Saturday, January 28, 2012

Build an Nearly Working Miniature Arco Lamp In 19 Easy Steps

I have always coveted the Arco lamp by Castiglione. I came tantalizingly close to scoring one for $300 from an antique dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It one one of those galleries that was never open and you had to call for an appointment. But, the owner was a friend of a friend, and the lamp was in his attic. Can I tell you that the inside of this man's house was one of the most exciting I had ever been in? He had mid-century modern things piled everywhere (it didn't create the spare, minimal environment one normally associates with these pieces). Anyhow, the lamp was in his attic, and it was hot and stuffy and crowded, and I said we'd do it another time. Two weeks later he was killed in a car crash and his antiques were sold at auction in New York City (NEW YORK CITY!?!?!).

So, now that I'm making miniatures, one of the first things I thought of making was the lamp. Would you like to try to make a Castiglione Arco lamp on your own, as well? Here's what you'll need to create one:

  1. (Optional) Buy K & S aluminum tubes in sizes 1/8" and 1/16" sizes, and find out that these are too big and too small respectively.
  2. Take a small, silver plastic Christmas ornament and cut through it with a hot knife. I found my ornaments in a Salvation Army store. I would imagine you could find them at a Christmas shop, but my preliminary internet searches have turned up none quite the right size. Make a hole in the cut ornament with a heated paper clip. This will be your shade.
  3. Buy K & S aluminum tubes in 3/32" size. I bought mine at Dick Blick's, but you can order them here. Luckily, these are exactly the right size for this project, so you don't need the blades that I bought for the Exacto knife that I bought at Dick Blick's.
  4. Thread your shade and your wire through the tube now, so that the tube won't kink when you're bending it, and also so that you don't want to take a hostage trying to get the wire through a tube with a curve in it. Trust me on this last tip.  The wire I used is phone cord wire, but only one wire fit through the tube, so husband told me with such low voltage I could just solder the light to the tube and use that as to conduct the current.  Okay.
  5. Download an image of the Arco lamp and scale it down. For my purposes, I chose the 1/12 scale. So, the actual lamp is 8' tall, so in Photoshop, resize the image to be 8" tall. In the words of David St. Hubbins, "I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object."
  6. Print out the image and make a jig (look at me, using words like "jig" with its non-dancey interpretation) by pounding nails along the shape of the arc. Curve the tube along the jig. Now you have a nice arc shape in the correct scale. Now, the fun really begins.
  7. Buy a AA single battery case and some random LED's from your local Radio Shack. Take them home and become educated from your electrical engineer husband about voltage. Seems that AA batteries have 1.5 volts, and most of your LED's are 6V. This, apparently, will not work.
  8. Take most of the LED's back to Radio Shack except for the correct voltage LED. Then puzzle about how to fashion a nice looking case for the battery holder.
  9. Create a template for a net to create a cardboard box to cover box. This will be easy, since you teach math by day and you are a net master. Then realize that you are not a Photoshop master, and it will be harder than you thought. After you finish it, and build it, you realize that it will be too flimsy and there is no way to switch it on and off, nor can you open it to change the battery. Buy switches from Radio Shack.
  10. Around this time, you will realize that using the tube to conduct would work great, except that the aforementioned tube is aluminum, and I covered soldering aluminum in a previous post.  I actually bought aluminum flux, but when I received it in the mail, my husband told me it was welding flux, and it's not the same, or so I'm told.  I had no idea the depths of my ignorance regarding some topics.  Return flux.
  11. Fiddle around with button cell candle things bought at the dollar store.  It comes with a switch!  Cut open case.  Then figure out that the candle light flickers, and you don't want your lamp to flicker.  I knew the candle flickered when I bought it, but I thought there might be a flicker chip or a flickerization capacitor or some such thing that could simply be removed.  No such luck.  Awareness of ignorance deepens yet again. 
  12. Decide on electrical power. Return switches and battery cases. Buy bulbs with socket and cord. I got mine at AC Moore's on sale for $5 a pair, but you can buy them here. Try your best not to take a prisoner now, as you have now threaded another wire through your previously bent tube.
  13. Make a base out of Sculpey clay. Make a hole in it using one of the aluminum tubes you bought. Realize that this now ruins the tube, since it is now filled with clay.
  14. Print out some pictures of marble. I used this image. Mod Podge that onto the Sculpey base.
  15. Thread the wire through the base, and reattach the plug.
  16. Realize that your lamp is now top-heavy. Swear and pound fists. Puzzle now on how to make the base heavier (fishing sinkers? pie weights?)
  17. Now buy an outlet strip and transformer. I bought the outlet strip from ebay, and I purchased the transformer at AC Moore with a 50% off coupon.
  18. Would you believe that the outlet and the transformer don't fit together correctly? At this point, it becomes funny.  My transformer is for copper tape dollhouse electricity.  I need the one for round wire.  Duh!  Return it.  Order what I sincerely hope is the correct one.
  19. Rethink battery idea. Battery holders come with covers. Buy dollhouse conductive, 2-strand wire. Mod Podge marble image to battery case.
I am tantalizingly close to have my first working Arco lamp. The one in the picture is the electrically untested, top-heavy version, which is why it is leaning on the pink plastic thing. I will post the spectacular, working results AS SOON AS I HAVE A WORKING LIGHT. If you don't want to do this THE HARD WAY, I'm selling these in my store. That way you can enjoy your working Arco lamp, without the time and money spent trying to build it yourself. Either way, an Arco lamp is cool and fun, except when you're actually trying to make it.

Maybe I'm not quite as "made" for this as I had assumed. I will persevere, however. It will only be the electronics that will be this difficult. That, and the soldering. But, didn't my couch come out cute?


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