Acrylic, Wood, and LED lamp

Length of Project:
Project theme:
Suitable for grades:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • wood, any type, ~3"x3"x5"
  • clear acrylic sheet, ~1/4" x 3-1/2" x 3-1/2"
  • three "5mm LEDs", all the same colour
  • two 3-V lithium coin batteries (eg, CR2032 or similar)
  • one small (3/4" width) binder clip
  • one rocker switch (or small switch of your choice) ~1/2" x 1" or less on its face
  • ~10cm insulated wire, approx 20 gauge
  • wood finish of your choice
Tool list
  • table saw
  • mitre saw
  • drill press
  • 1/4" drill bit (same diameter as 5mm LED bulbs)
  • soldering iron & solder
  • sandpaper (80-220 grit) - if using enameled wire
  • wire strippers - if using plastic insulated wire
  • electrical tape
  • masking tape
  • strong glue (eg, super glue)
  • rotary tool & etching bit
  • scraper
  • ruler or measuring tape

    Assemble the electrical components

  1. Test your LEDs to make sure they are working: one at a time, slide their wires over a coin battery, making sure that the long wire (positive) is making contact with the positive battery terminal, and that the short wire (negative) is making contact with the negative battery terminal. Choose 3 LEDs that light up properly.
  2. Cut two 8 cm strips of electrical tape and stick them sticky side together to form an insulating strip.  Fold this in half so it’s 4cm long. 
  3. Stack your two batteries in series (positive to negative terminals), then place them in the fold of your insulated strip. 
  4. Pinch the binder clip over the batteries, making sure that the electrical tape prevents the batteries from touching any part of the binder clip. If any part of the metal is touching the batteries, you could create a short circuit and your lamp won’t work, so make sure you are exact with this step.
  5. Splay out the LED wires so they are 180 degrees apart, then solder the 3 LEDs together in a line (positive to negative, long wire to short wire) so that the centres of the plastic bulbs are exactly 1” apart.
  6. Solder the SHORT end wire (negative) to one of the switch terminals. Add the other end to the binder clip: secure the LONG end wire (positive) against the positive battery terminal. Do NOT solder any wires to the battery terminals.
  7. Use sandpaper to strip approximately 1cm of the enamel insulation off the ends of the 10cm wire length (or, if using plastic insulated wire, strip the ends with wire strippers). Solder one wire end to the free switch terminal. Open the binder clip and secure the other wire end against the negative battery terminal. Again, do NOT solder wires to battery terminals.
  8. Unfold the binder clip wings so that they lay forward, insulated from the LEDs and wire by the electrical tape strip ends.
  9. Test your circuit by turning the switch on. The LEDs should light up. If not, ensure that no part of the binder clip is touching the batteries. Check that you have connected your LEDs positive to negative (if any are backward, they will not light up)
  10. Construct the wood base

  11. Use a table saw and mitre saw to cut your wood piece into a rectangular cylinder of 2” x 1-½" x 4”.  You will be cutting a bottom groove to house the electrical components, and a top groove for your acrylic piece to sit in.
  12. Use the table saw to make the bottom groove (1” deep and ½" wide, or whatever dimensions allow space for your switch and binder clip): Set the saw height to 1”. Set the fence to ¾" from the blade. Run the block through to make the first cut, then turn your piece 180 degrees and run it through again. These alternating saw passes keeps your groove centred. Carefully increase the distance between the fence and the blade little by little, making the same 180 degree opposing passes until your groove is the desired ½" wide.
  13. Repeat this method to make the top groove: 11/16” deep by whatever width your acrylic thickness is. Check often with a piece of acrylic to make sure you don’t remove too much wood if you want your acrylic to fit snugly.
  14. Mark out and drill your ¼" holes vertically into the remaining wood between the grooves. You want one hole in the very centre, and the other two holes exactly 1” to either side.
  15. Sand your base starting with 80 grit and working your way up to 220. Apply your chosen finish and let it dry.
  16. Design and make the acrylic fitting

  17. Choose a 3-½" x 2-½" horizontal design you want to etch onto your acrylic. You could print a photo or sketch a design on a blank piece of paper.
  18. Use the table saw to cut your acrylic sheet to approximately 3-½" square. Peel off any protective adhesives. Use masking tape to secure your picture to the back of the acrylic so you can see the design through the material. Keep in mind that the bottom 11/16” will be hidden in the top groove of the base and will not be seen.
  19. Tape your acrylic (paper on the bottom) to the table top or a large flat piece of wood. Use the rotary tool with a fine etching point to scratch in the lines according to your picture guide on the paper below. You do not have to etch deeply – any small scratches on the surface of the acrylic will pick up with light as it shines through.
  20. You may choose to clean up the edges of your acrylic with a sharp scraper if you don’t want a rough edge from the table saw cuts.
  21. Assemble the parts

  22. Turn your wood base upside down, and run some glue into the groove between the holes. Place your circuit down into the glue, arranging the LEDs through the holes, making sure that they sit just below the top of the hole so that your acrylic piece isn’t sitting proud on the LEDs.
  23. Affix the switch so it sticks out for use on one side of the base, and ensure that the binder clip is tucked all the way in on the other side.
  24. Place a few dots of glue between the LED holes in the top groove of your base, and slide the acrylic sheet down in place.
  25. Find a dark room to appreciate the full effect of your new lamp!
Extension Challenges
  1. Create a lamp with your own dimensions.
  2. Make a bevel along the edge of the acrylic to create a lit frame effect.
  3. Try using LEDs of different colours.
  4. Make a mini version with one tiny LED and a smaller battery.
  5. Wire in a microcontroller that changes the timing and colours of the lights.
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