DIY Ceiling Lights

22 Oct 2017


I moved back down to Maryland recently and found myself living in an apartment. Although it came fully furnished, there wasn't enough lighting in my bedroom except for a single dimly lit 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.

Having a prior interest in woodworking and wanting to get more comfortable using power tools, I ended up designing and building my own lamp. Below is a detailed account/guide on how I went about the project. You can also check out the timelapse video I made here.

The Parts

An afternoon of scrolling through pictures of hanging lights gave me the inspiration for my initial design. I wanted to make a minimalist neutral toned ceiling lamp with pendant lights and splashes of color.

For parts, I bought the following:

  • 5' x 7.5" x 3" Poplar Board from Home Depot - $12
  • ½ Pint of Weathered Gray Wood Stain - $13
  • Silicon Socket Pendant Lights - $30
  • Steel Wire Suspension Cables - $10
  • Adhesive Ceiling Hooks - $7
  • LED Dimmable Globe Bulbs - $30
  • 12-Gauge Solid Black Wire - $11
  • Plug-In Lamp Dimmer - $13
  • 12 Feet Extension Cord - $5

Choosing the right type of wood took some initial research. I wanted to buy something that was strong, stained well, and had an interesting wood grain pattern. I initially considered using Cedar, but ended up going with Poplar instead. For power tools, I had access to a woodshop where I did most of the work.

The Process

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

I also sketched drill marks at the corners of the board to make room for the suspension cable inserts. One of the main problems I had was finding a way to hang the board on my ceiling without drilling holes into the wall. I ended up finding these thin steel wire suspension cables online made for mounting lights that I could attach to strong adhesive hooks placed on the ceiling. This proved to be the most effective way to avoid any ceiling damage and loosing my security deposit.

The suspension system had 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 old barn wood which would bring more focus to the colorful lights hanging beneath it. To get this look, I had to artificially age the wood. I did this by running a wire brush drill bit through the wood going slowly with and against the grain to bring out some of the texture. It was then sanded down using 220 grit paper and painted.

A single coat of oil-based weathered gray wood stain applied evenly on both sides worked perfectly. After drying, I used black and white acrylic paint diluted in water to accent the wood and create contrasting color textures. For the final finish, I ended up applying wax and buffing it to create a matte finish.

The Wiring

Wiring the board up was fairly straightforward. I inserted the lights in the drilled holes and hot glued them in place. I then connected the circuit in parallel by soldering each wire to separate positive and negative terminals and used an industrial stapler to keep all the wiring in place.

Initially, I was a bit concerned about overheating due to the diameter of my wire and the amount of current that would be passing through so I ended up using 12-Gauge Wire for the main 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! Thanks for reading!

Previous Story

Working with EDGI