Peter Bloch's
TRANSLUCENT WOOD LAMPSHADES
Information on how I make the shades, the wood
that I use, and how I developed the idea
This is a five minute movie that shows a few bits and pieces of the making of a lampshade.
MAKING THE SHADE: a verbal explanation
My lampshades go through a remarkable transformation from beginning to end. I start with a log of freshly cut Quaking Aspen. Usually, the pieces are 20” long, and 15-24” in diameter, and weigh as much as 200 pounds! I mount it horizontally between centering points on my woodworking lathe, which is a machine that rotates the workpiece. I am careful to align the piece so that the rim of the shade will follow an annual ring. The narrow end of the shade centers on the pith of the log. This arrangement will be very important to the aesthetics of the finished shade, orienting the annual rings so that they drape over the surface in a balanced way.

The lathe spins the log and I hand-hold a gouge to the surface, first peeling away the bark, and then streamers of wet shavings. In fact, the wood is so wet that a mist of water sprays out. As I remove the wood,I spontaneously make decisions about the final form that I will be trying to achieve, taking into consideration the grain patterns that are revealed. When I perfect the outer shape, I begin working on the inside.

With so much wood to remove, this is a slow arduous process. When the side-wall gets to about 1/2” thick, I direct a bright light on the outside surface, which shows as a dull red color on the inside of the shade. As the pice continues to spin and I carefully remove more wood, the color of the transmitted light changes to orange, then dark yellow...., and eventually, when I get down to the final thickness of about 3/32,” the color is almost white. The achievement of an even color is a highly accurate indicator of the consistent wall thickness that is my goal. And of course, I am getting a preview of the final appearance of the shade’s translucency.

Once the shade is shaped, I use compressed air to blast out most of the remaining excess moisture. Then, I sand the surfaces inside and out to 400 grit. Finally, I use a fine-tooth saw to cut through the thin wall at the narrow end and set the shade aside to dry completely. This process takes only a day or two, whereupon I resand the shade with 400 grit, and prepare the shade to mount on a base. Three coats of a polymerizing rubbed-oil finish are applied, now sanding with 1500 grit between coats. This finish is permanent, and never needs to be renewed.

What started as perhaps 200 pounds has been pared down to a few ounces! And in the process, 90 gallons of shavings have piled up around my feet.
Marking Out an Aspen Log
Roughed-Out Log on the Lathe
THESE SHADES ARE RUGGED!!!
Many of these shades have been stress-tested under extreme conditions. I test the shade for 24 hours with a bulb that has triple the maximum wattage that I will recommend for the shade. This ensures that the finished shades will be able to withstand stresses that are far beyond normal use. In fact these shades are not subject to significant distortion from the heat generated by the bulb, since the entire form is concentric to the annual rings. Paradoxically, the thinness actually increases the durability, since the shades can flex to accommodate shrinkage and expansion.

There is simply no other type of lampshade that is more resilient, rugged, or maintenance-free. These wood lampshades do not suffer from any problems from regular use, and I have total confidence in their long-term sturdiness. I stand by the craftsmanship and durability 100%.

What’s more, the functionality of the shades is no different than traditional shades, with direct light pouring out of the large opening, and plenty of warm muted light emitted thru the thin side-wall.
SOURCES OF MATERIALS FOR SHADES
I began experimenting with translucent wooden lampshades in 1987. It began with my noticing that some of my thin burl turnings were slightly translucent when exposed to an intense light source. All of my earliest attempts were only effective in totally dark rooms. Despite the fact that I liked the forms that I was creating, I was disappointed with how opaque the wood was. It wasn’t until 1992 that I accidentally discovered the translucent qualities of Quaking Aspen.

And the results I got — WOW! Finally, I had a type of wood that glowed warmly and brightly when lit from the inside. Each log, in fact each piece of the log, showed different patterns. So many shapes were possible. In my stubborn determination to make this idea work, I had developed a totally unique and dramatic use for wood, something that fills a room with warm, romantic, candle-like light.

Quaking Aspen (also known as “Popple”) is widespread throughout temperate climates around the world. In Northern New England, we are blessed with a few unusually large ones. Normally, Aspens die of old age or stress before they reach 14” in diameter, which is just short of my requirements. Very rarely, they grow larger, up to 24” in diameter. In Northern New England, we are blessed with a few of these unusually large trees.

Interestingly, Aspens are normally considered a waste tree — there is no significant market for the logs as lumber, and the wood has little heating value for burning. Foresters often recommend to property owners that they cut all the Aspens down to rot on the floor of the forest, making room for other, more valued species! It is particularly satisfying to have found a spectacular use for this neglected and abundant species.
Trueing up the Log "Between Centers"
Carving Away the Small End of the Piece
Using Light to Gauge Thickness