The picture above is one of seven lamps made in a batch. This particular lamp, for sale at Buzzsaw Busby’s art shop in Woodland Park, CO, consists of a matched set of Elk antlers and a single Mule Deer antler. My neighbor David harvested this Elk about three years ago. The tree stump came from Four-Mile Recreation Area in Buena Vista, CO, and the turquoise came from Leadville, CO.
One day in late May I went to spend a couple of hours hiking for antlers and skulls when I came upon a dry stream in a secluded valley. I didn’t expect to find Twenty year old beaver sign in what is now a dry area. The stream only sees seasonal water flow and hasn’t had year-round water for who knows how long. I guessed the age of the spoiled beaver dams to be at least twenty years old. The trunk to the lamp pictured above was the first of thirty stumps I selected that day to make lamps from.
Any stumps I select aren’t cut, but instead I give them the old kick test. Like mechanics on old movies kicking at a car’s tires to check for air, I kick a stump to test how loose it is. Often they are deceiving, and I end up with a sore big toe. Then there are the stumps that tilt over slightly, indicating they are ready to harvest.
Once collected and brought home I hose them off to remove any dirt. When clean the stumps are ready to be trimmed with a chainsaw. In this batch, the last stump I collected was an ant nest. As I was trimming the rotten root crown an army of nearly inch long wood ants came boiling out. I was surprised enough to jump back. The huge ants were crawling all over my work bench and the stump. So much for that lamp. It was my second largest stump and would have made a three hundred-dollar lamp. After carrying the stump through a thick section of forest for at least a quarter mile and driving it back over miles of bumpy dirt trail, I never even knew the ants were inside. At the time the nights at altitude were still cold and there was a patch of snow where the stump was found, so maybe the ants hadn’t fully come out of dormancy enough to be bothered by a hike and a jeep ride. But boy, they sure woke up from the chainsaw. After an hour of strapping stumps to my work bench I had twenty-five stumps of varying size to use for my 2017 lamps. All stumps were drilled with a two foot drill bit to allow wiring to travel from the flat base to the top where the pencil like teeth marks were. Yes, beaver chewed stumps really do look like pencil tips.
The most time-consuming aspect of production involves debarking and sanding. The stumps blossom from a dingy gray to an eye pleasing tan. There were seven in this batch. It is at this point that any flaws are worked into the opposite. Branches are left unmolested if they are esthetic, if not they are ground off and rounded. Scars and splits are sanded smooth and left intact. Splits are unavoidable, as they occur throughout the years a stump is rotting and drying out. That’s the hard thing about finding a stump that’s just right. If the area in which any given stump is found has an active beaver population, then the stumps will either be too fresh to kick over (resulting in sore toes) or they will be too rotten from the moisture. There is a short window in which they are in between. To find a dried out area with decently preserved stumps in the quantity found last May is rare. In fact it was the first of such, and there will be further exploration of the area in the future to discover other dried sections.
Before going any further the sanded surfaces of the stumps have three layers of polyurethane applied. After the coating is dry the lamps need a threaded neck to mount the socket and run the cord. The cord is inserted through the drilled hole and groove at the base. The groove was made so the lamp will stand flat.
The lamps are ready to have the harp base and the socket base added. Following base installation the wiring undergoes the addition of an Underwriter’s Knot to prevent the cord from being pulled out. It is a requirement on all UL listed lamps. Only then are the wires attached to the socket mechanism.
Testing the sockets can be done anytime now. 60W equivalent LED bulbs, the soft white variety, are included with the lamps. Unlike cheap big-box stores, batteries are included. Once successfully tested, the next phase is the completion of the base. Felt is glued and cut to fit in order to give a non-scratching base.
Now for the antlers. They come in a variety of conditions. Grade A, which is brown and polished from a fresh drop or hunt. Grade B which has white bleaching from sun and weather exposure. And Grade C which is age cracked with slight greying or just totally rotten with flakes and pink fungus. Some of the Grade C will have lichen growing on them, and it can look really pretty. Many antlers have broken tips or entire sections missing caused by fighting during mating season. Some antlers have chew marks from rodents or even Elk.I was surprised to learn how Elk will walk around munching on deer antlers for calcium. Only the rotten Grade C antlers are useless for lamp projects. Otherwise, Grade B and better quality Grade C antlers get stained with instant coffee. Rarely are the antlers colored to a true tint, but the tan shading looks really beautiful on the lamps.
The antlers are then mounted to the stumps after a lengthy period of arranging them to act as added support. This is to prevent the lamps from tipping over. Precise drilling and beveling is required to sink the screw-heads into the antlers. To further conceal the screws, turquoise nuggets are epoxied in place. Tape holds the nuggets in place while the epoxy cures.
To prepare the lamps for harps and shades a last piece is constructed out of antler tips. This is the topper above the shade. It holds the shade in place. These antler sections are stained if needed, and drilled to hold a lamp nut.
Shades are selected based on the lamp’s size and the topper is added to bring the lamp to life. Every lamp is unique because every tree and antler grows uniquely.
In addition to Buzzsaw Busby’s, lamps are available through Mountain Sun Arts in Fairplay, CO. and at Wilderness Country Taxidermy in Buena Vista, CO. Prices range from $100.00 and up.
If you would like to make lamps Amazon would be a great starting place for low-cost lamp parts. I started with complete lamp kits that include brass socket, harp, and brown cord, such as the pictured item below. In the future I may start using silver sockets and harps because silver is often paired with turquoise. Most important to making a lamp from stumps or other tree sections is a drill bit long enough to make it through the full length. Here is a 24 inch bit. also available at Amazon. These two link will get you started. In addition you will need epoxy, antlers, lamp nuts, threaded neck pipe, shades, felt, deck screws at least two inches long, and 120 grit sandpaper. Tools needed are a wrenches, drill, powered sander, wood glue, a saws-all to cut antlers fast, and patience until you find your formula for success. It took about fifteen hours total to make a batch of seven lamps.