Introduction: Repurposed Rotary Phone Lamp
I made this sculptural form out of repurposed materials because I am painfully aware of the amount of waste that is compiled each day by people including myself. By creating this lamp, I hoped to accumulate less material waste in my own creative process, and to make other people aware of more ways in which they can derive value from objects that are frequently overlooked or sent to landfills. By bringing light into this project, I intend to use this piece to bring peoples attention to the relationship we have with our natural environment as consumers.
When walking around my local reuse store, I stumbled upon this old rotary phone and a lamp with beautiful colored beads. My gut reaction was that these two objects were meant to be together, thus this creation ended up taking the form of a lamp. The rotary phone is something that would likely be bought up by antique dealers and sold for 5-10 times the original price to a collector. The collector or buyer would either put this piece on display where it would sit and collect dust, hold onto it and try to sell it for more money later on, or best case they would restore it to be a functioning phone. The lampshade was dirty and missing a few beads, but i'm sure it would have found a second home. Through the combination of these two elements, I believe that a greater value can be derived from the end result as a whole, as the resulting product can now find its way into a home where It can be enjoyed and actively used to enhance someones space functionally, aesthetically, and offer engaging tactile feedback through the moving parts of the rotary phone.
Materials List (R=Repurposed)
-Old wooden chest lid (found in a barn that was being demolished) (R)
-Western electric B1 (102) rotary phone (R)
-black spring cord (R)
-(2) shower head sockets (R)
-2" long copper pipe (diameter slightly less than inside of shower pipe for epoxy to grip)
-quick drying clear epoxy (to connect shower head socket pipes)
-Escutcheon (decorative stainless steel piece hiding the base of the pipe)(R)
-3/4" floor flange (screws onto shower head socket/allows it to be mounted onto the wood base)
-lamp wire with flip switch (R)
-solder (to make wire connections)
-(2) wire caps (to cover soldered connections and make the wiring safe for use)
-60w light bulb (R)
-(2) 1/8" diameter screws (to connect phone to wood base) (R)
-MINWAX wood stain (a mix of Sedona Red 222 / Red Mahogany 225)
-MINWAX clear satin polyurethane
-Wire cutter/ stripper
-Philips head screwdriver
-wire brush (to score copper pipe and inside of shower pipe for epoxy to grip)
-painters tape (to aid in connecting shower head sockets/ keep epoxy off of shiny exterior)
-sandpaper (100 grit to level then 220 for final round)
-1/2" Forstner bit
-foam brush (to apply wood finish)
-cotton rag (to smooth finish and insure an even coat)
Step 1: Find a Starting Point
For this project, the starting point was when I stumbled upon this old rotary phone and lamp shade. These two objects immediately evoked an emotional reaction within me, and they looked like a perfect pair. I knew that the lamp shade related to the phone in that it was a similar scale and had these small circular beads that reflected the round finger holes on the phones rotary. Since the phone was no longer in working condition and the lamp had been thrown away by its previous owner, this was a perfect opportunity to create something new from what had been left behind. At this stage, I knew that a lamp could be created using two major elements, the phone as the primary focus, and the lampshade as the secondary focus. However, I had no idea how this could possibly be done or what other material elements would be necessary to make this vision possible.
Step 2: Ideation Sketching
This step is extremely important for experimenting with proportions and potential arrangements. The most crucial piece of information I figured out from sketching was that I wanted a piece that would bend around the phone allowing for the phone to still be picked up from its base and the lamp shade to be held centered above it. I also knew that this curved piece would need to be hollow to allow the lamps wire to pass through.
Be sure to have dimensions in mind and consider material choices during this step, as it is important to consider color and aesthetic along with the functional needs of materials for best results. Unfortunately, I was only able to find the rough sketches pictured above for this step, which represent a few of the ideas I explored and fail to show any dimensions. I would definitely recommend that you come up with as many ideas as you possibly can for this step even if they seem crazy, as one idea can lead to another, leading to a more successful final product and detailed plan of attack.
Step 3: Finding Secondary Materials
Based on my sketches and ideas, I set out to find the curved hollow tube that I needed to wind around the phone. After some digging at my local reuse store I was able to find these two stainless steel shower head pipes and an escutcheon all of which were somehow in near perfect condition. This was a great find, the only issue was that the two pipes needed to become one solid piece.
I also had seen that the rotary phones wire was torn and dirty, so I decided to replace this small brown wire with a black spring cord from the reuse store in order to have the wire sit better and have improved reach with the phone in hand. I also remembered that I had this old pine chest that had been sitting around my house for about a year that I had found in an old barn during a demolition to reclaim salvageable barnwood. I realized that the lid of this chest could make a perfect height for a stand, and the finish on it was strikingly similar to the phones felt base along with the brass patina corner caps that related to both the tarnished rotary phone and shiny steel pipe.
I had wiring for standard lights and sockets along with a flip switch because I was working on a similar project too this at the time. These products were also purchased at the same reuse store. Finding each of these components was much easier than anticipated, and this part of the process doesn't typically work out so smooth. With all this new material and many ideas, I now had my next chunk of work cut out for me.
Step 4: Making the Wood Stand
Unfortunately, I don't have images for the process of this step, but I will do my best to explain it. First, I unscrewed all brass pieces from the top of the chest, removed the lid from the chest base, and planned the location of the cut I would need to make along with the hole needed for the shower head pipe. I then drew a guideline with a pencil and ruler and used a circular saw to complete the straight cut along the halfway point of the chest lid.
Next, I got a drill with a 1/2" diameter forstner bit (pictured above) and drilled a hole the same size as the shower head pipe where it would need to be to leave the right amount of space between the phone and rod. I additionally drilled two smaller holes where the phone could be fastened to the stand and remain centered.
Since I had cut the chest in half, the part where I cut was now open so you could see into the stand, so I needed to remove the end piece from the other half of the cut and transfer it over to the side I was using to cover this gap. Lastly, I temporarily removed the brass corner caps and hand sanded the old finish off of the outer wood faces with a sanding block, first with 100 grit to smooth larger inconsistencies, then with 220 to make the surface smooth to the touch.
Step 5: Connecting Shower Head Pipes
For this step, which I also failed to document, I used the two shower head pipes, a 2" copper pipe slightly smaller than the diameter of the shower pipe, a wire brush or scraping tool, clear epoxy, and painters tape. Proper ventilation is important for this step along with the use of a gas mask and safety goggles, gloves are recommended.
First, I planned out the exact way I wanted to place the 2 pipes, as one side was slightly longer than the other on each one. I ended up putting the two shorter sides together. I scored the inside of the pipes thoroughly with the wire brush in the places I planned to epoxy, and then laid them out on a flat surface. I set up 2 squares to insure that the pieces would stay straight during the drying process, and then carefully put a small amount of epoxy into each end of the pipes that would connect and loaded the copper pipe in between them, carefully pushing the two pipes together, and using painters tape to keep them in the right orientation and block the epoxy from spilling out between them. I set the pieces on the flat surface between the squares to bond overnight. This was likely the most challenging part of the assembly process, and many things could have gone wrong, when doing something of this nature, always have a clear plan to minimize additional problems.
Once the epoxy dried and the two pipes were in one piece, I needed a way to connect the bigger resulting pipe to the wood stand. A floor flange was the perfect solution to this problem. I used 4 screws to fasten the floor flange to the underside of the wood stand, being careful to insure that the pipe would screw tightly into place when facing straight forward over the phone.
Step 6: Finishing Wood Stand
The wood stand was fully assembled at this point, and I had hand sanded the old finish off of the wood due to some unwanted inconsistencies. With the brass components still set aside, it was time to apply the desired finish to the outer faces. I used a mix of MINWAX Sedona Red and Red Mahogany with the intent of matching the wood bases color to that of the phones felt base, a dark maroon. I coated the base with stain twice, waiting a day in between each coat. I did this with a felt brush to spread the finish, I waited 10-15 minutes, then brushed excess finish away with a cotton rag. A few days after the second coat, I applied clear polyurethane finish to the over the stain using the same method as before. I repeated the clear coat 2 more times to add a protective layer over the wood. I waited a day between each coat, and another day after the final coat to dry before completing the next steps.
Step 7: Final Assembly P1
This step is pretty straightforward. I began by reattaching the brass corner caps and screwed the shower head pipe into the floor flange on the wood base. I left the phone off at this point to make wiring easier.
Step 8: Wiring
For this step, you will need wire cutters/strippers, a soldering iron and solder, and 2 wire caps. Along with safety precautions of a gas mask, safety goggles, gloves, and proper ventilation.
At this point in the process, I had already been working on arranging the wires and insuring that my earlier process would work, so I had the wires lined up where they needed to be, cut and stripped the wire ends about 1/2", arranged them through the pipe and with the right amount of slack to fit perfectly into the wood base. I then twisted the wires I wanted to connect together, first, the ground wire from the switch with the ground of the bulbs wire, then the two remaining hot wires together. After the solder cooled, I carefully screwed on the end caps to the soldered joints to make the lamp safe for use and to not damage the wires connection.
Step 9: Final Assembly P2
For this step, I used two screws to fasten the rotary phone to the wood base with the threaded holes that existed inside of the phones base. Lastly, I twisted the black spring cord into place from the phone to the phone dock. I screwed a 60W lightbulb into place atop the shower head pipe, and placed the lampshade on top of the bulb, concluding the assembly.
This project is obviously an unusual case for the use of repurposed materials, but I hope that by guiding you through my process, you can see the freedom in artistic expression along with material choices that is possible with a repurposed medium. The parts I used ranged from an old phone, lampshade, plumbing pipes, electrical wires, floor flange, and an old wooden chest. No two projects will turn out the same when working with repurposed components, and I think thats exactly the beauty of this process. By working on a repurposed project, you can feel better about reducing your material waste, save money on materials, inspire others to create similar projects, and remind people in an engaging way that the way they consume products is extremely important. With climate change impending and landfills overflowing, there is no better time than right now to make people more aware of these issues in as many ways possible. Get out and make your own unique project! The possibilities are truly endless!
Runner Up in the