Wood Turned Table Lamp




So I set myself a challenge - make a lamp only out of wood using only a wood lathe and that includes the lampshade!

To start with you need to select the right sort of timber. Obviously a dark timber like mahogany is not likely to allow light to shine through it unless ultra thin or pierced with a pattern. So I looked for a light coloured timber which might work. I live in England and so there are plenty of trees to choose from.

After some research I settled on poplar or birch, mainly because I could get some for free!

Step 1: First Steps From Log to Basic Shape

So managed to get hold of some freshly cut silver birch. Take note - here I am using what is classed as wet, green or unseasoned timber.

Timber is seasoned to allow it to stabilize. If timber dries out to fast it will shrink and often form defects like warps, cracks or splits. It can also develop fungal growths if not cared for correctly. This is something we don't want in this case so it needs to be dried out slowly or under controlled conditions.

The slow method is air drying where on average it takes about 1 year per inch of timber to be suitably dry. Kiln drying takes a much shorter time and is more controlled but you need a kiln which I don't have.

In this case I was able to use the fact that this is wet fresh timber to my advantage, as wet timber is flexible and so less likely to split - we hope!

The first step is to mount the log on to the Lathe between centre spurs, remove the bark and turn the log into a cylinder making sure one end is flattened off. I then remounted the log into lathe using a face plate on one end to give it more support while still supporting the other end with a live centre spur. I then gradually develop the shape of the lampshade. I went for a simple straight sided shape so it would be easier to track the thickness I had reached.

As this is wet timber remember to wrap the wood in a damp towel so it does not dry out between turnings.

Step 2: Turning the Outside Shape

Now the fun starts.

First hollow out the inside leaving a support spur for as long as possible. As this was a simple shape I was able to gently draw my bowl gouge along the tool rest to keep it in a nice straight line, making sure I did not try to take off to much in one go as I did not want to dig in and ruin the whole thing.

Gradually work deeper into the lampshade until you have reached the depth you desire - in my case deep enough for the light bulb and fitting to be covered by the shade. Don't make the edges too thin at this point, 3-5mm is fine.

Once at the right depth it is time to remove the support spur and smooth of the far end of the lamp. I also used a 25mm forstner bit to drill deeper into what will be the top of the shade so that it will allow heat to escape from the top.

I then did a finishing cut on the inside of the sides of the lampshade and sanded it down using 100 grit to 800 grit sandpaper.

After all this fairly easy work it is time to start to take some risks as you pare down the thickness of the sides of the lampshade to about 1mm from the outside. I mounted a high power torch onto the side of the tailstock to shine into the lamp and then took off the thinnest of slices from the outside until I could consistently see the light through to now very thin lampshade sides.

Step 3: The Finished Lampshade

Almost there!

Time to sand the whole shade very carefully. Supporting it on the inside in the best way you can. In my case I used my hand but in the interest of safety I would recommend a jam-chuck mounted on the live centre of the tailstock.

Having sanded I gave it a number of coats of friction polish until I reached the desired finish.

Now for the last part of the lampshade removing it from the remaining wood that is attached to the faceplate. Here I cut a small step about 15mm beyond the inside length of the shade then I used my parting tool which is about 6mm wide to cut into the top, remembering that I had already drilled a 25mm air hole beyond that total length.

I allowed the top part to dry slowly indoors so that the moisture would not effect the polish. The sides where so thin they dried out while sanding them! After a small amount of sanding of the top and more friction polish and buffing a finished lampshade is created. Well almost!

Step 4: Lamp Base Designs 1 and 2

All that is left is to make the lamp base and fit it all together.

I brought a clip on light like this one and took it apart.

My first attempt at a base was based around some mother of pearl napkin holders I had been given that I thought would sparkle in the light. Here I turned some more birch into oval ball shapes with straight sections between them. Then sliced through the straight sections with my bandsaw and drilled holes for the electric wire. I then turned a wide base and threaded the wire through and used a hot glue gun to hold it all together.

The problem was I was not happy with how it looked. So back to the drawing board.

I decided to keep it simple and so took 4 pieces of 60mm square birch and sliced off a corner along the length before I glued them all together so there was a hole through the middle for the wire. Then I turned a nice gentle curved design which I then sanded and polished in the same way as the shade.

For the electrics I threaded the wire through the hole and cut a small slot across the bottom so the wire would not stop it from sitting on a flat surface. I then glued the light fitting into the hole in the top.

To fit the lampshade I got a piece of thin metal sheet and drilled a hole into it. Then cut 3 arms slightly longer than width of the lampshade and bent the ends so I fitted snuggly about 25mm inside the shade, thus hiding the fitting. Once in place I used a hot glue gun to hold it in place.

Now to sit back and enjoy the gentle glow given off by the defused light and admire my creation.

Hope you enjoyed this instructable and it inspires some creativeness!

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    7 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Great ! …

    I was hoarding the idea of such a lamp shade for years but always though it wold be next to impossible to reach such a fine thickness without breaking the whole thing on the lathe.

    Now I know it can be done.

    I had an other question though that prevented me from starting the project : I always thought the shade would warp or break after the wood dried out. Do you have any answer to this ?…

    Thaïs for posting anyway.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Not to much skill - just take it slow and use sharp tools.