Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Homemade Kitchen Light: New Life For Old Milk Can Funnel

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: kitchen, DIY, repurposing,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.One of the final steps in our ongoing kitchen renovation was to replace a ceiling fan whose blades hit a cabinet door when opened so we decided to make use of an old milk can funnel to create a homemade kitchen light. The vintage milk can funnel is shaped quite perfectly to serve as a rustic shade for a ceiling light, and its tin-plated mild-steel self is easy to modify as needed. Plus you can find antique milk can funnels for very little money at junk shops, farm auctions and even antique shops that offer a decent line of rustic country collectibles. Since I was already working on the ceiling and needed to upgrade the wiring a bit, I also built a mount for the main kitchen lights -- a pair of reproduction drop-pedestal school lights -- and hung them. We didn't mount those lights directly to the ceiling because there was only a single box that served the cloud-like fluorescent fixture and I didn't want to tear up the old ceiling tiles to install new electrical boxes. Both projects turned out nicely, but the milk can funnel light tickles me the most since I built it from parts.

Homemade Milk can filter funnel light.  

Our homemade milk can funnel light serves its purpose wonderfully and its rustic nature fits the kitchen perfectly. If you don't want the rust marks to show where the tin plating is gone, you can easily paint the milk can funnel with a metallic paint to bring it back to  a more shiny life. 

Ceiling in need of lights.  

Here you can see the ceiling sans light fixtures and fan. The fluorescent fixture was in the freshly foamed-in box on the left, while the ceiling fan was connected to the box on the right. Both electrical boxes are fed from the same hot wire but only that on the left is controlled with a wall switch.

Milk can funnel light bulb base detail. 

I chose a gray powder coated, adjustable lamp head for the bulb base. This base has a 1/2-inch NPT thread at the end opposite the bulb socket. I used the supplied locknut to support a large galvanized fender washer I found in my parts box. The washer keeps the funnel in place and helps keep its soft perforated steel from deforming under the funnel's weight.

Drop pipe detail on a homemade milk can funnel lamp.  

I threaded the end of the lamp head directly into a 1/2-inch galvanized pipe coupling. I used tin snips to open the end of the funnel enough to make room. My snipping was sufficiently close that I didn't need a fender washer directly beneath the coupling. Tightening up the coupling holds the funnel securely in place. To the other end of the coupling, I attached a 12-inch long piece of 1/2 inch galvanized pipe, threaded on both ends. The end opposite the funnel threads into the lamp base that goes with the lamp head I used inside the funnel. That base is screwed to the ceiling box.

More milk can funnel lamp details.  

Since we wanted this light to be operable separately from the wall-switched main kitchen light, as was the case with the old fan, I left this side circuit wired hot and installed a pull-chain switch inside the lamp base. Since the lamp base is quite angular and modern looking we decided to cover it with a canopy, which you can see here. We couldn't find any canopies at the local electrical supply place that suited perfectly so we just bought an inexpensive one and modified it. First I used a large twist bit in my drill and some filing to open up the hole in the center to accommodate the 1/2-inch galvanized pipe. Second, I drilled and filed out a hole to allow the pull switch to see the light of day and finally. I noticed that the canopy required a couple of screws to be threaded into the fixture to which it was designed to be attached. To work around this problem, I drilled and tapped the lamp mounting base for screws that would fasten the canopy in place. Those screws are beneath the two acorn nuts you see in the photo above.

Even more milk can funnel lamp details.  

We installed an Edison-style low watt incandescent bulb in the homemade fixture for that certain ambiance. I was prepared not to like it, but I really do. As with any electrical work, don't take on more than you are knowledgeable enough to handle. Simple wiring and lamp installation is easy for the average person if you understand the fundamentals and have excellent resources at hand. Study the appropriate sections in home improvement books and online to ensure that your work is up to code and most importantly safe.

Main kitchen light.  

For the over-island lights, I took the old fluorescent fixture's frame, gutted it except for it's mounting bar, and installed a couple of light-mounting electrical boxes to support the lamps. Next I wired up the new boxes and connected them to the original ceiling box, cut some galvanized steel to enclose the works and installed the lights. I lightly sanded a swirl pattern into the galvanized steel to make it look less stark. Now all that's left of the kitchen renovation is to finish the island, paint the ceiling and widen the door opening to the dining room. Stay tuned.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

2/13/2012 7:53:01 PM

This might be a separator strainer, dave ... it does fit nicely into the mouth of the old milk cans though. I'm sure glad you got your land!

2/13/2012 7:51:16 PM

I replaced my first switch when I was 7 ... my mother couldn't get my dad to get around to it, so one day I looked at it and did it after pulling the fuse. Then I took physics and learned all about circuits and the like and then I read most of the electrical code book for residential and damp locations because I thought it was interesting and useful. :-)

2/13/2012 7:48:40 PM

I'd love to know if you ended up using the old fixure, Christine I rewired a couple of those old fixtures to light up the hog feeding area. I love those old enameled shades.

2/13/2012 7:46:55 PM

Sarah, I have a situation like you describe in the dining room right now. Karen has the fixture, but we need to get the woodstove in and figure out where the table goes before I tackle it. :)

sarah schartz
2/2/2012 10:57:31 PM

Very cool light fixtures. I currently have wires hanging from my living room ceiling (wire nutted, taped and cobwebbed for about 5 years) becuase I've been waiting for inspiration. Then I found these cool mason jar lights that would look awesome - but of course I can't just buy them, I want to make them myself with old jars from my Grandma. I'm going to have to do some research and get crackin'. I'm inspired!!!

robyn dolan
1/25/2012 6:37:51 PM

You make it sound so easy! I put together a couple of lamps in high school, nothing recently. I love the rustic look. Now I need to go check out your other posts to catch up on what else you've done;)

christine byrne
1/12/2012 5:02:29 AM

I love this! I have an old outdoor barn fixture, one that would have projected from the wall. I've always wanted to do something with it but never could figure out where a wall fixture could go. I never thought of changing the arm and hanging it from the ceiling. My husband will be thrilled that you've added one more thing to his to-do list.

nebraska dave
1/5/2012 9:12:55 PM

Hank, now that is truly the art of recycling in action. What you call a milk can funnel looks to be the same as the top of a milk cream separator that we used to strain the milk before separating the cream. We fed the skim milk to the hogs and took the cream to town and sold it at the creamery. I doubt that such a place even exists any more. Those were the days. We used 100% cream on our breakfast cereal in the mornings. It was before cholesterol, high blood pressure, or any other kind of health concern existed. If it tasted good we ate it. It was pretty simple back then. I like your creativity. It fits into the farm kitchen. Have a great day with kitchen remodeling.