Build a Modern Floor Lantern - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Lighting Project: This fun to build floor lamp will create a beautiful atmosphere in virtually any room of your house. Customize the wood species and paper shade to your liking, as this lamp will get a lot of use for years to come.

Build a Modern Floor Lantern

Build a Modern Floor Lantern



Photos by Rob Brown

I get a lot of compliments on this floor lamp, but I don't tell anyone the whole truth; it's a lot easier to make than it looks. Accent lighting is a great way to light a room without bringing in the often-overpowering feeling of harsh, overhead lighting. This lamp sits beside a chair that my wife often reads in. As the days get shorter, I'm sure she's going to be spending more and more time tucked under a blanket, next to this lamp. Knowing I built this lamp will only bring more satisfaction to seeing it get used so often.
 
Some people don't like the idea of using hand-made Japanese paper for the shade, as it's easily damaged, but they are always surprised when I tell them how durable it can be. It can get damaged, obviously, but even if it does it's fairly easy to replace. The Japanese have many household objects with hand-made paper incorporated into them. I've heard it's a fairly common practice for them to replace the paper on their shoji screens every New Year’s Day so they can start the year with a clean, new look.

INFO:DIFFICULTY – 3/5, LENGTH/TIME – 3/5, COST – 3/5

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Design time

As easy as this floor lamp was to build, truth be told, it could be simplified a bit. Leaving out the tapered sides and front of the legs would simplify things, though you'd lose a bit of refinement in the overall look. When it comes to joinery, if you don't have a Domino machine you could opt for a mortise and tenon joint, or you could use a dowel jig to bore three 3/8" diameter dowel holes in each joint, to secure the legs to the rails.
 
Removing the textured bands near the tops of each leg would only have saved me about 10 minutes’ time during the build, but if sharpening curved carving gouges isn't your strong suit, this is a step you might want to skip. The texture does add a great hand-made element to the lamp, though.
 

Long, shapely legs

The legs are the only area of the lamp where I brought in a bit of style to the project. Their lower halves are straight, but the upper halves are tapered on one face and both sides.
 
After breaking them out and machining them to final dimension, you need to consider joinery. If you taper the legs too soon it may be difficult to machine straight, right-angle joints. I set up my Domino DF 700 with a 12mm cutter, marked the locations of the upper and lower joints, then cut a total of eight Domino slots in the backs of the legs. I ganged three legs together and put them in my vise while cutting the slots, as the extra thickness gave the Domino's fence something to reference from. Be very careful not to cut right through the outer face of the leg. I went within about 3mm of doing so, as I wanted to create a deep mortise in the leg for a secure joint. I wouldn't go any closer though, unless I had an extra black walnut board on my shelf that was just wasting space.

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Quick MortisesThe Domino DF 700 makes quick work of mortises. Brown ganged together three legs to offer a larger surface for his machine's fence to reference from.
 
Now it was time to taper the two sides and one face of each leg. I started with the faces and made a simple jig to run on my band saw. First of all, the jig positioned the workpiece on its side, so its upper half overhung the edge of the jig by the amount I wanted to remove. The jig also secured the workpiece with hold-down clamps so it wouldn't move during the operation. By adjusting the band saw’s rip fence so the blade cut directly beside the edge of the jig, then running the jig and leg through the saw, the waste was removed from the face of the leg. The resulting face was smoothed with a hand plane.

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A Small TrimEach leg is clamped to the jig on a slight angle, so when the jig runs against the band saw's rip fence, a taper is cut into the face of each leg.
 
The other tapers were cut on my table saw, with essentially the same jig. The jig was adjusted such that the stops positioned each leg so the proper amount of waste was removed, and so the leg would be run with its rear face clamped downward. The first side of each leg was cut, then the jig had to be readjusted, before running the final four sides through.

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Taper the SidesThough this operation could also be completed with a band saw, Brown chose the table saw to cut the tapers on both sides of each leg.
 

Cross rails

The four cross rails are identical, short of the four holes to accept the light support dowels. I cut them to final size, then cut the mortises with my Domino DF 700, making sure the mortises were centered on the width and thickness of the rails. I cut some 100mm long Dominos in half for these joints. I set these joints up to protruded 20mm into the legs and 30mm into the cross rails.

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More MortisesMortise slots in both ends of the cross rails will help fix the legs to the cross rail assemblies.
 
Simple half lap joints secure the rails to each other. I cut those on a table saw with a mitre gauge. I set up my fence as a stop, adjusted the blade height to cut close to half the width of the part, then made a few test cuts. Before making the cuts, I made sure the resulting half lap wouldn't be too wide or too deep. After a few adjustments I was ready to make the cuts in all four cross rails. I aimed for a joint that was very much on the tight side, as once the parts were sanded they would fit together nicely.

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Half LapBrown uses his rip fence as a stop to determine the width of the half lap joints in the cross rails.
 
After sanding the rails, and ensuring a perfect fit, I applied glue to the joints and brought the two halves together with clamps.

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Cross Rail AssembliesOnce the cross rails are sanded, apply glue to the face grain in the joint and bring the mating parts together with a clamp.
 

Light support structure

I drilled the 1/2"-deep dowel holes in the upper cross rail assembly, then transferred their locations to the plywood light support and drilled them. With the light cord on hand I was able to drill a properly sized hole in the light support.

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Dowel Holes1/2"-deep x 3/8"-diameter dowel holes are marked and drilled in the upper cross rail assembly.

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Transfer Hole LocationsWith the cross rail assembly to guide you, mark the location of the dowel holes in the plywood light support and drill the holes.
 
I made the dowels with a dowel former, though you could purchase a length of dowel if you wanted to. I wanted to match the walnut wood of the rest of the lamp. The dowels are each 5" long, so I made one length 25" long and cut it into four pieces.

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Form a Dowel – Although it's covered by the wood shavings in this image, a dowel former is a great way to obtain dowel rods of almost any length, in almost any species.
 
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An Easy Sand – Chuck a 5"-long section of dowel into your cordless drill, pull the trigger and sand the dowel. Notice the final shape of the plywood light support in the background.

Texture on the legs

I love the look and feel of textured wood. Not wanting to go overboard, I used a small gouge to add horizontal grooves in the outer face and both sides of each leg. The grooved band was 1" wide and started 3" below the top of the leg. Walnut is fairly easy to carve, but even all but the densest woods aren't too hard to work with when it comes to this type of texture.

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Add TextureA small, sharp carving gouge makes quick work of adding texture near the tops of the legs.
 

Assembling the lamp

Rather than try to assemble all eight Domino connectors in the same assembly, I glued the connectors into the mortises in the backs of the legs first, then let everything dry. I made sure not to get any glue on the portion of the connector that wasn't buried in the leg mortise.

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Glue Dominos In – To make final assembly a bit easier, Brown applies glue to part of the Domino connector, as well as the mortise slot in the leg, then taps the connector in and lets it dry.
 
When dry, I made sure there was no squeeze-out, applied glue to the mortises on one leg, then applied glue to the mating connectors and assembled that leg. I repeated the same process for the other three legs and clamped everything together. To ease the process, I clamped a long caul to the outer face of each leg before starting.

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Final Assembly – Bringing the four legs together with the two cross rail assemblies completes the assembly process. Notice the wood cauls clamped to the outside of the each leg. This was done before assembly began, and it eases the process even more.

Glue the dowels to the upper rail assembly, then add some glue to the dowel holes in the light support and bring it into position.
 

Apply a finish

A project like this, with a bunch of smaller parts and a lot of inside corners, isn't easy to finish with a brush. An aerosol spray can is great for situations like this. I used Varathane Professional Clear Finish in matte, spraying on three coats, sanding between each coat.

 
Time for some shade

Hand-made Japanese paper is amazing, especially when it's backlit. Some Japanese papers are very thin and fragile, while others are almost as thick and durable as cloth. They're also available in a wide range of colours and styles. I live not too far from one of the largest selections of hand-made Japanese papers in the world (JapanesePaperPlace.com), so that's where I bought my paper. I went with a creamy-coloured paper with a medium amount of bark inclusions.
 
I designed this lamp with a 24" x 36" paper in mind. I knew I could trim the paper slightly to fit the lamp how I wanted it. I was aiming for the lower edge of the paper to sit directly on the upper cross rail assembly, and the top edge of the paper to finish between the top band of texture on the legs and the top of the legs. I cut the paper to width, rolled it into a large tube, and placed it between the upper portion of the legs to check it for fit. I marked it for length, added small marks to the paper to locate it on the legs, then removed it from the lamp and trimmed it to length.
 
I used rice paste, which is just smashed up sticky rice, to adhere the first edge of the paper to the inside face of one of the legs. You can get rice glue from The Japanese Paper Place, or make it yourself. You can also use Mod Podge, or a different adhesive from a craft store.
 
I added a bit of paste to the next leg, pressed the paper onto the leg, and repeated the process until I was done. The paste doesn't harden right away, and I had enough time to shift the paper slightly so it fit nicely. If the paper does dry, and you don't like the look, apply a bit of water to the paper directly over where the rice paste is, wait a few minutes for the paste to soften, then remove the paper. You can also replace the paper pretty easily if it gets damaged. With the final edge of the paper, I waited until the paste dried to trim off any excess. I made sure both edges of the paper were hidden behind one of the legs, so they weren't visible when the light was on.
 
This floor lamp is positioned right beside my wife's favourite reading chair, and it gets a lot of use. Not surprisingly, my kids enjoy using it too, but they find it makes a great corner joint for their forts, as it's strong and will cast light inside their fort. I'm trying to look on the bright side; loosing your project the moment you put it in place in your home is a sign that everyone likes it. I think I'll put in an order for a spare piece of hand-made paper. Judging by how much action this lamp is seeing, I think I'll need to replace the paper before next New Year’s Day.
 










SourcesJapanesePaperPlace.com
ColorCord.com
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Japanese Paper Lantern (Apr/May 2006)

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