“Hey, Dad! Can we make something like this to hang above my dining room table?”
That was Michelle’s question, and my half-hearted “yes” became the start of another project. I was fairly confident I could find retro-wire and sockets, but where would I find a suitable slab of wood? And did I really want to own this project?
Did I really have a choice?
The maple tree we planted when Michelle was a toddler had become a nuisance with its pronounced lean toward the neighbor’s garage and its incessant root-invasion of the perennial garden. With sadness in my heart I arranged to have the tree removed. The foreman of the tree crew laughed when I asked that he save several straight sections of the trunk. As I explained what I intended to do with the wood he asked what equipment I had to turn a log into boards.
“Well, I have an axe, a couple of wedges, and a sledge hammer.”
Splitting the log to locate the rough slab of wood inside was a challenge that gave me great respect for the pioneers who did this stuff on a daily basis. Thankfully I was not building a cabin to get my family out of the elements.
After many hours of hacking I mean carving I had the final shape.
The Nissan pickup offered the perfect spot for using the newly acquired drawknife. Imagine a razor sharp blade that one draws toward one’s vital parts while sitting on the slab to hold it steady. The pile of shavings gave evidence to my sweat equity in the many sessions where I whittled that board down to size.
Months passed as I hoped my daughter might forget about the light, and I could bury the maple slab deep in the shop. Nope. The light appeared on her 2015 Christmas list but Santa did not deliver. It reappeared on her birthday list so I needed to get it done.
We agreed that five was the correct number of bulbs for the fixture, and I used painter’s tape to determine where I would route the wires.
Yes, I might have used a router to cut the channels for the wires but that was not in keeping with the spirit of this reproduction project. The hammer and chisel did the heavy work though I did use a rotary tool to even up the bottoms and soften the edges.
Termite-bots that chew wood according to instructions would be a nice invention. This was Michelle’s last glimpse of the project until I unveiled it for the installation.
One of my concerns was that the light be level after installation so I rigged a test jig and verified. The final install would suspend the light from sections of ancient and thoroughly rusted chain we salvaged from a tobacco barn.
As I contemplated the steps left till completion I thought about the wires passing through the beveled holes. What would I use to separate the cloth-covered wire from the edges of the holes? Some type of commercial flange or ring? And then inspiration hit. Why not use a limb from the same tree, remove the bark, and cut it into cylinders?
I was a bit nervous cutting the seats for the cylinders on the already finished plank. What if I slipped? I used a rotary tool to carve the outline then the chisel to remove the material. Wood glue mounted the cylinders into their seats.
One coat of wood conditioner followed by two coats of dark walnut stain and the plank began looking like a light. Note the disposable gloves which made clean-up of me quite easy.
Wipe-on polyurethane was the best choice for the protective finish.
I consulted Michelle again to see what she envisioned for the length of the lights. She smartphoned back a quick sketch. However did we communicate before all these digital marvels?
Five sockets with two wires each makes for quite a rat’s nest of cable. A terminal block gave the project an engineered look.
I terminated the wires on the terminal block, routed the socket end through the plank, and left them dangling. With the light suspended at a comfortable height for me to work I added the sockets and tested. I chose black cast brass sockets from Sundial Wire and was impressed with the quality as well as the easy of assembly.
The wire, also from Sundial Wire, is 2-conductor 18-gauge black cotton twisted. I ordered twenty-five feet and had quite a bit left, but one never knows what will happen in a project.
Let there be light!
Now, how in the world will I hang this thing so it looks like a planned project? Michelle’s townhouse was constructed with I-beams and as the picture indicates, not all are on 16 inch centers. That means I had to visit the job site and locate the beams.
A quality stud finder makes a great gift for any man. I’ve known carpenters who could tap to determine a stud’s location with uncanny accuracy. I’m the guy who drills a row of test holes till I hit the stud.
Michelle asked that the light be centered in her dining area though the ceiling box is skewed to one side. I worked out a mounting scheme that allowed us to wire the light from the existing box.
She climbed onto the table to help with assembly and to inspect the design. She approved. Another happy customer.
With the cover board in place the white heavy duty lamp cord is nearly invisible. I designed the project to use LED replicas of Edison bulbs to remove concerns over heat or power consumption.
I explained to Michelle how she can safely dust the light as needed. All exposed connections were made at the terminal block which was now covered by a shield.
And the power is applied. We have built the table and benches, created the candle sticks from part of a dresser top, and now added a custom light. DIY rocks.
Two final shots of the light.
Happy birthday, darling daughter!