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What NOT to Do When Designing a Table Lamp

Thinking about designing a lamp? Here are a few things I've learned along the way that might save you from wishing you had done it differently.

My business started out as an idea for three wooden lamps. The lamp designing process is very near and dear to my heart. While these tips may seem obvious to some, they will hopefully make you consider some elements that you haven't before.

TIP ONE: Do not use a socket with a bar switch if your lamp shade is small. Yes, I've made this mistake. My first lamp (that now lives in my son's room) is a small lamp that I have to reach my hand up and into to turn it on and off. Is it doable? Yeah. But, it's really not preferred. Small lamps are more convenient with line switches. You can add a line switch to any cord easily. A line switch can even be added to a lamp with an existing bar switch which I should really do to that first lamp.

table lamp with yellow textile cord with line switch

Pro Tip: Consider where the line switch is placed on the cord, too. Having it too close to the plug doesn't make it convenient for turning on/off. Consider that someone will probably have this lamp on a side or end table, and they will want to comfortably reach the switch without needing to get off the couch or out of bed.

small table lamp with line switch

TIP TWO: Do not forget to give the lamp base a neck. We've all seen those basic, bulky cylinder-shaped lamp bases. I know you're thinking, 'Krista, those lamps exist, so this tip can't work in every case, right?' Um, no, it works in every case. 100% of the time when I've looked at one of my lamp bases on the lathe and thought, 'no, something is not right' - it is always the neck. It really is a requirement. Give the lamp a neck that is more slender than the rest of the lamp base and slightly longer than you think - and watch it instantly look like a lamp.

walnut table lamp base on the lathe
small table lamp base on wood turning lathe

I consider any table lamp to have three main components. A lamp base, a light source, and a transition between the two. Did you notice I didn't include a shade in that list? Lamp shades are not required for a well-designed lamp, but that transition really is necessary for your design to look intentional and thought-through. Having a neck that is the narrowest part of the lamp draws your eye to the central part of the lamp and creates cohesion between the other two elements of the lamp - either [the base + the shade] or [the base + the bulb].

walnut table lamp with linen shade

Pro Tip: When making a lamp that involves a lamp shade, take into consideration that the neck will be partially covered by the shade (usually at least an inch depending on size and scale of the lamp), so consider accounting for that when you design the neck. Don't put some really cool detail at the very top of the neck. Even if it isn't covered by the shade, it may be obscured when viewing the lamp from certain angles. You want the light bulb to be placed in the center of the shade (height wise), so the larger the lamp and the taller the shade, the longer the neck.

small walnut table lamp base on lathe

TIP THREE: Don't pick the wrong type of lamp shade hardware. Spider rings, uno rings, euro fitters, and clip-ons are some of the most common options. When I started making wooden lamps, the lamps were pretty small. I would design the wooden base first based on whether it would fit on my lathe. Next, I would figure out the shade dimensions that looked proportional to the base. Sometimes, the 'perfect' shade was fairly short and required a short harp with my spider rings.

While harps can come in sizes as small as 6" tall, that doesn't mean that those harps will hold a standard size bulb. There are a variety of available light bulb options, but it is nice to use a standard size bulb with your lamp. Great design requires thinking about the end-user of your product. Is it easy to find light bulbs that fit? Is it easy to change the bulb?

There are alternatives to using a harp, like using a clip-on shade (or a clip-on adapter) to be able to use the shorter shade and not have to use a different bulb with an extra short harp. You can also use an uno ring with a drop shade that attached underneath the light bulb. For more information about lamp shade hardware and terminology, visit this blog post.

lamp shade hardware with harp in nickel
brass lamp shade hardware clip-on adapter

TIP FOUR: Don't forget to consider the hardware finish. While for many lamps, the hardware is covered by the lamp shade, you might think the metal finish you choose doesn't matter. We are currently in a transition period where we have moved away from the cool metals. The silvers/nickels/chromes that once dominated the 2000's are being replaced with warm metals again. Brass, bronze, and black are popular in vintage aesthetics and in modern ones.

Contemporary styles still look nice with a chic, minimal chrome, and everyone has their personal preferences. It's even common to mix metals these days. Choosing your lamp hardware finish based on the style of the lamp shows attention to detail, and can really bring a lamp over-the-top.

When I started making shades, everyone wanted cool toned metals. Even as recently as the beginning of last year, I was pretty evenly making nickel hardware shades and brass hardware shades. Today, the strong majority of hardware I'm sending out the door is brass.

brass lamp shade hardware

TIP FIVE: Don't leave out the felt pad at the bottom of the lamp. This is often an afterthought, but whether your lamp is wood, ceramic, or even plastic, adding that soft surface is key to preventing scratches on the surface that lamp sits on. It will inevitably be slid across that flat surface at some point. It's a better experience to not give that moment a second thought, than to be terribly disappointed that the beautiful vintage sideboard or nightstand now has a nasty scratch across the top.

This detail doesn't have to be anything fancy. The felt adhesive pads that you can find at the hardware store work wonderfully for protecting your surfaces.

felt pad on lamp base

TIP SIX: Don't rush it, and do your homework (you are already doing this. Good job!). Through the years, I've continued to find better options for hardware. Look around in the deepest corners of the lamp hardware websites. Learn the different pipe gauges for lamps (a finial threads into a different size pipe than a socket threads into). I've learned a lot from just looking at all the hardware pieces, learning their names, and figuring out how they were traditionally used. This knowledge is stored in my mental toolkit for future experiments in lighting.

Pro Tip: Lamp piping has its own gauge - 1/8 IPS. This 1/8 IPS lamp piping is universal. I've bought it online at different places, and it has always been compatible with any socket. But, it's worth noting that it is not always available at hardware stores, and it is not the same as standard 1/8 gauge. The threading is different, so you won't be able to screw the lamp socket onto the standard version.  

Krista sitting at work table making lamp shade

I hope this information has helped you or made you think. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on my social media. I'm happy to answer any questions I can. And if you used this advice to complete a lamp project, email me a photo! I'd love to see your finished work.