Introduction: Retractable Barn Chandelier for My Sister's Wedding Reception

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I was really excited my sister asked if she could have her wedding reception in my barn. I had a couple ideas of things I wanted to do to the barn before the wedding, the biggest of which was a rustic chandelier hanging over the dance floor. But I didn’t want to take away anything from the space as a workshop, so I decided to make the chandelier retractable, allowing the chandelier to be raised up out of the way into the rafters.

Step 1: The Wooden Beams

The barn I’ve been restoring was made from 8”x8” wooden beams, constructed using mortise and tenon joints. I had a couple of these beams left over, which I thought would work really well for the chandelier.

One of the ends still had the tenon joint, and instead of cutting it off, I decided to cut the other ends to match. I Thought it was sort of an homage to the construction of the rest of the barn. I used the Skillsaw to cut as much as I could, and then used the Sawzall to finish it off. I also drilled dowel holes to match. I notched out the centers of the beams so they could overlap each other in a lap joint. After setting the depth stop, I used the miter saw to make these cuts, and then used the backside of my claw hammer to knock it out. (Ya, a chisel probably would have been better, should probably get one of those one day, haha). Set them over the top of each other.

I wanted to use one large 1 ½” bolt through the middle of both to secure them. I was nervous to drill this hole by hand though, because I was sure I would get the hole crooked. But the drill press didn’t have enough reach to make it to the center of the beams. The only other thing I could figure to do was clamp down a piece of plate and then use my mag drill to bore through it.

Step 2: CNC Plasma Cutting Time

Instead of just using a large washer on the bolt, I drew and cut out some decorative brackets on the CNC plasma table. Before I had the CNC table, I did countless cuts like this using printed stencils and a handheld plasma torch. This is 3/16” mild steel plate. I got the matching brackets bolted on the top and bottom and tightened down the 1 ½” bolt. Had to use pipe wrenches to tighten it because I didn’t have any other wrenches big enough.

I also cut some brackets for the ends of the chandelier, which the support chains will attach to. I made the tabs for the chain attachment slotted, thinking that if the chandelier didn’t hang flat because it was heavier on one side than the other, I could adjust it here hopefully. I cut these brackets out of ⅛” hot rolled sheet metal. I also used 1 ½” lags screwed into the wooden beams to keep these brackets from sliding inward when it’s hung.

I bought some chain in town, but when I got home I decided I didn’t want to use it because it was shiny and was going to contrast with the rest of the chandelier. Instead I decided to cut my own chain links from ⅜” plate. I couldn’t cut complete loops, because I wouldn’t be able to assemble it of course, but I should these “S” shapes should lock together and still be strong enough for the 100-200 lbs of chandelier. I also cut a top bracket that the chains will attach to and heated and bent the sides of it using an oxy-acetylene torch. All chained up! Just using the rope to hold it temporarily. I had a couple family members voice their concern when they peaked in the barn to check up on my progress and thought I was going to be hanging the chandelier with some small rope, haha

Step 3: Wiring

I started in on wiring it. I used a long ¼” drill bit to drill through the 8” of beam. I off-centered the holes, alternating sides, thinking it would look better than just running the light bulbs down the center of the beam.

I bought a couple light fixtures (I think they are called spider pendant lamps?) just for the wires and sockets, since it was actually cheaper than buying a spool of wire and sockets and wiring them myself. I cut the wires just below the canopy and threw it in the metal scrap bin. I placed a wire strain relief on the underside of the beam, after setting the height I wanted the bulb at, and then tightened down another one on the topside while pulling upward to keep it tight.

Wire management time. I used lots of wire staples to keep things as organized as possible. Had to use two electrical boxes to fit all the wire connections. I picked up some heavy duty 12 ga rubber coated wire that will supply the power to the chandelier. Testing out the bulbs for the first time! I bought edison bulbs, which I thought would look cool for this because they put out a nice warm color and you can see the elements inside. All 26 of the bulbs, I was happy.

Step 4: Fabricating the Reel

With the chandelier done, I moved onto the reel that will raise and lower it. I thought a big, heavy, simple, and industrial looking wheel would be the ticket. I spent some time designing in sketchup and then redrew the shape in illustrator to create the gcode for the cnc table. Illustrator uses vectors, which creates much smoother arcs. Sketchup, on the other hand, uses line segments to make a curve, which leaves the cut much more jagged, even if it looks like a smooth curve on the computer screen.

I wanted the reel to be 5’ wide, which would have to be cut in 2 pieces. I picked up this ⅜” plate from the local scrap yard. I was really happy to find it, since it was about half the cost of buying the metal new. Got the two sides cut and set them together on the welding table. I clamped them down and got them welded. I welded one side, ground the weld smooth with the angle grinder, flipped it over and clamped it back down again, before welding the back side.

I thought 1” rebar bent around the outside of the reel would work really well as a handle because the rebar would be nice to grip. I used a come-along to pull the ends together as I welded it. I cut out a smaller backside, since its only purpose is to keep the cable on the reel. I also cut some 5” pipe that the cable will wrap around in the center of the reel, and welded 1 7/16” shaft material through the center of it. The locking mechanism. I designed the reel with lots of 1” holes around the perimeter so it can be set at different incremental heights, and then this one inch shaft will slide through and lock it in place. I welded on a tab so I can padlock it, just so nobody is messing around with it and accidently causes an accident.

I Installed the reel in the barn’s loft area. Most of the frame for the reel will be set hidden in the wall, with just a couple arms protruding out to hold the outside of the reel. I built the frame out of 1.5” and 2” square tubing, ¼” thickness. I bolted two bearings to it that the reel spins on. I also cut and welded on some gussets out of ¼” material to the frame to add some strength. I used ½” bolts to attach the frame to the 8”x8” wooden beams it was sandwiched between at the top and bottom.

Step 5: Cable Pulley Brackets

With the reel and the chandelier done, the last thing to do was attach some pulleys up in the top of the barn to run the cable through. Definitely needed these to be strong and secure. There is a hay hoist that run along a wooden beam the whole length of the peak, which I thought I could install a piece of metal channel over the top off to support the brackets that hold the pulley. But I didn’t want to trust just the hay hoist beam alone, I thought it best to also tie the channel into the rafters as well.

I fabricated some truss brackets out of 3/16”x2” metal strips. I drilled 3/8?” holes in these, so I can bolt them to the rafters. I cut some square tubing in half, which had the right inner diameter to fit snuggly over the hay hoist track. It was ¼” thickness. I found two old pulleys on our farm that I thought would work. I cut the pulley brackets out of ½” plate, which is probably over kill, but why not. The pulley that redirects the cable back down to the reel needed to be angled, so I heated up these brackets with the oxy acetylene torch and bent them to matching angles.

Step 6: Pulley Bracket Installation

Up the ladder I went. I was not looking forward to this part. Lots of trip up and down. I screwed down some boards on the rafters to walk on.

The channel slipped over the hay hoist beam and I got it bolted in place using ½” bolts. Then I set the truss brackets against the rafters, drilled through them and got them bolted using ⅜”x2” bolts. Installed an electrical outlet up here for the chandelier. Then I fed the ½” cable up and over the pulley. I was lucky to find a used spool of cable we had sitting around on the farm that we replaced on an older piece of irrigation equipment. Then I pulled the cable along the peak of the barn and through the 2nd pulley at the end and down towards the reel.

I was so glad to come down from the rafters. It was a summer day and it had to have been 110 degrees in the peak of the barn. I was covered in dirt and sweat, and my sister was nice enough to snap a picture of me. This was only a couple days before her wedding, I think she was getting a little nervous I might not get it done in time (as was I…) After a quick shower and rinse, I fed the cable through the hole in the reel and clamped it.

Step 7: Attaching Chandelier and Lifting for the First Time

I put a bunch of extra on the reel, so it’ll be mostly the tension of the wraps holding the weight of the chandelier, and not just the cable clamps.

Once I felt like I had enough on the reel, I cut the other side to length and attached it to the chandelier. I looped it through the big eyebolt, using a thimble on the cable to lessen the severity of the bend, and then used a couple cable clamps. Started reeling it in… the tension was building… I had no idea how hard it was going to lift. I was kind of nervous about it the entire project. The tubing in the center of the reel that the cable wraps around was only 5” in diameter, and the reel was 5’ in diameter, so I thought there should be a lot of leverage. If I was doing my math right, one complete turn of the reel should only raise the chandelier 15”. But still, I had no idea how hard it was going to turn… It slowly lifted off the forklift and wasn’t bad at all! It takes a little bit of muscle, and you definitely have to hang on to it firmly, but isn’t all that tiring to raise or lower.

Lastly I lowered the chandelier all the way down to just about a foot above head height and attached a safety bar to the cable, just in case it ever got away from me. Better safe than sorry. I also plugged in the power cord up at the top and attach some loops to the powercord that would clip onto the cable to keep it organized as it raised and lowered.

Step 8: Wedding Time!

I was definitely pushing the deadline on getting the chandelier done for my sister before the wedding. I finished it literally the day before, haha. It was getting a bit stressful for everyone I think. But, like I said in the speech I gave at the wedding, it was only because I wanted everything to be perfect for my little sis on her big day. She and her new husband looked amazing during their first dance and I was so honored that she would want to have the reception in my barn. Makes a big brother proud.

Check out my videos on this project if you like, I worked hard on them and they probably tell a better story than I do here is this album. Rainfall Projects is my channel.