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Under-the-Sea Hawaiian Reef Lamp

Cathy Berenberg shapes fish and coral out of Hawaiian wood for her Under-the-Sea reef lamp.

Cathy Berenberg is a skillful carpenter.

Materials and Tools:

Hawaiian woods: mango, silky oak, narra, Cuban mahogany, bird's eye maple, macadamia nut wood
tree root
electrical wire with plug
brass tubing
lamp hardware, brass socket, lampshade
sandpaper, sanding sealer, sanding machine
lacquer-based finish
band saw
drill press
power hand drill
rotary tool
wood carving tools
hammer, chisel
paper fish template, pencil
safety equipment: safety glasses, respirator, ear protection, apron
glass fish eyes
1/4" diameter dowel


1. Select an attractive piece of 9" x 12" x 2" curly mango wood to make the lamp base. Cut the mango base with a band saw into a kidney bean shape.

2. Cut a decorative profile on the top edge of the base with a router fitted with an ogee bit. Drill a 1-1/2 inch hole, 3/4 inch deep in the center of the base, which will be the mortise for the central column of the lamp body.

3. Flip the base over and drill a recessed second hole 1/2 inch deep in the same location. The second hole will house the nut and washer for the electrical wiring.

4. Decide which edge will serve as the front of the base. Drill a 3/8-inch hole on the back side, parallel to the bottom face of the base. This hole will go from the back edge of the base to the central hole just drilled at the bottom. This channel (hole) will house the electrical cord as it comes out of the lamp body.

5. Apply a sanding sealer to the lamp base and spray with polyurethane to coat the base.

6. To turn the wooden column for the lamp body, select a 2" x 2" x 16" piece of bird's eye maple. Using a 4-way chuck, attach the wood to the lathe and turn it into a cylinder about 1-3/4 inch in diameter. Create a 3/4" x 1-1/2" tenon for the column to fit into the mortise.

7. Sand the column with 100-to 1000-grit sandpaper to achieve a fine finish. Add a sanding sealer and a lacquer-based polish. This process is performed with the lathe turning.

8. Drill a 7/16-inch hole through the center of the column to create a channel for the wiring. Mount a drill chuck on the tailstock of the lathe. Attach a 7/16 inch bit to the chuck and carefully drill through the column until the hole extends from one end to the other.

9. Choose pieces of narra wood and a piece of silky oak to carve two (or more) fish. The process is the same for both fish.

  • Select a 3/4" x 4" x 6" piece of wood. It helps to have extra wood to hold the work onto the workbench.
  • With a pencil draw the outline of the fish, tracing around the paper fish template.
  • Cut out the shape with a band saw leaving extra wood on the tail section so the fish can be clamped to the workbench.
  • Clamp the wood to the workbench and start carving the fish fins and body using small gouges and a mallet.

10. Flip the piece of wood over and work on the other side. When the body is almost complete, add facial details to the fish with a rotary tool.

11. When the lips and gills are finished, drill the holes for the eyes and glue in a pair of glass eyes.

12. Cut the fish on the band saw away from the remaining wood that had been used to clamp the board to the workbench. Smooth the fish with 220-grit sandpaper. On the drill press mounted with a 1/4 inch bit, drill a hole in the bottom of the fish and glue in a 1/4-inch dowel. This is how the fish will be attached to the base.

13. To make sea grass, use a 1/2" x 1/2" x 4" piece of mahogany or green poplar cut into narrow, wispy strips with the band saw. With a sanding flap wheel attached to the drill press chuck, sand the "grass" until smooth.

14. Make two forms of coral, one an outcropping and the second a plant-like coral form. In the outcropping form, shape several 2" x 1-1/2" x 1" pieces of macadamia nut wood into a "rock" using a belt sander to create the basic shape. Finish the rock with the flap wheel on the drill press.

15. Create the plant-like form from two 3/4-inch pieces of macadamia nut wood. Coral sometimes resembles a cactus in form.

  • Cut each piece of wood with several branches on the band saw.
  • The coral is shaped and sanded using numerous bits on a Foredom flex shaft tool.
  • Once each half of the coral has a pleasing cactus/coral shape the two pieces are glued together with an epoxy to form the final shape. This technique provides branches at many angles.
  • Using a micro plane, file the base of the coral to form a 1/4-inch tenon.

16. Decide where each element looks best on the base and drill 1/4-inch holes in the base to attach the fish, the coral and the grass (clumped together to create a 1/4 inch tenon).

17. Glue the reef elements in place with dowels that were glued to the bottoms of the wood pieces. Attach the lamp column into the 1-1/2 inch hole in the base and glue in place.

18. To wire the lamp:

  • Insert a 3/8-inch brass threaded tube through the lamp body and secure with a nut, lock washer and washer at the top and bottom.
  • Push the electrical cord through the 3/8-inch hole drilled through the mango base and then up through the lamp column leaving about three inches of extra cord at the top.
  • Slip an electrical socket over the cord and screw it onto the threaded brass tube extending from the lamp body.
  • Connect the electrical wires to the socket.
  • Add the lampshade harp.

19. Add the shade and a finial and screw in a light bulb in your Under-the-Sea Hawaiian reef lamp.

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