The goal of this project is to make a rustic light fixture that gives the impression of primitive architecture, without exactly duplicating any existing style. I also wanted this wall sconce to produce a mellow, ambient glow, that gives off plenty of light without the stabbing brightness of an exposed bulb. All the supplies for this project are easily attainable and inexpensive, and the bulk of the materials are completely natural. Best of all, almost anyone who has some basic tools can make this light fixture!
An Assortment of Small Tree Branches
A Roll of Brown Paper
A Piece of Aluminum Flashing
Wood Glue or Super Glue (optional)
Small Light Bulb and Socket (like candelabra or E12)
Large Metal Switch Plate
Cordless Drill with Drill Bits
Hot Glue Gun
Metal Cutting Shears
Assorted Blocks of Wood
Measuring Tape (optional)
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
Step 2: Collect Your Branches
First, collect an assortment of small tree branches. I used Juniper branches because they are extremely strong, nicely curved, and twisted. (They are also plentiful where I live -- I just pick them up in my backyard.) You can use any kind of branches that are available to you, but try not to choose any rotting or flaking ones. Also, all of the branches should have a gradual curve in one direction, as seen in the picture above.
You will need . . .
- Five branches averaging over one inch in diameter and twenty-four inches long, for the vertical pieces.
- Three branches about an inch in diameter and twelve inches long, for front pieces.
- Six branches a little over half an inch in diameter and six to eight inches long, for side pieces.
You should collect extra branches of each size. This will give you a better selection to choose from when you fit them together in the next step. All these measurements are rough guidelines, and you can make your fixture any size you want. If you do need to make a branch shorter, break it, or cut it with your hatchet rather than using a saw. Straight cut-off ends are not very attractive in a natural project like this one. (You may have noticed that I only show a few branches in the picture, for an example of what you might collect. You will need more than that.)
Step 3: Fit It Together
Now that you have picked out your branches, lay some blocks on the table to hold up the front of your sconce (the top of my blocks was four and a half inches high.) Next, lay the vertical branches in place, with the front three on top of the blocks, spaced approximately four inches apart (center to center.) Lay the side pieces on the table on each side, about eleven to twelve inches apart. (I refer to the branches as "vertical" or "horizontal" based on their final orientation, after the sconce is finished and mounted on the wall.) All the curves in the whole sconce should face in toward the center, so that the sconce is narrower in the middle and wider at the top and bottom.
Now lay the front horizontal pieces on top of the front vertical pieces letting the curves hang down towards the middle. (You may have to adjust the height of your blocks to accomplish this.) Next, place the side horizontal pieces in their places, such that the front end of all side pieces rest just below the ends of the front pieces (see photo.) The side pieces should touch both the back and front vertical pieces, as well as the corresponding front horizontal pieces. It is not a problem if they also touch the table, but they don't have to.
I spent a lot of time at this point trying out all the different branches in different spots, until I decided on my favorite arrangement. This is where those extra branches that you collected come in really handy. Some branches just don't fit in like you expected they would. It is almost like solving a jigsaw puzzle, except that that the "right" answer can be whatever you like! Use your creativity, and if two pieces don't fit perfectly, you may be able to carve them down in the next step to make them fit just right :)
Step 4: Fine Tune Your Frame
Now it is time to make sure your branches form a roughly rectangular shape. With twisted branches like these, you are not trying to make it perfect. Just make sure that all the vertical pieces are roughly parallel, and the horizontals are not extremely askew either. If you skip this detail, you might end up with a parallelogram!
Now that you have all your branches in place, exactly like they will be in the final product, it is time to get out your sharp knife. Carefully remove a horizontal branch, and cut small notches in it where it touches the vertical branches, so that they fit together securely without wobbling. Put it back without bumping any of the other branches out of place. Do the same to all the remaining horizontal branches, one by one, cutting notches so that they fit into the larger vertical branches. When you finish, ensure that all your branches are in the right spots, and everything fits together perfectly. Now we need to fasten all these branches together. Get out your drill and screws, and proceed to the next step!
Step 5: Prepare Your Fasteners
The goal here is to start the screws from the inside of the sconce (where the heads will not be visible) pointing outward. They must not reach all the way through both branches, however, where the sharp points would become visible and dangerous. First, choose a joint to start with, and estimate the length of screw that you will need to almost penetrate through both branches. Cut your screw to length with your bolt cutters.
Next, get out your drill and bits. All of the screw holes should be pre-drilled to prevent the branches from splitting. This simply means that you must drill a hole equal in size to the shaft of the screw, and then drive the screw into the pre-drilled hole. This way only the threads of the screw have to cut into the wood. Pick out the right sized drill bit (for my screws it was 1/8th inch.) Now slide it into the drill just far enough that the part of the drill bit sticking out is the same length as your pre-cut screw, and tighten it up. Now you are ready to drill a hole in your joint, without going right through and out the other side (assuming, of course, that your estimation was right.)
Step 6: Secure Your First Joints
Now you have to get your screw into the back of the joint without moving any of the branches out of place. This can be tricky, and I like to use super glue to help hold the branches in place while I turn it over. Unfortunately, I could not find any glue strong enough to hold all the joints in place while I turn the whole sconce over and fasten all the joints properly. If you succeed at this, you can skip straight to the step after next called "Add Your Paper." For the rest of you, I recommend starting with a vertical side piece, and its corresponding three horizontal side pieces.
Carefully squirt some super glue in the three joints, and wait about a minute for them to dry. (I used super glue because it dries quickly.) Then gently turn it over, and drill your holes from the back, and drive your screws, as described in the previous step. Of course, you can do this one joint at a time without using super glue, but that is rather tedious. NEVER put your finger under the wood that you are drilling into, even if you are sure the drill bit or screw will not penetrate all the way through the wood.
Step 7: Finish Securing Your Frame
When you have finished both sides of the sconce, make sure they fit with the face, and then carefully fasten all the front branches together in the same manner as you did the sides. Lastly, attach each side to the face, fitting everything together again after you fasten each joint, to make sure that your whole sconce still fits together as intended. If you find that one of your screws has gone askew, take it out and re-drill your hole. One messed-up joint can cause your whole fixture to warp a little, and then it will not fit flat up against the wall. If you find that it is slightly warped when you finish, you may be able to straiten it out when you add the flashing backing, but if it is twisted a significant amount, you should find the offending joints, and fix them.
After you are finished you can add wood glue to all the joints, but you don't have to. If you do decide to do this, just make sure to put it in inconspicuous places. Also, don't let it dribble down the branches to places where it would become visible.
Step 8: Add Your Paper
Now that you have finished your frame, it is time to add the paper shades. I used a roll of brown paper that I had handy, but you can find the same paper as packing material in boxes that you get shipped. If you could manage to salvage a nice enough piece, that wasn't crumpled too badly, you could always use that! Canvas drop-cloth material is a fine alternative to paper, but it does have some disadvantages. Here are my observations on canvas.
- stronger material than paper
- doesn't wrinkle or rip
- easier to work with
- lets out a little more light
- stands out from my juniper branches
- doesn't dissipate the light quite as nicely as brown paper
- doesn't produce such a yellow light
If you dye a piece of canvas a light brown color, it might blend in better, and put out a yellower light. The following instructions are for paper, but they would work for canvas as well.
Plug in your hot glue gun, so it can be heating up. Now turn over your sconce, and cut out a square of paper that fits in the inside of the front. Trim the edges until it just fits with the curves of the branches. When you fit it in place, there may be a few small wrinkles. Don't worry about them. You will not notice them when you are finished. If there are large wrinkles, you may have some lumps or knots on the branches inside the fixture that need to be cut off before you glue the paper in place.
Now make a thin strip of hot glue down the inside of both front vertical side branches, and put your paper in place. Your glue should be good and hot by now, so you can make fine adjustments to the paper while it is still gooey. Try to eliminate the worst wrinkles, and be careful not to burn yourself on the 'hot' glue. If the glue cools too quickly, just scrape it off with the knife, and start over. When you are finished, and the glue is dry, use your knife to trim any excess paper off the edges. Overlapping paper will cause a silhouette when the light is on.
When you are satisfied, turn the whole light fixture over, and admire your work. Pay close attention to the edges, where the glue should not be showing. Then go back up and repeat the last two paragraphs for each side.
Step 9: Add the Backing
Now it is time to add the flashing. You can substitute a different material, as long as it is durable and reflective. I think a reflective material for the backing is important because it reflects much more light into the room than a non reflective backing. Turn your fixture over, and cut a piece of metal flashing that fits over the center back of the sconce (about one square foot) and reaches the Branches on each side. Make sure it doesn't show below or above the front of the fixture when you look at it from the front (see the first picture above for general shape.)
Next, you will need to use your metal cutters so cut a square hole in the center of your backing. It should be about a quarter inch wider than your metal switch plate, and about the same height. When you cut the hole, leave about an inch of the cut-out piece connected along the top edge. Fold this connected piece in half with your pliers, and then fold it up to strengthen the top of the hole, being careful not to cut yourself on the sharp metal edges (see pictures above.) Then use your file to smooth out the sharp edges.
Now you are ready to screw the flashing in place. I used three screws on each side. Make sure to pre-drill the screw holes, as described in step five. You will also need to make sure to drive the screw at an angle from the inside of the sconce. You don't want the screw heads or metal to be visible from the side of the completed fixture.
Step 10: Make the Mounting Plate
Plug in your hot glue gun, and get your metal switch plate and light bulb socket ready. (If you don't have a metal switch plate, you could just drill a small hole in a metal blank plate, but you must ensure that the hole has no sharp edges, or the wires could get cut and short across the gap.) You can use a candelabra (E12) bulb and socket if you are going to wire it to a standard 120 volt box. I was wiring to a twelve volt source, so I used a G4 bulb and socket. Just make sure that you are well acquainted with electricity before you try to do any wiring, however simple it may seem.
Notice that the switch plate tapers down on all sides. Now take your hammer, and flatten out the top edge. Then glue the light bulb socket to the switch plate just below the center. The bulb, when inserted, should end up in the center of the plate. (You might be able to use super glue instead of hot glue for this, if you prefer.) Now curve the wires around, and stick them through the switch hole in the center of the switch plate.
Your light fixture is now completed!!! Proceed to the last step to install your amazing new wall sconce :)
Step 11: Mount Your Light Fixture
Now it is time to install your project. Choose a place in your house where it will not get it the way. I know this might sound silly, but this fixture is very pointy, and it really hurts to hit your head on it, (it is not good for the light fixture either.) You will need to find a switched outlet box in the wall around head height. There should be one behind every wall sconce in your house.
Once you have located your outlet box, you are ready to install your mounting plate. If you are not familiar with electricity, please have someone who knows what they are doing mount your plate. For those of you that already know what you are doing, here are some detailed instructions that you will not need :)
First, TURN OFF THE BREAKER. This is the most important step. Make absolutely sure that your outlet box has no power. Then carefully remove the old fixture, if there is one. Untwist the wire nut from the white wire in the outlet box to expose the copper end. Twist the copper end of the white wire from your mounting plate around the exposed end of the other white wire with your pliers. Then twist the wire nut back onto the copper ends, making sure that it is very tight, and no copper is exposed. Do the same for the black wire. Then make a loop in the end of the bare copper wire, and screw it to the switch plate, making sure to scrape any paint away so as to get a good electrical connection. (This step prevents you from getting shocked in case of a 120 volt short. It is unnecessary if you are connecting to twelve volts.)
Now that the wiring is finished, you need to screw the plate to the box. You will find two small holes in the box, one at the top, and one at the bottom. You will also find two corresponding holes in the mounting plate. Simply line up the holes, and screw in your plate, making sure it is right side up. Don't pull the screws so tight that they flatten out your plate. You want the top of the plate to stay about an eighth of an inch out from the wall when the plate is tightened up firmly against the wall. When you are finished, you can turn the circuit back on, and insert the light bulb. Now you are ready to add the rest of the sconce.
Place the sconce over the mounting plate, and slide it downward until the top of the hole in the middle back of the light fixture catches on the top of the mounting plate, and slides down behind it. You will probably need to slide your arm up inside the sconce and push the metal outward to help it catch on the mounting plate. This holds the fixture firmly in place. If you did everything right, the light bulb should be in the center of the hole in the backing.
Step 12: Enjoy!
Congratulations! You are now finished with your amazing new light fixture. Flip on the switch, and enjoy your beautiful masterpiece!
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