DIY Ceiling Lights

Introduction

I moved back to College Park this semester and found myself living in an off-campus apartment. While insanely expensive, this was the first time I was living by myself and didn’t have to share a bathroom with anyone else… Freedom had never felt so good!

Ignoring some of the issues with the building (broken laundry machine, bad carpeting, quality of furnishing), I was pretty happy overall. I had a giant corner room on the top floor overlooking the university and a lot of freedom to decorate it. The only bad side of the room was the lighting. Despite being fairly large, the room only had a single dimly lit incandescent ceiling lamp in the center. In the daytime it was fine as the windows let in plenty of natural sunlight, but at night, it became pretty gloomy.

Now the IKEA nearby sold some really awesome lamps, but where’s the fun in that? I had little to no experience with woodworking and really wanted to become more comfortable using power tools. One thing led to another and I ended up designing/building my own lamp. Below is a detailed account/guide on how I went about the project or you can check out the timelapse video I made here.

The Parts

An afternoon of scrolling through pictures of lamps gave me the inspiration for my design. I wanted to make a minimalist ceiling lamp with pendant/dangling lights and colors that popped.

For parts, I bought the following:

Choosing the right type of wood took some research. I wanted to buy something that was strong, stained really well, and had interesting texture. I initially considered using Cedar, but ended up going with Poplar instead. I also had access to a makerspace on campus with several power tools I used for the project.

The Process

Preparing the board was fairly straightforward. I started out by measuring the Poplar and sketching drill marks at the center and then 4 more each 1’ apart. This would create a total of 5 holes for me to thread my silicon lights through with 6” leftover at the ends.

After drilling holes for the lights, I started sketching drill marks at the corners of the board to make room for the suspension cables. One of the main problems I’d been having was finding a way to hang the board on my ceiling without drilling holes into the wall and loosing my security deposit. I found these steel wire suspension cables online that could support 15 lb each with a carabiner at the end I could attach to some adhesive hooks placed on the ceiling. This proved to be the most effective way to avoid any ceiling damage.

I wanted the suspension system to be flush with the board and it took some preliminary testing on scrap wood to find how far in from the corner of the wood I would have to drill a hole without splitting the wood. I ended up drilling 4 holes 1.5” in from the corner of the wood for the suspension system.

The Finish

Researching how to properly finish wood took most of my time. I wanted an aged rustic gray finish similar to barn wood which would bring more focus to the colorful lights hanging beneath it. To get this look, I had to age the wood. I started out by running a wire brush drill bit through the wood going slowly with and against the grain to bring out some of the texture. I then sanded it down using 220 grit paper (most online tutorials reccomend 180, but the shop only had 220 available) and then started to paint.

I used a ½ Pint of Oil-Based Weathered Gray Wood Stain and applied a single coat evenly on both sides. After waiting for it to dry, I used black and white acrylic paint heavily diluted in water and gently brushed certain areas to accent the wood creating contrasting color textures. For the final finish, I considered using polyurethane but ended up applying wax and buffing it to create a matte (and slightly glossy) finish.

The Wiring

Wiring the lights together was pretty easy. I inserted the lights in the drilled holes leaving 2’ of room from the bottom of the board to hang and hot glued them in place. I then connected the circuit in parallel by soldering each wire to separate positive and negative lines and using an industrial stapler to keep all the wires in place.

I was a bit concerned about overheating due to the diameter of my copper wire being too thin and so I ended up using 12-Gauge Solid Copper Wire for the main lines. To connect the lights to an outlet, I stripped the end of an extension cord and soldered it to the end of the positive and negative lines. After testing to make sure everything was working correctly, the entire circuit was wrapped in electrical tape for insulation and with the help of some friends, hung just above the futon in my room.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am pretty happy with how these lights turned out. Albeit a little bit pricey, I was definitely satisfied with the final result and learned a lot about woodworking in the process. I also documented a lot of the steps and uploaded a short timelapse video you can check out below!

It’s been a bit of a rough semester so I haven’t posted that often recently, but I’ll definitely try to dedicate more time to this blog in the future. Thanks again for reading!