Steampunk Socket/Switchplate

Introduction: Steampunk Socket/Switchplate

This simple instructable will show you how to turn pieces of scrap wood into rustic, steampunk-looking switchplates.

My father-in-law recently finished renovating the barbeque area (churrasqueira) of our Brazilian beach house, and the plain plastic switchplates just didn't fit with his amazing brick and woodwork. I decided to take a few pieces of scrap wood leftover from one of his other projects, and turn them into custom made steampunk switchplates.

Since my father-in-law and I started exploring the world of steampunk together last year, I thought he would appreciate seeing one of his projects get a slight steampunk makeover. Plus I hate seeing good wood go to waste;-)

These wood switchplates really add a wonderful rustic flare to our outdoor area that was otherwise marred by ostentatious and out-of-place plastic.

Note: I know these switchplates lack the usual cogs and gears and bells and whistles associated with "steampunk," but I think the wood and brass should qualify them for consideration in the genre. And ceratinly the repurposing of old scrapwood and the DIY nature of this project adds to the steampunk street cred;-)  This is also one of the first steampunk projects on Instructables (if not the first) posted from Brazil!;-)

  • scrap wood
  • brass screws
  • gold metallic paint
  • pencil
  • Gorilla Glue (if necessary)
  • sandpaper (if necessary) 
  • wood stain (optional)

  • saw (power or hand saw, depending on type of wood)
  • rasp
  • hacksaw blade
  • chisel
  • grinder (optional)
  • clamp (optional)
  • screw driver
  • paint brush

Step 1: Select Wood

I had a few pieces of a beautiful Brazilian hardwood, which was leftover from another project, which I decided to use. Brazilians call this wood is "Angelim Pedra," pedra being the Portuguese word for rock or stone. I don't think this wood has a name in English, but the botanical name is "Hymenolobium petraeum." It's qualities make it a popular wood for flooring, and door and window frames, as it's about ten times harder than oak. I also chose this wood because the width was already cut to almost the exact width of a standard switchplate.

Step 2: Grind (or Sand) Wood

The wood I chose to use is so hard, I decided to use a grinder, rather than sanding it, to give it a worn, rustic look. I imagine you could do something similar with a sander, but I didn't have one available, and the grinder gave the desired weathered effect. It also gives it a nice sheen.

Step 3: Mark Wood

I made the mistake of marking the wood before I grinded it, so I repeated this process. Lay the original switchplate over your wood, and mark where you need to make holes, depending on what type of switch you're covering.

Step 4: Cut to Size

Depending on what type of wood you use, you'll need to decide what type of saw will best do the job. Since the wood I used is particularly hard, I decided to use a power saw for cutting.

Step 5: Make Switch Hole

I'm sure there are many ways to do this. I tried two. First I drilled a few holes, and than chiseled out the remainder. This worked fine when I was chiseling against the grain, because this wood is so hard, but when I tried the same technique chiseling with the grain, it split the wood. This is where the Gorilla Glue came in handy;-) Once the wood split, it actually made it easier to file the hole with a rasp and hacksaw blade. I'm sure this could also be done with a small rotary tool, but I didn't have one available.

Step 6: Glue and Clamp Split Wood

If you managed to make your hole without spliting the wood, congratualtions, and skip this step. If you did end-up splitting the wood like I did, no worries.  You'll just need a clamp and some glue. I happened to have Gorilla Glue available, and this did the trick.

Note: The Gorilla Glue I used produces copious amounts of foam, that hardens. I chose to scrape this off as it seeped out of the crack, and sprinkled a bit of sawdust to make the split less obvious. But since I was going for a rustic, slightly beaten, steampunk look, this actually added a bit of a weathered look.

Step 7: Paint Switch

I decided to paint my switches with a gold metallic paint, which contrasts nicely with the dark wood, and adds to the steampunk look of the finished product. Make sure the paint is dry before you add the wood switchplate.

Step 8: Drill Screw Holes

Carefully line up the old switchplate, and mark where the screw holes need to go, and then drill. I decided to add an additional counter sink, so the screws will flush with the plate. My switchboxes have two screws that hold the switch in place. These protrude slightly, so I also drilled partial holes in the back, to accomodate these screws, so that the switchplate will lie flush against the box.

Since I started with a nice dark piece of wood, and the grinder gave me the desired rustic effect, I decided not to use stain. But if you want a different color than the wood you started with, now is a good time to break out the wood stain, or maybe varnish.

Step 9: Install Switchplate

Once your paint is dry, and if you cracked the wood, your glue is dry, mount the plate with a pair of brass screws. These are available at most hardware stores, but if you're lucky, maybe you can salvage some from a discarded piece of furniture. And the brass screws certainly add a touch of class that plain aluminium screws just don't have!

Step 10: Update: Steampunk Socket

I decided to wait until I had the right tool to drill the socket plates, and was able to purchase a hole saw bit for my power drill. This worked like a charm on a piece of softer wood (Cendrinho), and I was able to cut a hole through one piece of the much harder Angelim Pedra, but on the second piece, the saw snapped, proving that my Brazilian hardwood was just a bit tougher than my Chinese saw. I guess the remaining sockets will have to wait...

ShopBot Challenge

Participated in the
ShopBot Challenge

Be the First to Share


    • Mason Jar Speed Challenge

      Mason Jar Speed Challenge
    • Pumpkin Challenge

      Pumpkin Challenge
    • Bikes Challenge

      Bikes Challenge

    7 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I really REALLY like this, and was thinking of adding them to my office. A problem is that the boxes that switches and other electric devices are mounted in should be fireproof. If there were a spark from a defective device or wire joint and it hits the wood a major fire could start. The use of wooden plates may also be illegal in many areas.


    Winged Fist
    Winged Fist

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Extraspect: The actual boxes are made of plastic, only the switchplates are wood.

    And this Brazilian hard wood is so dense that it would really need to be soaked in gasoline or some other accelerant before a spark started a fire.

    I've seen wooden switchplates for sale at Home Depot, which are made of much more easily ignitable pine, so I'm guessing they meet fire code?

    Thanks for your comments!

    Aeon Junophor

    Hi Winged Fist
    -Happy new Year-
    A really nice idea.
    I suppose now your home will get a complete new stylish steampunk look;-)))

    Well done
    Yours Aeon Junophor

    Winged Fist
    Winged Fist

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    And a very happy New Year to you Junophor and the rest of the German steampunks here on Instructables! Unfortunately my wife won't let me get away with turning our beach house into a steampunk emporium, but I will try to add a few elements here and there;-)

    Aeon Junophor
    Aeon Junophor

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    This might be your next step by step project for years........ to change the look inside;-))))


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Good work, the wood reminds me of Paduk, it looks like a silica based wood that dulls saw blades for fun.

    Steam and electricty seem almost anthetical, it is a fun challenge to force the two upon each other.

    Winged Fist
    Winged Fist

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Longwinters, I'm not familiar with Paduk, but I have reduced a power drill to a paper weight trying hang hooks for a hammock in piece of Brazilian hardwood;-)