Several months ago I found an amazing light fixture online and fell head over heels in love with it. It sparked a spinoff DIY idea that knocked my socks off, but I kept it under my hat for a while. I nursed the idea for a few months, plotting carefully, working up the courage to attempt it…
I’ve once or twice claimed to be a “fearless DIYer”, but that’s not actually how I see myself. If anything, I’m somewhat of a fearful DIYer. My creative side is restricted by my perfectionist side. I’m often intimidated by the processes/tools/skills required to make my ideas a reality, so I put them off or write them off. I don’t just dive in and hope for the best – I have best-case, worst-case, and zombie apocalypse scenarios worked out beforehand.
But deep inside, I knew I could figure out a way to make my dream light fixture come to life…
So fears be damned, I sat down and did some freaking geometry.
And, well, this happened…
My light fixture: $50…
- $15 10″ Ikea Foto pendant light (from the infamous Ikea trip)
- $20: two pieces of 10’ 1/2” copper pipe
- $10: two packages of 25’ copper wire
Inspiration light fixture: $2111: The Block 2 light, designed by Henry Pilcher.
I’m going to take you on a step by step… journey… of how I built this icosahedron light fixture. Tutorial just doesn’t seem to cover the epic scale of this endeavor. Tutorial feels a little too middle school, while I’m going for a lot more middle earth with this whole “journey” metaphor. Come be the Samwise Gamgee to my Frodo on this adventure? (And yes, I’ve been rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy lately. Extended editions. Your point?)
We begin by facing our deadliest foe yet…
Step 1. Math.
Remember when I said “I sat down and did some freaking geometry”? Like I’m all bad/tough yet good at math? Truthfully, I had a little help with the geometry. To say it is not my strong suit would be an understatement. I’m just impressed that I managed to figure out that my inspiration light fixture was 20-sided, composed of equilateral triangles, and called an “icosahedron.” After that, I needed to borrow Bryan’s brain.
I began by tracing the base of my light fixture. I knew that I needed to fit the circle inside a pentagon (see this diagram to help you visualize how an icosahedron fits together), so we divided our circle into 5 sections with a protractor (72 degrees/section). Bryan helped me figure out that 7.5” sides for the pentagon (and hence, for the entire icosahedron) was a close enough number while giving me an easy length to cut. In retrospect, once assembled, the entire icosahedron came out a little large for the Ikea pendant light, so I probably could have shaved the sides down to 7.25” or so.
This seems so simple now, but I assure you, trying to wrap my mind around the circle-within-a-pentagon and pentagon-to-icosahedron was quite the headache. Grr. Maths!
Step 2. Spray paint.
The 10” Foto lights from Ikea come in silver, green, red and beige, but I wanted/needed black, so I taped around the wire and did a few coats of glossy black spray paint*.
*denotes affiliate link: shop from your sofa and contribute a few pennies to The Gathered Home – win-win!
Step 3. Cut the pipe.
An icosahedron has 30 equilateral edges, so I needed to cut my copper pipe into thirty 7.5” pieces. A 10’ pipe will give you sixteen 7.5” pieces (plus 1/2” to 1” extra, I discovered, as they aren’t exactly 10 feet), which is why I needed to purchase two 10’ pieces. If a 10’ pipe is too long for you to safely transport home, and it very nearly was for me even in the bed of my truck, you could always cut the pipes in half at the 5’ mark before loading them into your vehicle, using one of these*:
Although cutting all thirty pieces was a little tedious, this small copper pipe cutter worked just fine. First, I made dots at the 7.5” mark all around the diameter of the pipe with a sharpie.
Then I lined the blade in the pipe cutter up with the sharpie marks, tightened it, and laid it on its back on a flat surface.
I found it easiest to rotate the pipe against the cutter, rather than vice versa. Otherwise, my hand began to seriously cramp. After you turn the pipe to score it, you tighten the wheel on the top of the cutter, the blade scores a little deeper into the pipe, and a few turns later, the two pieces separate – easy peasy! I also put on a pair of nitrile work gloves* right after this, because my hands began slipping & burning on the pipe after a little while. So, pro-tip: wear gloves.
All in all, the cutting process took a little over an hour with the majority of the time spent measuring and marking my cuts.
Step 4. Clean the pipe.
Once all 30 pieces were cut, I used some very fine 0000 grade steel wool* to remove the red ink markings from the copper pipe. It worked like a charm – fresh, shiny, pure copper pieces ready for assembly. 15 minutes.
Step 5. Assembly.
This is the most detailed step, and the one for which I have the least amount of advice and helpful photos. I began with three copper pieces and as long a piece of copper wire as I could manage.
After I made one complete equilateral triangle, I kept adding triangles using one of the existing pieces as a side. (You might find this YouTube video helpful). While I wish I could be more informative, I’ll repeat that I do not have a geometrically inclined mind, so I had a hard time visualizing what exactly I was doing. I just kept in mind that each “point” of the icosahedron had five edges running into it, and the shape really did build itself. It was amazing watching it become 3D beneath my fingers. Gotta love that math!
When I ran short on wire, I twisted it off at an edge of one of the pipes and attached a new piece, tucking the edges inside the pipe. 50’ of copper wire was just enough for me to complete the icosahedron (with literally only inches remaining), but that is partly because I had a false start and cut my wire too short at first, leading to some loss.
Before closing up the icosahedron entirely, I made sure to fit my light fixture inside. I didn’t do this at first, but you will want to run the wire for the light fixture through the center of one of the points of the icosahedron, and then close it up around it. I forgot to do this at first, so I had to open up one of the points after the fact and re-thread my wire.
Hopefully these pictures will help make sense of everything.
This first shot is before I realized I need to run the cord through a point of the icosahedron, which is why it is looped around. If you loop it, the light fixture will not hang centered within the icosahedron and it will drive you/me crazy.
Step 6. Hang it.
I mounted a plant hanging bracket on the wall up by the ceiling (with heavy duty toggle bolts – this light fixture isn’t a featherweight). My initial plan was to hang the light fixture with its own cord by looping it over the bracket, however I ended up using a piece of black rope (a shoelace, in fact) to remove the strain from the cord. This allowed me to position the lamp within the icosahedron exactly where I wanted it – I could separately control the height of the icosahedron and the height of the lamp. (In the photo below, see how it hangs down a little ways into the icosahedron?)
The purpose/destination of this light fixture? Task lighting over my side of our DIY Ikea hack double desk!
As you can see, I ran the cord down the corner of the wall to the outlet. (FYI, the Foto light has a plug on the other end of its decently lengthy cord). It may not make a whole lot of sense just yet in the context of the room, but we have these amazing reclaimed wood shelves that are going up across the other 2/3 of the desk, so this light is centered between the corner and where the shelves will start. With the slanted ceiling, this is the best placement for everything.
It’s perfectly easy to reach through the copper pieces to screw/unscrew a light bulb. I can’t decide if I love this light more on or off…
And that is the incredibly long-winded tale of how I faced my fears, fought my polyhedron-shaped demons, and built one kickass copper light fixture. The End.