Create a Steampunk Light Fixture
This free standing lantern could easily be adapted into a wall sconce and adds a retro, sci-fi flair to your living room, or your lab if you have one. Steampunk is the reimagining of the aesthetics and design of the 19th century, coupled with the technology of today.
Of course, enthusiasts will argue with my definition, but what’s important is that it’s cool and looks like it would fit in on the bridge of an H.G. Wells airship, or Jules Verne submarine. I found this glass and metal planter at an import store (two for the price of 1) and saw the possibilities.
Step 1 – Acquire the Body
The body of my lamp was a random find, but with some creative scrounging at garage sales, antique shops and import stores you can find something appropriate. It could be a planter, a bird cage, a storage container or anything else that fits the needs of the lamp. It should be at least a foot high, wide and deep, to accommodate the fixture and bulb, and of course, it must be see-through. Mine in enclosed in glass, but it doesn’t have to be.
It should have some kind of door or hatch to access the inside without taking it apart. Electric lamps of the 19th century were adapted from gas, oil and candle power, which means they had to be lit and blown out and handled. The early electrics inherited this, so the door on your lamp body helps set the fixture in the steampunk world.
Step 2 – Assemble and Wire the Fixture
You can get lamp parts at the home center or hardware store. Some even come in kits including the socket, a lamp pipe and a cord. I like to pick out the components separately, to design as I go. To match the theme, all the parts should have a brass finish.
Since the plug is too big to fit through the workings of the lamp, wire from the bottom up. Slip a washer and ¼-inch nut over the wire. Drill a ¼-inch hole in the center of the bottom of the body and feed the wire through the hole.
Inside the body, push the wire through the lamp pipe, which is a hollow metal rod, threaded at both ends. The length of the pipe determines the height of the fixture, so get a pipe that will stand the bulb about in the middle of the body of the lamp. The threaded end of the pipe fits through the hole in the bottom of the body. Push it through and secure it with the nut and washer on the cord.
The pipe stands up straight on its own, but if it looks a little stark to you, slip a decorative canopy over it. This isn’t functional, but adds a design element. You can find canopies that are plain or filigreed or embossed with most any kind of design. I chose a plain one, with an interesting shape.
Finally, feed the cord into the socket and split the two wires apart. Wrap each one wire around one of the post screws in the socket and then screw the socket down to the pipe.
Step 3 – Paint and Stain
Keeping the steampunk aesthetic in mind, pick your colors. Brass naturally resists corrosion, so it was in heavy use. My lamp is all metal, so anything that wasn’t actually brass I spray painted with brass tone, metallic spray paint. It doesn’t reflect as smoothly as real brass, but it still gives a good effect.
Iron and steel were also in heavy use, but corrosion was an issue, so these were almost always painted with a lacquer finish, usually in rich primary colors. Think of the blue of a London police box, the Red of a fire truck or the green of a steam engine, all invented in the period
The stain comes in if there’s exposed wood. Use a rich, dark, oaken stain.
Step 4 – Add a Bulb and Pick Your Spot
Electricity was new and interesting, so light bulbs were designed to be shown off. While you’re at the home center, get an Edison Bulb. They have thick filaments bent in interesting patterns, and picturesque glass bulbs. They’re more expensive than a normal incandescent, but they’re not just for light, they’re a design element.
Speaking of design element, that’s exactly what your new lamp is, so pick a spot where it will show up, and where it will throw interesting light into the room.
A Note on Gears
Clockwork is a big part of the steampunk look, and if you Google it you’ll find all sorts of accessories that include interlocking gears. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as far as I’m concerned, resist the temptation to cover your steampunk creations with gears that have no function. They’re better as an accent here and there, if you want to use them at all.
Like making your own lighting? Upcycle some shopping bags into creative lights.