Introduction: Wood Veneer Sun Jar

About: Mechanical Engineer doing projects on the side for fun. I try to post helpful and comprehensive tutorials when I figure out something new or make something neat. At one point, I didn't know how to do any craft…

This sun jar is a variant on the traditional glass sun jar (for which there are at least a dozen guides on this site). I find that having the photo elements exposed (instead of below a layer of glass) helps with detection of light (turns on less in medium or high light). It also looks very nice.

You will need:

  • Jar with an appropriate top (one you can wrap wood veneer around)
  • Alcohol to clean glass
  • Paper Towels
  • To frost glass: frosted glass paint, glass etchant, or sandblaster
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Solar lawn light (from Home Depot, Target, etc.)
  • Wood Veneer
  • Chipboard or thin wood (for structure)
  • Teak Oil or similar (for finishing)
  • Knife (like an OLFA) and self-healing mat
  • Ruler
  • Contact Cement + Brush
  • You might need: wire cutters, pliers, or other tools to remove top of jar
  • Optional: Laser Cutter (to cut wood pieces... or to etch entire glass if you're into that)
  • Optional: House number (one of these I made for my front porch since our number is hard to read from the street; yes, you can put any design here you want)

The assembly for this takes half a day. Dry times for paint and wood oil can take several days. Please plan accordingly.

Step 1: Prepare the Jar and Light

The jar shown here I got from Michaels. It has a brushed metal top, which you can see is the metal cap, and inserted plastic threads. You want the plastic threads, but you don't want the metal.

To remove the metal cap, slip some wire cutters or tin snips between the plastic and metal pieces to make a small cut. Pull this cut back with pliers. Be careful, the metal is very thin and sharp! Keep the plastic threads, carefully throw away the metal (maybe wrapped in tape so it doesn't tear the garbage bag)

For the light, separate the electronics assembly (photo sensor, lightbulb, batteries, and solar cell) from the rest of the assembly (often a plastic case, reflecting mirror). For some smaller lights (like the square one in the last photo), that's enough and you will keep the encasing plastic on. Some larger ones have a lot of extra plastic around them that you can remove with a dremel or band saw.

Step 2: Frost/Etch the Glass

There are many ways to give glass a frosted look. Your best option (in my opinion) is a sandblaster. You can also etch the entire thing on a laser; I did not explore this option so I'm not sure how it performs. Failing both of those, you can paint the glass with frosted spray (available from most hardware stores), or use chemical glass etchant (found online or at Michaels; Martha Stewart makes one).

Frosted Glass Spray

Pro: cheap (~$8), looks better than chemical etchant

Con: long drying time, paint will rub or chip off very easily

Chemical Glass Etchant

Pro: faster (<1 hour, and no drying time)

Con: more expensive (~$20 for a bottle, though you won't use the whole bottle), lumpy application leads to uneven texture

I find that chemical etchant is superior when etching a design like a monogram, but looks too uneven for large applications. But it's up to you. In both cases, clean the jar thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol (or acetone, you badass) beforehand. Mask off areas you want to stay clean (e.g. the threads) with tape. Prop upside down. For chemical etchant, plop a large amount on the top of the jar. Spread it downwards with a paintbrush. For the spray, put the jar on a rotating table so you can easily move it while applying. If possible, put the jar on top of something (like, over a spray can) so you can access all sides easily.

The photographs show chemical etched and frosted jars. The etched one also has a number on it, as it was intended to be a house number for my front porch. Etchant is more permanent but doesn't look as nice.

Step 3: Make the Cap 1: Plan It Out

First, plan out the cap!

Wood veneer is expensive, so plan out beforehand using chipboard or thick cardstock (something of similar thickness and bending).

You will end up needing three pieces: the top (with a hole for the solar cell), a long strip to wrap around, and a support pieces. If your jar is like mine (no top after removing the metal), you need a support piece because wood veneer is not strong enough.

Spend as long as you need getting these pieces right. It will help you waste less wood veneer (you can also reuse the support piece for the real top)

Step 4: Make the Cap 2: Assemble

Using your measurements from the previous step, cut out the wood veneer pieces. You should be able to reuse the support pieces. The the long piece a bit larger than you need, and make sure that the wood grain goes along the shorter dimension. It will wrap better this way.

Attach the top veneer to the support using Contact Cement

Attach the light to the support using hot glue. If you can, use the hot glue to make a seal. This will protect the electronics if the jar is exposed to rain/water.

Attach the threads to the support using hot glue

Attach the long side piece to the support and top veneer using contact cement. You may need to recut it due to different material thickness and (more likely) skew as you assembled it.

If necessary, use a little hot glue to keep the wood veneer ends down. I won't tell anyone.

Step 5: Make the Cap 3: Finish

In order for the jar to work, the solar cell needs to be exposed to UV light. This means the wood will be, too. Finishing the veneer with oil will help it live longer. Danish Oil and Polyurethane are both great options for this. Look for something that handles UV well. I used Teak Oil because (honestly) it was at the hardware store and I know it works for boats.

Mask off the solar cell and follow the instructions on your bottle to finish the wood. Take your time (several days) to finish the wood veneer, it will look and perform much better for it.

Step 6: Assemble and Admire!

I made two of these: two wood species, two light shapes, two etch/frost techniques. One I made as a house number. contrast makes it visible during the day, light makes it visible at night.

Wood species and light shape are up to you, but you can see from photos and the frosted glass spray gives a very nice effect to the glass. You can always remove and repaint if the glass becomes chipped, anyhow.

Enjoy your beautiful light!

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