Introduction: Upcycled Beam Chandelier

About: I got into wood working a few years back and have also been dabbling with electronics since about forever. The combination of both I find very fascinating and so I am always trying to come up with projects tha…

This Instructable describes the process of how we created our own homemade rustic beam chandelier. Our only ambition is of course that the neighbors will envy our cool stuff even if it will attract thieves from all across the country. (I guess we should duct tape it in place if I think about it...)

We had two horrible chandeliers in the house when we bought it and never got around to throw these things out. Honestly a blank light bulb would have been pretty against those things, but somehow it never happened. Finally, we couldn't take it anymore and replaced one of them while upcycling a beam we got for free at craigslist. (Yeah I know. I can do the math. We'll do the other one within the next 10 years, I promise.)

Despite the free beam, the total cost came down to about $275 for us, which was somewhat on the high side (for sure higher than desired), but when comparing it to similar items online, like this one, or this one, we did fairly well. When comparing it to this Walmart version, we lose in price and win in looks. With the extra two beam lights we always win in features of course.

But take a look yourself, we'll start building now.



Step 1: Planning the Light

In my humble opinion, the planning phase is one of the most important phases for a successful project. In this case we envisioned what type of light we would like, what it needs to do and how it should look.

Define the features you liked to have. For us this was:

  • Wooden beam chandelier.
  • Fits over the table
  • Provides light to work or play cards or similar at the table
  • Provides ambient lighting
  • Be dimmable
  • Looks rustic and cool

Shop around for as many ideas and inspiration as possible

  • Check on the internet for lights you like.
  • Look at the prices (usually crazy high which is a nice motivation to build your own)
  • Find looks and/or styles that you like.
  • Find looks and/or styles that you don't like.

Come up with your own design. Unique to our design is that we decided to:

  • Have small beam lights pointing downward for good lighting.
  • Have very warm LED light bulbs for ambient lighting
  • Have a switch that allows switching between.

Plan it all out.

  • Define as much detail as you can.
  • Fit everything into the beam while maintaining a sound electrical installation including strain reliefs, proper grounds, space enough in the distribution boxes, and cable routing.
  • Make a drawing (on paper or the computer, doesn't matter) and review it carefully.

You are ready to build.

Step 2: Materials

Below are all the materials listed that were used in this project. Links are posted for all the main items. Some of the items are examples, others are the exact item we used. Make sure all the chain thicknesses and dimensions fit to each other.

Step 3: Tools

Below is the list of tools that we used for this build. You may be able to do this project with other or similar tools if you don't have exactly these tools available.

  • Chop saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Large drill press
  • Forstner Bit 1/4"
  • Forstner Bit 2" or larger
  • Hand drill
  • Drill bit set
  • Router with template guide
  • Foot switch for tool operation
  • Scroll saw
  • Heat gun
  • Screw drivers
  • Stripping pliers
  • Wire cutter
  • Stud finder
  • Plumbline
  • Measuring tape / measuring stick
  • Pencil
  • Voltmeter

Step 4: Preparing the Log

The first step was to prepare the log for the chandelier. It needed to be cleaned up and hollowed out so that there was space for the electrical and less weight.

  • Brush all the dirt off the log with a scrub brush to protect your saw blade.
  • Inspect your log for nails or other metal parts. Remove what ever you find also to protect your saw blade.
  • Cut the log to your desired length. We chose a 5 ft log to hang over a 5 ft table. We cut it with a 12" chop saw. Chain saw or handsaw would work as well of course.
  • Clean your log with sand paper. You want to remove any dirt and grime while maintaining the rustic look. Smooth the surfaces but leave the uneven features and color differences.
  • Inspect your log for cracks and decide in what orientation it needs to hang. Since you hollow it out on top, make sure the deepest cracks are on top.
  • Make a round routing template for the outside diameter of your beam light. Turn the bottom of the log up and fasten it with clamps in the right spot. Router out a recessed area exactly as deep as the outer lip of the light.
  • Either drill or router the center of the recessed area deeper into the wood. The diameter of this hole should be able to accommodate the core of the beam light. We used a big forstner bit for this step.
  • According to your design hollow out the log with a forstner bit. We drew a rectangle on the top and checked how deep we can go before we accidentally cut through at any location of the wood. Then we used a large forstner fit, a drill press and a material roller thingy to support the beam. Set the depth on the drill press to leave about 1" bottom thickness and then get going. It took a while. Thanks to a dust collection system and a long vacuum tube this was a really clean process.
  • Create a template / guide along the length of the side. Use a second piece of wood as a dead stop. Router the sides in several steps to 0.5" depth (or whatever the thickness is of the wood that you use to cover the top).
  • Repeat with the other side.
  • Once done, check all edges and sand sharp and fraying edges to a clean finish.
  • Oil everything with your favorite surface treatment. We used a danish oil.
  • Wait until it is dry.

Your log is as good as done.

Step 5: Installing the Electrics

In this step I show the electrical install. Note that you should be a qualified electrical worker to do this step. You are entirely responsible for your own install and all the consequences it may bring.

  • Insert the beam lights into the recessed holes at the bottom. With 1 inch bottom thickness the springs could secure the light very nicely.
  • From a scrap piece of metal we bent a bracket to hold the pull chain switch above the hole. Drill a hole in the metal, insert the switch and fasten the cap. The switch should not be able to move.
  • Place the switch and bracket exactly above the hole so that the chain can be pulled without it getting hung up.
  • Mark the location for the fastening screws and drill pilot holes. Don't fasten the switch yet.
  • Measure out the length of cloth covered cable that you need for the light bulbs. We used 9 ft. and 10 ft. pieces that allowed us 2-3 wraps around the beam and different drop length of the light bulbs. Account for the cable length that you need inside of the log as well.
    • We used shrink tubing at the ends of all the cable to prevent fraying when they were cut.
    • We then removed the cloth sheath at the end of the cable (stopping at the shrink tube). Nail scissors worked great for this. This allowed us to easily work with the exposed cable to make electrical connections.
  • Prepare the electrical boxes by removing one punch out at each end, i.e. 2 punch outs per box.
  • Prepare the beam light boxes by removing one punch out. Choose the end that points toward the middle of the log, away from the light.
  • Attach strain reliefs to all the boxes.
  • Decide on the location of the boxes, drill pilot holes and fasten them with small wood screws and washers if needed.
  • Route all the electrical cable distributing the electrical connections to the two boxes so that they do not get overcrowded.
  • Pay specific attention to the ground and make sure all metal surfaces are bonded with a resistance of less than 1 Ohm to main ground.
  • Fasten all strain reliefs. Note that in some cases I added short pieces of unconnected wire to fill the strain relief enough to make it work.
  • Connect the pull chain switch and fasten it to the wood.
  • Connect all other wires as required. I used wire nuts.
  • Close the boxes up.
  • Confirm that all metal surfaces have less than 1 Ohm resistance to the main ground cable.
  • Add the light sockets to the end of your cables by following the instructions of the vendor.
  • Confirm with an ohmmeter that your switch and all electrical connections are working as intended, that you don't have any shorts, and again and most importantly that you have proper ground.

Step 6: Mounting

In this step the mounting brackets are added and the beam mounted to the ceiling. This may sound simple but proved to be somewhat tricky to do because we have a slanted ceiling and a specific location for the table.

  • Determine where you would like to have the chains connected to your beam. We considered the following:
    • Looks
    • Symmetry for balance and weight distribution
    • Inward / outward angle of the chains toward the ceiling (Note that in the US houses are made of wood. Yeah, I know, that is crazy. It is indeed flammable. Weird thing. Anyway. The ceiling joists are typically 16" apart. Your chain mounting points at the ceiling are thus multiples of 16", i.e. n x 16")
  • Mark the locations of your eyebolts on your beam.
  • Measure the screw core diameter of your eyebolt, i.e. the diameter not including the threads.
  • Find a drill that is equal to or a little bit smaller than the core diameter and drill as deep as your eyebolt can be mounted.
  • If necessary or needed add wood glue to the hole to increase strength and/or reinforce cracking wood.
  • Screw the eyebolt into the wood as deep as possible for maximum strength (and looks). We used a screwdriver as a driving handle by sticking through the eyebolt horizontally and turning it.
  • Attach your black chains to the eyebolts using the D-link chain connectors.
  • Mark the locations of the joist in the area the beam chandelier will be mounted with removable tape.
  • Get your plumbline ready and hang it on the ladder ready for use.
  • Place the beam chandelier on the floor exactly where you want it to hang. With measuring sticks or measuring tape make sure that it is parallel to the wall or other landmarks in your house.
  • Transfer this position to the joist in the ceiling.
    • In our case the beam was orthogonal to the joist line. Therefore, we had to move our beam orthogonal to the joist to create identical distances to the two supporting joists.
    • We also had to fine tune the ceiling mounting point to the right location along the joists to be in the center of the thickness of the beam. This is easily done with the plumbers line.
  • Drill pilot holes into the joists (core thickness of hooks you are using) and install your mounting hooks.
  • Hang up the beam chandelier and check it out.
  • Correct if something doesn't seem right.

You are done with the big stuff.

Step 7: Finishing Details

    There is still plenty of small stuff left to do though. Hang in there. Attention to detail often makes the difference between a great and an average result. Power through.

    Detail 1: Cover grid.

    • Measure the width of the opening at the top of your beam.
    • Grab some spare wood strips and cut it to that length.
    • Space everything out using nuts or similar spacers that you have at hand.
    • We did three sections over the entire length of the beam, for easier access for maintenance and repairs.
    • Glue a cross strip of wood onto the ribs to hold the sections together.
    • We used diving weights to keep stuff from moving during the drying process.
    • Last but not least oil it, or paint it so that it matches the color of your beam. We had to use a mixture of the oil and a stain to make it work.

    Detail 2: Top color

    • The top of the beam cutout had a much lighter color than the outside of the beam.
    • We used a oil / stain mixture here as well to match the colors as good as possible and painted the routered sections.
    • While this seems like a nuisance, in our house we have an open balcony type upper level that allows a view onto the beam chandelier and the lower living room.
    • The color change made a difference to the final product in our eyes.

    Detail 3: Light location.

    • Experiment with the location of the lights. This may take a little while and is best done without the grid that we created under detail 1.
    • Play with
      • Location of bulbs
      • Height of bulbs
      • Shape of bulbs
    • When you know what you want put the grid on top and recreate it.
    • Adjust the final heights of each bulb and take in the slack turn by turn.
    • Place the final slack inside of the beam volume as needed.

    Detail 4: Chain length.

    • Determine the final chain length and mark it.
    • We liked a single chain running from beam to ceiling on each side best. There are plenty of other options.
    • Mount the chain link that needs cutting in a vice and go at it with your cutting device. We used a dremel with a cutting wheel.
    • After cutting the chain we bent the link open enough to remove the chain.
    • Repeat for the other chain and hang up the light again.

    Detail 5: Pull chain knob.

    • Determine the best height of your pull chain knob.
    • Make sure it can not hit any light bulb easily.
    • Ensure that you can get to it even when a table is placed below it.
    • Cut the pull chain with pliers and mount it with the connector pieces to the switch and the knob.

    Detail 6: Ceiling cover plate.

    • Measure the proper hole size for a PG11 cable gland into a ceiling cover plate that matches your ceiling and the electrical box that you hopefully already had installed.
    • I used a forstner bit which resulted in a very clean hole.
    • Mount the cable gland on the cover.
    • Ensure the beam is hanging in the desired location and the chains are weighted.
    • Ensure the breaker for the light is off. Lock it out if you can.
    • Feed the cable for power and that for ground through the chain to the top. I put it through every second link running the cables parallel to each other and nicely aligned with the chain links.
    • Determine the length needed to the ceiling box and cut the cable long enough to make all the connections.
    • Shrink tube the cable to prevent unraveling of the cloth cover, again leaving enough cable to make the connections in the box.
    • Remove the cloth cover of the cable up to the shrink tube.
    • Since there was no green color available, I shrink tubed green color onto the cable that served as ground and cut and shrink tubed the other shut.
    • Take the insulation off the ends of the cables that require connections to be made and use wire nuts for the connections.
    • Check if it all fits in the box, but don't close it yet.
    • Test ground connection from various locations inside of your beam chandelier. You absolutely need less than 1 Ohm from every metal surface inside the chandelier to ground. (If you are not qualified, let somebody qualified do it for you. Again, you are fully responsible for your actions.)
    • Once everything tests out, close it up.
    • Switch on your breaker and test it out.

    You are done. Crack open a beer, lean back, tell the world and enjoy.

    Step 8: Glamour Shots

    Yeah, I know. Maybe a few glamour shots too many. But hey. We are major proud and think this was a pretty cool project. We hope you'll have a 10 year old chandelier somewhere that you can give the boot. This is the way to do it.

    Hope you enjoyed the Instructable.

    Looking forward to hear what you think.


    Step 9:

    Recycled Speed Challenge

    Participated in the
    Recycled Speed Challenge