This project appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of This Old House Magazine. To learn how to subscribe, click here.
I love the streamlined look of a classic tripod lamp, but lighting can get pricey fast. Vintage models often have the kind of industrial wood tripod that supported optical equipment, such as a surveyor’s transit.
Their tapered, adjustable-height legs terminate in a small platform, and usually have brass fittings that lend a certain mechanical elegance. This lamp has a simplified design that’s straightforward and inexpensive to build, but will look equally great illuminating your living space.
I kept the tapered legs and added an oversize drum shade to modernize the look. To create a center post to connect the legs to, I bought and cut down a table leg with beveled sides at the top and added a threaded rod in the middle to run the lamp cord through. A standard lighting kit from a home center will supply almost all the parts you need to turn the base into a working light. The hardest part might just be deciding where to place your new custom floor lamp.
At about $15, a lamp kit is a cost-effective way to purchase the parts you need to assemble a lamp. The kit typically includes the corded plug, a socket, several threaded connectors, and a harp with a base and finial to hold the shade in place.
For this project, the only additional piece you’ll need is a hollow threaded rod to insert into the middle of the center post of the tripod lamp. Once you’ve run the lamp cord through the threaded rod, you can simply follow the instructions that come with the kit to connect it to the socket.
Steps for Building a DIY Tripod Lamp
Step 1: Prep the parts
Remove any hardware that may be installed on the turned table leg. Following the cut list at thisoldhouse.com, use a miter saw to cut an 8-inch-long center post from the beveled top of the leg, as shown, and to cut the tripod legs to length.
Step 2: Taper the legs
With each tripod leg laid flat, mark a diagonal line that starts 1 inch from a bottom corner to a point 8 inches higher on the outer edge. Clamp the leg to the work surface so that the line overhangs its edge, and cut the taper with a circular saw.
Step 3: Trim, drill, and sand the legs
Clip the top corners of each leg at 45° with a miter saw to remove ¾ inch from each edge. Next, using a drill/driver fitted with a bit that matches the diameter of the wing screws that will hold the legs in place, drill a hole through each leg, centered on its width and 1 inch from its top edge. Sand the edges of the clipped corners, the legs, and the center post of the lamp.
Step 4: Install threaded inserts for the wing screws
With a drill bit sized to the threaded inserts, drill three holes spaced as equally as possible around the sides of the center post, centered on its height. Using a hex wrench, screw a threaded insert into each hole until it’s flush.
Step 5: Prep the center post for the cord
Clamp the post to the work surface. With a bit sized to the threaded rod, drill a hole all the way through the center of the post. Drive the threaded rod into the hole with a rubber mallet, leaving about ¾ inch exposed at the top of the post.
Step 6: Apply the finish
Coat the legs and center post with a prestain wood conditioner. Then use a brush or rag to apply the stain, coating all surfaces. Wipe away the excess and let dry. Follow with a protective coat of polyurethane. If desired, coat the wing screws with spray paint—Jenn chose gold—for a finished look.
Step 7: Attach the legs to the post
Position the first leg so that the tapered side of the leg is facing to your right. Guide a wing screw through the hole in the leg and into a threaded insert in the center post. Tighten the screw until the leg presses against the post. Repeat the process with the remaining legs.
Step 8: Wire the lamp, and position the legs
Guide the lamp cord up through the threaded rod. Follow the kit instructions to connect the wires to the socket, then screw the socket onto the threaded rod. Staple the cord along the inside of one leg, taking care not to pierce the wire.
Stand the assembly upright, add a dab of wood glue between each leg and the center post, and then adjust the legs equidistantly until the center post rests plumb. Fully tighten the wing screws. Add the lamp harp, mount the shade, and secure the finial.
- 1x2 Legs – 4 @ 65 inches
- Table Leg – 1 @ 4 1/2 inches
- Turned table leg that has a top with beveled sides and is at least 8” tall, from which to cut the center post
- Three 1×2×6’ boards
- Three ¼”×20 threads per inch×20mm threaded inserts
- Three ¼×20×2” wing screws
- 3” threaded rod
- 3/8” staples
- Lamp kit
- Sanding sponge
- Wood glue
- Prestain wood conditioner
- Wood stain
- Spray paint (to coat wing screws)