R14 Light Bulb Salt-and-Pepper Shakers

Salt-and-pepper shaker set made from small "floodlight" style light bulbs and two soda bottle caps.

The discovery that standard Edison bulb bases screw perfectly into 16 oz. PET bottle caps was a profound moment for me. Fun fact: Standard female garden hose (FGH) thread will also fit a light bulb base (and, I suppose, by inference, a 16 oz. PET bottle).

I found these mini floodlight/reflector bulbs burned out in an old china cabinet. I reclaimed them by hollowing out the bulbs using the familiar method, etching off the metal coating inside with extra-strength white vinegar, and fitting them with white (salt) and black (pepper) 16 oz. screw-top pop bottle caps with holes drilled in the center. Unlike a regular pear-shaped light bulb, this mini-floodlight type will stand upright on its own without help. I’ve done this before, but never with these cute little R14 bulbs.

Wire coil bulb vase

I have written several times before about this old trick of using a hollowed-out incandescent light bulb as a bud vase. Hollowing out the bulb is easy enough; the challenge is to make it stand upright. A rubber or brass O-ring works but can get lost. Specialized self-supporting bulb shapes are easiest but largely defeat the purpose of creative reuse (what if the one you have to recycle isn’t one of the unusual self-supporting types?). Rearview mirror cement offers some interesting options but the vases I made this way did eventually fail, perhaps due to thermal stress on the metal/glass unions.


Here’s another method that occurred to me recently, which I rather like. It just takes some copper wire and a soldering iron. The coil is soldered to the bulb’s screw base at one end and to itself, in one place, to make the bottom ring. I used 22 gauge bare copper wire here, which is what I had on hand, but a slightly heavier gauge would probably work better.


It’s easy to do, cheap, looks good, requires no especially unusual materials, and results in a one-piece construction with nothing to get separated and lost.

Stay tab lamp shade with factory-anodized color tabs

This is an old trick of mine which I published a few months back on Make: Projects. I’ve always wanted to experiment with using factory-anodized color pull tabs in the “weave,” but cans with color tabs are fairly rare and it was impractical for me to gather so many. Then I discovered there was a small but steady supply to be had through eBay, from folks who collect them off recycled cans and sell them in small lots to crafters. This shade is rainbow-colored to show off the technique and the array of colors that are available.

Huge first surface mirror

This is a huge high quality mirror I salvaged from the corpse of my folks’ old Mitsubishi rear-projection HDTV. Unlike the mirror in, say, your bathroom, it is silvered on the front surface, instead of the back. A front-silvered mirror is much easier to scratch, but it is also more desirable for optical purposes because light reflects off the silvering without having to be refracted through a layer of glass, first.

This one is trapezoidal, and measures four feet on the long edge, three feet on the short edge, and 27″ across the short dimension.

I was going to hang it on the wall, but it seems a waste of its unique properties. There ought to be some cool application for it. But I’m damned if I can think of what it might be. I don’t want to sell it on eBay because I don’t want to mess with packing and shipping it. Right now I’ve got it listed on Austin craigslist for $50, but so far I haven’t had any takers.

Suggestions, anyone?

Concrete bowl with bottle glass aggregate

Last Spring I got it in my head to make a concrete bowl. Mom had a book—Concrete Crafts by Alan Wycheck, specifically—with a project for a bowl made by casting concrete with colored glass fill between two cheap stainless steel mixing bowls, and we decided to try it.

I had a bunch of blue and green glass bottles on-hand, and broke these up by submerging them in a big galvanized washtub and bashing them with a fence-post driver. The water works nicely to prevent flying shards. Once the glass was pounded down to about US quarter-size, on average, we dumped the washtub out onto an old bedsheet on the lawn, in the sun, and gathered up sheet and glass together when everything was dry. We didn’t bother to remove the labels, first, which proved to be a mistake, in the long run, because we were picking bits of paper out of the glass for most of the rest of the project. It was an annoyance, not a critical error, but in hindsight I’d recommend spending the time to take the labels off, first.

We mixed up the concrete per Wycheck’s recipe (2:1:1 glass:sand:Portland cement, by volume, plus water to “taste”), spritzed the inside of the large bowl and the outside of the small bowl with generic “mold release” from Hobby Lobby, and dolloped in a generous portion of the wet mixture before inserting the smaller bowl and compressing until concrete oozed out around the lip. We set the stacked bowls in a corner of the porch, covered them with a soaking-wet towel, covered that with a plastic garbage bag to hold in the moisture, and weighted everything down with a pair of cobblestones. Then we left it for week. (Concrete gets harder the longer it stays wet during curing.)

The following weekend, there were a few tense moments when it seemed like the mold would be impossible to open without destroying its contents. But repeatedly dropping the stack on a towel spread over a cement patio floor, from a height of a few inches, eventually worked both inner and outer molds loose and a cleanly-molded concrete bowl popped out.

The instructions in Wycheck’s book, at this point, advise the reader to “sand or grind the surface to expose the glass.” In practice, in my experience, those nine words entail about 95% of the time, and 99% of the physical effort, expended in the project. I spent about 20 hours, all told, over the course of several weeks, working over the outside of the bowl, using an auto-body grinder with a six-inch-diameter flexible rubber pad and a set of diamond-impregnated abrasive pads, to achieve the results shown here. I turned the bowl upside down and fit it over an old barstool so I could work on it standing up.

These diamond polishing pads were not available locally, and had to be ordered online. They came in a set of eight grit sizes ranging from 50 up to 6000 grits, attaching by Velcro to a hard rubber pad threaded for a standard grinder arbor. That hard pad very quickly overheated, the first time I tried to use it, causing the adhesive holding the Velcro on to melt and the Velcro layer to come loose from the pad. When I complained about this to the seller, fortunately, their response was really outstanding: They sent me a new, soft rubber pad, for free, explained how I could fix the broken one with rubber cement. I had no problems with the soft replacement pad throughout the remainder of the project and, indeed, the hard one was good as new after the recommended repair.

With my equipment problems resolved, I set to with the grinder. I spent about 10 hours at the largest (50) grit size, just grinding away the so-called “cream” to expose the glass, and then worked down to smaller and smaller grits, spending about two hours each on 100, 200, 400, and 800 grits. There was a really striking improvement in the step from 400 to 800, and for a day or two I fully intended to polish the whole bowl all the way out to 6000 grit. But then I lost patience and just applied a polymer sealant, specifically Arrow-Magnolia International’s Glo-crete (some of which was leftover from my condo renovation), inside and out. This provided a nice, shiny, “wet-look” gloss.

I’m quite pleased with the finished product, which I gave to Mom as a gift.  But damn. It was much, much, much more work than I’d planned on, and I feel like Wycheck’s book should’ve done a better job of preparing me for the time commitment, and of providing guidance about the specialized equipment that would be needed to get it done.

Buck Rogers’ 2421 Starfighter Piloting Championship Trophy

Actually, it’s a gewgaw from Harbor Freight. I think the shelf tag said something about using it to split logs. As anyone can see, however, it is clearly an out-of-place artifact from the 24th (and a halfpthhh!) century.

My dried orange peel box

Here’s a link to the fantastic British brainy-toys site Grand Illusions that I’ve been hoarding for awhile, hoping to someday reproduce the process and post it as a tutorial. I have tried sun-drying several of the largest orange peels I can find on suitable forms, and shown above is the one functional round box that I have produced. As you can see, it is quite small and ugly compared to these:

Just posted this over at MAKE, but I wanted a dedicated page to show my progress towards reproducing the process so far. The original description mentions that the peels are “squeezed thin” after soaking, but before forming and drying, which is something I haven’t attempted yet. How, I wonder, do you squeeze an intact hemispherical citrus peel into a thin layer without damaging it?

Finally, a use for my spare fruit wedger



I love magnetic parts trays. When I’m taking something apart, using one for the screws and other tiny metal bits is one of the best things I can do (together with taking pictures as I go) to make sure that it all goes back together again more or less as it’s supposed to. So the last time I was disassembling an appliance for repair (a video projector, in this case), and I was carefully arranging the screws for each subassembly in a separate little pile in my parts tray, it occurred to me that it’d be nice to have a magnetic parts tray with compartments for this purpose. And when I was imagining what the dividers would look like, a shape like the blade of a fruit wedger occurred to me.

For some reason, I have two fruit wedgers. I never use a fruit wedger, but when and if I ever do, I am confidant that one will meet my needs.

So I busted the plastic off ring off of one of them and, with a bit of clipping to round the ends of the blades, discovered that the blade assembly fit pretty well into my 4″ magnetic parts tray. And actually works pretty well as a divider, too. Problem solved.