Upcycling Isn't as Easy as it Looks

I started getting this idea a long time ago that I could make clever items out of existing things, especially disposable packaging.. My first real upcycling project was a wedding clock made out of a license plate in 1984 for a work colleague. I cut out the numbers with a Dremel tool and used Bondo to make the letters for Teri + Greg, and back in the day, Texas had little stickers for the lower corners for the registration/inspection dates, so I painted in their wedding date to look like one of the stickers. They liked it, I think. Hmmm, I imagine calling them to see if they still have it—awkward…

Before 911, I found a server computer outside in a parking lot. Seriously! It had a half dozen circuit boards that were all the same size, and translucent. I thought they might be a nice shade for a lamp, and they really cast a nice green glow. I bought some wood angle molding and tapered the ends to fashion 4 legs for a lamp, cut a piece of clear Plexiglas to sit near the bottom of the shade to support the light fixture after drilling some holes for the light socket and the pull chain. Interestingly, I found out later that not all circuit boards are translucent, which is what is so magical about these. The plex support was scrap since I used plex for various other projects, however I bought the socket and light bulb, (although, it was a compact fluorescent) and didn’t think much about reusing everything. That evolved.

Meanwhile, these pieces are one-offs. Can you imagine trying to establish a product line based on upcycling things? You’ve probably seen some—I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s a few more layers of the onion with product safety laws and etc.

About this same time, a friend of mine saved up some special-edition Pepsi Cans, challenging me to make a lamp out of them. This would marinate with me for a few years. It came to mind to poke some holes in them with a pin or something, but I didn’t know what kind of a base I would use. I bought a neon “skewer” from Electronic Parts Outlet on Fondren and then realized I had to use a Dremel tool with a high speed diamond grinder bit to drill the holes as a pin would crush the can. Finally, the TV rabbit ears I had stashed in the attic hit me as “the base,” and I didn’t need any fasteners or glue. Maybe some day I’ll hide the wires.

Another neat upcycling project of mines is this lamp from this year, and I had been saving the 6-pack rings for a while. Most of them were from St. Arnolds beers, courtesy of college age offspring and their parties. I did have to buy a couple myself to get the last few colors to round out the rainbow effect, skipping Indigo. I hot-glued cut pieces of drinking straws to space them apart, using slightly longer pieces to space them in a sloping fashion. The lights are salvaged from actual sign letters, now deploying LED’s instead of the old-school neon. My GBRC sign below kindly photographed by Jim Olive, is made up of these salvaged sign letters kindly donated by artist Kiki Neumann. I happened to have a few old charging transformers, which worked perfectly, and I glued them to some chopsticks, which was also deployed as a frame for the base. Beer can pop tops made up the tapered legs, which I had to glue with two-part epoxy. Luckily, they are somewhat malleable and I was able to bend some in my vise to act as the corners of the legs, gluing them to the chopsticks that I notched and glued together. The outstanding part of this composition is the only thing that was new is the glue. Everything else was salvaged and reused from something designed for some other use.

And this reuse idea is a bit of a constraint. This lamp, for instance, is as wide and as deep as it is because of the size of the 6-pack rings. The various materials are sometimes tough to connect, join, or glue. I’ll have some other pieces that show how tough working with some items can be. Cheers!

To be continued…