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A Masonic lantern or How to make your own steampunk lamp

To me the Victorian era has always been about recapturing an age of mystique and mystery. Spiritualism truly had its renaissance in the Victorian era. With the discovery of idiosyncratic motor movements came the birth of table rapping, talking boards, and all other manner of “psychic phenomena”. Besides the spiritual the Victorian era, was an age of ornament and elegance. It was this ornament and elegance I wanted to capture in my lantern.

All I had to start the lantern with was an idea and a Masonic light bulb that I picked up at an antique store 5 years ago for $5.00. At the time I had no clue what I would do with it but I knew I would find a use for it. It was not until this past summer when I found two exquisitely aged planks of mahogany. The planks were once the sides to an old antique clock from the late 1800’s. These I found tossed aside in an old garage. It was from these two pieces, and a light bulb that I drew my sketches.

Inspired by the steampunk projects of Jake von Slatt I got started. The above being the most refined sketches I had. The rest pure imagination. For the next five months I searched for the perfect complimenting pieces. I found the remainders at antique stores, junk yards, attics, and Sequential Glass.

Once I had all of my pieces, I measured out the two planks of board into six equal sections. (The lamp was originally going to be built with six legs to mimic a hexagram. Unfortunately two of the pieces had splits down the center and made the wood unusable.) Once the wood was measured I cut the planks using a box saw. and stacked them on top of each other. In addition to making a steampunk lantern, I wanted to add a twist. I wanted to build it without using any power tools.

Due to the complex design of the lantern I could not cut out the base pieces, as I did not have a template for the legs. Tracing one of the planks I cut onto a piece of paper I drew in my design. Once I had the design I traced it upon one of the planks. I made sure to apply plenty of pressure so the pattern would sink through. I then retraced the pattern on the wood using a pencil. I proceeded to do this for the six planks.

However if you plan on making your own, I suggest using carbon paper to transfer your pattern to the wood. If you are not artistically inclined then you can get a pattern from a book and photocopy or scan it to full-size. This will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Once I had the legs all patterned out, I clamped a leg to the workshop bench. Using a coping saw I now sawed out the design. I was careful to follow the pattern on the board. Ever so often I would blow away the sawdust so I could see the pattern. This took about an hour or more per leg. The great think about the coping saw is you don’t need to be artistically inclined. You just need to be able to “trace” the design with the saw. If you aren’t looking to hand saw yours, I would highly recommend using a jigsaw to cut the wood. This will save you about 6 hours.

When the legs were sawed out I was able to properly gauge the size of the base and top of the lamp. The wood I used for structure of the lamp was salvaged from the same garage I found the clock planks in. This board had a horrid finish on it and I could scarcely tell it was mahogany. The board was originally the top to an old chest. What happened to the rest of it I do not know.

Using a compass I drew an 8 inch circle on the plank. Then I drew another circle 7 3/4 inches inside the 8 inch one. I divided the circle into four equal sections by drawing intersecting lines through it. I used these as markers of where to place the holders for the legs. I then did the same for the top decreasing the total size by abut 20%. Depending upon the pattern you use for your lantern, you may be able to use the same size base and top.

Back to sawing. After another two to four hours I had sawed out the base pieces of the lantern. Looking at the collection of pieces, I decided to give them a little more form. With a collection of large and small files I rounded out the edges. I filed off all saw marks, and over the course of several days I rounded each piece. If you are looking to add shapely elegance to your lamp and you are not doing it all by hand. Then for your own sanity use a dremel or other similar device.

Close to staining and construction. Progressively decreasing in grit size, I sanded the lamp parts. I started with 150 grit and worked my way up to 320 grit. The finer the grit the smoother the pieces. After, the pieces were sanded I used a tack cloth to remove excess dust. When the pieces were all sanded from their file marks I decided to stain it. The stain used was a red mahogany oil based stain. I only needed one coat to bring out the already rich reds in the mahogany.

Be careful when applying stain, as too much of it and it will never dry. Also be aware of your environment, if you live in damp area the piece may never dry.

With all the pieces prepped I turned to the wooden bowl, I purchased at an antique store. The bowl was hand lathed mahogany. Honestly, it was pure dumb luck it matched my idea so well. The bowl had been repaired once in its life. The top had needed to be re-glued. This worked out perfectly for me since I was putting a large hole in it. I traced the cardboard cover for the wires on the top of the wooden jar. Then I popped out the handle and started sawing the hole with the coping saw. When it was sawed out, I once again filed and sanded. The bowl was already finished with a mahogany stain. All I needed to do was dab a rag in the stain and run it over the bowl; being sure to saturate the new cuts in the lantern. Once I did this I rubbed it in butcher’s wax and wiped off the excess. The bowl was done.

My original idea for the center of the lamp was not a wooden bowl but a glass jar. Short stubby, colored jars are easier to find than wooden bowls. So for your lamp you may want to use a glass jar instead.

Putting all of the pieces together is the biggest challenge. (One thing of note I will say. When designing your legs, be sure to leave the lips you will rest the base and top pieces on square. This makes for much easier assembly.) To hold all the pieces together I used wood glue. To assemble I glued one leg on the base at a time. I did this with three legs. While the glue on the legs was partially set I glued the top on. I needed to leave one side open so as to fit the wooden bowl in the center. When the glue had dried I slid the assembled bowl in and glued the final leg on. I did not need to clamp the final leg as the weight of the lamp kept the leg from moving.

Now fully assembled, with the exception of the whole lamp part. I painted a coat of shellac on the top legs and skirts of the base. I did not treat the bowl as I wanted contrasting finishes of matte and gloss.

The lamp part is relatively easy. You can buy pre-made lamp kits at your local hardware store, or if you are like me you probably have the spare parts laying about. Once the actual functioning parts of the lamp were assembled I slid the wire through the bottom of the base and wood jar to the top of the lamp. Using a ceramic fastener I screwed the lamp parts into the base and fastened a hollowed kerosene lamp had to the top. I then fastened the lamp parts into the top of the lantern. I screwed in the switch I had found in the attic of an old house. The switch for me added a more retro-tech feel. Once the switch was in I screwed in the Masonic light bulb and put the old hand blown glass Kerosene lamp shade over it.

Tools used
* Box saw
* Pencil
* Compass
* Coping saw
* Spare coping saw blades
* Mini-files
* Rat-tail file
* Rasp file
* Sandpaper varying grits
* Pliers
* Tin snips
* Stain
* Shellac
* Butcher’s wax

Parts used
* 3 Salvaged mahogany boards
* Salvaged brass light switch
* Kerosene lamp top
* Lamp kit or parts needed for one
* Wooden bowl
* Hand blown glass shade
* Masonic light bulb

I understand not all of you will have the means, talent or ability necessary to help you construct this. I do hope that it may inspire you to create your own lamp or other project equally or more spectacular. I hope you enjoyed seeing and reading about my Masonic lantern as much as I did making it.

See large version of the lamp

If you enjoyed this you may like to learn how to make a silver talisman

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