DIY Tree Lamp
Anna Laurent gives step-by-step instructions for how to turn found wood into a magnificent floor lamp that's easy, inexpensive, and super stylish.
Making a lamp from a tree branch is easy, inexpensive, and requires few materials. The primary challenge is planning a design, and finding a piece of wood that works—the concept and wood need to be considered together, as different types and shapes of branches offer different possibilities and limitations. After that, your best resources are creativity, and, as always, Home Depot's wealth of accommodating hardware and staff.
Before + After:
While planning the design, I gave myself three guidelines. First, I decided to make a floor lamp—I wanted to create a piece with a presence, and to use a large piece of wood. Second, I approached the design as a DIY purist and local arborist: I decided to use fallen wood that I had found. Third, I wanted to see how few additional materials I could use.
I discovered a piece of wood that filled all three criteria: a five-foot tall slender branch. Sturdy and elegant, its three sprawling legs would give my lamp a jaunty stem and base.
(Please be aware that many public parks do not allow the collection of fallen wood—your best bet is to either gather wood from your own property, a friend's property, or to inquire at a local nursery for extra branches.)
Gather Your Materials
2. Lamp kit (socket, nipple, neck)
3. Lamp shade
4. Sand paper (medium and fine grain)
5. Mildew remover
7. Sealant (linseed oil)
8. Applicator sponge
9. Lint-free cloth
Hardware + Tools:
10. Rigid two Hole Strap (1/2-inch) + two screws
11. Double point staples (9/16-inch, black)
Examine Your Branch
The challenge to using foraged wood is repairing any damage from wind or rain. I took it home and examined it for any mildew or decay. I removed the moss, mud, and bark with a sponge and warm water. It looked healthy, but I consulted an arborist who suggested I thoroughly dry the wood to be sure. After a couple hours by an open oven, the wood was dry and ready for sanding.
Sanding and Removing Mildew
I sawed a couple inches off one of the legs to adjust the angle, then used medium grain sandpaper to remove remaining twigs and knots. I found a few spots of lingering surface mildew, and removed them with a mild mildew remover. I examined the wood for any internal decay or deeper mildew—happily, there was none! I applied fine grain sandpaper to give the wood a smooth and even texture.
Stain and Seal the Wood
Having prepared the wood, I used an applicator sponge to apply the stain (Minwax, color: Jacobean) and a lint-free cloth to seal it with linseed oil. After a day to dry, it was ready for the electrical hardware.
Lay Out Your Lamp Kit Parts
I purchased a lamp kit from Home Depot, which includes the 3-way socket, socket cap, nipple, neck, and 8 foot cord. (The kit includes instructions, in addition to mine that follow.)
Assemble the Lamp Components
First, slide the socket cap, nipple, and neck through the cord.
Second, split the cord and weave the ends into an "underwriter's knot." (Click on the link for a step-by-step illustration about how to tie the knot.) Tuck the exposed connectors (one at the end of each wire) under the two socket screws, and tighten the screws so that the connectors are secured under the screw heads.
In many tree lamps, the upper cord is slid through a second threaded nipple, which is then inserted into a drilled hole in the wood. My wood tapered at the top, so I had to design an alternate method of attaching the socket. After several consultations with Home Depot's helpful hardware department, I found a solution: a two hole strap with screw holes. The 1/2-inch width was perfect to fit around the socket neck. The metal strap was silver; I spray painted it gold to match the socket.
Attach the Socket to the Branch
I positioned the socket and strap, and screwed it into the wood. While an exposed socket isn't standard, the aesthetic was perfect for my naturally weathered wood.
I nestled the lamp shade on to the shell.
Dealing With the Cord
For short-stemmed table lamps fashioned out of straight wood, a drilled hole can conceal the cord. My lamp was neither short nor straight, so I had the options of carving a groove in which to lay the cord, or using a few staples to hold it along the back of the lamp.
Staple the Cord to the Branch
Staples are easy, cheap, and matched the somewhat industrial aesthetic of my design.
Insert Light Bulb, Plug In, and Display!
After that, a light bulb is all you need to make your tree glow!
Anna Laurent is a writer and producer of educational botanical media. Photographs from her forthcoming field guide to Los Angeles are available for exhibition and purchase at the author's shop.