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Jam Session (Making Jar Lanterns)

You’ve been so patient with this whole project. I truly want to thank you. So, here’s a big ‘ole post about how we turned some empty jam jars into candle lanterns for a dropped-lighting look that detracts from our ugly porch ceiling!

Aren’t they cute? We’re super stoked 🙂

They add a touch of charm, while also pulling the eye away from our water-damaged porch roof.

And they were really easy & cheap to make — it only took me so long because I had to work on them in 10-minute intervals. I’d say, all told, it was about a 2-hour project. However, a lot of that was trial & error (in other words, doing/undoing/redoing), so it could probably even be accomplished in an hour of focused work.

I started by emptying, soaking & removing the labels from a variety of jars we had around the house. Most were jam jars, but there are a couple of diced fruit jars in there, too. Really, any kind of squat jar (pickles, chutney, whatever…) would work. The idea is to choose a shape that will allow you to access the inside of the jar easily, because you’ll need to insert/remove/light/extinguish the small candles that will sit inside them. Plus a wider mouth = more room for heat to escape, so the glass will stay cooler once those candles are lit.

Once I had clean, clear jars, Dan & I spent a little time figuring out how to create wire baskets for them to nestle in.

Be sure to tighten the belts well to prevent the glass jars from slipping out of the baskets if you need to move them. Especially important if you get strong winds on your porch like we do.

The basic procedure involves creating a “spokes” or “cross” pattern with thin wire…

… to create a support system for the glass jars.

Then belting those wires with a thicker wire around the middle of the jar.

See the entire process here.

Next, I picked up some free (!) wire hangers from the dry cleaner.

I removed the cardboard tubes from the middle and snipped off the twisty end parts. (Using my Dan’s handy little needle-nose pliers/wire cutter combo.)

I chose to hit the hangers with a little copper spray paint… because we had a teeeeeeny bit laying around from the mailbox makeover & I wanted to get rid of it. Plus, I thought it would make the lanterns coordinate more, since I used copper wire on those. In the end, it didn’t really make that much of a difference. They do look better close up, but once they’re hanging, it’s pretty much impossible to tell. Oh well. No harm done.

While they dried, I assembled the other supplies I would need to finish the lanterns, including what I would need to create my oh-so-clever mounting apparatus.

(Apparati?)

What I needed:

Play sand/a scoop/a funnel…

The wire hangers, of course…

The jars, of course…

Mug hooks (like for hanging coffee mugs under/inside kitchen cabinets)

Tea-light candles — the citronella kind, because bugs are yucky

Needle nose pliers with built-in wire snips

Medium pliers

Thin copper wire

To attach the hangers to the lanterns, all I did was loop short lengths — about an inch & a half — of the thin copper wire through the “basket” beneath the thick wire belts & twist them loosely shut.

Easier shown than described (see photo right):

The most important detail about this process is threefold:

1) Make sure you lace the short length of wire behind the wire basket and under the belt wire. That way, it’ll be holding onto both, which will give it a little more stability.

2) Position the mounting loops as close to exactly opposite one another as possible. This will reduce tipping.

3) Leave the loops big enough to later insert the wire hangers.

Once you insert the ends of the wire hangers through the loops, there are two stages of tightening to be done.

First, you’ll want to bend the ends of the wire hangers until they overlap themselves tightly. They need to be tight so the mounting loops can’t slip out of them. (Large, illustrative photo below)

The needle nose pliers weren’t quite muscle-y enough to bend the thick hanger wire while it was snuggled up all close to the jar, so I brought in the big guns.

See the blue-handled channel lock pliers? Yeah. It kinda felt like bringing a gun to a knife fight, but I couldn’t find my medium pliers.

Whatever. It worked.

Rental House Rule #15: Make do.

Then I went back to the needle nose pliers to twist/tighten my loose wire mounting loops into tiny knots, thereby securing the hangers to the lanterns. Mostly.

I’m gonna give you an extreme close up (ECU) so you can see what I mean.

Then, just because I’m Queen of the Paranoid, I hit all the hinges and scratchy, loose wire end bits with some super-duty rubber cement:

This stuff dries crystal clear, so I wasn’t worried about the look of the lanterns being compromised by adding this step.

It made the hangers “stay put” in an upright position a little bit better, which makes for easier hanging.

See how some are staying up & some aren’t? Rubber cement. It’s not going to add any strength, but it does gum things up a little, which helps reduce tipping. To be honest, the lanterns are still a little bit tippy, but the rubber cement gives me peace of mind that they’re not going to just spin upside down out of nowhere. Plus, I’m not worried about getting scratched by loose wire ends when putting the lanterns up/taking them down.

Worthy Of Note: At first, I tried to bend the wire hangers to mimic actual lantern handles — you know how they kind of bend out a little near the base?

Yeah. That was an aesthetic choice that didn’t work out so well… it just made them tippier. 😦 Plus, once they were hung, it was just glaringly obvious that they weren’t all uniform. They looked stupid.

So, I unbent them, leaving them in their original straight position. No big whoop. I actually think they look better straight.

*** QUICK FIX — The round jars were still too wobbly for my taste, even after the rubber cementing. So, to add some stability, I added two more belt wires around the mouth of the jars on the outside of the wire hangers. Did it keep them level? OH HECK YEAH. They’re the least tippy of the group now! Doing the same thing wouldn’t have worked with the square jars, since there’s a little too much space  between the mouth of the jar & the wire hanger. The teardrop-shaped jars were belted around the mouth to begin with (because the shape made it hard to belt them around the middle), so there was no need to add a second set of belts to all of the jars, just the round ones.

I was a bit concerned that the difference would be glaringly obvious, but no. Once they’re hanging up, you can’t even tell…

(In fact, it was such a non-issue I forgot to even take a pic — had to run out to the porch & snap this one just now…)

Anyhoo – by this point, I was getting quite excited!!!

All that was left now was to add some sand, drop a tea-light candle into each jar and hang them up.

Dan did the installation honors, drilling small pilot holes into the cross beams of our porch roof, then screwing in the mug hooks by hand. Thanks, hon!

I poured regular old play sand (Like for sandboxes — but you could buy craft sand at the craft store. It comes in lots ‘o colors!) into the jars up to about the halfway point. Then I took the little foil cups off of my tea lights and dropped one into each jar, settling it down into the sand a little.

I chose to remove the foil cups because that way, the candles would extinguish themselves once they melted into the sand. Now we have the option of either blowing them out or letting them burn out naturally.

SAFETY ALERT: NEVER LEAVE ANY OPEN FLAME UNATTENDED!!!!!!

We don’t just walk away & let them burn out — we make sure to stay in the area whenever they’re lit & check on them frequently. (It just takes a quick glance — no biggie.) And we certainly never assume a candle is out — we make sure — but the sand allows us to be slightly less obsessive about the whole thing. And that’s nice 🙂

Finally it was time to take these bad boys for a test drive!!!

That’s it! It really is that simple.

And we think they look darling. Here’s a few progression shots from dusk to dark.


Now, to address a few safety concerns you may have:

1) Won’t spray painting the hangers cause them to go up in flames once the candles figure in?

No. Using only a little bit of sand keeps the flame far enough away from the hanger for that to be a concern.

2) What about the rubber cement? Won’t that melt/catch fire?

No. I only used a tiny bit — and it’s on the outside of the glass, so it doesn’t come into contact with the candle flames.

3) Don’t the glass/wire hangers get all hot?

Surprisingly, no. Tea light candles don’t really produce much heat. The wide mouths of the jars allow enough heat to escape that our hangers weren’t even warm to the touch after an hour of burning. Plus, the sand acts as a cooling barrier between the candles & the glass, so those weren’t hot, either 🙂

4) Aren’t you worried about catching the ceiling on fire?

Not really. As I said, the tea lights don’t produce much heat, there’s no hanging foliage or anything nearby, the hangers are long enough to guard against the flames touching the ceiling & like I said earlier, we NEVER allow the lanterns to burn unsupervised. But if you do have hanging foliage and/or trouble staying in one area for more than a minute, you could totally use those fake, battery-operated tea lights. (They sell them at party supply stores.)

5) Aren’t you worried they’ll fall on you?

A tad. But really, when you take into consideration the wire baskets, rubber cement and tight belt wires, we couldn’t have done much more to safeguard against fall-age. The most likely falling scenario would involve either the wind blowing them down, or someone SUPER tall (like Guiness Book of Records tall) bumping into them. So… we’ll just take them down when it’s windy… And when we invite circus freaks over… Should be OK.

All said, it was a simple, fun project that adds a unique touch to our blah porch ceiling. And it only cost, like $10. (For the candles/hooks/thin wire. The sand/jars/thick wire we had already.) If you had to start from scratch, buying everything, it would still come in under $20.

So there you go. An outdoor dropped-lighting effect that is affordable, functional, and most importantly to renters, removable.

COMING SOON: WICKER TABLE & CHAIRS MAKEOVER; FINISHING TOUCHES ON THE PORCH; 1 MIXED BOUQUET 6 WAYS; SECONDHAND SHOPPING TIPS AND MORE!!! 

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