I really have a thing for lamps. I roam thrift stores admiring them— the weirder, the better — and pause on catalog pages with cool fixtures. Today I'm happy to share a guest tutorial on how to make your own industrial-style floor lamp out of pipes. Set this baby in front of your exposed brick wall and sip a craft cocktail while you admire your handiwork. You built a lamp!
The how-to is by Matthew Lyons, self-proclaimed handyman and blogger for HomeDaddys.com. Here's what Matthew has to say:
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Like most red-blooded Americans, I love industrial pipe lighting. There’s a certain derelict nostalgia about lamps and chandeliers made from old metal plumbing that just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and manly inside. Unfortunately, that feeling isn’t shared by my wallet.
I’ve been lusting after an industrial pipe floor lamp for years now but the price tags people attach to these things are utterly ridiculous. The majority of multi-bulb floor-length pipe lamps available online or in stores sell for $400 - $1,000. As a guy on a lower middle-class income with a wife and a kid to support, I just can’t justify spending that kind of money on what amounts to a few lengths of pipe, some wire and a couple vintage light bulbs.
So, considering how simple these things are, I figured I could just build my own pipe lamp for half the cost of buying one. Having never wired anything before in my life, I was a little worried how this project would turn out. Surprisingly, though, it was super-easy to make. The entire lamp can be assembled by hand like some sort of awesome adult Erector Set. As I predicted, the wiring was by far the hardest part of the entire build – but even that took less than two hours and I didn’t even set the house on fire when I plugged it in. This made my wife very happy.
Here’s how you can build one of these awesome industrial pipe lamps for your own house or apartment or office or whatever dark corner of your life begs illumination.
When planning out my DIY industrial pipe lamp, I decided that I wanted to go with a tree-style design with three bulbs, for no other reason than I saw something similar on Etsy and thought it looked cool.
I ended up purchasing all the plumbing for this project from Home Depot. Coincidentally, I ended up buying everything else from Home Depot as well. All in all the total bill was $180 – less than half of what a similar lamp would cost in-store.
You might be able to spend even less if you search for the parts online – it just seemed easier to me to get everything in one haul so that I could start building the lamp immediately. Here’s the shopping list:
You’re probably going to want to get these lengths of pipe at a hardware store. Unless you really like ordering heavy things online, that is.
1x 36” Long ¾” Black Metal Pipe
2x 12” Long ¾” Black Metal Pipes
4x 8” Long ¾” Black Metal Pipes
3x 6” Long ¾” Black Metal Pipes
2x 5” Long ¾” Black Metal Pipes
1x 2” Long ¾” Black Metal Pipe
6x ¾” Black Metal Pipe Close Connectors
7x ¾” Black Metal Pipe Elbows - 90°
5x ¾” Galvanized Metal Pipe Tees
1x ¾” Galvanized Metal 4-Way Pipe Splitter
3x 1”-to-3/4” Black Metal Reducing Couplers
4x ¾” Galvanized Metal Pipe Floor Flanges
1x ¾” Black Metal Pipe Nut
I wanted to go all black metal with this project but Home Depot was out of the black versions of some of the connectors I needed. So I made do by getting the silver galvanized metal versions and spray painting them black in the back yard. The spray paint I used is listed in “Other Stuff.”
You can get all this stuff in the Lighting section of your local hardware store. Ask an associate to cut you some lamp wire off of one of the store reels – it’s a lot cheaper than buying a standard reel of the stuff.
1x 15 foot Lamp Power Cord (16 Gauge)
4x Keyless Phenolic Light Sockets
10 Feet of Lamp Wire (16 Gauge)
1x Package Winged Wire Connectors (Min, 2x #18 Gauge – Max, 3x #12 Gauge)
3x Feit Electric Original Vintage 60w Bulbs
The Other Stuff
You’re going to need more than just plumbing and wires to build your lamp. Chances are good you probably have some of this stuff lying around in your garage or basement but if you don’t, make sure to pick some up before you start.
1x Can Rustoleum Textured Black Spray Paint
Paper Towels (Lots of them)
Grease-Fighting Household Cleaner of Your Choice (I used Green Apple)
A Small Philips Head Screwdriver
Click images to view larger.
Every good project starts with good preparation. That said, here’s something I learned the hard way – these pipes are greasier than a southern politician during an election year. They will ruin your clothes, your pets and everything else that you love. Do yourself a favor and clean them off before you start to build the lamp. Soak a few paper towels in your household cleaner and wipe down every single piece of plumbing that you purchased. Vigorously. The cleaner might take off a bit of finish but it will also ensure that your new lamp doesn’t destroy the inside of your home.
Once your pipes are clean, take your 60-grit sandpaper and sand off any parts that still have those laser-printed labels on them. When that’s finished you should go ahead and do any of the spray painting you had planned. Sand everything you plan to paint so that you get a more even coat. Stuff the openings of each component with paper towels and seal them off with painter’s tape. This will protect your threads, which will ensure that you can still screw everything together after the paint is dry.
Once everything has been prepped, painted and dried you should be ready to put this sonovagun together.
Building the Base
Please Note: These pipes will not be used for actual plumbing. Therefore, they do not need to be locked down and watertight. Every time I use the phrases “attach” or “screw on,” I mean to hand tighten the pipes together. You do not need plumber’s putty. You do not need Loctite. Unless you have exceptionally poor arm strength, you do not even need grease. Just twist on the pipes each the way nature intended. That way the lamp can be adjusted however you please and can also be easily broken down in case you move or get evicted for being too awesome.
As seen in the picture above, start by attaching two 8” pipes to opposing sides of your four-way splitter. On the end of those pipes, screw on an elbow piece. On the end of those elbow pieces, screw on your two 5” pipes. On the end of those pipes, attach two of the floor flanges. This forms the “top” two legs of your base.
For the bottom two legs, start by attaching the 2” length of pipe to the lonely end of a pipe tee. Screw that on to the bottom of your four-way splitter. Then attach the other two 8” pipes, then two elbows, then two close connectors and then the last two flanges. Voila, you’ve got a nifty base for your lamp. Finally, use a close connector to attach a pipe tee lengthwise to the top of the 4-way splitter. This will be your “Power Tee,” and you will string your power cord up through the hole here.
Your base might be a little wobbly at first. That’s fine. Just adjust the tightness of your flanges until all four “feet” are firmly planted on the ground.
Building the Lamp Arms
Grab a pipe tee. Attach a 6” length of pipe to the lonely end of said pipe tee. Then attach an elbow. Then screw in a close connector. Then attach a reducing coupler. Congratulations, you have just built a lamp arm.
Now repeat this process two more times so that you’ve got three complete arms. It’s just as easy to do as it sounds.
Wiring the Lamp
Please Note: We’re going to be wiring our lights in parallel. Doing this makes the bulbs independent, so that if one goes out the other two will continue to function. Yes, this is the opposite of how Christmas lights are wired. In order to wire your bulbs in parallel, you need to connect positive wires to positive wires and neutral wires to neutral wires so that each polarity has its own direct path to power. Trust me, this is much simpler to do than it is to understand.
Start by cutting your wires. If you’re using my build, you will need a 30” length of lamp wire, a 26” length of lamp wire and two 14” lengths of lamp wire. No, this does not add up to ten feet – but isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Leftover wire is good to have in the unlikely event that you mess something up.
Feed the 30” length of wire from the highest lamp arm down through the top 12” pipe so that it terminates at the second lamp arm tee. Feed the 14” lengths of lamp wire through the other pipe arms.
Now, from the bottom, string your power cord through the side of your power tee, out the top of the tee and up through the 36” pipe so that it terminates at the first lamp arm tee.
String the 26” length of wire from the first lamp arm tee up through the bottom 12” tube to the second lamp arm tee. Now you should have two “junctions” of three different wires at your first and second lamp arm tees, respectively.
Pull the POSITIVE and NEUTRAL strands of each wire apart. In general, the ribbed strand of your wire is the NEUTRAL strand but you should check your packaging to make sure. Remember which strand is which, because it’s important.
Using your wire cutter, strip off about a quarter inch of insulation from each strand to expose a nice workable bit of bare wire.
At the first lamp tee, twist the exposed NEUTRAL ends of the power cord, the first lamp wire and the 26” connecting wire together. Then attach a winged connector and screw it on until it won’t go any further. It’s normal for your three wires to twist together during this process. Give the coupling a light tug to make sure everything is securely fastened together.
Repeat this coupling process for the POSITIVE ends of the power cord, first lamp wire and connecting wire.
Stuff your couplings into the first lamp tee. It will be a tight fit, so finagle them until you get both of those chunky wing nuts in there. Then attach the 36” pipe to the bottom of the lamp tee and the bottom 12” pipe to the top of the lamp tee.
At the second lamp tee, repeat the coupling process for the NEUTRAL strands the third lamp wire, second lamp wire and connecting wire. Find the ribbed strands, twist the bare ends together and screw on a winged connecter until it will go no further.
Repeat the coupling process again for the POSITIVE strands of the third lamp wire, second lamp wire and connecting wire.
Stuff your second set of connectors into the second lamp tee. Then attach the bottom 12” tube to the bottom of the lamp tee and the top 12” pipe to the top of the lamp tee.
Attach the third lamp tee to the top 12” pipe and screw on the nut cap on top of the tee. Voila! You’ve now got a fully wired lamp structure – except for the light sockets, of course.
The Light Sockets
Now that your lamp is fully wired, you just need to attach your light sockets to the strands of wire sticking out of each lamp arm.
Your light sockets should have silver and bronze-colored terminals on the bottom. The silver terminal is for the NEUTRAL strand of wire and the bronze terminal is for the POSITIVE strand of wire.
Start with the first lamp arm. Unscrew the silver screw on the socket until it’s just barely attached. Then feed the NEUTRAL strand up through that little safety arm ring thing at the bottom of the light socket and to the silver terminal.
Depending on what type of socket you have, you’ve got two choices here. If your socket has a gap under each terminal, you can shove the wire into that and then tighten the screw to mash the terminal plate down onto the wire. If you don’t have a “hole” to stick the wire, you can just place your wire on top of the terminal and then tighten the screw on top of it to hold the connection that way. Just make sure that as much of the wire is touching the terminal as possible when you do this, otherwise your lights may flicker.
When that’s done, repeat this process for the bronze terminal and POSITIVE strand of wire.
Congratulations, your socket is now wired! Now all you need to do is wrap electrical tape around the bottom of the socket to keep the connection secure and any exposed wire insulated against the metal of the lamp arm.
Then place the socket in the lamp arm and fasten it into place by using Loctite super glue to attach the socket to the metal and then wrapping electrical tape around the socket and the top of the metal coupler.
I know what you’re thinking and no, this isn’t the prettiest way to execute the assembly. Since I can’t afford to have custom parts made, though, it’s the best I could come up with and it looks pretty neat with the raw black pipe – plus it’s very safe. You can always cover the tape job up with a piece of PVC pipe that’s been spray painted to match the rest of your lamp, but I decided to go with the rough and rugged look here.
The Final Stretch
Now that your lamp is completely wired, socketed and secured, all that’s left to do is to attach the lamp structure to the base and then screw in some light bulbs and give that bad boy some juice. If you followed my directions, it should light up instantly.
Congratulations! You have just constructed your own piece of designer furniture for a fraction of what it would cost at the store. You will have to plug the lamp in manually to turn it on, but if you’re feeling enterprising then you can splice in a power switch using this tutorial from DIY Network. And now that you’re on a roll, feel free to experiment with new pipe lamps for your tabletop, your desk or to hang from your ceiling. With a little creativity and some basic electrical know-how, there’s no limit to what you can build.
Enjoy, you hip lighting monster you.
Matthew Lyons is a blogger for HomeDaddys.com. An Oregon native, he now lives in Eastern Texas with his wife and son. He enjoys playing guitar and the smell of fresh-cut cedar.
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Update: Jessica here: Be sure to read the comments for a discussion on the pros and cons of some of the steps in this tutorial, and some tips from those who know about such things!