Arts & Crafts Luminaries

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This article is from Issue 34 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Simple scrollsawn accents look good inside or out.

Designer/Builder: Dirk Boelman

If spring’s in the air, but the ground is solidly in winter’s grip, you can still get an early jump on the season by building one or more of these attractive outdoor luminaries to add a warm glow in the garden, porch, or patio. Their size and styling make them equally well suited for use as an interior accent.

Requiring very little wood and no complicated joinery, the basic box can be built quickly, so that you can focus your creative energy on the fanciful scrollsaw work. The copper panels not only offer a color and character you can’t get from wood, but they’re also customizable (check out the Dragonfly and Iris Patterns on page 69). Once you discover the simple tricks of scrollsawing metal, you’ll likely adapt this technique to future projects.

We used white oak not only to complement the Arts and Crafts design, but also to make the luminary tough enough to withstand a few surprise showers. (Bring them inside when they are not in use to keep them looking their best.) The battery-powered tea lights ensure that the luminaries are as safe to use indoors as out.

Note: This is a nice project for beginners, because it doesn’t require a jointer or planer. Thin stock is available at your local Woodcraft store and at most home centers. See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for a list of additional items.

Prepare the parts

1 From ½"-thick stock 24" long, rip and crosscut a 7 × 7" square for the cap (A). Next, reset the fence, rip, and then crosscut a 6¼ × 6¼" square for the base (B). Reset the fence and cut the 3 × 3" square base filler block (C). Label these parts for the top and base assemblies and set them aside.

2 Using ⅜"-thick stock, make the 5 × 5" upper base section (D). From the remaining material rip and crosscut a 3 × 3" square to make the cap filler block (E). Label and set aside the parts. 

3 The corner strips (F) have a 5/16" rabbet 5/16" deep along the inside edge (Figure 1). To make the cut safely, start with a ½ × 3 × 15" board. Using a combination square or marking gauge, lay out the rabbet and strip width on one end.

Using a standard-width blade, set your height to 5/16" and cut the rabbet in a series of rip cuts. Then raise the blade and rip the strips free of the board, as shown in Photo A. Cut the corner strips to length.

4 From ¼"-thick stock, make the side panels (G, H) to the dimensions in the Cut List. (Note: While the tablesaw is set to 3¼", rip a 14" long strip of ⅛"-thick plywood. You’ll use this material to support the copper sheeting when scrollsawing later.)

5 Cut the ¼"-thick feet (I), using scraps left over from the side panel material.

6 Make two copies of the Side Panel Pattern on page 69. Use spray adhesive to affix one to the wide side (G) and the other to the narrow side (H). Tape the matching panel pairs together so that the pattern is on top.

7 Drill ⅛" blade-entry holes into windows in the side panels (G, H). Now saw the stacked pairs at your scrollsaw (Photo B).

Rabbet and then rip corner strips from a wider board. To avoid kickback, set the fence so that the strips fall to the free side of the blade.

Create the acrylic and copper inserts

1 Without removing the acrylic’s plastic covering, measure and mark the dimensions of the windows (J, K). Install a #7 skip tooth blade in your scrollsaw and cut along the lines. If the blade gets too hot, the acrylic will weld together behind the cut. If this happens, decrease the cutting speed and/or adjust your feed rate.

2 Measure and cut two copper panels (L) to the size in the Cut List. Run a utility knife along a straightedge to score the copper, as shown in Photo C. Bend the metal back and forth to snap off the piece at the score line.

3 Make copies of either the Dragonfly or Iris Pattern on page 69. Affix the pattern onto one of the ⅛"-thick plywood pieces you cut while making the narrow side panels (H). Sandwich both copper panels (L) between the plywood and then wrap the assembly with packing tape to hold it together during the sawing process.

4 As with the windows, drill

⅛" holes through the cutout areas. Then saw along the lines, doing the more intricate areas first. Use a #2 skip tooth blade for the intricate areas and a #5 skip tooth blade for the straight cuts.

5 After sawing the copper, use needle files to remove burrs from the edges.

Stack-cut the wide and narrow side panels in pairs. For straight sides and sharp corners, use a wide #7 reverse tooth blade.

Assemble the luminary

1 From scrapwood, cut a

¾ × 3 × 3" spacer block.

Place the block on a clean,

flat work surface and assemble the side panels (G, H) around

the block as shown in Photo E. Glue the edges of the narrow panels (H) to the inside faces of the wide panels (G). Be careful not to glue the spacer into the side assembly.

2 Referring to Figure 1,

glue the feet (I) to the bottom of the base (B).

3 Center the upper base section (D) on top of the base (B). Apply glue to both parts, clamp together, and let dry.

4 Glue the corner strips (F) to the outside corners of the assembled box.

5 Install the acrylic windows (J, K) and copper panels (L) into the lantern and test the fit of the base filler block (C). If needed, trim the edges of the block so the panels can be slid out for cleaning. Center the filler block (C) on top of the base assembly (B, D, I) and attach with glue.

6 Position the side assembly (G, H) on the base assembly (B, D, I) and mark its location. Now lift off the side assembly, remove the windows and copper panels (J, K, L), and glue the side assembly to the base, using the lines as reference. Place a heavy object on top to hold the parts together until the glue dries.

7 Reinsert the copper and acrylic panels and test-fit the cap filler block (E). Make this block a little loose to allow for easy removal. Center and glue the filler block to the underside of the cap (A).

Use a utility knife to scribe a snap line in the copper sheet. Affix sandpaper to the board’s bottom face so that the straightedge won’t slip.

Create a plywood sandwich to support the thin-gauge metal. A skip tooth blade cuts through soft metal almost as quickly as wood.

Use a spacer block to keep the sides square during glue up. Painter’s tape prevents the parts from shifting while you install the clamps.

Finishing up

1 Remove the windows and copper panels (J, K, L) and then sand the surfaces through 220 grit. Blow dust from the cutouts and wipe surfaces with a clean rag.

2 Apply a generous coat of Watco oil with a foam brush, directing it into the corners. Use a small artist’s brush to finish inside tiny openings and other stubborn areas. Let the project sit for 10 minutes and then wipe off excess finish with a paper towel. Use an air compressor to blow excess finish out of the cutouts. Over the next few hours, periodically check the piece and wipe away excess finish.

3 Allow the oil a few days to dry and then spray on three or four coats of spray polyurethane. Direct the spray pattern judiciously to make sure that the polyurethane seals exposed faces and edges, but keep the coats thin to prevent runs or puddles in the cutouts.

4 Reinstall the windows and copper panels (J, K, L), slip in a pair of tea lights to create a nice glow, and your luminary is ready to enjoy! 

About Our Designer/Builder

Dirk Boelman has been scrollsawing for over 20 years. In addition to writing or contributing to more than 30 scrollsaw books, he and his wife Karen have created (and sawn) thousands of original designs. He can be reached at


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