Upcycling: What a Bright Idea!

Now that it’s spring, we’re all looking to clean up and get rid of some of the unused items in our homes. This April, the Museum will be collecting electronic devices from the community to recycle – but what about everything else?

The United States has scheduled to have the traditional incandescent light bulbs we know so well phased out by the year 2014 in favor of more energy efficient options. That means that there may be quite a few of us with some spare bulbs lying around that would otherwise be tossed. Not to worry! I’ll show you how to turn your trash into treasure by taking an ordinary incandescent bulb and creating a beautiful flower vase!

What You Need:

Light bulb (note: do not use a fluorescent bulb!)

Small screwdriver


Protective eye wear

How-to Steps:

1. Lay down a paper towel to work on, or anything soft that you can cushion the head of your bulb on. Much of the work you are doing needs a delicate hand, and the bulb may slip out of your grasp from time to time.

2. Take your pliers and twist the small brass solder point on the tip of the stem of the bulb. Keep twisting it until it comes loose and you are able to pull it off. This will allow you to easily have access to the rest of the stem that is connected to the filament in the bulb.  

3. The dark protruding glass that is now exposed is called the insulator. You need to crack it in order to expose the filaments that are inside the bulb. Use the small screwdriver to poke a hole through the glass, and then rotate the screwdriver around in a large circle in order to break up the surrounding glass. Gently shake the bulb to remove the broken insulator.

4. Now that the insulator is gone, the filaments in the bulb will be exposed. Take your screwdriver and break the fill tube inside. When you break this tube away from the rest of the filaments, you’ll hear a small ‘pop!’ sound.

5. Use your screwdriver and your pliers to pull the filament out of the bulb through the brass stem. It may or may not shake out quite easily. I had to use a little force to get mine out, but be sure that you’re gripping the brass stem while you’re pulling – you may end up holding the bulb too roughly and breaking the glass

6. If you are using a white incandescent light bulb, you’ll need to wash out the inside. The glass is covered in a powder called Kaolin, which is used to diffuse the light in the bulb. If you don’t wash it out, your flower stems will be sitting in very cloudy water. I used a spare toothbrush to scrub the inside gently with soap and water, but a paper towel on the end of anything skinny enough to fit through the stem will work just as well.

You have a few options now as to how to continue. Your light bulb won’t stand up on its own, so you’ll need some kind of a base in order to set it upright. Or, if you’d prefer, you can use twine and hang your light bulb vase. I decided to use a soda bottle cap, which I painted white.

Now, all you’ll need to do is glue the bulb to your stand – in this case, I used hot glue to meld the curve of the bulb to the inside of the cap so that it would rest comfortably and have optimal balance. Voila! Your light bulb vase is complete!