24 February 2014


The combined forces of a storage closet full of copper and the back-ordered-til-June status of CB2's VERY lust-worthy Marble Floor Lamp (see also: this is happening, so $200 for a lamp is not) led to this week's HOW DO YOU DO.

On paper it's a doozy, but once you get going it's fairly simple - and as with any project using natural materials, there's beauty in the chaos and you don't have to sweat things too hard. I did this a few times and ended up with both a floor lamp and something smaller for my nightstand; I couldn't love either of them more. The full how-to is after the jump!


1/2" copper tubing + fittings (amount dependent on design) /// a bag of fast-setting concrete /// an empty milk carton, lid removed /// an exacto knife /// sandpaper /// a socket kit /// a pipe cutter (similar) /// a sharpie /// tape measure /// a bucket /// something to scoop + pour concrete (I used a disposable cup) /// water /// a wooden paint stirrer /// packing tape /// goo gone /// electrical tape (to match your cord kit) /// a level /// a large light bulb (both mine are from CB2) /// jute twine (optional) /// concrete/metal epoxy (optional) /// white spray paint (optional)

STEP ONE. Before you buy copper you'll want to draw out your design - here are the schematics for both of my lamps. Quick note: it's important that any pipe that sits in/runs through the concrete horizontally is an inch or two longer than the carton - any shorter and you'll run the risk of it being displaced when you're pouring concrete.

You always hear that copper's not cheap (and it's not!) but the scale of this project is tiny, and I was able to cut two lamps out of one $15, 10' tube (with some leftover to monkey around with for other projects).

STEP TWO. Once all materials are on hand, eyeball the inside of the milk carton and determine the front (there will be a seam running along the interior of one "wall" - that's NOT the front) (unless you like it, and then it is). Using the tape measure and Sharpie, make a horizontal line two inches up from the bottom of the carton, then determine the vertical midpoint of the carton side. Center a short section of copper tube over where those lines intersect (use it like a spyglass to make sure you're centered!), and trace.

STEP THREE. Carefully exacto around the interior of your markered-circles (as opposed to the exterior - erring on the smaller side will keep concrete from leaking once you've poured it). While you've got the exacto out, slice off the bottom of the carton. Be as careful as you can to cut level lines all the way around - it'll all come out in the wash as long as you don't get too wild with the blade.

STEP FOUR. Double-layer packing tape to make a patch for the bottom of the carton – you're making a sandwich here, with the STICKY sides of the tape being the PB + J and the non-sticky sides being the bread. Make it large enough to fully cover the bottom, with an inch+ of overlap. With your carton flipped upside down, lay the patch overtop, then use long pieces of tape to secure the patch to the carton, first across, and then top to bottom, slicing your corner seams so everything lays flat. That might not make sense, so here's a quick diagram. The point is to totally seal all sides of the new "bottom" so that wet concrete can't escape.

STEP FIVE. Remove any price stickers with Goo-Gone, and cut your copper pieces to size. While there's a chaaaaaance you can get a Home Depot employee to do this for you, it's my understanding that as a rule, they don't cut copper. I shelled out $25 for an HDX ratchet pipe cutter but I'll definitely be using it for other projects (and I can vouch for it being easy to use); you score a less intense one for about ten bucks. Follow the package instructions, and cut your pipe to fit your schematic.

STEP SIX (OPTIONAL). I got the white effect on the base of the table lamp by painting the interior of the carton with a flat white spraypaint. Give it two quick coats, and let it dry before moving on.

STEP SEVEN.  Attach your copper fitting to one end of your tubing section, and make sure they're pushed all the way into each other. Fit it into your carton, through the holes you cut, from front to back. The tubing itself should go in easily; the carton should resist the fitting. VERY gently wiggle the fitting into the carton, until the interior of the angle butts up against the exterior of the carton. The place where the tubing enters the fitting MUST be on the inside of the carton, so the concrete can lock them together.

STEP EIGHT. With the carton, the level, your vertical tubing piece, the stirrer and the concrete scoop close at hand, prepare to mix the concrete. They're not kidding with that QUICK SET talk, so once this process starts you're in it. Mix concrete + water according to package directions; my package directions were vague, so here's my best advice: it shouldn't be soupy, and you don't want it too dry. Add more concrete or more water to swing things back in the other direction if you feel you've gone too far. Trust your gut/don't overthink it/just mix it up and hope for the best.

STEP NINE. Place your vertical tubing piece into the fitting, then start scooping concrete mix into the carton. As soon as the interior tubing is covered, gently but firmly tap-tap-tap the carton against the floor after each scoop to push the air to the top. Scoop, scoop, scoop.

I was surprised how much concrete mix it took for each lamp, and if you run out of concrete and need to mix more, do it but do it fast. MAKE SURE your vertical tubing is sitting perfectly straight - for my 5' lamp I was able to just stand back and eyeball it, and for the shorter lamp I needed to rely on the level. Monitor it for about five minutes to make sure it doesn't start to lean to any one side, then go about your biz. Let dry for at least 24 hours.

STEP TEN. While your base is drying, prep your wiring. I used a cord kit I had on hand, cut and stripped the wires, and after Step 12 reconnected each, covered each connection with electrical tape, then completely wrapped them back together so that the cord was no longer "disrupted." It's here where I'm going to tell you to that I am not an electrician, that there ARE other wiring options that don't require cutting a cord kit, and that if you have any concern or questions about this step to please consult someone who does this PROFESH.

STEP ELEVEN. I waited a full 24 hours between pouring concrete and removing the carton, and it's probably a good move. Remove the carton completely.

STEP TWELVE. Assemble the copper structure of your lamp completely, and (totally optional) wrap any exposed cord at top with jute twine. Pull the cord kit all the way through (feel free to disassemble and pull the cord through one piece or a few pieces at a time - the angles of the fittings can be a little tricky), then finish your electrical work. You can cover the cord with more jute twine or not - totally up to you.

STEP THIRTEEN. Attach any cosmetic fittings – I really liked the look of the above straps (during one attempt I tried to set these in the concrete, but it wasn't VISUALLY SUCCESSFUL), and so added them on at the end. You might want to snag these regardless if you're working with a taller lamp design – you can epoxy into place, and it'll help shore up any forward lean that you've got going on.

STEP FOURTEEN. Clean any concrete-y little fingerprints off your copper, screw in your bulb and plug in! CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE A LAMP.

A few parting tips: When I was researching this I read a few tutorials that used plastic or glass as a mold for the concrete. I haven't given that a shot, but I would recommend a milk carton as your best PAPER OPTION. It's already lined to hold liquid and it'll save you some time; otherwise/if that shape isn't floating your boat, you can line cardboard/posterboard/what have you with packing tape and you should be fine.

I had no idea concrete had a ton of rocks in it. You won't see them; don't be scared (I was totally scared).

You can absolutely just stick your vertical copper tubing + angled fitting INTO the carton/concrete mold; I'd only recommend this if you're working with a shorter length of tubing. As mentioned, getting the wire through the angled fittings can be tricky, and it's really helpful to be able to pull things apart (especially if your fitting is 90º, which it most likely will be).


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Blogger H said...

Morgan this is fantastic! Love how they turned out.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Panda Head said...

thank you SO much!

11:00 PM  
Blogger Abigail Babak said...

Wow really a amazing way of making the concrete lamp. Such a amazing invention. thanks for sharing the information with us.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Percy Jack said...

An amazing article. It’s nice to read a quality blog post knowledge about combined forces of a storage closet full of copper and the back-ordered-til-June status.
Sign bags

6:45 AM  

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