Introduction: BMW Inspired Light Fixture
As a person that enjoys cars, I have always wanted to make some fun things using car parts. I received some spare grill pieces for my vintage BMW from a friend a few years ago and that sparked the idea to make this light.
Although I made the lights to look like my car, you could modify what I have done to fit many different makes and models of cars/trucks.
Don't forget to watch the video at the top of the page, and I hope you enjoy this project!
Below are links to tools and materials I used in this article. It is either the exact tool/supply or something very close
Materials and Consumables:
Front grill pieces from an e30 BMW (1982-1994)
3/4 plywood (I used Maple veneered plywood left over from another project, but you can use other types)
Pipe clamps (or other suitable long clamps)
Note: The links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no
additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Step 1: Cut Plywood to Width
I had some 3/4" maple veneer plywood left over from another project. It wasn't all the same width, so the first thing I did was cut it down on my table saw to 6 1/2". I had two pieces which were about 6' long, they will be cut to final length at a later stage.
Step 2: Mark and Cut Kerfs
In order to make the plywood bend around curves of the grill I used a technique called kerf bending. A kerf is the width of material that is removed from a cutting process. Kerf bending is when you remove just enough of the plywood so that the wood bends, but not so much that you cut through.
I took the first board and made a mark at 2" from the end. Then I made a mark every 1/4" for the next 8" using my speed square.
I set the circular saw blade so that it didn't cut all the way through the plywood. It is set so that it cuts about halfway through the last large ply. (note: this is something you should experiment with on a scrap piece to ensure you cut through enough so that the plywood will bend)
Again using my speed square, I cut all of the marks I had made. I then tested to see if it would bend sufficiently to fit around the grill. It bent around one side, but not the other, so I needed to make the kerf cuts even closer.
For the next 5" I made a mark at every 3/16". I then had a total of 13" of kerf cut board.
I Repeated this for the other board.
Step 3: Modify Grill Pieces
I had to modify the grill pieces to use in this project. They had a bit of an L shape to them and I removed one side of the L using a cut off disk on a rotary tool. I cleaned up the edges with a bit of sandpaper.
This step is really dependent what car you have chosen to make, but I suggest trying to make it as flat as possible as that makes it easier to mount later.
Step 4: Make Wooden Support Pieces - Part A
In order to give support to the kerf bent sections, I needed to make some curved support pieces. I started by tracing out the shape of the grill. I cut that shape out on the band saw and refined the shape using my disc sander.
Step 5: Make Wooden Support Pieces - Part B
I tried out the piece I had made and I felt that it didn't look like the real car because on the car there is a gap between the grill and the metalwork. I decided to make some that were slightly larger. I used a washer that ran along the piece I had already made and that gave a consistent gap that was about 1/8" larger. I then cut it out on the band saw again and refined the shape using the disc sander.
I made 4 of these pieces (2 front, 2 back)
Step 6: Make Wooden Support Pieces - Part C
The two front support pieces would be right in front of the headlight spot, so that wouldn't work without modification. I placed the grill pieces in place and traced out where the headlight would be. I then cut this part out using my band saw.
Step 7: Cutting the Boards to Length
I cut one of the boards to an approximate length, but left it long so that I could refine it later. In order to get the precise measurements I did a mock up of the final project. I used various clamps to hold things in place. I put all of the grill pieces in place and then measured the gap between all the pieces. It was about an 1 1/2", so I used my circular saw to cut that much off.
I then did the mock up again and this time I overlapped the two boards. I put a mark where the boards overlapped and cut that much off.
I personally find it much easier to mock things up and either mark or take measurements from there. If I had tried to calculate the exact length I would have needed ahead of time I likely would have cut things too short!
Step 8: Making Back Panel - Part a (Marking and Cutting)
To make the back panel, I again did a mock up of the piece. I then measured between the two support pieces and cut a board to length.
I also had to cut this to width, so I measured the height of the assembled piece (7") and ran the board through my table saw.
Step 9: Making Back Panel - Part B (Adding Dowels)
In order to attach the curved support pieces to the rest of the straight part of the back panel I added dowels. This is probably overkill, but I didn't want it shifting around on me.
I used my milescraft dowel jig kit. The tool that comes in the kit is self centering. I drilled two holes per side in the support pieces. In order to match up the holes to the straight piece I used dowel centers. These little tools fit inside the holes you just drilled and have a sharp point in the middle. I lined up the curved pieces with the straight piece and that left an indentation in the straight piece. I could then use my brad point drill bit to get things lined up perfectly!
Step 10: Making Back Panel - Part C (Glue Up)
I added glue to the dowels and put them in place. I then added glue to the edges of the boards and put it all together. Even though I used dowels, I still added some clamps where the joints are to ensure that the boards lined up. I then added some long pipe clamps across the entire back panel.
Step 11: Assembling Main Structure
Again I pulled out my trusty dowel jig. I added two dowels to the top and bottom pieces each. Again using dowel centers I was able to align the holes.
The important part here is to ensure that the tight radius corners (closer kerf cuts) are both in the same orientation (top or bottom).
This was probably the most stressful glue up that I have ever done. I knew it would be difficult to put together all at once so I used titebond 3 glue as it has a longer working time. I also did a few dry runs to get my method down before adding glue.
I basically held everything together loosely with some spring clamps and then slid in the back panel. (while making sure to leave at least 3/4" gap from the back to add wiring at a later point) I added the ratchet strap around the piece (which of course was a few inches too short, so I had to use two ratchet straps) and then I added as many clamps as I could find!
Step 12: Adding Front Supports
Compared to the last step, this glue up was a breeze. I added glue along the edge of the support piece and then clamped it in place. I used 6 clamps, but if I could have fit more in there, I would have!
Step 13: Making Lenses
I made the lenses out of plexiglass (acrylic). I cut circles in the plexiglass using my band saw and a simple circle cutting jig. The jig is a piece of plywood with a nail through it into a longer board. I then placed the nail at the radius of the circle (3") and rotated the plywood in a circle.This made a perfect circle that I could mount the plexiglass to using double sided tape.
I made 4 lenses this way.
I then "frosted" the lenses by using my random orbit sander with some 80 grit sandpaper on it. I did this so that you would not be able to see the light bulbs behind the lenses.
Step 14: Making Lens Frames
I used a cut out from the previous step to trace out a circle. I then used the same washer technique from earlier to create a slightly smaller inside circle.
I first cut the outside circle on my band saw. I then refined the shape using my disc sander.
Back to the band saw to cut the inner circle. If I had a scroll saw* I could have done this without cutting through the lens frame; however, I wasn't worried about the way it would look because it would be behind the lenses.
After cutting out the circle frame I had to glue it back together. I used some CA glue with an accelerator. This will later be attached to the lenses, so I was not worried about the strength of the joint.
*I do have a scroll saw, but it is currently broken, I also could have used a jigsaw, but I didn't feel like pulling it out.
Step 15: Adding Recess for Center Grills
On the e30 BMW the center pieces sit slightly proud of the side pieces. I wanted to replicate this on my project. I placed the center grill pieces in the center of the structure and traced around them. I drew a box about 3/4" into the structure.
I used a sharp knife to score the top layer of veneer (to less the chance of chip out) and then used a chisel to remove the rest of the waste.
Step 16: Adding Hood Bump
Along with the center grill sitting proud, the hood on e30 BMWs has a small bump where the center grills are. I wanted to mimic this so I added some 1/8" plywood to the top. I cut it to the same width as the grills at the front (11") and added a small V shape to it by making the back 17".
I cut it out using my band saw and then added a round over to the top using my belt sander. Then I added some glue and placed it on top, making sure it was centered.
Step 17: Making Grill Support Pieces - Part A
Making the grill support pieces was really an exercise in trial an error while using small iterations until it fit perfectly. I will show you two different grill support pieces I made.
The first one was to space the grill off from the curved support piece. I placed the grill where I wanted it and took a measurement. I cut a small piece of scrap wood out and attached it to the grill. I then kept putting it in place and making small adjustments with my belt sander until it fit perfectly.
I made a mark where I wanted it to go. I sprayed some accelerator on the mark and then added CA glue to the piece. I placed it on the mark and then it was done.
Step 18: Making Grill Support Pieces - Part B
Most of the pieces didn't have anything vertical to attach to so it was actually easier. I used some small scrap bits of wood and drew a mark where it needed to be attached. I also marked where the screw hole would be.
I drilled a pilot hole using my drill press (but a handheld drill would work just the same). I again used super glue to attach these pieces to the main structural component.
Step 19: Covering the Plywood Edges
As I was planning on painting the edges I thought that drywall compound would be the easiest way to cover the kerfs on the edge. I mixed up some compound and spread it around. I found using my fingers got better results than the spatula/knife.
I only did one coat as I was in a rush to finish this project, but if I were to do it again, I would have done a second one.
Step 20: Painting the Inside
After the drywall compound had dried I added a layer of blue masking tape. I then covered the outside of the piece and sprayed the inside flat black.
Step 21: Painting the Outside
I did the opposite of the last step and masked off the inside of the project and then painted the outside gloss red. This paint was surprisingly close to the colour of my car, but it was off by a few shades. Luckily no one can look at the car and the light at the same time (as the car parks outside and the light is inside)
Step 22: Adding Light Sockets
In order to mount the light sockets I got from amazon I had to drill some 1 1/4" holes. I pulled out my trusty forstner bits and got to work. I just eye-balled the placement of the lights as I knew that the lenses would diffuse the light so if they were not perfect no one would be able to tell.
After drilling all of the holes I attached the light sockets using hot glue.
Step 23: Assembling Lenses
Again using hot glue I attached the lenses to the lens frames. I tried my best to make a consistent bead of hot glue around the edge. However, unlike caulking, I was not able to spread the bead out easily with my finger so it isn't perfect. If I were to do this again I would use some other type of method to attach the lenses, like silicone.
I then attached the lenses to the grill pieces using copious amounts of hot glue.
Step 24: Finishing Touches
BMW has one of the most recognizable symbols in the car industry and I wanted to make sure I included this in the project. I had a spare wheel emblem and I shaved it flat. I then attached it in the middle of the hood part with hot glue.
I then added some #8 screws to attach the grill.
note: I have not shown how to do the wiring. If you are not sure how to do it then you should consult a professional.
Also not shown is the mounting. I used a simple French cleat to mount it to my wall.
Step 25: Enjoy!
The best part of any project, enjoying your hard work! I installed this light fixture in my home office (which coincidentally I have been spending a lot more time in these days) and I get to see it every day. It is actually the light that is currently on while I am making this instructable and it brings a smile to my face every time I look over at it.
I hope you enjoyed this project as much as I did. If you want to see more from me, feel free to follow me on other social media
I hope this project inspires you to make your car related light fixture. If it does I would appreciate if you could post a picture here as I love seeing other people's completed projects. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments below.
Participated in the
Modify It Speed Challenge