Introduction: Birdcage Lantern
With a little imagination, almost anything can be transformed into a light or lantern. Reclaiming items that are no longer functional or wanted is a great way to repurpose these items while gaining a new one-of-a-kind treasure.
This tutorial will show how to repurpose an old broken birdcage into a decorative and functional lantern using LED lights.
1 - Small cage of any type
2 - Strings of fairy lights, your choice of color
1 - Piece of hook and loop fastener, large enough to cover the bottom of your cage
1 - Roll of double-sided hook-and-loop fastener strips
Drill with .25 inch (6mm) drill bit
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Step 1: Inspiration for This Project
A few years ago, I attended the International Gold Panning Championship and saw that one of the contestants from Japan had a small lantern that he carried with him as he moved about from place to place during the evening. His tent was next to mine and he would place the lantern next to his tent door for a few minutes before turning it off for the evening. The lantern was illuminated by a small battery-powered bulb in the shape of a tea light candle. The small lantern gave the immediate area a warm and welcoming feel and because it was artificial light as opposed to a real candle, there was no concern about accidentally starting a fire should the lantern drop or tip over.
Step 2: Design Considerations
For this project I used a small decorative birdcage but other cages in various shapes such as a bell or a heart would work equally well.
The brass birdcage has a brass base that is a perfect location to house the batteries and light switch.
I decided to illuminate the interior of the cage with warm white fairy lights and to illuminate the base with blue fairy lights. In both cases the string of lights would be wound in a coil and secured to the cage.
Step 3: Assessment
When I purchased the old brass birdcage online to use as a decoration piece, I knew in advance that there was some damage to the item but when it arrived I saw that the damage was greater than I realized.
The cage gate was dislodged and several of the cage bars had become separated from the base.
At first I didn't feel it was worth trying to repair because it was poorly made from the start. It did however have a nice natural patina.
Rather than recycling the brass birdcage, I decided to repurpose it into a lantern using LED fairy lights.
Step 4: Repairs
I made repairs to the disconnected brass rods by resoldering them back to the base. To accomplish this I removed the base of the cage which exposed the bottoms of the cage bars.
With a small brush, I applied soldering flux to the base of the cage bars and then used a propane torch to heat the joints until the flux began to smoke. I applied the lead-free solder and it liquified instantly on the hot brass. I followed this procedure for each cage bar base as seen in Photo 1. I also had to solder the top of one bar that formed the hinge of the cage gate. Once I soldered it, I let it cool and then filed the solder as flat as I could get it without scratching the patina from the surrounding brass. This resulted in a bit of discoloration (Photo 2) but in time I think the brass patina will return.
I then washed the entire cage with soap and rinsed thoroughly.
You may not need to make any repairs, but if you do, it is well worth the effort.
Step 5: Making a Gate Latch Pin
The gate latch pin was missing from the cage so I made one out of solid brass rod, 2 mm in diameter.
First I made a loop at one end of the rod, using needlenose pliers Then I cut the rod so that it was long enough to engage the bottom hole in the cage base.
The pliers left small indentations on the soft brass which were rough to the touch. I rubbed the rough areas with steel wool to make the brass smooth once again.
This step is optional. It's just what I needed to do with my project.
Step 6: Preparing the Base
To attach the upper lights, drill a hole through the bottom of the birdcage, near the side of the cage bars as seen in Photo 1. This location is ideal as the hole will not be noticeable as it will be covered by the coil of lights. As seen in Photo 1, make the hole large enough so that the fairy lights can pass through. In my case the hole is .25 inches (6 mm) in diameter. Smooth any rough edges with a file or sandpaper.
The next step is to attach the hook-and-loop fastener to the underside of the base. To hold the loop fastener in place, take advantage of existing screws and punch holes in the loop portion of the strip and secure it to the bottom as seen in Photos 2 and 3.
If your cage does not have existing screws and bolts, you will need to drill holes and buy small bolts, washers and nuts to fasten the hook-and-loop fastener to the underside of the base.
Step 7: Attaching the Lights
As seen in Photo 1, feed the white fairy lights through the hole in the base of the cage. The lower part of the light string has no lights. Do not pull this section through as it will remain hidden underneath the base along with the switch. Gently coil the white LED wire and tuck it into place, in a spiral fashion throughout the cage.
Cut 4 small strips of the double-sided hook-and-loop fastener as seen in Photo 2. This type of hook-and-loop fastener has one side with the hook texture and the opposite side with the loop texture which allows it to fasten to itself.
Cut two more strips approximately 8 inches (20 cm) or use ready-made strips (Photo 3). I used the latter because they are thin and strong and are less bulky for wrapping items.
Wrap the switches for the white and blue fairy lights with the 8 inch hook-and-loop fastener such that the hook texture is on the outside as seen in Photo 4.
Next, coil the lower part of the white wire together with the entire length of the blue string of lights and secure together with the small hook-and-loop fastener strips then place the entire assembly against the secured loop base (Photo 5) and press firmly into place.
I used a blue permanent pen to mark the switch for the blue lights as the switches are identical. This makes it easy to choose which light to turn on or off.
Using the hook-and-loop fasteners allows access to the switches to replace the batteries and also allows the option of replacing the fairy lights with new ones or different colored ones.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
Once the lights are in place the Birdcage Lantern is ready for use! Use it with one or both lights on.
Using LED lights, the broken brass birdcage has been transformed into a beautiful and functional lantern. I want to use my lantern indoors and outdoors for decorative lighting and therefore need battery-powered lights. For indoor use, LED lights with a power cord would be convenient as there would be no need to replace batteries.
The lantern is a nice addition to any event to add a touch of warmth and sparkle. It is bright enough to see the path below as well.
This is an entry in the
Make it Glow Contest