Susan Rosand

Confetti Oil Lamps

Turn on a little light and romance

I make my living as a woodturner, so I turn a wide variety of items, including many that are destined to be used as gifts. One of the more popular ones in this category is my confetti oil lamp.

Finished Confetti Oil Lamp Bob Rosand's confetti lamp is a delightful project, which will make great gilt and allow every turner lots of room for individual design ideas and decorative touches. The necessary raw materials and equipment, as shown below, are few and simple. Photos by Bob Rosand.

A confetti oil lamp is simply a turned base that encloses a glass vial of oil into which a wick fits. The flame produced as the oil burns is about equivalent to that produced by a candle, and each lamp burns for a couple of hours before needing to be refilled. That makes these lamps just about right for those romantic evenings with your significant other.

Maple burl is one of my favorite woods, so I turn a lot of it, and end up with many small pieces that are just too pretty to toss into the fireplace. I make most of my lamp bases out of these burl odds and ends that I have lying around from larger projects.

I start with pieces 4 inches square X 2-inches thick. I glue this blank to a waste block that I hold in a three or four jaw chuck. The waste block helps keep my fingers away from the jaws of the chuck and also allows me to minimize any waste of the precious burl.

Begin by roughing the base lamp down to a cylinder and then true up what will be the top of the oil lamp. Tool choice is up to you, but I generally use a 3/8 inches or 1/2 inches gouge.

Drilling the blockThough you can form the lamp opening with turning tools alone, Rosand finds it faster to bore out most of the opening, and then clean up the bottom of the hole with scrapers.

At this point, you should drill a hole to accept the lamp base (or the tea light, if you prefer that option as discussed in the Supplies box). I use a 1-1/2-inches Forstner drill bit and bore down until I'm just short of the depth needed for the finished bottom. Then I use two small scrapers, a roundnosed and a square nosed, to clean up the little dimple left by the drill bit. This generally removes enough material so that the lamp base can "sit down" into the base a bit.

Originally I drilled a small hole into the base and then used a squarenosed scraper to clean out the rest of the lamp opening. You can do it that way, if you prefer, but I now generally find it easier to bore out the bulk of the waste and just clean up the bottom a bit. The 1-1/2 inches diameter drill bit also allows for a loose fit around the lamps I use, so that the lamp base can be removed for easy refilling and cleaning. Before boring the hole, check the diameter of the lamp you buy, to ensure that you are using the correct bit to allow the lamp to fit easily in the hole.

Shaping the base

Now we are ready to rough shape the base and establish a shoulder to surround the glass lamp insert. The shape can take any form you desire. I prefer a shape that has its widest diameter high, toward the top of the piece, and then tapers to a relatively small base.

Shapping the baseAfter establishing the opening, the author creates a flat area to surround the lamp. You could also decorate the flat, or form a bead, as shown on the next page.

In designing the piece, don't forget about safety the lamp will sustain a live flame. You must make sure that the base is large enough to avoid any chance of tipping. As you are refining the shape, also keep in mind that you want to leave enough mass at the bottom of the base to keep it from vibrating or chattering.

Once the upper part of the lamp approximates your desired shape, you can begin removing more material from what will be the bottom of the lamp base, to refine that shape. This is the fun part; the possibilities are virtually unlimited.

(You can see the whole process on the AAW's second techniques video tape "Turning Projects from Scrap with Bob Rosand". An order form can be found at the back of this journal.)

Laying out the covesLay out coves with a compass, starting at the top. Space the lines 1/8 - 1/4-inches then form the coves between the lines.

Before parting the lamp base from the waste block, you should sand it. If you've made good dean cuts, sanding shouldn't be much of a chore. I generally start with abort 150 grit and go up to about 400 grit. If your cuts are rougher, you may have to start with coarser paper, but be careful not to obliterate any details you may have added.

After you sand the piece and part it from the scrap block, you should make the bottom concave so that it sits properly. My method is to recheck the lamp base on another shaped waste block 11e1d in the chuck. I turn a tenon that will fit into the lamp hole that I previously drilled in the lamp base. If you work carefully, you can make the tenon a tight friction fit into the base, so that you can turn and sand the bottom. If the drill wandered a bit when you bored the hole, the base might be a little off center, but don't worry about it. It probably won't be noticeable when the lamp is finished. Even so, don't gel careless about the boring operation. It's best to drill as accurately as possible during the initial stages of the project. Then you don't have to worry about anything being out of line during the finishing stages of the project.

Cutting Coves Rosand turns the coves with a spindle gouge. To avoid tear out, don't crisscross any of the coves.

Decorations reduce sanding

After you've turned loads of bases, you may begin searching for some variations in design. I became very tired of sanding these bases and as a result, came up with two "no-sand" or "minimal sand" variations.

The no sand approach involves no special tools, but does require a good sharp spindle gouge. Before removing much material from the bottom of the lamp or parting the base from the waste block, mark a series of lines with your compass, as shown on the next page, starting from the top of the oil lamp and moving down to the bottom. I space my lines anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 inches apart, but usually stick with 3/ 16 inches 1 then make a light cove cut between the pencil lines with the nose of the spindle gouge.

Stop the lathe and look at the quality of the cut. At this point, I generally wet the piece with a mixture of sanding sealer and turpentine (50/50) and then take a final deeper cut. The finish makes it much easier to get clean cuts on most woods. I avoid having two coves intersect; otherwise it tends to tear up the fibers of the wood. If the cut is clean, you can touch up the piece with a fine abrasive pad. Part the piece from the lathe, friction fit it and repeat the process. This is where accuracy in drilling comes into play. If the piece "wobbles" here, the final cuts may be noticeable. As an added design detail, I sometimes carry the coves all the way across the recessed base of the lamp. It's a nice effect.

For added decoration, the author often cuts coves across the entire recessed bottom of the lamp.
For added decoration, the author often cuts coves across the entire recessed bottom of the lamp.

The second variation involves "texturing lines." The texturing is accomplished via the use of a small spindle gouge sharpened to a fine point. I proceed exactly the way I do when cutting my small coves, but I free hand the cuts. I simply start at the top of the lamp base and work my way to the base making a series of fine cuts into the wood. There is no bevel rubbing here. I "push" the gouge in at about 90 degrees to the surface of the wood, remove it and proceed with the next cut until I have textured the entire piece. I also tend to reserve this procedure for wood that is cutting "good." I have found Optivisors, available from most tool suppliers, or some other visual aid, to be very useful when cutting these lines. Remember, you don't want the lines to overlap otherwise you tend to tear up the fibers. Touching up the piece with an abrasive pad should be all the sanding you need to do.


Buying Supplies

I generally purchase confetti lights in wholesale quantities from Lamplight Farms in Menominee, Wisconsin (800 645 5267).

Smaller quantities can be purchased from Craft Supplies, USA (800 551 8876) or from Packard Woodworks (800 683 8876).

Another option is to go to the supermarket and purchase Tea Lights, small candles in metal containers, instead of the confetti oil lamps. The last time I checked you could buy a box of ten for about a dollar. Tea lights burn for an hour or two then can be replaced with a new tea light.