DIY steampunk-style iron pipe Edison fixture

I’ve been seeing these types of steampunk black malleable iron on the net for years; it was only a matter of time before I went and made one. The texture of the iron combined with the warm vacuum-tube glow is quite an amazing effect, and they certainly look easy to make. Previous trips to the hardware store had only resulted in the question of what socket will fit into these types of pipes? I found myself with some spare time this past Saturday, so I went to the local hardware store and laid out 15 or 20 iron gas pipe fittings in the aisle and designed a 4-bulb fixture — roughly designed that is.

While designing the fixture be careful not to screw the fittings together too tightly as they can bind, also keep in mind these fittings will turn your hands black and the sharp threads can easily shred your hands if you slip. This being my first attempt I kept it relatively simple, keep in mind that you will have to thread wiring through all the bends and turns at some point.

I used the largest malleable iron piping I found, which had an inner diameter of 1 inch on the female threaded sections. I then purchased some basic keyless (no switch) brass sockets. These did not fit in the pipes, though I didn’t mind the look of the brass sockets extending from the fixture so I started with that.

The rounded base of the sockets became a problem as when they were wired and threaded into the fixture they lolled this way or that rather than extending straight from the fitting. I tried bulking up the base of the sockets with electrical tape, but they still slipped. I then tried removing the rounded bottom section yet the upper brass part was still too large in diameter to fit in the pipe.

Then I discarded everything but the bare socket with its bakelite base, the middle portion in the exploded image below (not the exact socket, but very similar). These almost fit, I had to crack/shave/cut off some protrusions from the bakelite base. Discarding the brass and cardboard meant that the socket had no protection or isolation for the wiring leads, for this reason I wrapped the hot lead with some electrical tape to isolate it and then ran one wrap of electrical tape around the entire socket. This extra bulk meant I had to twist and fiddle but they still fit in the pipe. If you fiddle so much that you think the electrical tape may have shredded, take it out, replace the tape and start again. It’s better to be safe.

Even though the sockets had no ground lead it was important when wiring be sure to wire all sockets in the same fashion and keep track of which wire is hot as they will all be combined at some point and you don’t want to short the wrong lead to the iron fixture structure.

While threading wire through the fixture you can unscrew fittings but be careful not to twist the wiring too much inside around elbows.

With the sockets wired and the wiring threaded through the fixture the next step was mounting it to the ceiling or wall. The wall mount fitting, pictured right, is not large enough to cover a junction box. For this reason I used a white plastic cover, however screwing the wall mount fitting to the plastic cover would not be strong enough to support the fixture (iron is heavy).

Another problem was that the wall mount fitting’s screw holes would block the plastic cover’s screw holes. I decided to use a steel junction box cover on top of the plastic cover to support the fixture. I drilled a center hole in both covers, two holes to line up with two of the iron mount’s screw holes and ensured that one of the remaining two screw holes in the iron mount fitting lined up with one of the plastic cover’s screw holes. This meant that the iron fitting would not be centered on the plastic cover, but it did allow access to both of the plastic cover’s screws even after the iron fitting was secured.

In this manner the iron fitting could be bolted to the steel cover, through the plastic cover and still allow access to the plastic cover’s screw holes in order to affix the entire assembly to the junction box.

The photo above shows the steel cover which has been drilled, in this photo the white plastic cover has not had the center hole drilled for the wires yet. I’m confident this system would have worked with a full sized junction box, however once I removed the old fixture I realized my desired location had an old-style smaller junction box and this system wasn’t going to work.

As it turns out, mounting to an old-style smaller junction box is even easier as the two junction box mounting bolts do line up with the iron fitting and therefore there wasn’t a need for the steel plate after-all. I put bolts right through the iron mount fitting, the white plastic cover and into the junction box, which allowed the junction box to directly support the weight of the fixture.

If you’re confident wiring fixtures, outlets, sockets and such this should be right in your comfort zone — if not perhaps enlist a friend who is to help out.

If you’re interested in other Edison-style lighting ideas check out DIY reclaimed lumber hanging Edison bulb chandelier and the reason I have so many Edison bulbs kicking around, Maker Wedding: Rustic Edison-style hanging light fixtures.

  1. DIY fawn's horns copper pipe chandelier | unmaintained - pingback on November 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm

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