Lamp Project. Adding New Life With Internal Night Light and Painted Shade




Introduction: Lamp Project. Adding New Life With Internal Night Light and Painted Shade

About: I'm an architect by day. I love doing projects by night, both on my own and with my kids

A while ago, I bought a glass vase table lamp at a flea market.  I didn't want it but it was the end of the day and the lady just wanted to get rid of it so she wouldn't have to pack it up and take it back home.   It was priced for $20 but she offered it to me for $2.  it has a dark tinted glass vase body with dark bronze metal base and top.  It didn't have a harp or a shade but those are easy things to add.  When I first got the lamp I had no idea what to do with it so it sat in my basement for a while until my daughter asked me to redo her bedroom.   As we talked about what she wanted to do, I thought i could incorporate the lamp into the new scheme.  The shape of the glass reminded me of a Genie bottle so that is the inspiration for this makeover.   My daughters a pre-teen so didn't want anything "girly" so no pink and no flowers (I miss those days).  She also still likes to use a night light so I thought that I could somehow light up the glass for this.  The glass is dark tinted so the nightlight is hidden during the day when it's not turned on.

As I'm writing this intro, the lamp isn't anywhere close to complete so I hope it turns out ok.....fingers crossed.

Materials Needed:
For those wanting to repeat this, the items needed will vary depending on what your starting with.   This is what I needed for this project.

Replacement socket
3 pole rotary turn switch
Christmas Lights
6-12 foot extension cord ($2 from Lowes) or lamp cord with plug.
glass enamel paints of various colors.  I started out using these but the design changed so I ended up using a white paint pen.  
white paint pen or colors of your choice.   originally i was using the pen only for rough layout but then used it exclusively

Tools needed:
regular screw driver
needle nose pliers
wire cutters
wire stripper
electrical tape
wire nuts
drill / bits
metal primer / spray paint
artists brush's as needed

I knew right away that I wanted to somehow light up the base so that it could be used as a night light.   I originally wanted to use led's but that's beyond my limited electrical ability so I went with Christmas lights instead. 

As is typical for me, this project ended up taking me several months to complete.  I just don't ever seem to have the luxury to really being able to spend a day on a project so I end up doing little steps here and there as time allows.  

One of the main reasons that I really like refurbishing garbage & flea market finds is that you have the freedom to be wild and take chances that you wouldn't do with a priceless family heirloom.  If you screw up and destroy it so what?

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.


After my last lamp project, my new rule is to ALWAYS rewire old lamps.   A replacement socket and a extension chord to use for the chord are cheap and easy to install that it's good peace-of-mind to replace them.  I will keep the existing wiring with newer lamps, where there a reasonable confidence in the quality level.   
this is my last lamp project

Before doing any dissasembly make sure to take a bunch of pictures so that you can tell how things go back together.   Even a fairly simple project like this can have a bunch of washers and screws that you wont remember where they go when you finally get around to putting it all back together.

This should be fairly obvious but make sure that the lamp is unplugged before doing ouching any of the wiring. To disasemble a lamp start by gently preying the socket loose and then unscewing the existing wiring.   pull the existing wire out.  With the wire pulled out, unscrew the bottom nut and take the lamp apart. 

Save all your pieces, even the things that you don't think that you'll need again.    Keep all your pieces in a covered container like a tupperware bowel so that you don't look all those little screws.  

With the lamp taken apart, take the time to clean all the non-electrical pieces.   I start with simple soap and water.  this will get rid of the dust and crud that has built up over the years.    let everything dry completely before moving on.    For the glass use rubbing alcohol to clean it.    Over the years, I've rescued many lamps from the garbage that all they needed was a good cleaning.


I knew that I wanteed to light the inside of the glass but at first I didn't know how I was going to do it.    So to keep moving forward while I hunted for inpiration, I put the lighting problem on the back burner and focused on the metal work.
The base and cap element are dark bronze.   I knew that i didn't want that so I started with painting the metal with primer and then with white.   

I made a rookie mistake when I sprayed the primer.   Primer is a thick paint and you really need to shake the can well for at least a couple minutes, especially if you haven't used it in a while, as I hadn't.   The paint came out clumpy, requiring me to sand it all smooth and prime again.     in the end it wasn't really a big deal because after painting the top piece, I decided that I really hated this fake key element and knew that it had to go.

There are many delicate ways that I could have removed the key elements but i was having a bad day so i went with the most destructive and that was the simple hammer.  A good whack with a hammer and the key was no more.   I used bondo to fill the spot there the key was.   Some sanding with 100 grit, then 220 grit and it was ready for paint.

My first idea for this was to do the metal work with red, gold and purple.   I gave the base a base coat of red and then added gold details by hand.   I was happy with where it was going but then my daughter decided that she wants her room to have a nautical theme and be all done in light blue, seafoam green and white.    To get this to work with the new color palette I abandoned the red & gold and simply painted the base and cap a light blue.


I knew that I wanted to light the glass base and have it be able to turn on seperately from the main light so that it could be used as a nightlight, but I didn't know how to do it.   At first I was thinking of using a touch switch for the night light and then have the socket switched seperately but then every time you touched the lamp the nightlight would go on and I didn't want that.
After some digging around on google I found a 3 way rotary switch that would work perfect for this application.   the rotary switch is designed for lamps that use multiple bulbs so that they can be turned on seperately or all together for more light.   This switch allows the one switch to turn on the nightlight or the main lamp or both.
This is not something that is carried by the local big box hardware store so I ordered it off of Amazon.

This is the switch

One nice thing is that on the base of this lamp there are these little circle leaf design, and the rotary switch fit perfectly in one of those.

To install the switch, I first took a screw driver and a hammer and pounded out on the leafs on the base.  I then took some needle nose pliers and removed as much of the metal as i could.  Once the bulk of the material was gone, i simply clamped the base down and then cleaned up the hole with a drill.

I'll get into the wiring of the switch when the lights are installed.....


I knew that I wanted to do the glass base in a genie bottle design.   I did some digging and found a couple youtube videos which i used for creating the arch design on the top and bottom of the glass.

Based on those two videos I created an arch design on the top and bottom of the glass stem.   The glass on this lamp has a straight stem and isn't tapered in or out.   That makes it a little easier to lay out the arch points.  I started by taking a strip of paper, in my case a shopping receipt, and wrapping it around the bottle and taping in.     I marked the paper where it was taped then removed the paper and trimmed it to the mark.   Next I began folding the paper in half, then in half again, then in half again.  I repeated this until i had folds that were roughly 1/2" apart.   what's important is that by folding each mark is perfectly spaced.   much more accurate than trying to measure.  Once i had that then i laid the strip flat and trimmed it to the distance I wanted from the bottom of the arch's to the crossing point.   for this i simply used the width of the metal ruler i was using.   A
fter the paper was trimmed then I taped it back onto the glass and using a paint pen, i made dots at each of the fold points on the top and bottom of the paper.  I then moved the paper to the top of the glass and made the dots again.  Once all the dots were there, then I removed the paper and patiently drew and arc from each dot diagonal to the next dot.  I did the arc's on one direction all the way around the glass and then did the arc's in the other direction.   once all the arc's were drawn then I added the cap arcs.  starting at one point, i made an arc over and peeking at the next point then down to the following point.   again i did this all the way around.   Watch the videos above.  they expain the arc process much better than i can.

my original intention was that i would use the paint pen to draw the arcs and then i would go back with glass enamel paints and a brush and fill in the arcs and go over the whole thing with red & gold.   When using glass enamel paint, once everythign is painted you then let it dry for an hour.  then you place the glass in a cool oven.  you set the oven for 350 degrees and let the glass get hot with the oven.  once the oven is to temperature you bake the glass for 30 minutes.  after 30 minutes you turn off the oven and let the glass cool down with the oven.   do not remove the glass for several hours.
This instructable shows the baking process:

Because my design changed I ended up not using the glass enamel paints and only used the paint pen.  I was happy with how the pattern looked with just the pen.  The paint pen is not as durable as the baked enaml paint but it should hold up for a while.


To be honest, using Christmas lights was not my first choice.  I orginally wanted to light the glass with LED's that i would conceal in the base and in the middle metal peace.   My electrical knowledge is limited to home wiring, so after a little research I quickly realized that led's are beyond me so I switched to Plan B and used Christmas lights instead.  

I used a strand of 100 lights.   At first i thought that i could just stuff the lights in there and i would look great but after a couple trial runs i realized it wasn't quite that simple.   After some expirimenting I found a method that I was happy with.

Before feeding the lights the first thing that i did was to cut off the extension plug from the strand.    I did this first because I didn't want to get all the lights in the vase then cut the plug only to have the strand die.   I wanted to make sure the strand would still work without the plug before i did anything else.   Using some wire cutters I simply cut the two plug wires and then wrapped the wire with electrical tape.   normally i would also cap the ends with wire nuts but because the wires weren't stripped, electrical tape is fine.

Becuase the glass vase has a wide base.   Starting at the top I first fed roughly half the light strand thru the vase.  those lights will get packed into the blase.  the other half are for the stem.    Once I fed the strand thru, I plugged it in.   Working with the lights on I was able to see the light pattern and adjust it as i went.

Once the light strand was fed halfway thru the next thing i did was to insert the lamp rod thru the glass.  When i experimented I realized that it was impossible to try to work the tube thru later after the lights were packed in there.
with the tube inserted I started inserting one light as a time.   What I tried to do was to loop the wire between each light and then insert the light so that the light as against the glass and the loop of wire was behind the light between the light and the center tube.  Working my way around the glass, each light would push down the other lights in the glass.   I would use a ruler to shift lights around after they had been inserted.


Now it's time to put the lamp back together.  
I started at the top.   Using my photo's as a guide I reasembled the lamp. 
I bought a new shade at Lowes for $9.  
I first used a harp that i had for the shade but once i put it on, it was too big so I bought a smaller harp which fit the shade much better.  (the harp is the metal loop that the shade attaches to).
At this point I didn't wire up the new socket just yet.   I had bought a replacement 3 way socket so I screwed the base of the socket onto the top of the tube and tighted the set screw


In the US, Older lamps are typically not polarized.   When you look at the plug both of the prongs are the same and it doesn't matter which way you plug in the lamp.    
There are 3 wires with power.  Hot, Neutral & Ground.   Lamps do not require grounding so your typically only dealing with the hot and the neutral wires.   With home wiring, the black wire is the hot & the white wire is the neutral, but lamp chords are not color coded so it's a little trickier to tell which is which but electrical code does require that the wires be labeled.  
with lamp chords the two wires are together.   Looking closely at the wire, 1 side will be smooth and there is typically very small writing writing on it.  The other side had ribs on it.   The side with the rids is the neutral wire and the smooth side is the hot wire.   You can also look at the plug.  The smaller prong is the hot and the larger prong is the neutral.

Typically with lamps the power cord goes directly from the plug thru the base of the lamp, then up the tube terminating at the socket.   With this lamp because i have the switch in the base, i have seperate wires.  The cord from the wall goes to the base and is connected to the switch, then there is a seperate cord that runs up the tube to the socket.   After careful inspection, the original wire was in good condition so I used this wire to connect to the socket.   the first thing that I did was to run it thru the tube up to the socket.
For the main plug wire, I like to use a 6 foot extension chord.  At my local big box hardware store a new lamp chord is $10 but a 6 foot extention chord is only $2.    Simply cut off the outlet end and your good to go.  The extention cord wire is more heavy duty and doesn't look as good as a normal lamp wire but with this lamp, the cord will be behind a table so that doesn't bother me.   If this were a situation where the cord would be more prominent then i probably spring the extra cash for the nicer looking cord.

When you wire a socket it's a good practice to knot the wires at the socket. this keeps the wire from being pulled out if the chord gets yanked. this prevents the wires from short circuiting which could potentially shock someone or even cause a fire. Apparantly this is called an underwriters knot. To be honest I didn't know that until I did a google search's to find an image to use with this instructable. If you get nothing else from this instructable you can impress your friends at cocktail parties with that little tidbit of knowledge.

When you connect the socket, the hot wire is connecte to the brass/gold terminal and the neutral wire is connected to the silver terminal.  This is true for outlets and switch's as well.  Hot to brass/gold.  Neutral to silver.   Originally this lamp had a slide switch socket which i hate.  Because of the switch in the base I could have gone with a outlet without a switch, but for I decided to go with a 3 way socket so in addition to the rotary switch, the 3 way gives varying light levels.
I don't have a photo of this but once I connect the hot & neutral wires on the socket, i like to wrap electrical tape 3 times around the socket as a little extra protection.  There is a piece of cardboard that acts as an insulator between the socket and the metal socket cover.  If your wires are have fraid ends, it's possible for the hot  & neutral to both work there way out and touch metal which could shock someone.   A little electrical tape wraps is an added insurance.   I didn't come up with this.  I saw it on a home show years ago and have been doing it ever since.



One thing that I've learned is that wiring is not consistent from manufacturer to manufacturer.  What is true for one brand may be different for another.  I learned that the hard way when wiring a touch switch on my last lamp project.
This switch rotary switch has 3 wires.  a red, a blue and a black.   The black wire is connected to the incoming hot.   the red wire is connected to hot for lamp 1 (socket)  and the blue is connected to the hot for lamp 2 (Christmas lights).   the incoming neutral is connected to the neutral for both lamps.   Use wire strippers to strip 1/2" to 3/4" from each wire.   for each connection twist the wires together then cap with a wire nut and then wrap with electrical tape (not shown).


For a little added pizzaz I had the idea of painting the lampshade.   You can buy patterned shades but they can be kind of pricey so I'm taking a cheap off the shelf shade and jazzing it up with some light blue spray paint which is the same that is on the lamp body.
This lamp will sit on a side table which I did a few years ago.  The table is light blue with pink stripes and flowers painted on the top.  To coordinate I'm painting stripes on the shade that go with the stripes on the table.

Now I could have used the same method that I used for the glass and used a strip of paper and folded it to determine the strips but for reasons that i can't explain, i went with the hard way and used math.   I say "hard way" but i've always been good at geometry (i'm an architect) so this was actually pretty easy for me and I honetly don't think it took any more time than other methods.

the first thing i did was measure the top and bottom diameter of the shade.   For this shade the top diameter is 7" and the bottom diameter is 17".    The next step is to calculate the circumferance.   the formula for circumferance is 2 x pi x radius or pi x diameter.
Using that formula I calulate a circumgerance for the top at 22" and 53.4" for the bottom.     After doing some napkin sketch's I decide to divide the shade in 18 stripes.  if you use the folding method you would divide into 16 stripes (4 folds).   The number of stripes has to be an even number so yuo get a perfect repeat of stripe-space-stripe.  Doing some more math i take the circumferance for the top and the bottom and come up with a stripe with for the top and the bottom.   Because the top diameter is smaller than the bottom diameter the stripes are narrower on the top and wider on the bottom...i.e.  tapered.   

So now I stretch out 2 strips of tape on a table.  I mark the first length of the circumferance of the top and bottom.   Then I measured and mark the stripe locations on each tape strip.   

Once I've marked the stripe locations for the top tape strip I align the first mark with the shade seam and the srap the tape around the shade.  Using a pencil i lightly marked each strip point.

Becuase the bottom stripe points are wider than the top, the bottom marks don't line up with the top.  To figure out a starting point I took the bottom stripe width and subtracted the top stripe width, then divided that number by 2.   Then starting at the shade seam I measured back that distance, and that's where I aligned the first stripe mark.   Again using a pencil I marked each stripe location.

In order to mask the shade, I started by aligning painters tape to one side of the upper mark, then aligned the tape to the inside of the bottom mark.   keep tension on the tape to keep it straight.   Once the tape is down then run your finger along the edge to make sure the edge is down and smooth.  If you get any wrinkles in the tape then pull it up and redo.   Once I had the first stripe taped, it didn't take very long to work my way around the shade and tape all the edges.   I just had to be really careful to make sure the tape was on the correct side of the marks so that the stripes will be correct.

Once the stripes are taped mask off the inside of the shade to protect against over spray.

Keep your spray even by keeping your hand the same distance from the shade and moving at a constant speed.   I didn't want the paint to be heavy so I only did one pass on this.   Any imperfections in the paint will be very apparant once light is going thru it so I just took my time and made sure that the paint was even.

I was worried that because of the texture on the shade fabric that the spray paint would bleed through and I'd have a ragged edge but I was very pleased that the edge was perfect.   I think because I painted fairly light and the shade soaked up all the paint, it didn't bleed a bit.


Overall I'm pretty happy with this and nothing beats the smile on my daughters face.    the Christmas lights really work great.  When the nightlight is turned off, the Christmas lights aren't visible and the pattern is the focus.  When the nightlight is turned on the pattern on the glass goes away and really all you see are the Christmas lights.   Didn't expect that but I dig it.

I still want to add a few more touch's but I think i'm going to put those on the back burner and focus on her room.   Hopefully a few people can get something out of this.


Here is a very poor video just to show how the rotary switch changes from socket to nightlight to both lights 

Be the First to Share


    • Sculpting Challenge

      Sculpting Challenge
    • 3D Printed Contest

      3D Printed Contest
    • Motor Vehicle Contest

      Motor Vehicle Contest

    2 Discussions