Pendant Lamps

Tony's Woodworking Projects

Installed Pendant Lamps (low light)
Installed Pendant Lamps (with flash)
Made of 3/4" and 1/2" maple and 1/4" Birch Plywood, stained with a medium red mahagony and polyurethane finish. Illumination is by 25-Watt Candelabra bulbs (one per "light box").
Old Lucite Chandelier
The chandelier in our dining room is made of lucite in a very 1980's design (maybe even 1970's?). It is both loved and hated. I've been trying to find something to replace it that would sway the lovers of the lucite. These hanging (pendant) lamps are inspired by lamps made by Frank Lloyd Wright for the auditorium of his Hillside School at Taliesen in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
You can actually buy reproductions of these lamps at various places (though they are all the same price and come from the same source). You can see them here, here or here and admire their $2,600 price tag. Seemed simple enough to make (not that simple really, but reasonably feasible at least), so I embarked on trying to make a pair since they met the approval of the lucite loyalists.
Simulated View
Simulated View
3D Model
Because I was working from very few pictures of these, I needed to work out all the dimensions by guess-timating. To help with this, I created a 3D model of the pieces using the program Blender. This is a seriously powerful 3D modeling program, so it also allowed me to "see" what the dining room would look like before actually building and installing them. Compare the simulated view at the right-most picture to the picture at the top of the page which is the final result. Pretty good way to visualize how something might look. Also note how the 3D model has vampire-like qualities, which the real ones lack.
While this is classified as a woodworking project, there was just as much, and maybe more, non-woodworking time spent on this project. The first phase of the project was actually the 3D modelling and drafting plans with specific dimensions to work from. I got about 90% of it visualized, but initially was not clear on exactly how these things would hang from the ceiling or exactly how I wo-uld wire them. These were worked out during the process of construction and underwent a number of revisions (in my mind).
Woodworking Phase
The pieces for this lamp are very much like one of those three-dimensional puzzles you have to put together in the right shape. In fact, it would require very little glue to hold together, which is good in case they need to be disassembled for redoing the wiring or something. However, this quality meant that the cutting had to be fairly precise.
Raw Finished Pieces
Hanger Boxes
Dry Fitting Test
Assembling Light Boxes
After Glue-ups
As mentioned, the trickest part was designing the way in which these would hang from the ceiling. I had no pictures or evidence of how the "store bought" ones tackle this, so I was on my own. The easiest way was to design them to fit into a typical lamp ceiling box. What I came up with is more elegant than my first two designs, but still a little clunky. On the positive side, these brackets can hold about 200 lbs, which is likely way more than the ceiling box itself will support, both of which far exceeed the actual weight of the lamps. The hangers are in two pieces: the hanger itself has a bracket to attach to the ceiling box, and a U-hook to hang the lamps from; the hanger cover is the other pieces that slips over the hanger and hides the hardware mechanisms.
Ceiling Box Bracket on Hanger
Lamp U-hooks on Hanger
Staining Phase
To match the decor and other furniture I built for the living and dining rooms, I used the same wood and same stain as the other projects to get a dark red wood finish.
Light Boxes
Main Posts
Hangers and Covers
Finishing Phase
I debated with myself on whether to use an oil stain (looks slightly better) or a polyurethane varnish finish (more durable). I decided on polyurethane because I believe that it has better thermal properties and some of the finished wood is going to be very close to the light bulbs.
There is also actually some regular latex paint needed. The "shades" are a very light color to reflect the light better, and they appear to be a blue-ish grey in the product images. We picked out a color that was more light blue than grey, but it looked pretty good. Also, this paint is actually continued around on the side edges of the "wings", which actually gives it a very pleasing appearance and ties the wood and paint colors together well.
Polyurethane Layout
Painted Shades and Edges
Assembly Phase
Next to designing the hanger, figuring out the wiring was the next major challenge. I did not want wires showing, so wanted to hide them, but in a way that would nake it easy to replace and not be overly complicated. I am fairly pleased with the solution I came up with which uses a channel on the inside edge of the main posts, and then I cover the wires with a thin dowel embedded in the channel. The dowels are held in with chaulking, so they could easily be removed if it had to be re-wired.
Dowels to Hide Wiring
Wiring Main Posts
Assembling all the pieces was an exciting phase of the project: when it all comes together. I first had to install the light bulb sockets into the light boxes, and the wires would be attached after they were affixed to the main post (which already had the wires installed running down their length).
Light Sockets
Pre-assembly Pieces
Box Wiring
Partially Assembled
Full Assembly
Post-assembly Closeup
Installation Phase
So, the lamps are assembled, all we need to do now is install them. Simple right? Not so fast. We currently have a single hanging lamp and now we need two. The single one is in the middle of the table, and now we need each offset from the center. This means we need to remove the old ceiling box, add support beams for two new ceiling boxes and then re-route the electrical wires from the old to new location. And you cannot do either of those unless you start cutting sheetrock (since I could not access the space from the attic).
Opened Ceiling
Old Ceiling Box Removed
After Rewiring
After New Sheetrock
The final pain in the butt was re-popcorning the ceiling to match the existing texture. The stuff in the cans can be mader to work, but unless you know how and have a lot of experience, you will waste a lot of money getting the experience.
Prepping for Popcorn
Popcorn Application
Final Phase
With the fresh paint dried, all we had to do now was hang the lamps, attached the woring and put the hanger boxes over it. The final result was very, very pleasing, so despite the challenges, was very worthwhile. Here's the photos of the finished project.
Plans and Schematics
Here are scans of the pencil sketches I used while making these lamps. They are not guaranteed to reflect the final dimensions and make lack soem last-minute chnages, but they can provide a very good start for guiding building. These were done on graph paper (see the faint lines) and the scale was generally 1 inch per box.
  • Rough Dimensioning Worksheet - I used these rough diagrams I found on the web, though found out they were not even approximately to scale with the aspect ratio very distorted. You can see my attempt to compensate for the skewed aspect ratio here and which served as the initial rough dimensions for the project.
  • Front View
  • Main Posts - These are based on my ceiling height and how far over the dininhg table I wanted them to be. If you ceilings are different or want a different height, the lengtrhs would need ot be adjusted.
  • Side View
  • Decorative Shades
  • Shade Details
  • Light Box Details
  • Parts List
Some notes on construction:
  • Because there are 3 light boxes, if you allow them to hang via gravity like I did, one side is heavier than the other and they will be slightly non-vertical. Adding a weight (lead) to some hidden place inside the light box is what I plan to do, but have not done this at the time this page was written.
  • The mortise and tenon joint I used for the back end of the light boxes was ill-advised. There was too little clearance to the edge of the sides and the wood just broke off. I would replace this with something else like a rabbet joint.
  • To hide the wires running up the posts I used a 1/4" dowel that I also stained and used a clear acrylic chaulking as the adhesive so I could easily take it off to disassemble. I used 3 pieces so there was a gap for the entry of the wire into the channel from each light box.
  • The final solution for the ceiling hanging bracket was very improvised at the end. Some U-bolts ground down, some I-hooks opened up and a regular ceiling box mounting plate were used to allow it to gravity hang and give it some sway in case accidentally bunmped into. The images above are the best source for seeing the details.,
Future Project
Living Room Views (Rendered from 3D model)
3D Model of Medium-sized Pendant
I believe these pendant lamps are actually more majestic looking when they are longer (more "light boxes"). You can buy incrementally longer ones, but the price also gets longer. We have a fairly high living room ceiling and the idea is to make matching pendant lamps hang from the ceiling as shown in software simulated views below. There's probably less than a 25% chance these will ever get made though.