A Light, Even in Dark Times

July 22, 2020

Here is the full description of Jay’s light that I promised you a few days ago. Thanks Jay for all your work in documenting this wonderful creation. The title and project seem particularly appropriate for these Covid-19 times.

Hello, fellow turners. If you’ve been on the recent Zoom meetings, you’ve possibly heard me talk about a lamp I’ve been working on. It’s finished, everything works and I am quite pleased that such a complex project worked out so well. That said, there were a lot of planning sessions and times to pause, figure out the best solution to a problem, then proceed. I’ll elaborate on those details with the corresponding images.

Last point before getting to the build, the lamp measures 29.5cm x 10.5cm. The cap is box elder, the shade is cast resin with glow in the dark blue and white pearlescent pigments in it, the body is birch, and the base is white oak. Each piece was sanded to 1800 Grit, been hit with EEE Ultra Shine and finished with a neutral coloured Liberon brand wax. Three weeks after it was finished, I hand-rubbed in a bit more wax on a punky area of the base.

Please note that descriptions are below the image.

“Is it a lamp, yet? “

Here you can see the pieces I have put together. The oak base, the whole Birch spindle, the vitamin c bottle with a 500ml rubbing alcohol bottle hot glued inside of it for the resin mold. I had not yet chosen the piece I would use for the cap of the lamp. Originally I was going to use a piece of that Birch but it did not have the diameter I needed, so I dug out the largest piece that I had, which happened to be box elder. You will see a picture of that soon.

Prior to the above photo, I had already turned a tenon on the base, shaped the body, and drilled a 1″ diameter hole through the entire body of the lamp. What this picture shows is establishing a perfect fit for the resin mold, including coves on the inner side of the recess so that when the epoxy sets in there it would have additional grooves to cure into, establishing a more solid hold between the two materials.

Just keep hollowing. Nothing too specific about this other than making room to run some lights, when it is the time to do so, and remove extra weight and bulk, keeping it bottom-heavy.

It was finally resin  pour day and when I pulled that thing out of the pot, little did I know how much work I had in front of me freeing that thing from the mold.

There it is, after the vitamin c bottle had been cut away from the mold. It came away beautifully. Getting that rubbing alcohol bottle out of there was over five hours of work. My mold was not going anywhere! I remember thinking, about two seconds after the epoxy first started going in there, why in the world did I not peel the label off that rubbing alcohol bottle? Too late, anyway.

Eventually, after getting as much of it as I could with scraping, cutting, prying and vice grips, I had to turn away the rest. Not much fun turning away sloppy loose soft plastic like that.

I turned away the top, then continued prying and pulling until I got a big score.

Alcohol bottle cleaned out and the inside trued up. Note that I left the interior roughly sanded. From my knowledge of lighting in photography I know that the more rough surface will diffuse the light and be less likely to see the individual LEDs in the finished product. That’s the whole point of a lampshade, right? To make it less glaring on the eyes.

Piece chosen for the cap and just a progress image.

That white oak was 18 years old and cut like concrete. I was having no luck drilling a recess into the base until I really gave my forstner bit a proper honing. Then the shavings came off were worth this closeup shot.

The bottom of the oak base, a recess used for turning and drilling the top side. The side view is coming soon. This isn’t the most spectacular image of it, but this was my first time using EEE Ultra Shine and the results did not disappoint! Especially on that rock hard oak. At the start I commented about hand rubbing in some extra wax on the punky part of the base. You can see it at about the 1 to 2 o’clock position in this image.

A side view of the base, which had not yet been finished but just roughly turned until I knew everything would fit properly, leaving enough material and tolerances for any oversights.

You saw that piece of box elder. Now part of it is a roughly turned cap. I wasn’t expecting to see that much flame come out. The shape wasn’t quite what I was planning, but if I kept turning I would lose that detail.

Here you can see everything fitted together, but nowhere near finished. It was just held together by friction, trying to line up the interesting parts and keep them lined up so that as I turned they would be true. It worked out very well to do it this way and the final product stayed nearly perfectly true, even after sitting for 6 weeks. Nothing moved on me.

There it is, shaped and trued up. As you can see, I still have a few tool marks to remove from the body.

Cleaned up any marks, went straight to the ultra shine and then more of the Liberon wax to polish it. I was going for a very neutral wood coloured look so I did not apply oil or any bottom treatment. I also did not know exactly how those finishes would interact with resin in the mix, which is why I erred on the side of caution. In the last few weeks I’ve been able to greatly improve my understanding of finishing and how to achieve specific looks.

Still needing to finish the base, this was just another progress and size testing.

I finally took time to remember to show you the inside of the base. The outside has been finished and this gives you a better idea of the level of shine I was able to accomplish for the first time since I started this turning hobby of mine.

The inside of this base is not pictured as well as I would like. In the middle is a hole that is about 5/8″ in diameter. Into that is where I eventually glue the dowel that will hold the lights. That will be an elaborate description so I will save that for the next section. What I do want you to take note of is that it is a donut shape. It has an inner diameter of 5/8″ and an outer diameter of about 1.5″. Why did I do this? When the whole thing was to be epoxied together I needed a trough at the bottom that could hold extra epoxy without risking it leaking out. As it was, I did have one very small film of a drip that I had to carefully cut away where the body met the base and peel it off. This  resin leak happened because during the assembly I did not have enough room for the stiff controller part of the LED lights and had to chisel out one side of the donut, the one holding the lights, to make room to feed the lights’ power cord through.

I do not have an image of the assembly because it was far more complex than it should have been. I’d really like to describe it because it might help somebody, but it is going to be a lot of words. Feel free to skip this part if it is of no use to you.


1. The LEDs were a 1.5m long strip of self-adhesive lights that are 1 cm wide. They plug into a USB port, on your computer, a phone charger, or the back of your TV. A lot of people use them for a dim glow behind their TV while they are watching it. That LED strip was wrapped around a 1 1/4″ dowel, which is as tall as the lamp shade. That dowel has a 5/8 inch hole drilled all the way through and it is slid over and glued to another 5/8 inch dowel. That’s the dowel I spoke about in the previous step. That 5/8″ dowel is adhered to the hole in the base I talked about, and a similar one in the cap. In addition to the whole lamp being held together on the outside, that dowel in the middle holds it together, as well.

2. Why use the larger dowel to hold the lights? Larger circumference means more lights. Unfortunately, that meant that this was very difficult to position the small dowel, the larger one, glue it into place while feeding the USB plug and controller through that tight space, where I commented I had to Chisel out a side of the donut on the base’s interior. Remember that picture up top where I had been hollowing the body? Well, that’s how much room we have to work with and it was not much to get those lights fit down there without them kinking, twisting or breaking a wire inside. But now that it’s there, it is solid.

ArtResin is the brand I used to do all of my casting and assembly. The base was mounted in my chuck, the other pieces fit as true as they always did, and then the tailstock was brought up, with just the quill and a rubber pad against the cap, to hold it for at least 36 hours. ArtResin is tediously slow to cure.

The description does not do justice to the amount of meticulous effort and patience that was required to complete this, a lot with my dear wife’s help. I’m pretty good with these paralyzed hands, but there are some things I can’t do, always grateful for a hand, when it’s needed.

Here it is! Lit up in with a collage of the lamp displaying three different colours.

No, not just another image of the lights on Blue. That is it glowing in the dark without the lights on. Hence the name of the lamp, “A Light, Even in Dark Times.” For the photographers interested, this photo was a 6 second exposure, on a 50mm lens at f/1.8, ISO 64. The light sources are the glow in the dark shade, a slit in the blind of my office window, and a reflector on camera right.

Mistakes, Improvements, and Notes 

1. Wood polish, like EEE Ultra Shine or like Hampshire Sheen, should be rubbed on evenly, before spinning the piece to actually polish. Don’t put a gob on your paper towel and then try to apply it like you might wax. It caked into the wood and onto the shade. I spent hours scraping it off with a tongue depressor and then had to refinish much of the piece. At that point in the build it was getting very difficult to remount it and get that finish back.

2. More about polish. See where the shade meets the body? That dark line was from the polish. I was going for a very natural wood look finish, but if I would have applied some oil, or even sanding sealer, I don’t think I would have gotten that line there. Maybe with the exposure of the end-grain it would have done the same thing with another oil, I don’t know.

3. That hot glue, where the controller is. I’m a little too afraid to try to clean it up and I don’t want to seal the hole up entirely tight, but I can’t say I’m happy with the way it finished. The lesson is that I should have chosen better lights, with a rubber grommet. I had these brand new ones sitting in the drawer and wanted to use them up so that’s what I went with. It was early lock-down. I couldn’t (I still can’t) safely pop down to a store to pick some up, Amazon.ca was barren, and some products ordered from them took months to arrive. Drawer lights it was! Also, the technique of wrapping the lights in a spiral around a dowel was something I learned from, I believe, Andy Phillip on YouTube, and wanted to try it.

4. Initially I chose ArtResin because of its long working time and low odour. Well, long working time means ridiculously long time to set but I will say that the odour is minimal, even Pleasant, both wild mixing and while turning. Still, though, too much waiting when you need it to set a lot quicker as an adhesive or when your pressure pot only holds 55psi forother purpose. And, not many pressure pot hold their pressure perfectly and it’s tough to keep that pot over 50 psi for 12 hours, necessary because of the slow setting resin.

5. Last one. See that clear spot, at the top where the shade meets the cap, on any of the pictures where the lights are on? That was nicely diffused but the epoxy used to adhere the cap to the body ran onto the shade of it and made it beautifully clear, again. Not a deal-breaker, but it definitely broke up the nice like diffusion I had going on in there. Even so, the individual LEDs are visible and I should have put a tube of wax paper in there between the shade and the lights, which would have double diffused it, costing probably a stop of light output, but softening it considerably.

I hope this lengthy post was of use to anyone who reads it and is looking to build one of these. It was a many month project with twice as much time spent thinking about what each step should look like, and course-correcting for mistakes, than the time spent building it.

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