Introduction: The Positively Amazing Negative Lamp

About: My name is Troy. I'm a Mechatronics and Aerospace Engineer. I make things out of wood and electronics and spend time outdoors (especially SCUBA diving).

Having a love for retro tech, (including the good old fashioned 35mm camera) I wanted to make something that would bring that technology back in a way that is easy to display. Remembering the light table from my high school photo class, a lamp was the best answer to the dark, filmless, black and white conundrum I discovered myself to be in.

After some thought as to how I wanted my lamp to look and what type of film was to be used, The Positively Amazing Negative Lamp was born.

Step 1: Parts and Tools

For this build you will need the following items:

  • Vases
  • 4 pieces of 3/4" MDF - Rough cut to 10" x 10"
  • Lamp Bases
  • RGB LED Bulbs
  • Power Cords (6 ft)
  • Spray Paint
  • 35mm B&W Film - When you take your film to your local photo lab (finding one that can develop black and white film was a bit tricky where I live) make sure that you request that they are not cut. You want the full length of film to cut to the lengths that you need.
  • 35mm Camera - if you don't still have yours lying around, head to your local thrift store and look for one. I got this one for a wonderful 20 bucks!
  • Black quarter inch wide black ribbon (Hobby Lobby)
  • White copy paper

Step 2: Tape Vase and Paint

First order of business is to paint or cover the bottom of the vase that the negatives will be mounted to.

Place painters tape piece by piece until you have the inside taped off as shown in the pictures. Cover the rest of the vase so that paint doesn't get where it's not supposed to. I personally chose to use my old chemistry homework. I felt it was fitting way to end the semester. I left the outside bottom of the vase exposed to verify paint coverage.

Paint coat by coat of black till the bottom is covered. It will take many coats and it takes a long time to dry. So be prepared for about a week's worth of painting ahead of you.

I would choose (if given the opportunity again) to not paint the silver mirror finish. It didn't turn out like I wish it did and it was quite overpriced.

Once your paint is dry and you can no longer see any light leaks, go ahead and take the tape off.

More than likely the paint leaked under the tape a little. The easiest way to get this off is to use a pocket knife or something similar to carefully chip off the excess paint.

Step 3: Create Base and Carve the Bottom

***This whole step would be easiest with a lathe***

Not having a lathe, this is how I made my base.

Measure the diameter of the porcelain lamp base that will be screwed into the MDF and mark it with a compass. I had an attachment for my dremel that I'd never used so I thought I'd try it out. Mark and drill the center of the base. Cut the outside and inside of where you want your lamp base to fit.

Using a chisel, carve out the inside of the MDF.

Using a 2" hole saw, cut the center out but be sure to mark the center of the other piece of MDF that you will glue to your base. You will need that center transferred to the other piece of MDF for the next few steps.

Step 4: Glue

Glue the two pieces together.

Step 5: Cut Grooves

Measure the vase and mark it with a compass.

Using the dremel, cut groves for the vase to fit. Make the grove about 1/16" big on the exterior and 1/16" small on the interior. This will allow room for the negatives, ribbon, and diffuser in following steps.

Step 6: Finish Carving and Cut Hole

Using a 2" hole saw, cut a hole in the second piece of MDF. Make sure that your lamp base fits and doesn't stick out at all. When placed upright, only the MDF should be touching the table.

Step 7: Cut Exterior Shape

Time to cut out the shape of the lamp. Choose whatever shape you'd like.

I chose a circle, even though it was a little difficult to cut. I really like how it turned out. It is an inch wider than the vase all the way around. I used a jig saw with a new blade to get this done.

Step 8: Cut Slot for Power Cord

Cut a slot for the power cord deep enough so that the lamp will sit flush with the table. I used a box cutter to carefully cut out a little at a time while constantly checking depth with the cord I had.

See Step 13 for possibly cutting the porcelain.

Step 9: Paint Base

Time to prime, paint, and clearcoat.

Step 10: Test Fit

Make sure that everything fits as it should.

Step 11: Attach Lamp Base

Attach the porcelain to the MDF. I used 3/4" grabber screws.

Step 12: Empower the Lamp

Time to wire up the lamp. If the plug that you are using has a wider prong (polarized) please follow standard wiring specifications.

The wide prong is neutral which will connect to the exterior wall of the light bulb socket. The normal prong is hot which will attach to the center contact. In the event that someone accidentally touches the side of the bulb when screwing it in, they will not receive a shock.

If the cords you use are not polarized like mine, just connect the cord.

Step 13: Cut Lamp Base If Needed

After all was said and done, I discovered that the cord was still touching the porcelain lamp base, causing it to not sit level. I used my dremel cut-off wheel to cut a groove for the cord.

Glue cord in place. I used hot glue, but an epoxy would probably be a better option.

Step 14: Apply Felt Bottom

***No matter how awesome you think you are with spraying stuff, please tape off your base. You will thank me later***

Time to use some spray adhesive to attach the felt to your base. Let dry and cut out.

Step 15: Apply Negatives

Time to attach negatives to the vase.

Cut strips of paper to 35mm so that you can get the correct angle to attach the negatives. For this vase you will need 8 strips of paper/negatives per vase.

Using double sided tape, attach the strips of paper working your way around till they are at an angle such that there is no space between them. Once satisfied with your result, remove the paper one at a time by replacing with a segment of film. Use small strips of double sided tape at the ends.

Each roll of 35mm B&W 36 exposure film yielded roughly 53 inches. I used 4 rolls of developed film and ended up with 23 inches left over per roll. With this exposure, you could use 3 rolls and have 39 inches left over.

Step 16: Apply Boarder

Using more double sided tape, apply a border around the top and bottom of the vase for a nice transition from the vase to the negatives.

Step 17: Create and Insert Diffuser

Originally I wasn't going to use a diffuser of any sort, but upon finishing the application of the negatives and turning on the light, I was a little disappointed with how it looked.

Using a piece of copy paper, insert into the lamp and mark where to cut. Attach what is left over to extend the length of the diffuser with tape.

Step 18: Finished

Plug in, test, and enjoy your new Positively Amazing Negative Lamps!

If you like this sort of Retro tech, have a look at some of my other retro style Instructables:

If you ever make your own, please be sure to comment a picture. I'd love to see them!

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