When I was a kid, I remember having an environmental assembly at school which included a speech about cutting up six pack rings before throwing them away, so wildlife wouldn't get their necks stuck and strangle themselves. Whether this is a real phenomenon or not, six pack rings are common and un-recyclable pieces of plastic. This lamp experiments with six pack rings as a material -- their translucent qualities, their relative strength and flexibility, and the repeated circular form.
I made fourteen strings of rings by cutting, weaving, and re-melting the plastic back together using a soldering iron to weld with. The strands were folded in half, welded, then in half again, and welded again, to form thinner, stronger strips. The strips were then joined by burying the ends in concrete, forming a hollow column in which lights could be placed.
The bottom doughnut of concrete tensions the rings, forming a simple suspension structure that diffuses the light of three bulbs inside, casting intricate patterns of shadows on adjacent surfaces. The lamp glows with a strong but soft light. Instead of being hung, it can also just be heaped and tangled on the floor, in the corner, as a mound of gentle illumination.
This project is pretty cheap, but labor-intensive. There are only a few things to buy or scavenge -- the electrical components, a little bit of concrete, and the rings themselves. Saving up rings would take far too long for me to accumulate myself, so I solicited donations from friends, as well as from the stock room at GB's Newbern Mercantile, in Newbern, AL.
This design takes:
-anywhere from 150-200 six-pack rings, depending on your ambitions and thirst
-one lamp cord, length of your choosing
-three bulb fixtures
-three compact-fluorescent bulbs
- 40 lb sack of quickcrete
-tupperware or similar containers for concrete formwork
As far as tools, you'll need a soldering iron, a boxcutter or x-acto knife, a five-gallon pail for mixing concrete, a masonry trowel, and some pliers for the electrical parts.
First six photos by RaMell Ross. (www.ramellross.com)
Use only fluorescent bulbs in this lamp, as incandescents get too hot and will melt the plastic and possibly start a fire.
Step 1: Welding Rings
The basic welding process is quite simple, but it is also time-consuming and easy to burn your fingers. It can work to do this while watching TV or something.
Take one set of six rings and slice three of them, all on one side. Interlace the cut ends into the circles on one side of a new set of rings. Rejoin the cut edges by overlapping them and gently smoothing over the joint with the soldering iron. Once the plastic melts some, squish it together with your finger. Smooth it out some more. Flip it over and repeat. Do some practice ones first, and you'll get a feel for how much heat and pressure are needed to achieve a good weld.
I welded mine into strands that were sixteen rings long. You could make them longer or shorter or whatever, depending on how big you want the final lamp to be. Then fold the strands in half lengthwise, put some welds in to pin the fold, then fold them again lengthwise, repeating the process. You end up with a strong, yet still flexible, string that is visually dense.
Step 2: Concrete Ring
To hold the rings together, they are cast into a ring of concrete at the bottom and a plug of concrete at the top. Start by slitting and welding one end of each strand to the next to knot them all into a circle around ten inches in diameter. I think I used fourteen strands of rings.
The formwork for the tensioning ring at the bottom of the lamp is a just a cheap plastic bowl from the dollar store with a styrofoam bowl hot-glued in the center of it. Then glue the ring of rings to the bottom of the bowl with some more hot glue. Gather the other ends of the strands of rings and tie them together. Hang the whole assembly from a clothesline or something similar. Support the doughnut formwork on the floor. Mix some quickcrete in a bucket, pretty wet, and fill up the doughnut, making sure all the strands of rings are firmly embedded. Don't worry too much about splashing some extra concrete on the rings, as it can be easily cleaned off later with a damp rag.
Let the concrete cure for a couple of days, then break out the plastic and styrofoam.
Step 3: Electricity!
The light fixture part of this lamp is really simple. Buy enough power cord at the hardware store for the spot you have in mind for ultimately hanging the lamp -- I went with about thirty feet since I didn't know where it might end up. Home Depot and others sell this kind of wire by the foot. Buy a make-you-own plug kit for the wall end, and three to five light fixtures with pigtails. Alternately, you could just buy or use an old extension cord for the power cord as well.
At one end of the power cord, twist together one pigtail from the fixture to each strand of the power cord. Cut one strand of the power cord about a foot higher up and twist in the leads from the fixture. Repeat as necessary, ending up with a simply series circuit. I left it at that, turning the lamp on and off by plugging it in. You could easily put in a switch in-line in the cord somewhere.
Step 4: Topping Off
The top of the lamp is a simple plug of concrete made using a plastic cup as a form.
Make a hole in the center of the bottom of the cup and feed the cord through as shown in the last photo of the last step. Pull the cord through as far as you want, keeping in mind the finished lamp will be suspended from the cord. Seal the hole around the cord with tape.
Suspend the lamp in the same manner you suspended it to pour the doughnut at the bottom, but upside down now. Support the cup on the floor. Mix up some concrete, but sift the rocks out of mix first -- once you add water, you should end up with a fine, smooth slurry. Put a little slurry in the bottom of the cup, then stuff all the free ends of the strands of rings into the cup. Top off with slurry. Let cure for several days. Break off cup, hang, and add bulbs.