Unique Floor Lamps Using Vintage Books
I’ve seen a couple of unique floor lamps created by stacking vintage books up around the lamp itself. I wanted to give it a try myself. There are a couple of tricks to it, which I’ve learned and will share here. Depending on the lamp you start with and the books you choose, you can build some really unique floor lamps relatively easily. Here’s how mine turned out.
The first item you want to select is the lamp you’ll use for the project. Everything else is dependent on the specific lamp, so choose this first. If you don’t have a lamp in mind second hand stores, thrift shops, and the like are good sources for unique floor lamps. You can buy lamps very inexpensively. Ideally, the shaft of the lamp should be smooth. This will make it easy to slide the books down later on. The two parts which are going to matter cosmetically are the base of the lamp and the head, where the socket and shade are. The books will cover most of the pole, so it needn’t be pretty.
The next thing to pick out are the books. There are an infinite number of options here. The only real requirement is that you have enough of them. I wanted to put a shelf on my lamp on top of the books. I measured a good height for a couch-side shelf would be about 28 or 29 inches. Subtract from that the height of the lamp base, and then you know how many inches of books you need.
You can pick matching books like I did, a set of encyclopedias, or you can use a collection of different looks and sizes of books. By picking different sets of books and lamps you can create several different looking unique floor lamps. Just don’t use any signed books, first editions, or anything which will become valuable
I wanted to add a shelf to the top of my stack of books, so I choose a board with the same width as the books I was using. Since my books were about 8″ x 11″, I needed 2 feet of a 1×9 board. I also used some wood stain to match the color of the rest of the lamp, and some polyurethane to protect it. I cut the board to a length about 1/2″ longer than my books, used a router and a shoulder bit to round off the edges, drilled the center hole, sanded it, stained it, and used the polyurethane to protect it from glass circles.
Depending on the base of your lamp, you may want a way to support the books slightly above the base. If your base is flat and ugly, the books can just rest on the base and hide it for you. If the base is decorative and you want to show it, you can support the books just above the base as I did. I used a piece of hardware called a shaft collar to mount on the pole at the desired height, then added a board on top of that, the same size as the books, which would support the books. There are no hard and fast rules to creating unique floor lamps, they wouldn’t be unique if there were.
Since we’re going to drill holes in the books and slide them over the lamp pole, we need a drill and a bit which is at least as large as the diameter of the pole. The lamp I chose had a 1 inch diameter pole, so i used a 1 inch bit. This way the books would fit snugly on the pole. I’ve seen other projects where a larger hole was drilled, allowing the books to move around. It’s purely your choice.
I chose to use a drill press instead of a handheld drill for this project for a couple of reasons. The drill press allows me to drill perfectly straight holes, so my books wouldn’t be cockeyed on the pole. The drill press lets me drill straight, repeatable holes.
Also, some experimentation showed me that drilling through a book with a high speed drill burned the paper and cover. A drill press typically has adjustable speeds, so I could drill at a slower speed.
I learned that if you drill through the book without clamping it tightly shut, pages in the middle will tear and build up around the edges of the hole. This makes the book fatter in the middle, and it won’t close neatly. To make sure the book will stay flat, it needs to be clamped tightly shut during drilling. Since the drill press has a table, I clamped the book to the table. This made drilling the hole simple and resulted in a neat hole. I used two ratchet bar clamps like this one.
If you’re looking for an excuse to buy a drill press this may be it. Make sure you get adjustable speeds, and make sure the reach of the press is enough that the book can be centered under the bit. I used an 8″ drill press, and it was just barely big enough to center a hole on an 8″ x 11″ book. I would suggest a 10″ drill press to be safe. I suggest this drill press:
It’s a 10″, it has 5 speeds, the price is great for a brand name, and it gets good reviews.
The next thing to consider is the bit. I tried both a spade bit and an auger bit for drilling through the books. The spade bit started to build up material (paper) between the bit and the edge of the hole, jamming the drill press. I was able to drill through, but spent a lot of time stopping and clearing out the paper from the hole as I went. I thought an auger bit might be better at evacuating the material so I switched to a 1″ auger bit. That turned out to be even worse. The tip of the auger bit is made to draw it down into the material, and did that so well that I couldn’t drill slowly. The bit was drawn down onto the book so tightly, it jammed before it could cut anything. Through some experimentation I found that the best combination was a spade bit (aka a butterfly bit) running at the second speed on the drill press. I still had to stop to clean out material, but only a couple of times per book.
Start by disassembling your lamp. Remove the shade and harp. Then remove the cover around the light bulb socket. Since these are crimped on, you may have to pry the bottom away from it a little, and rock the cover back forth. Once it’s removed, you can pull the socket up and unscrew the wires from it. Remove enough parts from the lamp to get down to the top of the pole. Leave the pole intact with the wire running through it to the top.
If you’re using a shaft collar, shelf, or anything else to support the books, add them in the appropriate order. Thread the wire through the parts, then slide the parts down the pole to the desired location. Tighten the shaft collar down well, it needs to support quite a bit of weight.
Drill the books. It’s best if you try one or two books which you don’t need first until you find the technique which works best for you. I wanted all of my books to line up neatly, so I drilled the holes in the same place in each book. If you want a jagged stack, offset the hole locations an inch or two toward the top and bottom of the books. This process takes a while, be patient.
Clean up the books and slide them onto the pole in the order you want them. I used a dry microfiber cloth to wipe the books down. It got the paper dust out of all the texture of the covers very well. If you want the books to stay in position relative to each other, you can hot glue the cover of one book and then stack the next book on it. I left mine free to spin so I could experiment with different looks later.
Once you have enough books on the lamp pole to reach the right height for the shelf, add another shaft collar to keep the stack in place, and then add the shelf on top of that.
Finally, just reassemble the top of the lamp. Thread the wire back through any sections you removed, and attach the wires back to the socket. Replace the cover, harp, and shade. Congratulations, you’re done!
Share Your Unique Floor Lamps
I’d love to see picture of unique floor lamps you’ve created like this – please share pictures!