Pixie, the World's Most Intense Desk Lamp




About: the adventure continues

A few days ago, on my drive in to work, I noticed a fallen lamppost on the side of the road.  It had been raining for several days straight, and the jellied dirt had slumped in a mini-landslide, taking the lamppost down with it.  The next day, I kept an eye out for the lamppost, and it was still there, untouched.  The day after, it was still lying in the mud, and late that night, a prius screeched to a stop on the wet roadside and a friend and I jumped out, armed with wire cutters and socket wrenches.  Slogging through the mud and keeping an eye out for flashing blue lights, we proceeded to harvest the lamp from the pole.  Minutes later, setting a world record for most efficient lamp-heist, we threw the lamp in the trunk and sped off, leaving nothing behind but soggy footprints and the trailing bass beats of Poker Face.
Back at the shop, we hauled the 40-pound lamp in and laid it out on a desk, eager to examine our spoils.  To our dismay, the lamp housing was filled with painfully pungent mud, two birds nests, a diverse and unfortunate assortment of poop, and buried deep in the stinky muck, the lamp electronics. 
Undeterred, we set to work.  With paper towels, simple green, chlorox, an air compressor, we painstakingly scooped out the muck and chased the antisocial smell away.  Two hours later, tired and covered in bits of poo, we had the lamp cleaned out.  I grabbed an old computer power cable and wired up the power lines.  My friend stuck a powerful pose of readiness next to the surge protector's power switch.  We took cover behind a convenient pile of crap and, hearts in our throats, hit the switch.  A dim, sickly white leapt from the bulb, which hummed an off-key fluorescent tune.  We glanced at our feet, underwhelmed.  Moments later, we noticed a subtle shift in the room's lighting.  Our shadows seemed to be shifting direction and growing longer.  Although it was midnight, the room was lit up bright as day.  The bulb caused instant headaches if we so much as glanced at it.  Our grins grew as bright as the bulb, and we knew that our efforts had paid off.  Our little girl just had to warm up, that's all.


Step 1: All Lit Up and Nowhere to Go

I stumbled home at 3am, clumsily balancing the lamp with dangling cord on my shoulder.  My girlfriend heard my stomping up the stairs and was groggily getting out of bed.  "Why are you getting home so late?" she mumbled.  Excitedly, I dumped the lamp on the kitchen table and plugged it in, flooding the house with light.  "Look!" I said, "It's glorious!"
"No," my girlfriend said, "it's 3am and you're a crazy man.  Turn that thing off and go to sleep"
She had a point.  I tucked it away under my futon and collapsed in a real pile.
For the next couple days, the lamp languished there, while I had no real idea what to do with it.  And then a light bulb went off in my head, or, more accurately, in front of my eyes.  I saw my humble gooseneck desk lamp and I knew what I had to do.  I had to make the world's dumbest desk lamp.
That evening, I walked in to my friendly local hackerspace and saw my friend the muffinator hard at work on a giant pegboard array of LEDs.  "What's that for?", I asked him.  "Oh," he said, "we've got an idea for a crowdsourced LED array where people add LEDs wherever they want.  We're bringing it down to the Providence mini maker faire tomorrow." 
"Mini maker faire, eh?" I said, mental gears revving.  "How are you getting there?"
"I dunno.  Train?"
"Let's drive down!  I'll bring this light sculpture I'm working on"

And so it was done.  I had an idea and I had a deadline.  I accepted the inevitable all-nighter, picked up a caffeinated 2-liter, and got to work.

Step 2: The Design

Most desk lamps hold the light at an angle to the desk.  This way, you can push the lamp out of the way, to the back of the desk, and still get light on your work.  To get that authentic lamp feel, I'd have to do the same thing.
There's a catch, though.  Gooseneck lamps have a weighted base and a neck that bends away from the base.  They rely on the weight to keep the lamp from tipping over and shrink the base as small as possible to keep from taking up valuable desk space.  That may work for a 6-ounce bulb and head, but for a 40-pound light, I'd need hundreds of pounds in the base to make that design work, and I don't have time for this kind of nonsense.  I'm a busy man with lots of dumb projects to work on.
The other approach is to offset the lamp head so that it's centered over the base.  The better it's centered, the smaller the base you need to keep it stable.  For safety, I could build a larger base than I need.  I was sold--it was a simple design, portable and effective, and definitely buildable in a night. 

Step 3: Git 'r Done

My first thought was to weld up a bunch of steel tubing to make the design.  The problem is, I'm lazy, and the thought of grinding all the mating shapes in tubing made me feel queasy.  Looking at the lamp, one thing was for sure--the lamp head was meant to clamp onto a tube, so whatever I built, it would have to end in a tube.
So I took a stroll to my local hardware store and checked out the tubing section, cruising for inspiration.  Suddenly, I realized that I could make the entire thing with minimal welding and assembly by using plumber's pipe and screw-on couplings.  I spent an hour running around the plumbing aisle, searching for various adapters and assembling my design on the floor while adolescent home depot employees peered in at me anxiously. 
I ended up using 1" pipe.  Here's what I got for the frame:
2x 6" male-male 1" ID pipe
1x 12" male-male 1" pipe
1x 4" male-male pipe
2x 90 degree elbows
1x 45 degree elbow
1x 1" floor flange

Step 4: Back to Base-ics

This is the one part of the design that I'm really proud of.  I had to make a base for the lamp.  Real desk lamps have a circular base, so I figured I'd shoot for the stars.  The problem is that making a big metal circle is kinda hard, and I needed about a 2' diameter circle.  If I had a slip roll, I could take bar stock and roll it into a circle, but I didn't have a slip roll on me.  If I wanted to spend two hours with a bandsaw, I could rough out a circle out of sheet steel and then smooth it out, but two hours is too much time to spend with anything.  Staring at the stock shelf, I saw the tubing bender and a long piece of conduit, and I saw the light.
I normally use tubing benders to put single bends into metal tubing, but what if I put a tiny bend in the tubing, and then just moved the bender a couple inches along the tubing and did it again?  If I was smooth about it, I could get the tubing pretty close to a circle.  I cut off a 2*PI length of tubing and gave it a shot.

Step 5: Back to Base-ics, Part II

After a chunk of bending and checking to see if everything lined up and then bending some more, I got the tubing into a pretty pass-able circle.  I wangled[sic] it with my hands and then threw it in a vice and welded it into place.  Bam!  Instant hula hoop!

I was on a roll, so I welded in a couple cross pieces so I'd have a place to attach the flange at the base of the lamp arm.

Step 6: A Moment of Silence for a Moment of Truth

I welded the tubing flange to the center of the lamp base, and then I was ready for the moment of truth:  would the lamp be stable?  I screwed all the tubing together, spun the heavy lamp head around and around, and then stood back proudly to watch the base start to topple off the table.    Craaaaap!
I lunged and caught the lamp.  The entire assembly was very front heavy, so I swapped out one of the tubes in the lamp 'neck' that was running to the back of the lamp with a longer tube, moving the center of gravity further back.  I reassembled the base, and voila!  C'etait meme parfait qu'un oiseux reveur portant un chapeau des fleurs (That's french for a long sentence filled with nonsense)
At any rate, the lamp stood up.  I punched it a bit and convinced myself that it wasn't going to fall over.  Now all I had to do was fix up the electrics and take it down to maker faire.



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    18 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    The lamp was clearly beyond civic service, judging by the poop jam inside, so in fact you did the city a service in removing garbage and up cycling into a kick-ass man-lamp. Proud of you :)

    Tex Arcana

    5 years ago

    @.mickeypop: just for that, we're gonna tell the cops you did it. :-P


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Typical city street lamps cost between $400 and $600.

    You realize you committed a felony by stealing the lamp that was city property.

    On top of that, you admitted to it and even posted your picture to boot.

    You best not tell anyone around town about it, and certainly don't tell it's on the web.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Should have done it during daylight. During the night lampposts are lit and therefor have live wires :)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Your writing is awesome! Love the story, I could read a whole book by you...


    6 years ago on Introduction

    That has to be the best insane 40 pound desk lamp I have ever seen!
    You, sir, are utterly barking. Keep up the good work!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    You just cost your county/city a few hundred dollars. Neat light though. It's like looting. You looted it to protect it from being looted by someone just like you?

    I prefer to obtain true surplus legally.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Since it was a street light, I think I would have made it floor mobile, with the ability to raise and lower as well as move around the shop.


    6 years ago

    Great Instructable, not just for the content, but also for the style. You've inspired me. Thanks.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Fun !
    Watching the first pic I thought you made the lamp post and shade from a old chait on wheels !!!!… ;)))
    So maybe that's an other idea ?… ;))

    Nonetheless your instructable is very valuable ! Thank you.

    BTW : I noticed that you had a special tool for bending tubes : never saw that before. Is home made ? Can you buy it ? Where ?…

    Thanks again

    3 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    It's a standard pipe bender--you can buy them at most hardware stores. They're handy for bending conduit and other smallish pipes.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I hope you did your civic duty to anonymously report a downed street light.

    Conduit bending is an art, I think you need to compensate for tubing stretch and compression to calculate the proper cut length for the desired circle. It's marked on the conduit bender.

    Most people would have put in a UV LED array. You can get a tan while exposing your PCB to print.

    And...you left a girlfriend sleeping alone in the middle of the night to go scavenging? You are a crazy man.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    It was even a perfect idle dreamer wearing a hat flowers, wonderfully crazy sentence!