This is my Dad’s legacy. His name was Roy Henry Burgess, and before he passed away last August, he was known for fixing everything! The last Christmas present I gave him was a bottle of the Macallan; despite the pain of losing him I have fond memories of us as a family, sitting around his bed in the hospice and toasting his 60th birthday with a drop of very good stuff - and kept the bottle for posterity. Since I’ve inherited my Dad’s tools, I could turn his last bottle of whisky into a lasting memory while celebrating his life, light, and love.
Here I’m sharing my method so that you can celebrate too; either a favourite bottle of poison; something connected to special occasion (I made one out of a champagne bottle from my friend’s wedding) or just something which looks super-cool on your home bar!
They’re so much fun to create and they make fabulous gifts, too; everyone I’ve given one to has been delighted - especially those where the bottle was connected to a celebration! Please do have a go yourself, but remember to be safe with the electrics and can PAT-test your creation locally (often for a small price) when you’re done to make sure it’s safe. I’d especially recommend this if you’re making it into a gift.
- Goggles/safety glasses (for drilling and sanding)
- Safety gloves (cut copper can be very sharp!)
- Dust mask (to protect from glue and varnish fumes, and dust from cutting glass and sanding wood)
- Red PVA
- Solder and flux (optional, depending on how you want to hold the copper together, and what type of electrical components you use)
- Copper piping 15mm (approx half a meter, depending of the size of your bottle)
- Copper 90 degree elbows x3
- Copper T-joins x2
- Munsen clips and backplates x4 (plus double munsens if you want to build up more than 1 row of copper, and the 10M threaded posts to hold them)
- An empty liquor bottle
- Wood for the base - I used pressure-treated timber measuring 38mm x 140mm
- Wood stain - your choice of colour
- 2 mtrs of 2 core flex (min .75mm)
- Lamp holder
- 3 amp plug
- Inline switch
- 40 watt antique bulb
- Diamond tipped circular drill bits (diameter 40-50mm)
- Wood drill bits (5mm)
- Circular wood drill bit (diameter 30- 40mm)
- Pipe cutter
- Phillips head screwdrivers (large for wood screws and small for electrics)
- Wire strippers and/or Stanley knife
- Sandpaper - a range of grits (40-150)
- Wood saw
- Measuring tape or ruler
- Pencil and pen
- Paintbrush or rag
- Cold water in a jug or bottle
- Something to firmly hold your bottle - I used a laundry basket padded out with towels and cushions! I honestly think this absorbs the shock and helps to prevent your bottle from shattering...
Step 1: Drilling Your Glass Bottle
You need to drill a circle into the bottom of your empty bottle for the light bulb to fit through. I’ve put this step first as (having drilled more than 10 bottles myself without any mishaps I certainly hope this doesn’t happen to you!) if there is a problem and you end up with a broken bottle and having to substitute, you won’t have to scrap the copper or wood you’ve already cut.
- To cut your bottle, I always go in cold. However if you're concerned about chipping/slipping, then just cover the bottom with masking tape first. Locate the centre and mark it off by drawing around the your circular diamond-tipped bit before securing it in the drill.
- Secure the bottle using a clamp or vice (or see my own method in the tools section) - use cardboard to cushion the grip and prevent scratches if you choose the vice method.
- Have a water source handy - I use a jug of chilled water and pour it as needed. As most bottle-bottoms are recessed, it will hold a small amount of water for you to start with.
- Set your drill to the lowest RPM
- Begin drilling by going in at a 45 degree angle on one half of the circle you've drawn. Repeat the process on the opposite side. This creates small divots for your bit to sit in - much easier than a cold start, believe me!
Essential rules for this stage:
- The drill creates glass dust as you work. If you have enough water (both to lubricate the bit as well as cool everything down) then the dust should appear as cloudy water, then as a paste. If you see dry dust, you need to add more water.
- Take it slow and check the bit periodically. As glass is a hard substance, friction creates heat which builds quickly. Rapid or extreme temperature changes increase the likelihood of your bottle shattering - so pay attention and keep adding water as required.
- Don't use pressure to push the bit through. Use only the weight of the drill and lots of patience. Be particularly careful as you get closer to cutting through - if it gives way suddenly, you can end up scratching the inside of your bottle as you push the drill inside.
Step 2: Cutting Copper
- Place your bottle on a flat, sturdy surface. Unscrew and remove the top part of your munsen rings, then screw the bottom sections onto the backplates.
- Place munsen rings aside bottle where you'd like them to be - consider the width of your wood and how securely you'd like your bottle to be held in place. The further away the munsens are, the looser the fit. I try to get them to lie so that the copper piping will be flush with the glass, and the rings are touching (or almost touching) the front and back of the bottle.
- Allowing roughly 15mm front and back of the clips for the elbows and end caps, cut your copper piping for the sides - use a tape measure to mark off the piping and make the cut with a handheld pipe cutter (you can do this with a hacksaw if you want, but you'll need to deburr it before you can use it. Cutters are much easier and cleaner to use).
- Test it for length, then repeat the process. That's your 2 sides done.
- For the back, you need to cut 2 pieces which will fit into both the T-join and the elbows. You need to measure the length along the back, starting from the inner corner of the elbow (you can see from the outside moulding where the pipe will fit up to). If you prefer, slot the piping into the fitting and mark it off first.
- Deduct approx 3cm from the overall length, then divide this by 2. This compensates for the amount of pipe needed to fit into the joins, as well as around 16mm in the centre of the T-join for the upright section.
- With the bottom row of piping assembled around the bottle and sitting in the munsen rings, check your pipes for a good fit. Ensure they’re symmetrical and that everything fits well. If you’re happy with it all, you can safely superglue the parts together at this stage.
- Now we need the rear prop & top section. These are made up of 7 parts in total. As with the bottom section, I can’t give you exact measurements without knowing the size of your bottle, so it’s time to start wielding that tape measure!
- Place the end of the tape measure approx 1cm inside the upper opening of the T-join, run it up outside the back of the bottle and stop around 15mm past the top. You need about 8mm to fit inside the elbow, outside that, you’re adding height to the top section. Mark your pipe and make the cut.
- Your top section consists of 3 additional, quite short, pieces of copper pipe (one from the elbow to the T-join, one from the T-join feeding inside the bottle, and one from the T-Join to the stop end). These parts assemble like this:
- Fit the elbow to the top of the rear piping and measure from there. Remember you need approx. 8mm for the inside of each fitting – but otherwise the measurements depend on how you’ve constructed the rest of your lamp. A number of times I’ve made these, I’ve had to re-cut the small sections as a few mm can really change how it fits. Take your time and measure carefully.
- Once you’re satisfied that everything fits to way you like, you can glue the sections together (or solder them if you prfere - be aware that this will affect the colour of your pipe and might need a polish afterwards to bring back the shine).
- Piping is now complete! The next stage requires some graft – preparing your wooden base.
Step 3: Creating Your Wooden Base
Creating the wooden base is by far the most hard work in creating your project! It goes without saying that power tools would make it quicker and require less elbow grease, but if you're only making 1, hand tools are fine to complete the job. Having made around 10 of these bad boys, I tend to take some rest between goes. Take your time and try to keep your lines straight ; )
- Measure twice, cut once! Prevent waste by being 100% sure where you’re going to make your cuts before you start.
- Assemble completed lamp pieces on your wood before marking out measurements.
- Allow approx. 1-2 cm either side of the end of the munsen clips for stability and aesthetics – you can take it out wider if you prefer, of course, just don't come in too narrow as you need space to screw in your munsen ring backplates.
- Secure your plank and make the cleanest, straightest cut you can. This is easier with an electric saw – I use a hand saw to the result are a little more… Unique, shall we say? XD
- Sand off the rough edges using a course grade sandpaper (30-50). You probably don’t want too smooth a finish at this point – rough edges absorb the stain much better! It depends what kind of finish you want though… Leaving some dents and roughness gives you a more aged look when we sand off the stain. For a smother finish, feel free to sand it in increasingly finer sandpaper (e.g. 50, then 100, then 150).
- You need to drill a hole straight through the middle of your lamp for the lamp holder to sit in. Use a circular wood bit to accomplish this. Decide which face you prefer for the top, and flip it over. Draw a line from top left corner to bottom right, the top right to bottom left. The middle of your cross is now dead-centre and where you should lay your drill bit.
- If your wood is particularly thick, you might need to stop at the halfway mark, flip the wood over and drill in through the back and meet in the middle. Don’t worry about the hole in the bottom; this will be covered with felt later on.
- Work out which will be the front and back of your lamp base. Select a new drill bit (I used 5mm) to drill through the centre of the back, into the middle hole we just drilled. This will be where you feed your flex. You can attach a rubber grommet here at the end, if you like. It give a lovely neat finish and protects the flex from rubbing against the raw wood edge – I just don’t have any : (
- Apply at least 1 coat of your choice of wood stain to the top and sides of your lamp base. I used a dark mahogany which was hanging around my tool shed. You can use a brush, or, if your wood is particularly dented and rough, forcefully dab it on with a rag, pushing it into any gaps and gently sweeping off any excess.
- Leave your stain to dry for at least 2 hours (I prefer overnight if I can) before using a course sandpaper (no higher than 50) to roughly remove the top layer of wood stain. You should find that the top layer sheers off after a bit of effort, and that the stain has soaked into the grain, leaving a lovely charred look (NB if you want, you can skip the stain entirely and actually scorch your wood with a blow torch. I haven’t tried this yet but it’s on the cards!).
- Finish with a fine sanding once you’ve achieved the depth of colour you like, then apply a coat or two of varnish. I used a spray varnish with a matte finish, suitable for outdoor use.
- Reassemble your lamp (bottle, copper & clips) and use a marker to dot onto the wood where your pilot holes need to go for the musen clips. There are 2 screws required for each clip, and so 8 in total.
- Fit a 3-4mm (depending on screw size) wooden drill bit to your drill. Secure your wood TIGHTLY before you start - narrow drill bits have a habit of snapping off and getting stuck if you're not careful. Keep the drill bit in constant motion all the time it’s in the wood to prevent this. Sand the holes to finish if required.
- Once you're done, you can trim a square of felt (I used black, but please feel free to go where it takes you). Spread a layer of red PVA across the whole of the bottom of the base and trim if needed once it's dry (at least an hour).
Step 4: Wiring & Finishing
- Start by cutting a 2 meter length of 2 core flex (.75mm minimum for the UK). Strip the outer insulation of each end, You can do this with strippers or with a stanley knife just be very careful to make sure you don’t cut through the coloured layer if insulation on your live and neutral wires beneath.
- Feed one end through the back of your lamp base till it hits the centre, then draw it up through the hole in the middle. Bring enough through so you can comfortably wire in your lamp holder.
- Take your lamp holder apart. The construction of these vary across manufacturers, but you should have a separate part of the base (which we’re going to glue in place once the wiring is done) and a separate part where you actually wire it in.
- Look at the connectors inside – some are ‘push in’, and make me very nervous indeed! Surely ‘push in’ can just as easily mean ‘pull out’ too?!? I’ve had a few of these and always use a drop of solder to hold the wires in place. I prefer not to take chances with a live current.
- I prefer lamp holders where you screw the ends of the wires in place to keep them secure. Match up your live and neutral (the gold connector is live). Twist the exposed copper wires and bend them back on itself so the separate copper strands are tightly held together, before inserting into the connectors and screwing tightly/soldering into place.
- Screw in a bulb, fit your plug and run a quick function test, before unplugging from the mains and gluing the bottom of your lamp holder in place in the wooden base. Make sure this is 100% secure and wait at least 10 minutes before screwing in the wired element of the lamp holder, and pulling any excess flex out of the back of the wooden base.
- If you want to include an inline switch, you can fit it now. They seem to work differently depending on where you get them from.
- Some, you cut the flex completely in half; strip the ends and wire in in neutral and live to their own connectors. These screw in place securely and are simple and easy to fit. Just clip the cover on when you’re done.
- Others (which I’ve just accidentally purchased approximately a million of) require you to cut and strip only the live wire. You leave the neutral intact and feed it around the edge of the inside of the switch casing, and the live wire feeds into 2 connectors. These, apparently, are universally ‘push in’ and so for my part, require a drop of solder on each live connection to make sure it doesn’t slip out and kill somebody, or else develop a loose connection and burn the bl**dy house down…
- Once you’ve fitted your switch, carefully conduct another quick function test before finally fitting the whole job together
- Use short wood screws to attach your munsen ring backplates to the wooden base. Slot the bottle carefully over the bulb and lamp fitting.
- Place the constructed copper piping over the bottle, feeding the downwards-pointing piece of pipe which emerges from the T-join into the bottle neck. The bottom half should slot neatly into the secured munsen rings.
- Lastly, screw the top of the munsen rings tightly into place, holding the copper piping in place.
- As a final touch you can add individual embellishments, as I did with the Dalmore with a featured stag's head, or bee brooches for the JD honey etc. Thsi weekend I'm working on turning bottle caps and corks into built-in dimmer switches... I'll update if I manage to get it right!
Your super-cool, all-your-friends-will-want-one, (commemorative) steampunk bottle lamp is complete!
I hope you had fun : )
Participated in the