Contour Lantern

  • Wood and plastic lantern with curved handle against a white background, angled so front and right side are visible
  • Wood and plastic lantern with curved handle against a white background, angled so front and right side are visible. Light is turned on with no other light source, so it glows in an otherwise dark image
  • Wood and plastic lantern next to large potted plant on a cork surface with white background
  • Front view of wood and plastic lantern with curved handle against a white background
  • Front view of wood and plastic lantern with curved handle against a white background with handle fastening screw visible
  • Bottom of wood and plastic lantern with gray felt pad and exposed screws, all against a white background
  • Closeup of layers of veneer stacked in a bent lamination to form a curved handle. Corner of plastic light diffuser and white background visible.
  • Closeup of stainless steel screw in wood handle on lantern against white background
  • Closeup of wood and plastic lantern against white background with shiny metal push-button shown.
  • Closeup of 3d-printed enclosure for USB-C port inserted in wood base of lantern. Corner of plastic light diffuser and white background visible.

The Contour Lantern is a rechargeable lamp designed and fabricated as my final project for Form, Space, Grain: Wood as a Sculptural Medium. The lamp base is made up of laser-cut plywood layers covered in poplar veneer, while the handle is a bent-lamination of poplar veneer layers forming an arch. The handle is recessed in the sides of the base for a close-to-flush attachment and secured with stainless steel fasteners. The wood surfaces are coated in a water-based polyurethane finish to protect the veneer and prevent the handle from warping over time. Light shines through a 3D-printed PLA diffusing shade. A laser-cut felt pad covers the baseplate the lantern, protecting surfaces from scratches and creating the illusion of the lantern floating above the surface upon which it is placed. Internally, a 5200mAh rechargeable battery and custom USB-C charging port power 3 IKEA LED cabinet lights to produce 245 lumens of warm white light with an over 6 hour runtime.

Design Concept

  • Digital sketch of 'basket lamp', later to become the contour lantern, with 3d view of box with wood handle, 2d top view with dimensions, and 2d front view with dimensions
  • Rounded rectangle of bent plywood with light shining from inside against a black background
  • Cylindrical white light attached to bent wood 'U'-shaped stand sitting on white surface
  • Hand holding cube lamp with rounded edges above a square wireless charging base with rounded edges

The initial concept for the piece was a simple design to practice bent lamination, a process of creating curved wood shapes by bending and gluing layers of thin wood, in this case veneer, over a form. I was inspired by the bent-laminated rectangular form with rounded corners of the Contour Table Lamp by Pablo Designs and the idea of using the form as a handle or stand, as in the Pop Up Lamp by Mademoiselle Home Decor. My initial design consisted of a rounded-corner, rectangular, bent-laminated handle inset into a solid, rounded-corner, square prism base. I intended to later turn the piece into a lamp by either hollowing out the base to embed electronics or adding an LED strip to the inside of the handle.

The first major change to the design came when I learned that the bend radii I intended to use for the bent-laminated handle were too tight to achieve without pre-soaking the layers. I wanted to keep the lamp small, so I switched the handle from a rounded-corner rectangle to a full arch. The second major design change came when I realized that fabricating the bent-laminated handle was a longer and more complicate process than expected, so instead of treating it as a short skill-building project, I expanded the design to incorporate a large 3D-printed light diffuser and more intricate plywood base so I could fit multiple lights and a rechargeable battery into the piece, resulting in a fully functional rechargeable lantern. As I shifted to creating a full lamp, I was inspired by the rounded forms and portable nature of the 3D Printed Wireless Lantern by JON-A-TRON on Instructables. By 3D printing the lamp’s light diffuser, I was able to round over every edge and corner while maintaining parallel sides, which would not be possible with fabrication methods.

Fabrication & Assembly

  • Layers of wood veneer clamped around a wood form and sitting on a clear plastic bin
  • Wood and plastic lantern with exposed plywood layers sitting on wood workbench by a window
  • Two pieces of wood veneer bent to have 'legs' against a wood surface
  • Hand holding a clothes iron against wood veneer to be pressed onto lamp base
  • Felt with laser-cut details sitting on laser bed with laser and ruler visible to the side
  • Messy workbench with clamps holding wood piece down and a drill jig centering a ground-down drill bit to add countersinks to holes
  • Wood lantern base surrounded by electronic components and wires laid out on a wood tabletop
  • Layout of lantern components (screws, battery, base with lights, felt-covered baseplate, plastic light diffuser, and curved wood handle) on terrazzo surface
  • Closeup of wiring and battery of wood lantern with baseplate removed

I tried a number of new techniques throughout fabrication process for the Contour Lantern. I had not worked with veneer before this project, so both the bent lamination and standard veneer applications we new experiences for me. To create the lamp handle, I made a U-shaped laser-cut plywood form, glued veneer layers around the form, and then wrapped the form in bicycle inner tubes to provide maintain even pressure while the glue dried. I learned that, while most of the veneer held in place well, the edges still pulled away, so I ended up sanding the final piece down to remove the outer edges of the material. While applying veneer to the plywood base, I had trouble getting the veneer to fully adhere to a curved surface until I learned that a standard clothes iron can soften PVA wood glue to press out small air bubble and close gaps.

In some cases, I did not have access to the optimal tools achieve the result I was going for, such as creating countersinks for wide-angle screws in thin material. Because the baseplate the lamp was made of 1/8″ plywood, the fasteners I used had a large countersink angle to increase the surface area in contact with the material. I did not have access to the proper countersink bit, so I used a standard drill bit ground down to the proper angle and a drill jig to drill out the countersinks to the correct depth. I also wanted to add a felt pad to the base of the lamp but was unsure about how to punch the correct size holes for screws to pass through, so I learned how to test laser cutter settings and created a profile to laser-cut the felt to size.