The Nitty-Gritty Details of a Lamp

After submitting my drawings and project plan, we started our “mid-semester break”. Quotes because who ever heard of a break during the middle of a semester? Anyway, I used the time to work out some finer details of my lamp before progressing with the build.

I ordered some warm-metallic vinyl online and tested strips of it coiled in the head of my lamp to help add some reflections and boost the intensity of the light. I really liked the effect when it was turned on, looking warm and bright. When turned off, however, I felt it was a bit tacky, like a strip-club with the lights turned on. The yellow tone of the vinyl didn’t work well with the red tones of the birch and copper. I looked at some copper-toned vinyl, but couldn’t find any that was reflective enough to do the job.

My first attempt at building the collar mechanism revealed some issues. Putting it together was difficult. The plan was to cast the final piece from pewter, but I was unsure about how much the mould could handle and although my design was intricate, I really didn’t want to break it up and make it even more difficult to put together.

The springs I used were a good size, only just fitting into the small amount of space I’d allowed for them, but nowhere near strong enough to hold the mechanism together, especially when the birch strips were interfering.

The springs and screws were awkward to assemble on the stems and the screw-heads caused interference between the mechanism and the lamp stems. I couldn’t assemble the piece tightly enough in this manner and that was part of the reason it didn’t function. The overall mechanism just wasn’t tight enough to grip the stems.

I removed the springs and replaced them with rare-earth magnets, which had a better size-to-strength ratio. The mechanism still didn’t work. I realised that the thin edges of each stem didn’t give the mechanism enough purchase – I’d need to apply pressure along a different axis.

Putting that whole shit-show out of my mind, I focused on the simpler problem of how to mount the string of fairy-lights in the head of my lamp. I experimented with wire and glue. While the results weren’t bad, I still thought I could achieve a more elegant result in another way.

My current plan is to sew the wire into a separate curved piece, creating a standalone web that can be slotted into the main piece and fixed discreetly to the central stem.  I also experimented with discreetly hiding some higher-powered LEDs in the mix, but decided that this would be far too difficult to do in the time I had.

My 4.5v lights arrived and I bought a power adapter with variable voltage outputs to test them and compare them to my original string. One set was a much bluer tone than the other and they still weren’t as bright as I wanted them to be. Fortunately, I was able to test my original set of fairy lights and learn that they would be able to use the same voltage and thus cram even more lights into the lamp head. This was set to be more of a decorative bedside lamp than a highly-functional desk lamp.

I tried pre-tinning the copper cable by heating it with the soldering iron for a long time, but the solder still wouldn’t stick. A peer advised that I should try burning the ends of it with a lighter and that did the job!

When my mind had settled, I was able to come up with a new idea for the collar mechanism. This time, using an opposing-force magnet configuration to grip the long side of the stems.

It would be intricate work, trying to get the rail-system to operate smoothly, but the flat segments would make a lot of it easier to build.

As beautifully as this worked on its own, it still wasn’t strong enough to have any impact on the birch lamp stems.

While constructing and testing this, I simultaneously tested my concept of a terrazzo veneer. It worked surprisingly well. I was so impressed by the results, that I was worried that people would think it was a sticker. I realised how effective it was, however, when a peer asked me what terrazzo was made of and how I got it to ‘bend like that’.

Once again focusing my mind on the collar mechanism, I came up with some alternative options. The first was a silicone sphincter, which I realised very quickly wouldn’t work. IMG_9020

The second utilised exactly what works in the prototype; jarring at an angle. Instead of trying to get smooth horizontal movement, I needed to allow the collar to spring into an angle.

I spoke with my lecturer and the jewellery workshop technician to discuss potential materials. I thought a spring-bending material layered with some rigid material would be mechanically effective. I knew that warm tones and separated layers would be aesthetically effective. I also wondered whether this configuration would allow me to get away with a single collar, instead of a pair.

I visited Southern Springs, bringing my prototype and drawings, and discussed the design with an expert spring-maker there. He helped me pick some spring steel and generously gave me a short length for free.


Having a material to feel in my hands, I was better able to visualise the physical elements of my collar design. The spring steel will be covered in layers of copper shim, and held rigid with birch plates. Finally, some affordance will be granted with a terrazzo rim. I’ll try building a prototype with these materials and hope that it works well enough to use in my final piece.

Getting down to the base, I modelled my drawings in CAD, tracing the pattern for the birch bends.

I scanned my terrazzo pieces and tried to formulate a cut-plan for my design. The gap created by the cutter is about 1mm thick; slightly too tight for my birch material plus glue, but too wide if two lines were cut side-by-side. I tried to fit all the individual pieces on my broken terrazzo, to no avail.

I decided I’d need to sand all my birch pieces to the point that they’d squeeze into the 1mm gap and just hope that that worked. I generated a file with lines instead of shapes, keeping in mind the lead-ins that the water-jet cutter would require to operate.

I tested a cutting simulation on the water-jet cutting software to make sure that it would work. The program runs. Now the only concern is what the actual material does – but that’s something I’ll have to try on the real thing!


Once I was confident in the terrazzo shapes, I measures the curves so that I could match them to the birch shapes.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 13.19.30Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 13.28.55

Finally, with my stems and other parts fitting into a cut plan for my pieces of birch, I’ve gathered up all my digital files, which are cross-compatible. Some laser cutting, some water-jet cutting, and some CNC routing. While I twiddle my thumbs waiting for the workshop to be open or the machines to be available, I put together the mould that I’m going to bend the head around.

I am ready damnit!

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