Introduction: Traffic Cone Lamp

About: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.

This lamp is made from a traffic cone, some old OSB, and a couple of threaded rods. The latex rubber cone actually diffuses and transmits light surprisingly well, but I punched a pattern into it with a soldering iron to let some more light out. The base part is optional, but again, it lets a lot more light out if the cone can be elevated a little bit. A toggle switch mounted in the bottom of an aluminum can sits on top like a nose cone on a rocket.

Cones are available on eBay for cheap, but the shipping can be a bit much. Orphan cones are a dime a dozen in cities, but often too dirty and messed up to use. Please don't steal them from active job sites, because they are safety equipment for someone. Other good places to check are auto salvage yards and the county/municipal dump, because that's where the local government takes their bulk waste.

My cone is 28" tall and 14-3/4" square at the base, and weighed about eight pounds before the lamp parts were added. They come in all different sizes, and you could even make a desktop one out a of a little tiny cone. I used a 75-watt equivalent compact fluorescent. A brighter fixture could eliminate the need for the holes. Do not use conventional bulbs; they get hot enough to damage/burn/melt the cone if there's nowhere for the heat to escape.

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I apologize if some of the pictures are a little blurry, it's very dark in my basement.

Step 1: Base Plate

As I mentioned in the introduction, the whole base plate part is optional -- you can just sit the cone on the ground as it normally does. However, by elevating it, the switch comes up to a good ergonomic height, and by drilling holes in the base plate, you get a cool pattern of light on the floor.

I measured a 14-3/4" square on some scrap 1/2" OSB and cut it out with a circular saw. OSB isn't an ideal material, but it was free. It is hard to cut and prone to bad chipping. MDF or plywood would work just as well. I found the center and traced a circle from an ice cream tub, then drilled holes along concentric rings, using smaller drill bits as I worked out to the edge. Make sure the middle hole is big enough to pass the plug through. Punch four corner holes for the threaded rods.

The last picture shows the underside of the board, post-holes. OSB is awfully chippy, but you'll get the same problem with regular plywood, to a lesser extent. Just peel them up and sand, seal/paint onto them, make the rough side inside the lamp to hide it.

I put two coats of polyurethane on it, but stain, paint, or seal as you desire.

Step 2: Switch Mount

I got a toggle switch from Home Depot to wire the lamp. The rest of the mount is made from PVC pipe and a soda can.

Cut the top off the can, then cut slits down the sides, to make strips about an inch wide. Take some needle nose pliers and a hammer and bend them down, essentially turning the can inside-out. Drill a 3/8" hole in the middle (or whatever the diameter of the switch is), the push the switch threw and screw down the ring around the toggle to tighten it.

Step 3: Wiring the Lamp

I bought the separate pieces to make a lamp from Home Depot. You could just as easily cannibalize any old light, as long as you have ample cord.

The ceramic base comes with a piece of cardboard and a metal back plate. The cord comes with one end stripped and the other with a plug. Put the neutral (ribbed) lead under/around the brass screw and tighten it down. Attach the other lead to the silver screw. Make sure you thread the cord through the cardboard piece and the steel plate first, because it's a pain to undo after. There are two screws that go through the fixture and come out the back to attach the metal plate (see fourth picture). Line up the holes, then screw it tight through the actual socket part (fifth picture).

Always test it before you go to the next step, because it sucks to do a lot of work only to find your connection was loose or the leads were reversed and the thing doesn't work.

Then cut the neutral cord about a foot from the fixture and strip it. Feed the leads into the metal stubs and twist around (sixth picture). Solder.

Test again.

Step 4: Mounting Fixture to Cone

This step is fairly straightforward.

First, take the little piece of PVC you cut earlier, and thread all the cords through it, so that the can bottom and switch sit on top of it. Bend the flaps all the way down, drill a pilot hole through a few of them, and screw them down to the plastic. Wrap the whole thing in some duct tape to tighten everything down and cover up sharp edges. You can also use duct tape as a shim when it comes time to fit it in the cone if you make the hole in the cone too big.

Cut the cone about two inches from the top, or wherever you can determine the switch mount fits tightly. Thread the cords through, then the pipe/switch mount. Line up the rim of the can flush with the rim of the cone and hold it tightly. Screw through the cone into the pipe on the sides. I did four screws -- one axis, then the other, so I could continually make sure everything was flush how I wanted it to be. Put some silicone caulk around to finish the edge.

Step 5: Feet

I used 3/8" threaded rod for the feet. It comes in 36" lengths, so I cut it into fourths, each 9" long.

Flip the cone upside down and rest it on sawhorses or similar. Put the base plate on and line it up, then scribe through the holes in the corners onto the cone. Drill the cone out in each corner.

Step 6: Holey Traffic Cone

I punched the holes with a soldering iron. The fan in the background of the first photo is to blow the fumes away. Burning latex can't be good for you, and it makes a lot of smoke. Set up outdoors and away from anything flammable like dry leaves or grass.

First, I divided it with eight vertical lines and five horizontal ones. I used a felt tip marker and just did it freehand. The felt tip washes off easily. In the bottom quadrant, I punched forty full holes; the second tier, twenty; the third, ten; the fourth, five; and the top one, three or so. I say full holes because I pushed the soldering iron all the way through -- I also made shallower holes by just pressing the tip in a little. It's cone-shaped, so you can make a variety of diameters. This pattern is just a suggestion -- you could do anything, constellations, subway maps, whatever.

After the holes are done, use a pocket knife or a putty knife to scrape the little burrs off both the outside and the inside. This part sucks, but it looks a lot better after because those burrs are black and block a surprising amount of light. Finally, run over the whole thing with some fine-grit sandpaper to take the last fuzzies off.

Other patterns are possible; I made an earlier version of this lamp by Photoshopping an image of cornstalk into a halftone pattern, printing it out, tiling it onto the cone, and drilling through it as a stencil. If you want to drill, you have to stuff the inside of the cone with newspaper or similar because otherwise there's no back pressure, and the cone just bends, no matter how sharp the drill.

Step 7: Finishing Up

Put the base plate up against the base of the cone. The bottoms of most cones have radial ribs to lift them off the ground a little. Measure from top of the base of the cone to the bottom of the base plate, in this case about 2".

Screw hex nuts 2-1/2" down from the end of the threaded rods and add a washer. Put an acorn nut on the other end to make "feet". Stick them up through the base plate so the wood is resting on the hex nuts and washers. Put the cone on. Screw down tight with wing nuts and washers.

To change the bulb, you can undo the wing nuts, take the cone off, and reach up inside to unscrew it. Inside the cone, the free end of the cord and the fixture are both essentially dangling from the switch mount. If the light looks too low, take up the extra with a zip tie. if it looks to high, you're pretty much SOL unless you want to take the whole thing apart.

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Plug it in and turn it on.