Junk to Gems

Three ideas to help decorate your home with a bit of agricultural history.

By Karen K. Will | Illustrations By Ray E. Watkins, Jr. | Photos By Karen K. Will

Generally speaking, farmers are hard-wired to hold on to whatever old tools and materials that might one day serve another purpose. As a result, barns, sheds and other outbuildings are often teeming with scraps of lumber, antique and rusty implements, broken whatchamacallits and the like.

You just never know when they’ll come in handy for a spontaneous project. That said, if you’re the type who’d much rather “make do” than buy new, consider these projects when surveying your stockpile.

Web Exclusive: Canning Jar Light

Canning Jar Light

Canning Jar Light

Chances are you’ve got crates of vintage canning jars lying around somewhere. Put one or more to use as an accent light.

First, secure a suitable fixture—such as a weather-resistant surface mount box with a cover that supports one or more screw-in socket assemblies. Screw that base to and connect the electrical wiring at the ceiling box, but do so with the breaker controlling this ceiling box in the off position. If the there’s no ceiling box already in place and connected, you may want to hire an electrician to do that portion of the job.

If the cover has locations for multiple socket assemblies, use screw-in plugs to close all but the center and install the socket assembly there. If the fixture isn’t the right color, you can paint it to match the canning jar’s screw-on lid.

If there’s no wall switch connected to the ceiling box, you can attach a pull switch at the fixture. Install one by drilling a 3/8-inch hole in the cover, threading the chain or string through the hole and mounting the switch to the inside of the cover using the nut included with the pull switch. The surface-mount box should be plenty large to contain the switch and wiring.

Mount the jar’s lid before wiring in the light socket. In this example, the light socket is tapered with a flange at the end. So, a 1.5-inch diameter hole is cut in the canning jar lid, which is then slid over the socket and held into place when the flange is screwed on the socket.

Next the fixture was attached to the surface mount box’s cover and wired in. Final assembly includes screwing in the light bulb and then screwing the canning jar to its lid.

Glass-Topped, Cast-Iron Side Table

Glass-Topped, Cast-Iron Side Table

Glass-Topped, Cast-Iron Side Table

If you’ve got or can find an old cast-iron base to a mechanical cream separator, centrifugal pump housing or parts from a small hammermill, then you can make a unique side table for your home or barn. These remnants are admirable for their heft and history—just the kind of item that deserves a place of honor in a farmhouse.

Chances are this cast-iron find will be rusty, so start by taking a wire brush to it. After thoroughly removing any unwanted blight, wipe it down with tack cloth to evaluate its condition. There may be traces of the machine’s previous painted finish you might want to preserve.

If so, apply mineral oil to the base, using a soft cloth; it will transform from rust to rich black or brown. Alternately, if the finish is not desirable, prime and spray paint it the color of your choice.

We recommend you use glass for the tabletop, which should be, ideally, at least 3/8 inch thick and not extend more than 3 to 4 inches beyond the edge of the base. Consider whether or not you’d also like a beveled edge; this option will cost more but will enhance the aesthetics of the piece. Contact a few local glass shops for quotes.

Once your glass top is in hand, the last step is to affix a few tiny silicone dots (available at most hardware stores) around the top of the base for the glass to rest on; these will also serve to level the piece.

Milk Pail Funnel Light

Milk Pail Funnel Light

Milk Pail Funnel Light

Now how about the old milk pail funnel that used to serve that cream separator? If you’ve got that—or galvanized poultry round feeders or waterers, antique gas-station lamps or fuel funnels—you can make a one-of-a-kind ceiling light. These tin-plated steel items are easy to modify and have a charming, rustic appearance.

Start by acquiring a gray powder-coated, adjustable lamp head for the bulb base; this base has a ½-inch NPT thread at the end opposite the bulb socket, and uses the supplied locknut to support a large, galvanized fender washer. The washer keeps the funnel in place and helps keep its soft, perforated mild steel from deforming under the funnel’s weight.

Next, thread the end of the lamp head directly into a ½-inch galvanized pipe coupling. Tighten up the coupling to hold the funnel securely in place. To the other end of the coupling, attach a 12-inch-long piece of ½-inch galvanized pipe threaded on both ends. The end opposite the funnel threads into the lamp base that can be purchased with the lamp head, which is now inside your funnel.

Next, connect the electrical wiring from the lamp head to the ceiling box from which the new lamp will hang, but do so with the breaker controlling this ceiling box in the off position. Then screw the lamp base to the ceiling box. If there’s no ceiling box already in place and connected, you may want to hire an electrician to do that portion of the job.

Finally, install a pull-chain switch inside the lamp base, which can be covered with a store-bought canopy. If you prefer a more polished look, spray paint the entire project the color of your choice.

Plowing With Pigs and Other Creative, Low-Budget Homesteading Solutions

Plowing With Pigs and Other Creative, Low-Budget Homesteading Solutions

With one or more such projects under your belt, you’ll begin to see potential everywhere you look … turn an old galvanized washtub on legs into an herb planter; fashion some antique door molding into the base for a coat rack, and adorn it with found hooks or doorknobs; or use a galvanized feed trough as the basin for an outdoor shower and a vintage wooden wagon wheel as the fixture for its shower curtain.

You get the idea. By doing so, you’ll be saving loads from the landfill and decorating your home with a bit of history and tradition.

For more interesting ways to repurpose old items around the farm, check out “Plowing With Pigs and Other Creative, Low-Budget Homesteading Solutions” (New Society Publishers, 2013) by Oscar H. Will III and Karen K. Will.