Bubbling Pipe Lamp

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In this Instructable you'll learn how to build a Bubbling Pipe Lamp. This lamp has a really great industrial/ mad scientist aesthetic and makes for a cool addition to any room and is an excellent conversation piece that is sure to intrigue your friends and family. The Bubbling Pipe Lamp is a simple project that can be easily finished over a weekend and beyond a few things from Amazon.com, most of the parts for this project can be purchased at a home improvement store, meaning that you won't have to search high and low to find specialized parts to tackle this build. In the following steps I'll take you though the process of building a Bubbling Pipe Lamp from assembling the parts to applying the paint, to wiring up the electrical components. Along the way I'll share tips and tricks I learned during the build so that you will have the know how needed to create one of these awesome lamps for yourself.

Features of the Bubbling Pipe Lamp

  • Industrial/corroded copper appearance created through a special 4 step painting process.
  • Bubbling liquid inside the lamp gives the sense the liquid is flowing through the pipe.
  • Bubbling effect can be turned on and off separate from the light to provide steady light for reading etc.
  • Color of the liquid inside the lamp can be easily changed, even after the lamp is complete
  • Sturdy PVC construction ensures that the lamp will last for years to come.
  • Simple construction with minimal tools and materials makes this a great project for all ages.
  • By changing out PVC components this lamp can be customized to suit any space and can be scaled up or down in size without much effort.


Step 1: Tools and Materials

One of the best things about this project is that it doesn't require a lot of fancy hard to find parts or tools. Almost everything you need to build this the bubbling pipe lamp can be picked up from your local Home Depot and everything else can be purchased for a few dollars on Amazon.com. The total cost for this project if you were to buy everything outright is a little over 60 dollars although that amount can vary quite a bit depending on what materials you might have laying around the house, (for instance I had everything I needed save for the PVC Flanges, the Cleat Socket, and the Bubble Box so this project totaled about $20 for me). Below you will find a break down of the various Materials and Tools I used to build this project as well as links to purchase the materials.

Materials:

1 - 3” X 2’ PVC Pipe - $4.75
3 - 3” PVC Flange - $3.25

1 - ¾” Plywood – Enough to cut a 9” Diameter Circle - $4.00

1 - PVC Primer and Cement - $8.50

4 - 1” X ¼” Lag Screws - $0.20

1 - ¼” X 36” Threaded Rod - $5.25

12 - ¼” Washers - $0.05

12 - ¼” Nuts - $0.10

1 - Cleat Light Socket - $3.00

1 - Energy Saver Light Bulb - $2.00 - Make sure to pick a bulb that doesn't get to hot as it will be installed in a tight space inside the lamp.

1 - Power Cord with On/Off Switch (can be harvested from a thrift store lamp inexpensively) - $2.00

1 - Rustoleum Hammered Copper Spray Paint - $6.50

1 - Rustoleum Textured Spray Paint - $6.50 1 - White Acrylic Paint - $1.25

1 - Forest Green Acrylic Paint - $1.25

1- Titanium White Acrylic Paint - $1.25

1 - Bubble Box Battery Operated Air Pump - $8.00

2 - D Batteries - $2.00

1 - 3” Diameter Clear Wine Bottle (Recycling Center) - Free

1 - Food Coloring - $2.00

1 - 3/16” X 12” Brass Tubing - $1.50

Tools:

When I make something with the intention of posting it to Instructables I try very hard to use basic tools that most people would have access to as there is nothing worse than finding a project you really like only to find out later on that you need a laser cutter or CNC router to build it. With that in mind here is the tool list for the Bubbling Pipe Lamp Project:

  • Miter Saw - Used for cutting the 3" PVC pipe to length. If you don't have access to a Miter Saw a hack saw will work fine for this task.
  • Rotary Tool - Used for carving the corrosion at the top of the lamp.
  • Power Drill - Used for drilling various holes.
  • Ratchet with 1/4" Socket - Used for installing 1" lag screws.
  • Multi-Tool - Used for various tasks, trimming wire, stripping insulation from wire, etc.
  • Paint Brushes - used for painting on the "copper oxide" coloring.

Step 2: Creating the Lamp Base

Creating the Lamp Base is the first step towards building a Bubbling Pipe Lamp. To make the base start by attaching one of the 3" pipe flanges onto the 9" plywood circular base making sure to center it evenly. Once the flange is attached, take the cleat light socket and position it inside the flange as shown in the picture, you won't be attaching it right now but later on it will be useful to know where the socket goes so take a moment and mark around it with a pencil or marker. With the sockets position marked, the next step is to cut and install a 5" long section of 3" PVC pipe into the flange you just attached to the plywood base. The 5" length is ideal as it will provide enough room for the light bulb while leaving room for your to get your hand inside the lamp to change the bulb when it burns out. With the 5" section of 3" PVC pipe in place you can attach another flange to the top of the pipe as shown in the picture. This will complete the base and once you're happy with how the parts fit together you can use PVC cleaner and cement to permanently secure them in place. Lastly, take a moment to drill a hole towards the bottom of the lamp base assembly you just created. This hole should be roughly 1/4" and will be where the cord for the lamp will go in a later step.

Step 3: Attaching the Threaded Rods and Installing the Wine Bottle

Using a hack saw cut your threaded rod so that you have 4 pieces that are each roughly 9" long (this length depends on the height of the wine bottle you are using, 9 inches should give your more than enough height but if you are using an unusually tall wine bottle make sure to compensate.) Use washers and nuts to secure the 4 pieces of rod to the lamp base as shown in the picture. These rods add to the look of the lamp and serve the purpose of holding the wine bottle in place above the base of the lamp. Once you have the four threaded rods installed, place the wine bottle onto the lamp base and then install the final PVC flange as shown in the picture.

Step 4: Creating the Top of the Lamp

The top of the lamp is made from the remaining section of 3" PVC pipe. Start by cutting the pipe to a length of roughly 14", this will provide you with enough room to hide the neck of the wine bottle as well as the Bubble Box air pump that will be installed later on. To give my lamp a little character and to make it look as though it had seen years of use and corrosion I did a bit of carving using a Dremel equipped with a ball nosed carving bit. Additionally I tried melt the PVC using a blow torch to increase the aged/corroded look; this ended up being a bad idea as I quickly found out that PVC doesn't melt but instead tends to burn, so if you want to give your lamp an aged or corroded look stick to carving with a rotary tool and maybe apply a little PVC cleaner to your finished carving as the cleaner is designed to melt the surface of the PVC slightly which is enough to give the appearance of a corroded section of pipe.

When the top section of the lamp is complete it can be installed into the the flange on top of the wine bottle. Use PVC primer and cement to fix the two together just as you did for the bottom of the lamp.

Once you're satisfied with the look of the lamp you need to disassemble it as next step is to paint the lamp so that it looks more like old copper piping and less like PVC.

Step 5: Adding Texture and Painting

My goal when painting was to give the lamp the appearance of aged/corroded copper. To do this I used a 3 step process. The first step was to spray the parts with a textured spray paint so that they would look less like smooth PVC pipe and more like cast metal. I was careful not to coat the whole piece with the textured paint as I thought that it would look more realistic having some areas textured and some smooth.

When I was happy with my application of the textured paint, I continued on and coated the parts with Rustoleum Hammered Copper spray paint. This paint worked beautifully and really gave the PVC the look of copper, the only problem I had with it was that the shiny finish of the paint looked to perfect and didn't fit well with the aged look I was going for.

To dull out the shine of the copper paint I applied a coat of minwax golden oak wood stain over the lamp part, (I only used gold oak because it was what I had handy, I would think that most any brown colored stain would do the job here). I was fairly free with the stain application and allowed it to drip, run, and pool on the parts which ended up giving them a very realistic oxidized copper look, The only down side of applying the stain in this manner is that it takes quite a while to dry, especially in the areas where it pools.

Step 6: Wiring the Lamp

Once the paint and stain are dry, the next step is to wire your lamp. Wiring the lamp is pretty straight forward and the pictures above should be more than enough to get you though the process, but here are some tips just in case.

  1. Make sure you pass the cord through the lamp base BEFORE wiring it to the lamp socket.
  2. Only strip as much wire as you need to make the attachment to the terminals on the socket, 1/2" should be plenty.
  3. If you ever get confused about which wire goes to which terminal, remember that the wire with the ridges on the plastic coating is the neutral and goes to the silver terminal and the wire with the smooth plastic coating is the hot wire and goes to the gold terminal.
  4. If you're worried about having exposed terminals a bit of Sugru makes for excellent insulation.
  5. an Underwriter's knot can help to keep the wires from coming loose of the terminals if the cord should ever get pulled.

Step 7: Creating the Bubbling Liquid Part of the Lamp

With the light properly wired the next step is to make the glowing glass tube section of the lamp. what makes this step a bit tricky is that you have to modify the cork of the wine bottle to accept two small diameter metal pipes, one for pumping air into the bottle and another for letting air escape. Now there are corks out there that are specially designed for jobs like this and you may have used one back in chemistry class but unfortunately I couldn't find anywhere to buy one that wasn't outrageously expensive, so I decided to make my own by drilling two holes into the cork using bits that were just slightly smaller than the diameter's of the pipes so that they would fit snugly inside the cork and not slip out of place. Once I had the special cork made I filled the bottle up almost to the top and then added food color until I had a color I was happy with. At this point there are two things worth pointing out, first is the fact that you can make your lamp any color you want and that you can change the color without to much difficulty which is pretty awesome. Second is that Water + Electricity can equal bad things if you're not careful, so if you're a bit clumsy or if you have small children I suggest making a substitution by filling your lamp with mineral oil instead of water. Mineral oil is a dry liquid which means that it won't conduct electricity, which should keep you safer in the event of the lamp breaking, the only down side to mineral oil is that it can't be colored with food coloring so you will have to find some special oil based dyes (search "petroleum dyes" on Ebay and you'll find an area of options.) Alternatively, you could also use mineral oil in a colored glass wine bottle to achieve roughly the same effect without the need for fancy dyes, in any case I don't have little kids and I don't plan to keep the lamp anywhere where it could be knocked over easily so water and food color where the way to go for me.

Lastly, once you have the bottle filled and the special cork installed, attach the rubber tubing included with your air pump to the long tube in the cork, this will make it easier to install the air pump in the next step.

Step 8: Reassembling the Lamp and Installing the Battery Powered Air Pump

Alright, almost done and there are only a few small things left to do. At this point you can pretty much reassemble your lamp, just make sure that you have a light bulb in the socket and that you run the tube attached to the bottle out through the top section of 3" PVC as shown in the picture. With everything put back together you are now ready to install the air pump. The nice thing about the air pump I chose to use for this project is that it is battery operated, which means that you don't have to worry about wiring it into the plug for the lamp, this gives you the option to run the lamp without the bubbles which is a handy feature for things like reading where you might want a steady light as opposed to light flickering about. The not so nice thing about the bubble box is that it didn't quite fit inside the 3" PVC pipe which meant that I had to do a bit of work to get it into place (luckily it was a simply process, all I had to do was remove the plastic doors covering the pump mechanism and battery compartment, once the doors were gone the pump fit perfectly into place.) After the pump was in place the last thing left to do was to attach the air hose leading from the bottle to the top of the pump.

Step 9: Finishing Touches: Adding Oxidization

At this point the lamp is basically done, it lights up, it bubbles, and is pretty much ready to go. The only thing left to do was to add some aesthetic details in the form of copper oxides and corrosion. These finishing touches were applied by mixing titanium white and forest green acrylic paints and are suppose to give the lamp an even more aged and caustic look, as though it it had been in some laboratory exposed to all manner of chemicals. Applying the paint so that it looked like real copper oxide was a bit tricky and after some trial and error I found that the most realistic effects came from brushing it on lightly around seams and in areas where things meet, such as where the nuts and washers that secure the all-thread meet the PVC flanges. As a rule of thumb, less is probably the way to go with this process, if you paint on to much of the "copper oxide" things can start to look a little phony so take your time and step back often to assess your work.

Once you're happy with the the way the paint looks your lamp is complete and is ready to impress your friends and family with it's awesome mad scientist charm. I hope you've enjoyed this Instructable and I hope that you found the information here in to be useful and interesting. If you enjoyed this project and are thinking about giving it a shot I encourage you to take on the challenge, this is a pretty simple build and can easily be completed over a weekend. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments section and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible, (p.s. I really enjoy hearing what you guys have to say so please don't be shy about posting.)

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Runner Up in the
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10 People Made This Project!

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93 Discussions

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Trabbity

7 weeks ago

Has anyone tried this with rheoscopic fluid, and if so what was the outcome? Thanks

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slartty

2 years ago

i really like this instructable... thinking of putting a 90 degree elbow on the bottom of the light box to attach to the wall electrical box... wondering if the mineral oil might be a better substitute than water for the liquid ... (to avoid evaporation ) but wonder if this might violate fire codes...(how do Christmas bubblers work in a sealed glass construct) hmmm got a lot of thinking/research to do on this... thanks for the ideas!!!

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richardjw

2 years ago

This is a great tutorial, though I may play around with some extra ideas and post what I can soon... this has been an amazing idea seed! ;)

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SPenrod

2 years ago

Great idea! You coud cover the all thread with more copper tubing, use a little epoxy or hot glue to simulate welds, and i think i would use a whisper aquarium air pump mounted outside for more quiet operation. An RGB LED with PWM color control (Arduino) would allow easier color control. I am putting this on my Make List!

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MichaelB897

2 years ago

People might want to look into the coloring and fluids used in computer liquid cooling. They have many additives to make it glow, have a oil/shampoo like effect and glow with U/V lights. I appreciate that your goal was to build a quality item at a reasonable cost, but those that are willing to spend the extra money, the liquid cooling liquids maybe the way to go.

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Eh Lie Us!

2 years ago

Wild Vines! Ah, I remember you well. Actually, maybe I don't remember much now that I think about it.

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PatrickB133

2 years ago

Use RGB color cycling LEDs as the light source, and then you can make it any color you like!

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elkaddalek

2 years ago

I would add mini water fogger with green LED's in a water bowl at the top to make it look as if gas is escaping from the top. :D

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Jamieh1472

2 years ago

Hi can anyone tell me in the UK where I can buy cheap I can only find them on Amazon or eBay and they cost £8 each at the cheapest. flanges?

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LiquidBananas

3 years ago

Has anyone tried using a liquid other than water to slow the bubbles?

1 reply
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kuma.rhyuLiquidBananas

Reply 2 years ago

I have not yet, but the first safe and viscous liquid that comes to mind is glycerin, which you can buy in the health and beauty aids dept at a big box stores or drugstores. It is safe in case a baby or pet finds some that leaks out, is clear, takes food color well and is much thicker than water. One concern is if the air pump will have the power to push air into the thicker solution, but I suspect it should, even if it is harder on the batteries. Hope this helps.Let us know if you have good results.

Bear

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MarkF19

2 years ago

TIP, for a neater look, you can replace the lightbulb, which generates heat, with a square led light, pick your brightness. then since there will be room in the bottom now, place the bubbler underneath. with the lowered voltage for the led, you can wire a plug in bubbler, and save on batteries. then simply drill a hole in the bottom of the bottle, and add a rubber air hose, seal the top and bottom with hot glue, and VOILA - bubble effect without having the rod run down the center. you will still need to put a hole in the cork for air to escape.

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petrovich23

3 years ago

I've been experimenting by adding polymer water beads to the water.

the bubbles will create a slow current. if you use colored beads and not color the water, it has a lava lamp effect.

I'm going to try the water beads and an aquarium bubble stone to see if the has an effect on the current.

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rusty car guy

3 years ago

I made one last weekend. I drilled a hole andused a router to cut a groove on the bottom of the base for passage of the cord so it's not coming out of the pipe. Also painted the base dark brown. Other than that exactly the same. Even my 15 year old daughter was impressed - she now wants me to make a smaller one for her room.

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Matt Makesrusty car guy

Reply 3 years ago

That sounds awesome, make sure to share some pics of the finished project!

Did you guys have any heat issues with using a light bulb with no holes in the structure for the heat to get out, or are you just using a very small wattage bulb?

3 replies

hello randy.goddard.3,

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I did initially have some heat issues when I was planning to use an incandescent bulb. Half way through the build I decided to switch to compact florescentn which solved the issue. You could also use an LED bulb and there would be no heat at all.

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NickB33Matt Makes

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

The electronics in many LED bulbs get quite hot. You may have noticed the common heat sink style? That actually is a heat sink so the bulb dissipates enough heat to avoid damaging the LEDs.