Tin Can Reading Lamp




About: I am a paper engineer, writer, maker and chemist wannabe. In addition to pop-up cards I design and build furniture, lights, costumes or whatever I happen to need at the time. Lipstick, a mixing studio, all-p...

A good reading light is hard to find. I don't find regular table lights with shades comfortable for my eyes, halogens are too hot and harsh, indirect light is too diffuse... This lamp, using tin cans, a 3w LED bulb and a few simple materials and tools give you just the right amount of light, exactly where you need it. Could not be more efficient or restful for your eyes, especially when you turn off all the other lights. Cheap to make and to run (the same number of watts as regular incandescent night lights!) and cute in a WallE sort of way.

Step 1: Materials

Two clean 16 oz. cans
One 24" gooseneck pipe
One 1/8 IPS threaded pipe (approximately 4 1/2")
One edison socket with a 90 degree 1/8F cap
One toggle switch
Two female connectors (1/2" or 1/4" pieces of pipe threaded on the inside)
Electric wire and plug (I used an old unused extension cord I had hanging around, and for inside the lamp, when I found the extension cord too thick to wire easily, I cut up an extra computer power cord I had and used the smaller wires from that).
One weighted base
An LED JRD bulb
Not pictured in the group photo, but important nonetheless, a small rubber ring to protect the electrical cord as it enters the can.
Also forgotten in the group picture, you'll need 2 or 3 wire connectors

I tried to use as many items as possible from old, broken lights and appliances (including the light base -- it had been in my closet for years waiting for its turn to shine...) but some things I got from
and the light I got from
Hurry, though, because Don is selling off his inventory and moving on to other things... you'll be able to find similar lights elsewhere, but you won't find such a good deal.

Step 2: Prepare the Base Can

Drill three holes in the first can. The first, centered on the top, is for the gooseneck pipe. The second on the top, is for the toggle switch. The third towards the rim is for the electrical cord.

Note: if your weighted base is designed with a passage for the electrical cord you won't need to drill the third hole near bottom of your can

Step 3: Prepare the Pipe

Cut a hole in the pipe so the electrical cords can come out inside the base can. I used my dremel tool but drilling a few holes side by side would work too. Either way file it down so the edges aren't sharp... you don't want this piece to scrape away your insulation as you wire the lamp.

Step 4: Assemble Small Parts

Put in the toggle switch and the little rubber ring to protect the electric cord.

Step 5: Test the Length of the Threaded Pipe

Put a female adapter on the treaded pipe and insert it inside the can. Screw on the gooseneck pipe from outside the can. Screw the can into your base. My threaded pipe needed to be approximately 4 1/8" but my female adapter was some weird piece I'd taken off another lamp. If you're using a proper adapter yours will probably need to be longer. If it's the right length it will hold everything together snugly.
If it's too long, chop off a chunk and test it again. Too short, either use a longer adaptor or get another piece of pipe. Once it all fits snugly together, take off the weighted base and the threaded pipe. Leave on the gooseneck pipe (attached on the inside to the female adaptor).

Step 6: Wire the Base

It never hurts to go over the basics:
White is neutral, it starts from the wider of the 2 prongs on the american plug and connects directly to the socket. Usually it's the ribbed side when both wires are the same color.

Black is hot. On my extension cord it was the smooth side. Sometimes it is the side with printed writing. Starting from the narrow prong it goes through the on/off switch to the middle of the socket.

In this case, after the cord goes into the can cut the hot wire and connect it to one of the wires from the toggle switch (it doesn't matter which). Then connect the other wire from the toggle switch to the socket using a spare piece of wire (preferably black to avoid confusion).

I first tried to wire the whole lamp with my extension cord, but the wires were too thick and it was too hard to push them through. Instead, I slit open a spare computer power cord and used the smaller, color coded wires I found there.

After connecting the hot wire to the toggle switch, push both hot and neutral wire through your hole in the threaded pipe, and up the gooseneck pipe.

Screw the threaded pipe into the gooseneck via the female adaptor inside the can.

Step 7: Prepare the Top

Screw your lamp into the socket and place it in the can so the rim of the bulb is just about even with the rim of the can. Mark the approximate spot where you'll need to drill the hole in your can.

Drill the hole so your pipe fits through.

Step 8: Wire the Top

This is theoretically easy but it really helps to have small hands...

Take your socket apart.

Optional, to center the socket:
Put a small piece of threaded pipe into the female cap on the socket
Put the female connector onto the back of the socket
Without the can, attach this to the gooseneck pipe to make sure it will all tighten nicely together. If necessary you can use a washer or 2. Take it all apart.

Fit the gooseneck pipe through the hole you made in the can.
Thread your wires through the base of your socket (don't forget the washers, if you're using them!).
Screw it all together by holding the socket steady and swinging the gooseneck and base around.
Connect your wires to the socket.
Screw the socket together.
It will just take one person to screw on the lightbulb.

Step 9: Read!

Turn it on, and enjoy!

But if you don't like the look, the next step will show you an alternative...

Step 10: Mahogany Bedside Reading Lamp

This was the original light I made using this general idea, but I did not take pictures as I assembled it, so the instructable I made for it isn't quite so detailed. Still, it should be enough to get you started...

You can see other things I've made here.



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    21 Discussions


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    sorry could u put a link cause the ref link u got for some reason wont open for me


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Hmm, that doesn't seem to work either, so cut and paste this into your browser: http://www.grandbrass.com/catalog.cfm?category=Pipe&subcategory=Flexible%20(Goose%20Neck)%20Pipe


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    awesome yeah for some reason my chrome browser wont launch the embeded links but the paste worked thank you again. hopefully they will sell by roll thats what im trying to get ;-)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Belsey, I missed this in your instructions and I was curious: how did you weight your lamp's base? Also, I remember from the comments on the fire lamp instructable, there's supposedly a need to ground the metal frame. Any short circuit in your wiring (however unlikely) will then knock out your house's fuse rather than turning the whole lamp hot. I think that's the rationale, anyway.

    I looked at your website and saw the clarinet lamp; wow, this site would go berserk if you posted that. It looks great. I think you should make another. If I come across a musical instrument, I'm going to do it.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I made a clarinet lamp about a decade ago. I found an old clarinet at a garage sale. The fingering was an old German style that is not used, so my kids couldn't use it. I put it horn side down on a black cermac disk. I got the lamp shade at a thrift store. Now...what I really want to make is a Leg Lamp just like the one from The Christmas Story. Anyone have any ideas???


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't weight the base -- that was a part I scavenged from an old broken lamp someone had thrown out. Keep your eyes open and I'm sure you'll be able to find parts, or else brass lamps (the web link is on the instructable) also carries them. Yes, I did think about grounding the lamp. It would be quite easy, just use the piece of wire with the 3 prong plug left over from your computer power cord, strip the end of the green wire and wrap it around the treaded pipe inside the base can so the wire will stay in contact even when you screw on the weighted base. I chose not to because a three prong plug can sometimes be a pain to plug in: most extension cords are 2 prong. But grounding it would definitely be safer and it's easy to do. I am fond of my clarinet lamp, but I didn't think it would make a great instructable because the whole thing depends on finding the instrument. It's not a project which can be reproduced easily. I'm glad you like it though. Good luck finding an old broken clarinet!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is adorable! Great project to do with my kids.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Not if you use this LED bulb. After a few hours of use the can is just pleasantly warm to the touch. I wouldn't use a halogen or regular incandescent bulb with this light because they would definitely make it burning hot.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very well done! I especially like the head-board in the last picture, rather rustic-modern. :D


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome Job! I will try to get the stuff to make this soon.