Bright Idea: The Plastic Bottle Lamp
Try this update on a 1961 PopSci project: a cheap and stylish lamp base molded from a plastic bottle
Poring through the Popular Science archives on Google, I found a DIY project that’s just as novel now as it was in 1961.
“Take a look at those plastic detergent bottles your wife uses and you’ll find they come in many smart-looking shapes,” was how the article began. A lot has happened in the past 48 years. For one, your wife isn’t the only person using plastic bottles. Also, today they hold a lot more than detergent. With some basic materials and a few hours time it’s possible to cast a sturdy lamp base using an empty bottle as your form.
Although the original version of this DIY used No. 1 molding plaster as the mold material, here we’re using Smooth-On 305 plastic for its durability and strength. It’s substantially more expensive, so if budget is your main concern, plaster is probably the way to go. If you choose that route, simply follow the mixing/setting instructions on the package and use it where you see Smooth-On 305 here.
Look around the house and you’ll find plastic bottles everywhere. The ideal bottle still keeps its shape after all the liquid has been removed. In other words, don’t choose one that’s too thin and flimsy. Bottles with too much surface detail become frustrating during the stage where you have to coat inside the bottle with a thin film of Vaseline. Peel off the label before starting and you’ll find many bottles have been designed with texture to help those born with butter fingers—but they won’t help you with this project.
Lastly, the bottle’s bottom should touch the surface it’s sitting on 360-degrees around in order to form a perfectly flat base.
To learn how to do this project step-by-step, launch the photo gallery.
In the video below, you’ll see the entire process in time-lapse form.
You’ll notice I didn’t cut out a hole in the bottom leaving a rim around the edge, but instead cut off an inch or so of the bottom of the bottle. This was done because the bottle was larger than the 32 ounces of Smooth-On I’d be pouring in and I wanted it to rise to the top. As the video continues you’ll notice my measurement was still a little off and the Smooth-On didn’t even reach the bottom of the Advil bottle. This is obviously a huge problem because the point of the Advil bottle is to create a recess for the rod and cord. Once the mold was complete I had a lamp base that had 1/4″ rod sticking out the bottom and there was no chance this was going to sit flat on a table. At this point I put on my improvisation hat and decided three adjustable feet could be added to the bottom so the rod and cord wouldn’t get in the way. Oh, and I didn’t have a lampshade yet, so that’s why the mixing bucket was used.
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 1
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 2
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 3
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 4
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 5
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 6
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 7
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 8
Plastic Bottle Lamp Base; Fig. 9
The Finished Lamp, With Molded Base
Materials for this project
The Original PopSci Project, from 1961