Wording With Purpose

Rustic Ceiling Light

“Hey, Dad! Can we make something like this to hang above my dining room table?”

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That was Michelle’s question two years ago, and my half-hearted “yes” became the start of another project. I was fairly confident I could find retro-wire and sockets, but where would I find a suitable slab of wood? And did I really want to take this project on? Did I really have a choice?

The maple tree we planted when Michelle was a toddler had become a nuisance with its pronounced lean toward the neighbor’s garage and its incessant root-invasion of the perennial garden. With sadness in my heart I arranged to have the tree removed. The foreman of the tree crew laughed when I asked that he save several straight sections of the trunk. As I explained what I intended to do with the wood he shook his head and asked what equipment I had to turn a log into boards.

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“Well, I have an axe, a couple of wedges, and a sledge hammer.”

Splitting out the rough slab of wood was a challenge that gave me great respect for the pioneers who did this stuff to survive.

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Patience and repeated sharpening of the tools fueled the effort. Thankfully I was not building a cabin to get my family out of the elements. After many hours of hacking I had the final shape.

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My Nissan work bench offered the perfect spot for applying the newly acquired drawknife. Imagine a razor sharp blade that one draws toward one’s vital parts while sitting on the slab to hold it steady. The pile of shavings gave evidence to my sweat equity in the many sessions where I whittled that board down to size.

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Months passed as I hoped my daughter might forget about the light and I could bury the maple slab deep in the shop. Nope. The light appeared on her 2015 Christmas list but Santa did not deliver. It reappeared on her birthday list so I needed to get it done.

We agreed that five bulbs was the correct number for the fixture and I used painter’s tape to determine where I would route the wires.

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Yes, I might have used a router to cut the channels for the wires but that was not in keeping with the spirit of this reproduction project. The hammer and chisel did the heavy work though I did use a rotary tool to even up the bottoms and soften the edges.

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I needed some termite-bots that could chew wood according to my instructions. This was Michelle’s last glimpse of the project until I unveiled it for the installation.

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One of my concerns was that the light be level after installation so I rigged up a test jig and verified. The final install would suspend the light from sections of ancient and thoroughly rusted chain we salvaged from a tobacco barn.

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As I contemplated the steps left till completion I thought about the wires passing through the beveled holes I drilled and realized I had to do better. What would I use? Some type of commercial flange or check ring? Why not use a limb from the same tree, remove the bark, and cut it into cylinders then drill holes through the center for the wires?

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I was a bit nervous cutting these seats for the cylinders on the already finished plank. What if I slipped? I used a rotary tool to carve the outline then the chisel to remove the material. Wood glue mounted the cylinders into their seats.

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One coat of wood conditioner followed by two coats of dark walnut stain and the plank began looking like a light. Note the disposable gloves which make clean-up of me quite easy.

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I left the light alone in the shop for a couple of days to dry.

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Five sockets with two wires each makes for quite a rat’s nest of cable. A terminal block gave the project an engineered look. I consulted Michelle again to see what she envisioned for the length of the lights. She smartphoned back a quick sketch. However did we communicate before all these digital marvels?

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I terminated the wires on the terminal block, routed the socket end through the plank, and left them dangling. With the light suspended at a comfortable height for me to work in the shop I added the sockets and tested the work. I chose black cast brass sockets from Sundial Wire and was impressed with quality as well as the easy of assembly.

The wire, also from Sundial Wire, is 2-conductor 18-gauge black cotton twisted. I ordered twenty-five feet and had quite a bit left, but one never knows what will happen in a project. Big oops – I shared there was extra wire and heard, “Oh, I have an idea for a table lamp in the corner so don’t get rid of it.”

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Let there be light!

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Now, how in the world will I hang this thing so it looks like a planned project? Michelle’s townhome was constructed with I-beams and as the picture indicates, not all are on 16 inch centers. That means I had to visit the job site and locate the beams.

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A quality stud finder makes a great gift for any man. I’ve known carpenters that could tap and determine a stud’s location with uncanny accuracy. I’m the guy who drills a row of test holes till I hit the stud.

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Michelle asked that the light be centered in her dining area though the ceiling box is skewed to one side. I worked out a mounting scheme that allowed us to wire the light from the existing box. She climbed onto the table to help with assembly and to inspect the design. She approved. Another happy customer.

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With the cover board in place the white heavy duty lamp cord is nearly invisible. I designed the project to use LED replicas of Edison bulbs to remove concerns over heat or power consumption.

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I explained to Michelle how she can safely dust the light as needed. All exposed connections were made at the terminal block which was covered by a shield.

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And the power is applied. We have built the table and benches, created the candle sticks from part of a dresser top, and now added a custom light. DIY rocks.

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Two final shots of the light.

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Happy birthday, darling daughter!