'Gills' Wooden and Plexiglas Table Lamp

Chris Harvan from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, takes time to show us one of his smaller works, a contemporarily designed wood and Plexiglas table lamp.

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Materials and Tools:

graph paper or CAD-type software
hockey-puck style undercabinet halogen light with UV filter
in line switch to match gauge and color of lamp cord
1/4-20 threaded rod
1/4-20 insert nuts
1/4-20 bolt caps
Plexiglas or metal tube to accommodate 1/4-20 bolt caps
1/4" Plexiglas or Lexan
3/4" or 1" solid wood or plywood
#8 wood screws
iron-on veneer tape
woodworking tools
wood finish
analine wood dyes
black china markers
big eraser
Contact paper
craft knife
black enamel paint
aerosol wood finish


1. An accurate plan is essential to keep from wasting material. Find the diameter of the hockey puck light that you will be using and plan all dimensions around it, keeping in mind the thickness of your wood and the diameter of the tube you will be using. A top view will help locate all drilling operations in the wood and Plexiglas. A side view will allow you to decide the height of all components.

2. If using solid wood: mill, join and plane box material to size. Try to pull all pieces from one continuous length to maintain grain flow on box sides. Miter corners from this stock. Test fit sides in clamp. If satisfied: First drill exit hole for lamp cord on box "back" and then glue and clamp. Two brad nails on each mitered joint on two opposite sides will help to reinforce joint (these can be filled later).

3. Cut your base to size. Cut your Plexiglas "shades" to size using a sharp plywood or crosscut blade on a table saw. Raise the blade so the gullets almost clear the thickness of the material. Plexiglas throws a lot of debris on a table saw and it is pinchy and often hot. Wear eye protection; full face protection and a close-fitting long sleeve shirt would be best.

4. Now you have this square pile of items, you need to find the centers on all of them to generate your layout. Using a straightedge, connect the corners so there is an X over all your flat pieces. Using pencil on the wood and permanent marker on the Plexiglas. Take your mitered box and center it on the base using its corners. Mark your inside and outside tolerances of the box on the base. Make a mark in the center of the length of each box side on the base to be used in step 5. On the base, measure from the center to where you want your rod and tube to fall, not too close to the hockey puck and not too close to the inside edge of the box, and clearly mark these four locations. Pile up your Plexiglas on top of the base and line up the X's with the X on the base. Clamp this arrangement together carefully, preferably at the corner of a tabletop. Do not clamp over any of your rod hole locations. Use a center punch on the topmost Plexiglas to keep your drill bit from skipping across the surface. Drill a small pilot hole just to get things started through all the layers. Unclamp.

5. With the same bit in your drill, bore pilot holes at the four marks you made that fall underneath where the box will sit. From the bottom of the base, drill countersunk pilot holes to accommodate your wood screws. Decide the final orientation of the box to the base. On the interior of the box, make a deep and permanent mark that will not get sanded through. Make the same mark on the corresponding side of the base where the walls of the box will hide it. Align box to base and clamp. Carefully flip unit over and use same countersink bit to create pilot holes into your box walls. Temporarily screw unit together to test pilot holes and fit. If good, unclamp but leave screwed together.

6. With a Forstner bit and at the first pilot holes, drill a counterbore on the bottom of the base so that the head of the 1/4-20 insert nuts will seat slightly deeper than flush with the bottom of the base. Then, at the center of this counterbore, drill the appropriate size hole for the 1/4-20 insert nuts to be jammed into the base. Using a hammer, do the jamming part and seat them well.

7. At the pilot holes on the Plexiglas, drill generous passthrough holes to accommodate the 1/4-20 rod through two of the sheets. On the third, which will be the top, drill larger holes (generous again) to fit the outside diameter of the 1/4-20 bolt caps. At the centers of the two lower shades, center punch and use a drill press and clamps to drill a large hole in each shade using a sharp, large Forstner bit. The size of this bit will be relative to the placement of your rod/support system and size of hockey puck. To be safe, make sure these large holes are at least a 1/2 inch away from each of the other four holes. This hole will allow more light to reach the topmost shade.

8. Cut four lengths of 1/4-20 rod with some extra length on them. Thread through the top of the base until they reach the bottom of the 1/4-20 insert nuts. Cut four pieces of tube to identical desired length and fit over rod (at least 6 inches in length to keep first shade from being too close to halogen light). Slide first shade with large center hole onto rod. Cut eight lengths of identical tube and slide four of them over rod. Slide middle shade into place and then last spacers. Using a marker, make a mark at the height of the last spacer onto one of the threaded rods. Disassemble and cut all rod to this length.

9. Separating the base from the box makes clean up, sanding and finishing easy. Chamfer, ogee or detail the exposed edges of solid wood as you see fit. If plywood has been used, use iron on veneer tape to hide laminations. Fill nail holes with matching filler. All Plexiglas pieces should have all edges filed, surfaces sanded, and edges "broken." The idea is make the material translucent rather than transparent, and this can easily be accomplished with regular sandpaper and a random orbital sander.

10. There are nearly endless varieties of surface treatments and finishes that could be used on the wood. One could simply let the wood speak for itself and be revealed through a linseed oil based finish, or use the wood as a canvas for whatever decoration you see fit.

11. Do a color study and overall design. Mix aniline dyes and test compatibility — not all colors play well together. Once satisfied, layout design in pencil. Use aniline dyes almost like watercolors. Let dry. Adhere Contact paper. Slice out areas to be painted with black enamel. Apply enamel. Let dry. Remove Contact paper. Use china markers to create interesting, tapering marks like branches, capillaries or insect legs. Grab big, fat eraser and aggressively shove the marks made by the china markers in sweeping, blurring fields of motion. Apply spray-based finish as brushed finishes will ruin the drawing you have just created; water-based brushing will pull aniline pigment from the wood surface and oil-based finishes will smear the china marker.

12. Align box to base, screw together and clamp it to a tabletop. Feed the electrical lamp cord through the backside of box wall from the inside. Attach hockey puck to base and wire cord end and the switch (Do not touch the bulb, as doing so will cause it to wear out faster). Thread rod into base until it bottoms out on table, then back it off a few turns. Feed first set of longer tubes onto rod, then Plexiglas shade #1, then smaller Plexiglas spacers, then shade #2, then last set of spacers. Feed shade #3 and thread 1/4-20 bolt caps. Use appropriate Allen key to tighten each one until just past snug.

Web site: www.thealternativeobject.com

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