Small Engine Lamp




I have wanted to build a V̶8̶ V12 engine coffee table since I first saw one on Top Gear. My livingroom workshop is not equipped to handle such a large project but I was inspired to make something from a small engine.

When the user turns the crank it raises the piston which presses against the switch. Voila!


Step 1: Disassembly and Cleaning

  • Disassemble your motor and clean every part thoroughly. If you have access to a sand blaster then use that. If like me, you don’t have a sand blaster you can use alloy wheel cleaner, dish soap, wire brushes and steel wool to clean the parts.
  • This motor wasn't seized but it was on its last legs. Don't murder healthy motors. Go after the old ones. They are easier to find because they smell bad and they can't run away as fast so they are easy to catch :)

Step 2: Cutting and Sanding

  • My motor had a convenient flat section on the back to keep it square. I used the rig made from a cardboard tube shown in the above picture to ensure the cut line was perfectly parallel to the table.
  • I cut the motor in half with a hacksaw.This was surprisingly easy. The alloy was very soft but there was steel cylinder insert in the middle. It only took 30 minutes to cut. If you want to make this step easier you can go back in time and work out more often so your arms don't get tired.
  • Mount emery cloth or a cut up sanding belt to a board using spray adhesive and sand out the saw marks. Don't worry too much about a perfect smooth surface at this stage. The objective is just to get it flat.

If i had access to a lightsaber or a machine capable of cutting this for me I would have used it. However, I advocate learning how to use hand tools before moving onto machinery and power tools. It's important to be well practiced with hand tools in case one day you need to cut an engine block in half and all you have is a hacksaw. No problemo ;)

Step 3: Painting and Sanding

  • After scuffing up the surfaces mask off the areas you don't want to be painted. Using quality paint is essential. I used Krylon Dual Paint and Primer. With good paint and proper surface prep a separate primer isn't needed. Use numerous thin coats over many days to build up a good layer.
  • Mount some wet and dry sandpaper to a board to sand the paint off the flat faces.
  • Finish with several layers of clearcoat.

I lost track of how many layers of paint are on this motor. There must be at least 20 thin layers. I can be impatient when it comes to letting paint and glue dry and I have caused myself many setbacks by not letting things fully cure. It helps to have more than one project on the go at once so you don't get too wrapped up in the excitement of one project and move forward too quickly. Plus, the more projects you do, the more awesomer you are :)

Step 4: Wooden Components

  • Once you have figured out how you would like your lamp to be configured you may need to cut some wooden components to use as a base or as mounting points for the light fitting.
  • I made some spacers from aluminum pipe and assembly bolts.

Step 5: Leather

This step is entirely optional. I could have just finished the wood and skipped this step but I decided to give it a try.

To wet-form leather you will need:

  1. Hammer and nails / staple gun
  2. Sharp knife
  3. Vegetable tan leather
  4. A form to mould the leather around
  5. A base to nail into
  6. A tool with soft round edges to form the leather. I used a letter opener sanded smooth.
  • Start by soaking the leather in warm water until it drowns. When the little bubbles stop it is ready for forming. This should only take a minute or so.
  • Form the leather gradually around all the edges with the smooth tool and put a nail or a staple in place as you progress.
  • Place in the oven at its lowest possible temperature (mine was 175f/80c) for 10-15 minutes until it starts to dry and then reform the leather over the wood. Repeat once or twice and leave in a warm place overnight to ensure all the moisture has gone. i used a cable tie as a band clamp to keep everything in shape.
  • Cut off the excess and use contact adhesive to glue the leather to the wood. Dye the leather with a colour of your choice. I didn't have any leather sealer or finish so i used furniture bees wax (works great).

I could make an entire Instructable for wet-forming leather but instead I will refer you to Ian Atkinson's youtube channel. He provides exceptional instructions for great projects. He is a step above many other leather workers. He is able to design projects and figure out problems. He doesn't just make projects found in old leather working books… he creates using all the skills he has learned over the years and transposes the information into new products using a modern teaching medium.

This is his Ian's wet-forming video:

Step 6: Wiring

  • I butchered a Walmart lamp to get the fitting, rod and lamp wire.
  • There are many ways to wire this lamp. I considered soldering, crimp splice connectors, terminal block etc. After many hours of head scratching trying to find an efficient method i realised that both the switch and the lamp wire were 18 AWG and i had a IDC splice connector for 18 AWG. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
  • I cut and dyed some leather to use as wire clips with some assembly bolts.

Splice Connector:

Step 7: Assembly

  • Now for the really fun part. Assembly!
  • To hold the rod in place i drilled through the top wood/leather piece. I then used a thread cutting screw as a tap to thread the rod. This allowed me to use a break-off screw to hold everything together. The rod also holds the switch in position when the piston presses against it. The tight wiring on the back stops the switch from moving forward.
  • This engine block was full of very convenient ¼” x 20 threaded holes which made assembly bolts the obvious choice to hold everything together.
  • I also scavenged a rubber grommet from the Walmart lamp which helped to finish off the base nicely.

Now enough lampoonery. Go and motor along with some more enlightening endeavours!

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58 Discussions


3 years ago

Genius! What a bright idea!


4 years ago

Here is my version of your lamp.
I used an old 4-stroke lawn mower engine I found that had been on fire. The valves still open and close as I have left the cam in place, I had to cut down the crank case cover as support was need for the cam and to keep it meshed with the crank, as these are a side valve engine there are no chains to mess with, this means that the head can be sectioned to show the valves opening and closing. To operate the lamp I fixed a small micro switch below the camshaft to be operated by the lobe for the inlet valve, when you turn the crank the engine goes through the 4-stroke cycle and then switches the lamp on.
I even made sure I set the timing correctly so it cycles properly which looks cool.
I bought a lamp off eBay that looks like a radio valve when lit which I think looks great.

1 reply
Paul MasseyTMerkman

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

It is an outboard motor from a small boat. A friend gave it to me!

Where you get one will depend on where you live. The best thing to do is just ask around. Eventually you will track one down.

JWSmythePaul Massey

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

That is awesome looking. Some other options for engines may be air cooled lawnmowers, generators, string trimmers (like weed eaters), and other gas powered lawn/garden tools. That looks like it might be a 50cc motor. String trimmers would have something smaller like 21cc to 32cc. Lawn mowers have a whole variety of sizes. The Briggs and Stratton site shows push mowers to be 125cc to 190cc.

Single cylinder 2 cycle engines would be the easiest for a non-mechanic to figure out.

4 cycle engines would add complications of the valves, cam shaft, etc. They'd look awesome if you could do them though, with more moving parts. :) Besides removing the rings, they may want to grind down some of the moving parts a little so they're loose enough to easily turn.

For those who don't know engines, the size rating is total displacement (the volume of space displaced by the movement of the pistons). Like, the big part in the middle that moves up and down.

Sometimes you can get them free on Craigslist, or just spotting them by the trash on the curb.

Now I wish I hadn't given away my broken push mowers. My GF doesn't really approve of me keeping broken junk around, if I can't at least claim there's a purpose for keeping it. :)


Reply 4 years ago

4-stroke engines work well for this project, I used a Briggs and Stratton Quantum engine, all aluminium so easy to cut and its also possible to leave the cam in place so the valves operate. It looks really cool and you can use the cams to operate a micro switch for the lamp.


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

You know, I really need some better lighting in the garage. A couple nice B&S twins would give just the right ambiance I might even be able to actually find tools without using a flashlight. I think my girlfriend may ban me from visiting Instructables. ... and Harbor Freight. ... and surfing Craigslist for broken stuff that I can fix and never use.

Paul MasseyJWSmythe

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

I can sympathise brother. My GF threw away my entire cardboard collection because 'there was no purpose for it'. I had previously made a foot stool, a bedside table and a shelf out of cardboard. As soon as i ran out of ideas to make with it my stash was taken from me by the queen of the house! It was a terrible day :(

I shouldn't complain. She does tolerate my living room workshop. I do miss my carboard though. it was soooo useful.


4 years ago

Hi, I was wondering where you sourced your switch from, could you please link it or give any ideas of what to search
Many thanks

1 reply
Eh Lie Us!

4 years ago on Introduction

Good work. The light switch is clever but the marker in the cardboard tub is ingenious!


4 years ago on Introduction

Funny to see 47 reactions and not a single one by a woman! Haha, when reading this 'structable I found myself looking for an engine block to cut up on the web in a matter of minutes!

Very very cool lamp, I bet you can sell these at motorshows for plenty money (I would never sell it though!)

Thanks for this one.

3 replies
Paul Masseyvinz3nt

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Thank you. I am considering making more. Although, i recently found out from a article about this lamp that I cut up a rare and potentially valuable motor. I'm going to check what I'm cutting up next time :)

vinz3ntPaul Massey

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Hahaha! Great story! Do you have a link to this article?
Well, you made yourself one unique, rare lamp, that's also great. And well, how much value does a motor have?

Talking about that, I was wondering what kind of motor this was, it's a 2-stroke, that's obvious because of the absence of valves and a camshaft. But I actually never saw an engine with the cylinder and the cylinderhead as one piece, normally the head is separate from the cylinder as most old 2 stroke motors are made of cast iron and the head of aluminium as they didn't have the materials (like Nykasil) in these days to make the aluminium hard enough for the pistons.
So I was kind of expecting it to be a rare motor or at least not very common.


4 years ago on Introduction

Did you have to add additional crankshaft support on the backside of the case (since presumably a thrust bearing was lost on the cutoff side of the case) ?

2 replies

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

An engine is built very strong, of course 1 bearing is not enough for an engine to run, tremendous forces are put on the piston and crankshaft when running at a few 1000 rpm's, but for this application it's plenty strong enough so I'm quite sure there's no free play at all when rotating the piston to turn the lamp on

Paul Masseyherrbag

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

I knew it was a possibility when i was figuring everything out. However, there is a 1-1/2" brass/bronze bushing on the remaining section which provides plenty of support for this application. There is a lot of metal left to hold it all together.