If you can imagine that. Two pairs of hands is helpful, and a gentle touch is good too.

Use the glue sparingly since it weakens the paper a lot until it's dry. You can use an iron to help it dry if you need to. If you have a hard floor (laminate would be ideal) you might find it easier, but be careful not to leave the glue drying without moving it for too long, or you may well end up with it glued to the floor. I used some old shower curtain material to protect the carpet (refugee from a previous shade making exercise) and a row of books to keep press the joint flat initially.

I made up two giant sheets consisting of a rice paper insert, a wide panel, another rice paper insert, then a narrow panel. Then lay the panels on top of each other (correct way round since you can't turn it inside out afterwards), and then bend the strips of rice paper that are sticking out opposite sides and apply the final two lines of glue. After this, you should have a nominally rectangular tube of paper about seven foot long: You deserve a medal, seriously.

I'm really looking forward to making a shade like this from some kind of woven fabric that I can man handle a bit, and that folds less aggressively. I hope to be doing just that in a future Instructable.

It's a good idea to leave this to dry for a good couple of hours before you start yanking it all over to try and get it back into it's folded form. Use your spare pair of hands, or a lot of long sticks and a gentle touch to get the paper tube tented, into a rough rectangle form, and use something to keep it propped that way. Remake the first few pleats on each side of the shade, holding each end with clothes pegs as you go. This first bit is the hardest. Try your best to keep the whole thing square - once its been folded slant (as this one was, since it was leaning against the front of the sofa for stability), it's really hard to get it square again. You'll find the corners don't fold neatly. Don't even try, just crush them.

The first time I did this I hung the shade from two ropes strung from opposite sides of the room, with a kind of cardboard "carriage" on it to protect the shade from the ropes. The result was better than this floor-borne one, but I've been forbidden from stringing up ropes around the house anymore.

There's no shortcuts to make here, just keep folding and pegging, folding and pegging until you're done. You might be worried that the shade ends up looking too creased and battered. Well don't worry, that's character.

Now, if the lamp is encased in delicate paper, you need a handle to push it up and down with, and a base so the bottom doesn't flap all over the place. No-one likes a flappy bottom, so onto the final step.

Step 17: Shade Fitments - Video

Top handle:
The plan for this is attached. Cut out the parts and fold it up. Take your paper shade and sit it down so it is stacked. Raise the long sides up and together, so that the pleats make a rounded top if looked at from the narrow end. Decide how many pleats you want to have in this top section. I chose 7, which is the same number of pleats as I allowed for each scissor "cell", and this gives a good enough shape. Too many will mean you might run out of shade for the rest of the lamp, too few will mean you get a pointed tent shape instead of a nice round shape.

If you have wisely decided not to make the hangers (section below), then you only need two cardboard stringers for the very top of the shade, just to keep the shape of the rounded part. Cut two sticks of board 240mm long and stick their ends into the pleats where you have decided to end the top. These stringers simply sit on the little platform that extends out the bottom of the handle. Glue them if you feel confident, I added a bit of stick-on velcro so I could adjust this wayward shade. Do a test fit - Gather up the shade, and peg it, bunched up if you can, then take it to your top-most bamboo skewer on the lamp frame and clip the tabs that hang out the bottom of the handle on. Hopefully it will balance. If not, don't worry too much, it'll have a tendency to right itself once the shade is down. So take the shade down carefully, checking it isn't caught on the ends of any of your skewers.

These stringers are optional. My original lamp didn't need them but this one is a little bit more wayward (twisty), so benefitted from them. I think they might be a worthwhile addition to a standard configuration, though a lighter type of board would be preferable. They also make it a lot harder to deform the shade by accident.

Essentially, I fitted a set of cardboard stringers (240mm long) into the pleats of the shade (see the pictures) at regular intervals, glued at the ends, holding the long sides of the shade together. The main thing this does is keep the lamp a bit squarer. I used five sets of stringers (that includes the very top ones, which are not optional, I think), each set 7 pleats apart.

Slight digression - showing my working-out:
I planned to have the stringers resting on hangers which were themselves hanging on the central pivot skewer at the top and bottom of each shade. I made all this up (pictures attached), and this had the great benefit of spreading the weight of the shade over the whole structure, preventing the shade from sagging - where the top pleats are stretched out, and the rest of the pleats are gathered up round the bottom.

What it also meant was that instead of having a nice even progression of pleat size, from big ones at the top, to slightly smaller ones at the bottom, the look was a lot more higgledy-piggledy - overall less even, less easy on the eye. So I took the hangers out. I was never comfortable with that extra complexity anyway.

If you decide you'd like shade hangers:
Cut 10 strips of cardboard 15mm wide, and fold pairs of these and glue them into rectangles 95 x 390mm. Cut a notch at the half-way point and balance one each on the central set of bamboo skewers. The cardboard stringers you added to your shade will rest on these hangers. Add a raised tab at the end of each hanger to stop the stringer from slipping off when the hanger is tilted.

Base cover:
Now that the shade is on, the lamp has no firm bits with which to pick it up, and that's just the most practical reason why we need to add some extra parts to the base. The other reason is that it looks slightly bizarre with just it's dainty ankles hanging out from under it's voluminous petticoats. Personally, I think it looks hilarious. Have you ever laughed a lamp? I have. It certainly lightened my mood! ... Sorry.

This is just a set of four panels which lock together around the existing base. Some strips of card with tabs on them (shade edge - pdf plan attached) are glued to the bottom edge of the shade and these slot into the side panels on the base and keep the bottom edge of the shade under control.

And, all of a sudden.. That's it finished!

Step 18: Conclusion & Future Developments.

The lamp looks great, and I have had very positive reactions to it. In future, I am going to stick with something that resembled the paper shade - I think that material and construction really chimes well with the overall construction of the lamp - it's mechanical nature, the repetition of angles.

- I am not going to bother with shade hangers, unless I can be very precise - it's too easy for it to just look lumpen and misshapen, especially with a material as coarse as corrugated cardboard.
- The base shape isn't quite right - is slightly too long, and aesthetically, isn't in keeping enough with the shape of the rest of the lamp. Needs to be looked at. I really want something that doesn't hide the top-heavy look of the small, internal foot. It isn't really top heavy at all.
- The handle should be strong enough to carry the lamp from room to room.
- I should have designed the base cover so that it was incorporated into the uprights and the connector pieces. There's no good reason why they can't do both functions, and it was just shoddy process (and over-excitement) that meant the base covers needed to be another layer.
- Air pressure - The lamp is quite well sealed, so when pushing it down fast, the pleats sometimes pop out, and don't stack nicely. When pulling up fast, they tend to suck in, and sometimes get caught on the internal structure. I think more work on the hanger / stringer stuff might lead to progress here.

I've got a "todo" as well, so here's a quick run through of what's on my Thiswayupto investigate list:

Fully product-orientated version, probably based on simplified laser cut parts, with a durable pleated fabric shade.
Size - With the shade on, the lamp is bulky. I would like the size of the shade to reflect the profile of the mechanism inside - so it is tall and narrow, or short and fat.
The handle opens at the top for fitting, like a doctor's bag. Will save having to snap the shade onto the skewer without being able to see what you are doing.
Paper shade without corner inserts - I'm absolutely positive there must be some way of making the joint in the corner of the shade integral - so the paper is continuous and doesn't have the smudgy rice-paper insert. Any ideas here are welcome!
Use CCFL tubes from old flatbed scanner as light sources - (picture) these look just about the right length to just slot right in where the halogen lamp-holders are now! Would have to do proper switching since there is a terrifying difference in voltage there.
Use LED clusters / panels as light sources - I've made lamps with panels of LEDs before, and like how they can be crammed in and stay cool. Would tend to be more energy efficient too. Not hard to retro-fit a few power-LEDs into this cardboard lamp with a new transformer.
Wall or ceiling mount - ceiling mount is just like the pantograph that studio lights hang from.
Risk of fire - I've tagged this on the end as if it's an aside, but it's actually rather a deal breaker when it comes to production. There's 110W of heat being expended inside this paper cocoon, so it needs to be looked at. I know there is such things as fire-retardant spray, so I will look down that route initially. Maybe I will take this lamp out into the yard and set it ablaze, like a viking burial.
Knitted tubular shade - too homespun? How about this - The lamp as an installation, incorporating a mechanical knitting machine, that is constantly knitting a tube hanging from the ceiling, and then the mechanism of the lamp is also motorised and has hooks on it's struts, and is climbing up the inside of the tube, like an inch-worm? Creepy.

Angled version - so lamp can be tilted. Lots of people ask whether it can do this, and seem disappointed when it doesn't This requires a lot more materials knowhow, or engineering. Or trial and error.

I've just got some parts for a half-scale, table-lamp sized model through from Ponoko. They're my first laser cut parts ever! Adorable! So expensive to get things shipped with them though. However, I've already fitted some of the pieces together, and that'll have to be my test bed for developments I think.

I think there's loads of possibilities with this design. I'm going to keep trying them until I run out!

Step 19: Update

I've posted a few bits and pieces on my own site at, but here's a few pics of the newest version of this lamp.  It is made from laser-cut plywood and is two-thirds the size of the cardboard one.

I'm still working on a shade for it. And, I suspect, always will be.

Step 20: Update July 2010 - Shade

Recently completed a new shade, in the style and technique I now know is called "chochin".  Tissue paper lanterns with a flexible cane frame.  This actually worked much better than I expected and the results are really great.  I will write a new instructable for this technique as soon as I get better at it.

The pictures show my first attempt.  It is only rested on the top of the lamp and isn't fastened at the base, so it doesn't really work for upping-and-downing, but it does the job, and looks pretty impressive (as long as you don't look too closely - it's a first draft remember).
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