LED Steampunk Swingarm Desk Lamp

Introduction: LED Steampunk Swingarm Desk Lamp

About: Retired from the US Army in 1992, moved to Oregon in 1995 with one cat. Acquired several more cats and a house in which to keep them. The zeppelin is hidden in my secret underground lair.

This project came about because I purchased some LED lights direct from Hong Kong (at an excellent price, less than US$5 each including shipping!) but neglected to check the screw-in base size. I had bought something between E12 (US "candelabra") and E25/27; I think it was E14. It's almost impossible to find adapters to fit standard US light sockets (E25/27) if you have E14 lamps, and no one in the US sells light fixtures with that size sockets. So, I had half-a-dozen bulbs that didn't fit in anything I owned. Now what? Simple! Make something that uses them! I used four for this project. Each lamp has 38 individual LEDs, so this project has a total of 152 white LEDs. That's enough to read by!

Safety and health warning: This project uses power from the mains ("wall outlets") which have dangerous voltages. Do not attempt this project if you are not familiar with basic electrical safety practices. If you ignore this warning, you may die, and it will hurt the entire time you are dying.

Metric conversions: Dimensions herein are in the archaic English system. Sorry, I am American. There are 25.4 mm to the inch. Have fun converting. Screw sizes are roughly equivalent, that is, a Nr 4 screw is about 4mm in diameter. I think.


1 swingarm desktop lamp
4 LED Lamps approximately 1 3/4 inch diameter
1 white PVC pipe tee, 2 1/2 by 2 inch
3 white PVC pipe caps, 2 inch
1 push-push fan switch, two-way, brass
PC wire cable bundle tubing, about 2 1/2 feet
22-gauge insulated wire in two colors, about 8 to 10 feet
4 wire nuts for 12-16 gauge wire
1/4 by 1/4 brass angle, about 2 feet
Metallic spray paints (I used bronze, copper, brass, and antique bronze)
Metallic touch-up paint (I used copper)
Small paint brush
Clear nail polish
6 Nylon zip-ties
Silicon sealer, one small (4 oz.) tube. I used white.
4 brass wood screws, Nr. 6 by 1/2 inch
2 brass wood screws, Nr. 4 by 1/2 inch
2 brass wood screws, Nr. 4 by 3/8 inch
2 brass machine screws, 6-32 by 1/2 inch
2 zinc-plated nylon-insert locknuts, 6-32
8-10 inches of heat-shrink tubing, small (for 16-22 gauge wire)

Assorted tools for electrical work (soldering iron, solder, multimeter)
long-nose pliers
saw (I used a table saw and a hacksaw)
alcohol (for cleaning, not drinking)
disposable vinyl gloves

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Step 1: Getting Started: Pick a Lamp

So we'll need a lamp to modify. I found a swingarm desk lamp at Fred Meyer for about twenty bucks. The color didn't much matter, since it's going to be changed, but I chose lavender because the paint I had would cover that best (the other choices were an insipid red, and black). Now that we have it, we'll disassemble it. Start by unscrewing the socket from the shade, and then remove the mounting bolts that hold the shade to the swing arm. Disconnect the power cord from the socket. I threw away the shade, the bolts and nuts (I replaced them with brass screws, keeping with the steampunk theme), the fiberglass insulating sleeves, and the socket.

Step 2:

I found a translucent white plastic tube (it came out of a roll of mylar, used on one of the plotters where I work) to use for the body of the lamp. The LED lamps fit loosely into it. To make a better fit, I used 2 inch white PVC pipe parts; two caps for the ends and a union in the center. Another cap will go on the top of a white PVC tee with a 2-inch side connection. The tee holds the lamp tube to the swingarm. You can see one of the LED lamps stuck into one of the end caps, and the end of the translucent tube in the picture here.  The lamp is stuck into the cap using silicon sealer, which doesn't attack the plastic and is also an electrical insulator.

Step 3: Color Scheme

Since the theme is going to be steampunk, I chose a color scheme of bronze for the base and swingarms, antique bronze for the side plates, copper for the screws and nuts (and the tee cap that will hold the new lamp part up), and bright brass for the top cap, two end caps, and the wire conduits. The springs and spring posts were already black, so I left them alone. Krylon makes some superb true metallic "rattle can" spray paints for my purposes. The bronze paint, however, is a brand sold at Michael's craft stores, and I liked the look of it as well.

Carefully note how all the parts fit together. Take pictures. You'll be glad you did when you get to the re-assembly steps.

Disassemble the arms by removing screws, nuts, and springs. The spring posts unscrewed (there's a threaded post that goes through the arm) except from the bottom section with the metal post that goes into the lamp base. I left those on, because I wasn't sure if they were press-fit or if the metal pins they are on are threaded. Better safe than sorry.

Carefully set aside the springs, spring posts, nuts and bolts, knobs, and the swivel head. I put them in a ziplock plastic bag, so that I wouldn't lose anything (or else I'd lose all of it at once). There were some black plastic caps and odd-shaped grommets, where the power cord went through. I didn't paint them, either. Obviously, you'll have to remove the power cord also. It simply slides (tightly) through the arms and grommets.

Clean all the parts completely and don't handle them with your bare hands afterward; I used disposable vinyl gloves, unpowdered, so that my skin oils wouldn't make the paint fail to stick.

Spray all of the parts that are to be the same color at once. If you have a spray booth, use it. Don't try to cover everything in one coat, either. Several coats, applied at 1 hour intervals, will give complete coverage and prevent drips.

Let all the paint dry overnight, then reassemble the swingarm. Use a bottle and brush to paint all exposed screw heads and nuts copper (or whatever you've decided on for your color scheme).

Step 4: Fitting the Pipe Tee

The pipe tee has a narrower internal section, slightly too small for my translucent tube (you can see it in the photos for this step). I wanted this part to look handcrafted anyway, so I cut the tee down to slightly more than half diameter using a table saw, and then used 120 grit sandpaper on a "mouse" sander to round off all the edges and remove mold part lines before painting the tee bright copper. This way, it snaps down over the tube and holds it up. I used number 4 brass wood screws to keep the tube from slipping after the tee is snapped over it. 

While I was waiting for paint to dry on the lamp base and swingarm, I tested the electrical connections and noted what needed to connect where. I used a "2 way" fan switch, which is actually 3-way from my point of view. The first push turns on the two inner lamps, which point outward; the second push turns them off, and turns on the two outer lamps, which point inward. A third push turns on all four lamps, and the fourth push turns everything off.

As you can see, the switch is naturally brass-colored - perfect for my steampunk look.

Step 5: Cap for the Tee and Painting the Pipes

The cap to cover the top of the tee (and all the wiring connections) had to be cut down a little to fit easily into the tee. As it happens, I'd have had to cut it anyway to clear the power cord and mounting nuts.

In these photos you can see the cap after the hole was drilled for the switch and the two screws that will hold it to the top of the tee.

Paint all of the PVC parts once you have decided exactly how you want them to look. I also pre-drilled all the holes so that there would not be any leftover plastic flashing to cut away after painting, so I wouldn't have to worry about scratching the paint.

Again, use several coats and let them dry an hour or so between coats. If you take your time the job will look much better than if you rush it and try to do it all at once (and the paint will still take 24 hours to dry enough to handle).

Once the paint is completely dry, assemble the switch to the cap. Make sure the knurled nut is good and tight.

Step 6: Giving the Power Cord Some Flavor

An ordinary power cord doesn't have much of a steampunk look to it. However, genuine antique power cord is dangerous; it uses paper and paint for insulation and cotton fabric like a "sock" on the outside.. It's an electrical fire just waiting to happen!

To maintain safety, and still get the look I wanted, I found some cable bundling tubing, sold by PC case modding outfits, and cut a few pieces to fit over the exposed sections of cord. The longest one goes on first, then the cord runs up the inside of the lower swingarm, a second section of tubing goes over the cord here, the cord runs through the upper arm, and finally a third piece of tubing. Don't forget the grommets!

Since the ends of the tubing fray easily, I could have used a large section of heatshrink tubing to bind them, but I didn't like that look, so I simply painted the last half-inch (1 cm) or so with clear nail polish, bound them up temporarily with nylon zip-ties, and let the polish dry. After than, I carefully cut through the zip-ties and removed them.

The section of tubing that comes out of the base of the lower swingarm is only about 18 inches long, because that's actually more than will show when the lamp is in use. I left the last zip-tie, 18 inches down the power cord, in place. It keeps the tubing from sliding down the cord.

Step 7: Attaching the Pipe Tee

The swivel head gets bolted to the large pipe tee using brass machine screws. I used zinc-plated steel locknuts with nylon inserts on the inside. No one will see them (so they don't have to be brass), and this way there are no sharp points in with the wiring. Sharp points do not belong with wiring. Trust me on this.

Once you have the nuts and bolts tightened up, if you feel like a "belt and suspenders" approach, use some hot glue to lock the nuts to the inside of the pipe tee. It won't hurt.

Then force the power cord through the larger hole you made for it. There was a plastic strain relief that held the power cord on the original metal shade, but since the plastic tee is non-conductive, and the hole i drilled is a tight fit for the cord anyway (it isn't going to slip out!), I omitted the strain relief when I assembled my new lamp head. In theory, I should have tied a knot in the cord on the inside, but this is a really tight fit and the cord won't slip, so I skipped that too.

Mount the power switch inside the cap that you shortened and drilled a hole through ( if you didn't do it when I told you to earlier) and tighten the knurled nut to hold it in place. Test-fit the cap and switch to the tee to make sure you drilled the power cord hole low enough. If not, you'll have to re-work the cap.

Step 8: Lamp Wiring Part 1

You need to drill a hole at the center of the large lamp tube and in the pipe union, and also two holes lined up along the top of the large tube near the ends. I used masking tape to hold the pipe caps in place while drilling the "end holes" and marked the tube and caps "L" and "R" (for "left" and "right") with pencil, so I would be sure to get them back in the right ends of the tube. You want these holes - the wiring holes - as close to the end of the inset portion of the caps as possible, to make sure there's plenty of space inside the cap for the lamp.

After removing the lamp screw bases, solder long wires to each lead and insulate them carefully with heat-shrink tubing. The current flow is extremely low (less than a half-watt per lamp, so less than 5 milliamps each*), allowing for very thin wires. I used 22 gauge, the same kind you find attached to PC power and reset switches. Test the wiring with an ohmmeter (or the dangerous way, by hooking up power). Then seal up the connections with silicon sealer. It is a very good idea to use two colors for each lamp; that way, when you have 8 wires, you can safely guess that connecting all four black wires (for example) together means you have one wire from each lamp. As you can see, I ran out of black and white and used red and green on one lamp. As long as you know that each lamp has two colors, and which two colors are on each lamp, you'll be fine.

Assemble all four lamps to their pipe sections; two of them back-to-back in the ends of the pipe union, and one in each of the caps. Don't forget to the thread the wires through the holes! It's possible to remove the silicon sealer later and redo this part, but it's not fun and it's not easy. Put a bead of silicon sealer all around the end of the union or cap and press the lamps into place. You can use masking tape to hold them in place until the sealer sets up (usually overnight). Be sure they are straight! If they are cocked at an angle, you'll have "hot spots" on the sides of your big tube.

* - For contrast, a 100 watt light bulb uses about 830 milliamps, or around 166 times as much power.

Step 9: Lamp Wiring Part 2

Slide the wires from the pipe union through the big tube and out through the hole in the side at the center. Hang onto the ends of those and slip the two-lamps-and-a-pipe-union assembly into the tube. Pull gently on the wires while sliding the assembly to the center of the tube. Use some tape to temporarily keep the wires there.

Now slip the wires from one of the end-cap-and-lamp assemblies through the end hole (from the inside!) that matches the pencil marks you made earlier; L to L and R to R. Again, tape the wires in position. You can also use masking tape to hold the pipe cap at the end of the tube at this point.

Drill a hole on each side of the tube about 3/8 inch in from the end and into the pipe cap. Don't drill deeper than you must to go through one side of the pipe cap; your wires are in there! The secure the cap in place using short brass wood screws. I used Nr. 6 by 1/2 inch screws here but I could have gotten away with 3/8 inch long ones. Tighten one side all the way down. The other side should only be tightened until the head is touching the tube; if you find a tube the same size as mine, the pipe cap is slightly smaller than a snug fit, and if you tighten both screws all the way, you'll distort the tube.

Pull all four sets of leads to the center of the tube. Be sure to line up the leads that go to the end lamps long the top of the tube. I tacked them in place with a little hot glue near the center point. Bring them all up through the center of the pipe tee that you attached to the swivel head earlier, and snap the tube into place. At this point, it's not going to fall out if you cut the tee to slightly more than half circumference, but you'll want to secure it. You can use hot glue down inside of the tee, but I carefully drilled holes through the tee and the big tube and used nr. 4 by 3/8-inch brass wood screws - held in place with hot glue on the threads just before I shoved them in. That keeps the tube from sliding. You want the screws to be as short as possible and still hold, because there are live wires on the inside of the center pipe union. You do NOT want the screws to touch the wires!

In all of the following steps, you will be working with wires that will at some point be carrying mains voltage (120 volts in North America, often even higher elsewhere). After each step, make sure there is no bare wire exposed from any wires you have connected.

Now the fun part - figure out which wire pairs go to which lamp and connect them to the switch. If you paid attention in Step 8, it should be easy; all four black  wires can go to one side of the power cord. Twist a wire nut over that connection and make sure there is no bare wire exposed there.

Connect the black lead from the power switch to the other wire on the power cord and apply a wire nut. Use the same precautions here.

There should be two (more) wires coming out of the hole in the large tube visible through the top of the tee, hopefully the same color. Connect both of them to one of the free wires on the switch (if yours is color-coded the same as mine, it will be the red switch wire). Again, check for exposed bare wire.

That should leave just two wires, plus one from the switch. Connect all three of those together.

Now go over each of those connections again to make sure there is no bare wire exposed and that you have everything connected where it should be. We used wire nuts so that you can easily correct any errors.

Now plug in the lamp. If nothing comes on, unplug it, press the switch once, and plug it back in. You should have two lamps lit. Unplug it. Press the switch. Plug it in. Are the other two lamps lit? Good. Unplug it. Press the switch again. Plug in the lamp. If all four lamps are lit, you can proceed to the next step. In any case, unplug the power cord.

If any lamps failed to light, go over your connections again. I ended up having to replace one of the end lamps because I had somehow broken an internal connector (I could have found the problem and fixed it eventually, but frankly, it wasn't worth my time compared with just using one of my spare lamps).

Step 10: Close It Up

Carefully arrange the wires and wire nuts in the cavity of the tee and fit the cap (with switch) in place. Again, I used nr. 4 wood screws, this time only 3/8 inch long, coated with hot glue and quickly shoved into place.

We're almost done!

Step 11: Dressing It Up

To cover the exposed wires along the top of the tube, I used some 1/4 x 1/4 inch brass angle material I got from a hobby shop. Cut it to length so it reaches from the edge of the large pipe tee to the end of the tube.

Now, this material is real brass, so I could have simply polished it up and used it as-is. However, I live in a very humid climate, and it would have tarnished rapidly, so instead, I cleaned it with alcohol and painted it bright metallic brass (again, thank you Krylon).

Finally, using a few dabs of hot glue I attached it to the top of the tube to cover the wires.

Fini! And I think it looks great! Your mileage may vary. Please have exact change ready.

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