Making Tim's Floor Lamp
This story begins at the mill in search of extraordinary curly maple and black walnut, a hunt for the best possible materials to make a special floor lamp. The mill is always a great adventure; free roam to explore large stacks of the most beautiful domestic hardwoods in search of perfect timbers - first choice from the finest materials - a privilege I don't take for granted and the trip is always too short.
This floor lamp will be built in 3 main sections; 1) the upper stem from curly maple, 2) the base from black walnut and 3) the intermediate section between the base and stem in black walnut. The sections of this lamp are quite large so the wood needs to built up into blocks for each section.
It didn't take long to find the right boards at the mill; the larger black walnut timber is 3.5" thick x 14" wide x 60" long and a really beautiful maple timber 2.25" thick with exceptionally curly grain. The colors and grains in these timbers are relatively consistent which is important for best matching as the lamp sections are built up. Also, the large walnut timbers were selected purposely to minimize the number of glue seams in each section. These heavier timbers are more costly, more difficult to work because of their size and they require more overall time but the finished piece is worth the effort. Once in the studio, the wood needs to aclimate for a few days so its very stable when it's worked.
The wood requires a lot of preparation before the sections can be built up because it is quite rough directly out of the mill.
Starting with the curly maple for the upper stem, first the timber is cut into workable size sections, in this case, 2 pieces each 38" long.
The boards are rough cut. They need to be surfaced so the grain can be seen more clearly and flattened so they can be glued together. You can see a slight crown so the planer is used to get nice flat surfaces.
Then, a little hand work with scrapers to remove the small surface imperfections left from the planer so the gluing surfaces sit flat against each other. After surfacing and scraping the grains and colors are easier to see; this is a really beautiful set of boards.
Next, the adjoining edges of the boards need to be straight and flat (more on this later); the egdes are quite rough and irregular directly from the mill and these boards are too large for edging with the planer or the table saw so this is done with the band saw.
... and now to check the boards for twist.... a little more scraping so the boards are as flat as possible and not stressed when they are glued together.
As the boards are worked, the grains, colors, curls and any imperfections in the wood become easier to see; they are checked continuously for best matching and imperfections. These boards are closely matched and should have very high curly characteristics when finished.
Time to build the block for the stem. The gluing surfaces get some final surfacing by hand. The wire chase needs to be cut through the center of the stem because the length is too great for drilling after it's turned. This is cut with a router and the ends get plugged with dowels. The wirechase is 3/4" diameter which is ample space for the 3/8" diameter brass tubing that will run through it but when the boards are glued together, excess glue also seeps into the wirechase and this could plug a smaller diameter chase. Here you can see the wirechase cut in the gluing surfaces.
Next the plugs are needed for the ends and they are turned as 3/4" diameter dowels, each 7" long. These are made from maple so they are the same wood as the stem.
The dowels are test fit to make sure they aren't too small to be useful or too large which would prevent the boards from mating tightly.
Once the doweling is fit to the wirechase, the boards are ready to be glued into the block for the stem.
Next up, building the block for the intermediate section of the lamp between the base and the stem out of black walnut. This begins with a timber 3.25" thick x 8.5" wide x 60" long. This block will be made by joining two sections from this timber together to make a block 6.5" square x 18-20" long. This block could be built up by gluing more, thinner boards together but with only one seam in this block the grains and colors will follow more naturally around the section once it's turned. Here you can see the timber has been rough surfaced, next is cutting it to size but before doing that, the stem section is ready to come out of the clamps.
...and here is the stem section fresh out of the clamps. The excess glue drips are removed from the edges to get a straight edge for the band saw.
Next the rough edges and ends are trimmed to check the seams and grains; and for sizing the stem so its ready for further layout and turning. The trimming is done in several passes on the band saw.
and once in a while..... surprise.... a hidden imperfection. What appeared to be a minor blemish when initially gluing the boards turned out to run deeper when trimming the boards and a second blemish was uncovered.
next up is finding out how far these blemishes run into the wood. Very important, the boards need to be trimmed with the routed section as center, not on the center of the boards. The stem needs to be turned with the routed section running through the center lengthwise so that center is marked and you can see how much different that centerline is from centerline of the boards. It also limits how much wood can be removed to chase the blemishes. These final trim cuts also need to be fairly precise. The stem needs to be square for accurate layout and drilling of the inset black walnut details. It also helps balance the wood for initial turning and since that starts at several hundred rpm and its a fairly large/heavy piece of wood..... well, let's just get the balance as close as we can and avoid the added excitement.
After this trim cut it appears the blemish is diminishing in the wood which is what was hoped for and the remaining portions are small enough and far enough out on the wood that it should be cut out during turning.
Now the stem is cut into a square section with the routed wireway running through the center. Center of the wireway is marked on all four sides of the stem in preparation for adding the black walnut inset details.
Now that the stem has been cleaned up and trimmed to initial turning size, it's a good time to recheck the glue seams and grain matching, they all look very good.
It's hard to see the curly grains of the maple in these photos; there's a hint of it visible along the side of the stem section but standy, it's going to come to life once the turning begins. Standing next to the stem section is the black walnut timber which was rough-surfaced earlier and will soon be cut and become the intermediate section.
This floor lamp will have a beaded crescent lamp finial in curly maple with a black walnut bead and the blank for this pattern needs to be built. A small block of curly maple is cut along with a small section of black walnut.
Each of those three pieces is center drilled for a small dowel which acts as a pin to hold all three pieces togther.
The dowel is cut to size and the ends are smoothed in preparation for gluing.
Here are the four pieces that make up the blank for this finial pattern, ready to be glued together.
The dowel/pin extends 1/2" into each section of maple and runs through the black walnut; each of the surfaces is coated with glue then clamps are used to press the pieces together. Two blanks were made in the event one becomes unuseable. Here you can see the blanks built up and clamped while the glue dries.
Here the blanks are removed from the clamps and trimmed.
Next up is the intermediate section of the floor lamp and first the timber needs to be cut into manageable sizes.
The colors and grains are matched and the gluing surfaces are determined then flattened.
The flattening is done with a hand plane and scrapers. This is every bit the work-out it appears, these tools allow very fine surfacing so the boards align perfectly.
Once flattened, the wire chase is cut with the router, the end plugs are turned and fit and the boards are ready to be glued together.
Here is the itermediate section glued up as one block.
Next, time to inset the walnut details into the stem. First the patterns are laid out and the holes are drilled.
Next, the black walnut dowel sections for the holes are turned, 4 dowels are required for each hole size.
The dowels are glued into the stem, here you can see the stem with all of the doweling done.
Next, the intermediate section is removed from the clamps, here is the block and it measures 8.5" x 6.3" x 19".
The block needs to be cleaded up, squared and prep'd for turning. Here you can see how it's cut into a square block on the band saw.
...and here is the block after trimming and cleaning up the ends; it now measures 6.3" x 6.3" x 18.25".
Next up is the base which is made with an upper and lower section; both are being cut from this timber and it needs to be cut into manageable sizes.
... and, another surprise. When cutting the lower section of the base the sapwood was found deeper into the heartwood than expected. The original plan to make this section of the base from a single blank just isn't going to work so the board needs to be cut and glued into the section needed, a 14" x 14" x 3" blank.
this blank is from the same timber, it's for the top part of the base. The blank needed for this piece is smaller than than the blank for the bottom of the base section and sapwood for this piece was not a problem, beautiful color and grains in this piece. It's laid out and cut into a round blank, ready to turn.
back to the lower part of the base, the boards are cut for the best color and grain matching then the edges are surfaced so they can be glued together.
... and here are the boards for the bottom part of the base, glued together, measuring 14" x 14" x 3" thick.
Even after trimming, the blocks of wood in this lamp are quite large and the corners need to be clipped before turning so the initial rounding of these blocks doesn't become too adventurous. Here are a couple photos of the stem and intermediate section all prep'd for turning. This is lamp-making on a grand scale, the wood colors and grains are amazing.... so close to turning them into the finished sections, time to get started.
The bottom part of the base is out of the clamps and the wood needs to be surfaced on one side so the faceplate for the lathe mounts flat.
After surfacing, it's cut to a round blank in preparation for turning. Here you can see the two round blanks that will make up the base section for the floor lamp.
One last thing to do before all the pieces are ready to turn. The top of the stem has a black walnut bead and a piece of black walnut needs to be inserted into the stem for this bead. This photo shows the positioning for this bead; there are a couple different ways it can be inserted, before turning the stem or during turning. Each option has it's pros-cons but the decision was made to insert it before turning for best possible integrity of the stem as a single piece.
To insert it before turning, the top of the stem is cut off so the piece of walnut can be glued into place. If the wanut was simply glued between the stem sections the glue joint would probably have insufficient strength for turning. So, a maple tube will be made that passes through the piece of walnut and glues into the top and bottom stem sections. This will form a very strong joint.
As long as the stem has been opened up and there is access to the wire chase, a long drill is used to clean out the wire chase from any excess glue or chips that might make it difficult to pass the brass conduit through.
To make the maple tube, first a dowel is turned then it's center-bored so it becomes part of the wire chase.
Here you can see the maple tube inserted through the piece of walnut and approx 1 3/4 lengths of the tube will extend into each section of the stem.
...and this is how the walnut and tube setup fits into the stem sections.
Once the pieces are test fit, they are all glued together and the stem is mounted into the lathe. The lathe is used as a clamping device to apply centerline pressure on the stem while the glue dries.
Here you can see where the walnut piece has been glued into place. When the stem is turned, it tapers to a much smaller diameter at the top. The wooden tube was sized smaller than the stem diameter but with thick enough walls so it creates a strong permanent bond between the top and bottom stem sections with the walnut bead captured in between.
So far the build has involved getting the blanks ready for each of the three main lamp sections; this photo shows all the lamp sections ready to turn.
The finial has been made, here are a couple photos. This finial was scaled up to 4" tall with a slightly larger diameter that the standard crescent pattern which is 3" tall. Because of the height of the floor lamp, the taller finial should balance the shade and lamp better but if this turns out this finial looks too large or out of place on the finished lamp a standard size finial will be used.
Time to turn the stem and this starts with rounding the blank which is done at slower speeds in sections.
Once the blank has been rounded it is turned at higher speeds which makes a much smoother cut. The finished stem will be in a tapered shape so after it's rounded the taper is started. Checking all the glue joints in the blank including the joints for the spliced-in walnut bead, seams look nice and tight, no voids, good strength and the curly grains in the two maple boards look well matched.
Shaping the taper continues until it is at finished size then the stem is sanded and readied for finish. Here are a couple photos showing the stem completed and ready for finish; the curly grains are becoming more apparent after sanding. The rough ends of the stem are left on just in case it needs to be returned to the lathe; the small rounded end at the bottom of the stem will be cut to fit into the intermediate section, the rough end at the top of the stem will be removed and the stem will be capped by a brass check ring.
Next up, turning the intermediate section which goes between the stem and the base. This is a large block of walnut and even with the corners clipped it is significantly out of balance.
So, first the block gets rounded at slow speed which is still several hundred rpm. Because it's out of balance the initial turning is a little spirited.
Once the blank is rounded the balance is much better and speed can be turned up for faster, smoother turning.
The plan was to turn the block with the right side being the base and the left being the top. But...... you guessed it, another surprise. When the first large bead was being sized it revealed two small holes that ran into the block to an unknown depth. These holes were caused by small twigs or branches that had started to grow in the tree but later died. The turning could have been continued and the holes plugged but fortunately there was sufficient stock remaining to reverse the cut pattern, making the base at the left and the top to the right. If the holes didn't run too deep into the block there was a chance they could be cut out which was certainly the preference to plugging them.
Turning the upper portion with the new cut pattern, the first hole was completely cut out.
Cutting the bottom arc, the hole was completely removed but a small dark spot about 1/4" ovalish diameter remained at the very bottom of the hole where the branch originated. This spot will probably be visible on the finished lamp but it should blend naturally with the wood when finish is applied.
Here are a couple photos of the intermediate section after it's shaped and rough sanded. The ends need to be sized for fit in the lamp and finish sanding needs to be done but otherwise this section is ready for finish.
The brass for the top of the stem needs to be prepared. Here it is polished with jewelers rouge to remove small scratches and nicks, then it gets a coat of clear laquer to inhibit tarnishing.
Back to the intermediate section, the finish sanding was completed and it's time to set the ends. The bottom will rest against the base and a dowel section will fit into the base. To make sure the intermediate section sits flat the bottom is cut with a small concave and the dowel section is sized for diameter.
The top is also cut with a slight concave so the stem sits flat against it.
.... the point of no return. The intermediate section is removed from the lathe and the excess portions of the ends (top and bottom) are removed which exposes the wire chase and that gets the excess glue and chips cleaned out. Once the ends are cut there's no returning to the lathe. Remember, the bottom of the stem fits into the intermediate section so the top of the intermediate section is cleaned up to a flat surface with just a slight concave and then the wire chase is bored to the correct diameter to accept the stem. The dowel section on the bottom of the intermediate section (that fits into the base) is cut to length and the wire chase is drilled out (through the plug that was used when the original block was built up) so the wire chase in the intermediate section is now open from top to bottom. The ends of the stem are also removed so it can no longer be returned to the lathe and its wire chase is now open from top to bottom. Next..... the moment of truth......
The stem is test fit to the intermediate section; checking for centering, proper seating of the stem against the intermediate section, vertical alignment and clear passage of the wire chase from the top of the stem to the bottom of the intermediate section.... it looks very good. These sections will be held together by tension from the threaded brass conduit that will run through the entire length of the lamp; these sections don't get glued together, they need to float against each other. Wood moves naturally with changes in humidity and each wood moves at different rates, movement around the girth and length is also at different rates. If these sections were glued together it wouldn't allow for this natural movement. All of our lamps are designed to allow the woods to move at different rates and directions without compromising the function, integrity or cosmetics of the lamps..... and here you can see the test fit of the stem with the intermediate section.... the lamp is beginning to take shape.
Next, the base needs to be made and for the start, the bottom portion will be made. This part includes the carved feet under the lamp and the cutout for a 6" diameter cast iron weight. First the block is surfaced and turned round, then the diameter is sized.
Once the diameter is sized, the block is cut out for the weight. Here you can see how the weight fits into the base.
Next, the base is bored for a centering dowel which will be used for alignment of the top piece when it is glued to this piece.
Next is carving the feet. These are sized so the power cord can pass under the lamp which also makes the lamp non-directional. If the power cord exited through the lamp, the lamp becomes directional because the cord would exit in the back but by having the cord exit under the lamp (between the feet) the lamp is non-directional.
Here you can see the carved feet completed and the cutout for the weight.
Next, this part of the base needs to be sized to the correct thickness to conceal the glue seam with the piece that will be glued to it. So, this piece is reversed on the lathe and sized to the right thickness then it is surfaced flat so it can be glued.
Here is the piece that will be glued to the bottom part of the base; it needs to be turned round, surfaced and bored for the centering dowel.
Here you can see both parts of the base glued together. Care was taken to align the grain in each block so the finished piece moves uniformly as a single piece of wood. The centering dowel keeps these pieces aligned while the glue dries; it will be drilled once the turning is completed since it is center of the lamp and part of the wire chase. Once the glue dries and this piece is ready to turn, it will be sized and shaped to form the base; it is the last piece to be made before the lamp is ready to assemble.
First, this very large block gets sized to the correct thickness then surfaced. Here you can see it after those have both been completed.
Next the edges get shaped; here you can see the top of the base shaped where it will meet the intermediate section.
The rest of the base is shaped, bored to accept the intermediate section and sanded, now it's ready for finish.
... and here you can see the intermediate section test fit to the base, it fits very well and looks great. All the turning is now completed, time to finish the base then assemble the lamp.
The base has been finished and there's one last detail before the lamp is assembled. In between each of the three main lamp sections, a small wooden pin has been inserted vertically but off-center to limit the amount of twist each section can have; this is to prevent having the electrical cord from getting twisted inside the lamp. Once this is done, the threaded brass conduit is cut to length and fed into the wirechase running through the center of the lamp. This brass conduit is 3/8 diameter tubing and the electrical cord runs through the tube. The conduit is secured at the top of the lamp by the brass coupling which adjoins the top of the stem, and at the bottom it runs through the cast iron weight and fastened with two brass nuts. The bottom end of the conduit is exposed so the electrical cord can feed through it up to the bulb sockets.
Once the sections are all secured together, the socket assembly is attached and adjusted for correct height for the lamp shade. The rounded ball at the top center of the socket assembly is hollow and this is where the electrical wiring is split off to each socket. The pull chains activate switches for each bulb independently. The finial attaches to the top of the the rounded ball by a small section of 3/8 diameter threaded tubing.
So, here is the lamp assembled but without the shade and a couple additional photos with the shade installed.
Last items remaining are to electrify the lamp and give it a final polish.... and here it is...... simply beautiful.