Shoji Lanter

Firewood and Fine Art

The other day, we were sitting out the patio enjoying the warm spring weather. We were getting ready to have a braai, and I had just opened a new bag of Kameeldoring fire wood. While hauling bits of wood out of the bag, I came across a rather interesting piece. It was about 35 cm long, and about 10 cm thick. The inside of the wood had rotted through giving it a really cool appearance. I immediately thought I had to do something with it. It looked just too nice to throw on the braai.

I used my power washer to clean off the caked in drit and muck and get rid of some of the punky, rotten wood. After leaving it to dry in the sun for a couple of hours I used a wire brush to remove the rough outer pieces and smooth it down. I used my Dremmel with a fine rotary sanding attachment to clean the inside. It started to take shape quite nicely!

I scratched through my odds ‘n sods bin and came across a piece of Blackwood with a live edge. I straightened the edges on the table saw, and sanded it down. I used a piece of copper tubing to give it a little more height and place for the bulb and shade to attach.

I smoothed the wood down with some steel wool before applying two coats of a dark beeswax finish. I wired in a bulb and added a lamp and it was done.

Firewood Lamps
My firewood lamp.

And then, suddenly, popping into my YouTube feed was a series of videos on Japanese lanterns, or Shoji Lamps. I had to try and make one. I thought hand cutting dovetail joints was tough, but this was truly something else. In traditional Japanese carpentry, the Shoji screens contain hand-cut and elaborate kumiko or lattice patterns covered in paper. I scratched around in my odds ‘n sods and found some Beach and Kiaat pieces. These were perfect for what I had in mind,

I cut and planed and polished, and then planed some more. I squared the Kiaat side pieces at 20mm each and cut the half-lap joints in each to form the frame. I planed and squared the Beech to form the kumiko lattice pieces. These were planed to 8mm each and then I hand cut the lap joints to form the lattice. This was where the challenge lay. This is delicate, and detailed work and takes a fair degree of planning to get it right. I struggle to draw plans and prefer to work things out as I go along. That works out 9 times out of 10, when I making something rustic like the Firewood lamp. If its a little off square it adds character. If the proportion is not quite right, keep cutting till it looks right. However with these fine woodworking pieces, it has to be right. Every mistake is horribly amplified and easily noticeable.

The Kiaat frame, not yet glued and sanded yet.

I sanded all the pieces to 220 grit and gave it a fine polish with 00 steel wool. I used some white beeswax as a finishing coat. I used spray glue and translucent trace paper for the screens and wired in an LED bulb. A little bit of wood, paper and a gazillion hours of patience, cutting and fitting and it was done.

These two pieces couldn’t be more contrasting. The Firewood lamp is rough and rugged. It is striking in its appearance and the wood was saved from cooking my lamb chops by chance. The Shoji lamp is delicate, proportioned and balanced. When lit, it has a soft diffuse glow.

The light is soft and diffuse and the contrast between the Beech and Kiaat is beatiful.

Let There be Light

My love of lamps was inherited from my mother. We grew up in a house filled with lamps. Bedside lamps, table lamps, reading lamps, desk lamps. They were made from wood and brass, and plastic, and steel. The shades were plastic and glass, vinyl and cloth. Any type of lamp you could think of, we had in the house. Of course, me being me, I pretty much disassembled and reassembled every single one of them at one stage or another. Most of the time without my mother knowing.

After I moved out of the house and into my own place, I forgot about lamps. Life was full of adventure and travel, work and marriage. However, nature is strong and it was inevitable that I would return to the lamps.

I built my first lamp in 2016. I was leaving the office one night when I spotted an interesting looking pallet lying outside our neighbor’s warehouse. The pallet had collapsed and was being thrown out. What caught my eye though was the base of the pallet. There were three solid pieces of what looked like rosewood. I stopped the car and loaded them into the back.

Whether they were truly the rosewood species used for making fine furniture or not is a matter of some debate. But they were definitely a hardwood with a feel and texture like rosewood. It also had that beautiful smell rosewood gives off when it is worked. It nearly burnt out my table saw it was so hard to work, but there was enough of it for me to create a free-standing, articulating reading lamp. I unfortunately can only find one pic of that lamp. The piece consisted of three articulating sections and it could be raised or lowered depending on the users preference. The wood perfectly complimented the style of the lamp. It never looked like wood reclaimed from an abandoned pallet.

Articulating Reading Lamp
Articulating reading lamp. I have another three pallet bases. Hmm… Maybe another one of these is on my event horizon.

I was hooked and started looking for my next lamp project. I had a rosewood door frame that had broken in half while the carpenter was installing it. We could not fit it and had to replace it. I had kept the frame and it had moved to Cape Town with us. I had already used parts of to make a set of candy striped occasional tables, and I thought a pair of candy stripe lamps might be a nice accompaniment. I got some white oak and the candy strip lamps were born. My in-laws had just moved to the Cape and mother-in-law took one look at the lamps and immediately lay claim to them.

Candy stripe table Lamp
Candy Stripe Table Lamp made from virgin white oak and rosewood.

I love the feet on this and which were added as a last minute addition. I would like to incorporate this into other designs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My next lamp project was made from some reclaimed oak barrels. I got these from a wine farm in Robertson. They had been abandoned outdoors after the barrels had collapsed. They had spent a lot of time outdoors, and the staves looked beaten and broken. But the amazing thing about oaks is how tough it is. Cleaning off the weathered wood revealed the beauty of the oak beneath, and I quickly assembled five of the staves into a lamp. The curved based taking the shape of the original barrel while the two upper staves reach gracefully upwards and join to hold the lamp. This remains one of my favorite pieces.

Reclaimed Wine Barrel Lamp
The reclaimed wine barrel lamp, proving just how tough oak is.

 

 

 

The base of the lamp follows the gentle curve that the original wine barrel would have had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My next project was a prototype of a desk lamp. I love articulating joints, and I that seems to be trendy in desk lamps. I recently bought a stack of wood from my late friend’s wife. The family were moving to a new house, and she had to clear his old workshop. He was a shipwright and a master woodworker. He had loads of bits and pieces of scrap and odds and ends that he had squirreled away over the years. In among the pile was some Oregon pine. It was perfect for what I had in mind. It was just supposed to be a prototype, but the wood worked beautifully. It practically assembled itself, and the result is a beautiful modern articulating desk lamp. I will be making more of these from various woods that I have in the workshop.

Articulating Desk Lamp
Articulating Desk Lamp. These are for sale on my website, and are extremely popular.

I believe that everything has a story. I think that the standing lamp worked because the wood had been abandoned and was given the opportunity to show how beautiful it was.  The barrel lamp was testimony to how graceful oak trees are, but how tough, long lasting and versatile the wood is. The articulating desk lamp captured the spirit of my late friend. He was easy going, friendly and respected by everyone who knew him. He was deeply loved by his family and friends, and I still look back fondly on the many evenings we spent sipping brandy and sharing stories. He always had a good story to tell. That lamp captures his spirit.

But perhaps my favorite story about lamps takes me back to mother. When I first started working, I worked a late-night shift and would travel home in the early hours of the morning. I was still living with my parents. I would come home at two am and go into my parent’s bedroom, where my mother would leave her favorite tiffany lamp burning. They would be asleep and I would turn the light off. If my mother woke up during the night she would know I was home safe and sound if the light was off, and contently go back to sleep. I always think of her and that story whenever I make a lamp.

The articulating desk lamps are for sale in various wood species. Prices range for R540.00 to R750.00 depending on the type of wood. The sample shown here is R540.00 including the fancy light bulb.