Pill Bottle Explosion Lamp




About: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.

According to some statistics, as much as fifty percent of Americans are on a prescription. All these pills come in a whole lot of bottles. Save 'em up, add a little copper wire, and you can make this little dome that looks like the bottles are exploding in an orange burst.

This lamp isn't the quickest to make, but if you don't count all the time saving up bottles, the actual construction time is just a few hours. The material cost, depending on what you have laying around, and, again, not including the costs of the prescriptions, is about twenty bucks. If you don't have enough friends and family members on medication to collect 24 bottles, then ask around the local nursing home or hospital. This lamp was mostly made of larger bottles for multi-month supplies; however, i wove in some other sizes as well. The basic dome-building technique can be used on other kinds of bottles as well, as long as they have a neck narrower than the body, and hopefully with threads to retain the copper wire that binds them together.

I've made another pill bottle lamp that you can see here: https://www.instructables.com/id/Pill_Bottle_Lamp/ That one is more rigidly geometric, and uses LEDs.

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Step 1: Building the Explosion

The explosion is pretty easy to make, and can be varied in geometry and size once you have a grasp on the basic idea.

To prepare the bottles, soak the labels off in warm water. The remaining gummy residue is very difficult to get off. I ended up using a product called Goo-B-Gone, which is some sort of citrus solvent. A toothbrush and some of the B-Gone took care of the stickum very easily. Then runt he bottles through the dishwasher or clean with warm soapy water.

Start by wrapping one turn of medium-gauge braided copper wire around the neck of one bottle, then twisting it off. I used copper to go with the orange bottles, but you could use other kinds. Take the free end of the wire and wrap it around an adjoining bottle in a figure-eight pattern. Add a third bottle, continuing the figure-eight loops around all three bottles. Pull the wire as tight as you can, so the "shoulders" of each bottle, right below the neck, all touch each other and lock together in a sturdy tripod. Twist the wire off without cutting it. If you have bottles of different sizes, use your three biggest ones to make this base tripod.

Add three more bottles in the gaps between the first three, following a figure-eight pattern around the perimeter of the new tier of bottles, while periodically dipping back to the original tripod to join the new layer firmly to the old.

Next, make three bottle pairs as shown. Wire them onto the previous layer.

Continue on, following a logic of three bottles and using the figure eight pattern to join them, until you have a complete hemisphere. On the last layer, I used six bigger bottles and six smaller ones, alternating. The last layer may be more flexible than the others. Run a lot of wire around the perimeter on the last tier, then tie it off to one of them.

You could stop here and use the explosion to make a hanging lamp, pendant, or shade over an existing ceiling bulb. Be sure to use a compact fluorescent because they don't get hot like incandescents, which could damage or melt the bottles.

Step 2: Base

The base is made out of concrete. Get a bag of concrete (not cement -- the concrete bags already have a mixture of cement, sand, and aggregate pre-mixed) labeled "high-strength" or "5,000 PSI". It shouldn't cost more than about five bucks for an eighty-pound bag. The high-strength mix will have chemical admixtures, most notably some sort of acrylic plasticizer which will prevent cracking and shrinking -- two things that are very prone to happening when you pour something this small.

The mold is just a cheap plastic bowl from the dollar store. It is very smooth inside and tapers slightly from the base to the rim. It is also fairly flexible. The base will be cast upside-down.

The lamp neck is made from a copper fitting from the plumbing aisle. I'm not sure what it is meant to actually be used for, but I got one that is about a foot long, with two brass nuts and a threaded section brazed onto both ends of a copper pipe.

Take one nut and glue it down in the center of the bowl with hot glue or silicone caulk. Add a piece of dowel or pipe standing up, glued to the nut. If you use a wooden dowel, wrap it in packing tape first -- otherwise it will absorb moisture and cement, expand, and become extremely difficult to get out once the concrete cures.

To make a little reveal around the base, as well as a recessed path for the cord to run through, glue some rope to the perimeter of the lip of the bowl, with a little pigtail running to and around the center post as shown. You could use any number of things to make the reveal -- weather stripping, styrofoam, or pipe insulation.

Mix up some concrete in a bucket. You want to use as little water as possible for maximum strength. It is very easy to water it down too much, so add water sparingly, mix, and evaluate. Strive for a mix that allows you to make a "snowball" out of the concrete that will hold its shape once packed into a shape, without much liquid oozing out. Wear gloves when handling concrete, as the wet mix can cause low-level chemical burns as the materials in the mix react with one another. The dust is also very bad to inhale, as it can cause silicosis, or scarring of the air sacs in the lungs.

Pack it in the mold, pressing it down well and chopping or poking with the trowel to force bubbles out. Squeezing the sides of the bowl will also help. Trowel the top smooth. Let it cure for at least twenty-four hours.

Step 3: Putting It All Together

Once the concrete has cured for a day, yank out the dowel and the rope. Squeeze the sides of the bowl to loosen things up, and the concrete should slide right out. The smoothness of the mold should transfer to the concrete and look very slick. It will also be fairly shiny, as the acrylic plasticizer adds a certain sheen to normally dull concrete.

Drill three small holes in the brass nut at the top of the pipe fitting, hitting the center of every other face of a hex nut. I used three little curtain-rod brackets to make a shade support; you could use any number of things lying around the house, from coat-hanger wire to a traditional lampshade holder that clips over a bulb. I screwed the brackets to the nut, unbent them, and rand some copper wire around to reinforce them.

Get a lamp fixture and cord from the hardware store. They have directions on the back of the package. Feed the cord through the base and the neck. Screw the neck to the bolt buried in the base. Attach the neutral (ribbed) wire of the cord to the silver screw on the lamp socket and the other wire to the brass screw. Wrap the base of the lamp fitting with electrical tape so it pressure-fits into the the plumbing fixture.

Glue three magnets to the brass brackets and put three screws or machine bolts in three of the bottles in the last tier of the explosion, and fine tune until the shade sits evenly on the base.

Plug it in and enjoy.

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    4 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

     WHY are 50% of americans on prescriptions? I don't think that thats good for those 50% of americans. Do we really need to pump our bodies full of crap for every little thing?



    9 years ago on Introduction

    I've been using those bottles to hold beads and other little things that must stay separated.  I have a rubbermade tub full of vitamin bottles and such for that purpose.


    Now you tell me!! LOL ;0)...I've had to get rid of a lot of empty prescription bottles. Great idea. On a deeper level, there are so many things the bottles can represent to people. Your creation will be thought provoking as well as adding light to a room. Well done.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That looks great, using different sized bottles gives it a nice effect.