A test tube vase is exactly what it sounds like: a vase that uses a test tube to contain a flower or a plant. It is also one of those DIY projects that can be beautifully simple or marvelously complex, depending on your maker skill level. There are so many, many different ways you can make one of these!
Today, I’ll walk you through the steps of how I made my first test tube vase. It is a DIY project that you can realistically complete over a weekend if you have all the tools and materials at your disposal on a Friday evening. It is a modern, unusual-looking piece of home decor and it can make a nice handmade gift.
Here’s a list of things you’ll need to make one like mine:
Solid wood: I used a panel of 20mm basswood, also known as tilia or linden, but you can use pretty much any kind of solid wood. If you choose to copy my design, I’d suggest picking something that has a pretty end grain pattern.
A test tube: Duh. I found mine at home and I don’t know where it came from. It was 25mm wide and 180mm tall. You can get test tubes of various sizes on eBay, Amazon, or AliExpress. You can also check a local WalMart, ask at a pharmacy, or get an IKEA RIMFORSA set. In any case, be sure to pick a tube wide enough to fit the kind of flowers you intend on putting in it.
Something to give weight to the base: I used large metal nuts, but you can use anything that is heavy and smaller than the base of your vase. This will make sense later.
Tools and misc. materials:
- A table saw or a hand saw. Having a bandsaw is nice but not necessary
- A router or a Dremel-like rotary tool. A good chisel may also work
- Drill and a bit of the width of your test tube. I used a 25mm spade bit
- Wood Glue
- Spray lacquer or any other wood finish you like
Step 1: Cut Wood Pieces to Size
The first picture shows the 20mm wood panel I used for my vase. It’s a leftover piece from a previous DIY project.
I cut a total of 8 pieces, 55 by 55 millimeters in size. These are later going to be stacked on top of each other, creating a layered design. The grain direction flips 90 degrees for each layer for a fancier look.
Step 2: Hollow Out Three Pieces, Fill With Metal Nuts
A vase like this needs good support so that it doesn’t topple over at the slightest shake of the table. This is why I decided to hollow out the three bottom wood pieces and fill them with heavy metal nuts.
Using a router, I hollowed out three of the wood pieces. You can probably do this with a chisel if you don’t have a router or a rotary tool. Note that I went all the way through on only one of the pieces, the one meant to be sandwiched between the other two.
As pointed out in the previous step, the orientation of the wood grain changes for each layer of the vase. Pay attention to this when gluing the pieces together if you want to achieve the same effect I was aiming for.
Step 3: Drill Through the Five Remaining Pieces
While the glued up three bottom layers were drying, I drilled through the remaining five pieces of wood. A drill press would have been super useful for this step, but I don’t have one so I simply used an electric drill.
I started by marking the centers on all five. This is as easy as drawing the two diagonals with a pencil, and the point where they intersect is the center of the piece. You need to do this on one side only.
Then I secured one of the pieces and drilled a 25mm circular hole through it with a spade bit. I’d recommend drilling only half-way through, just about until the tip of the bit shows up on the other side. Then flip the piece and continue drilling through the other side. Drilling the hole in just one go can easily cause the wood to chip as the bit exits through the bottom side.
Another piece of advice that I have is to use a quality bit. I tried using a cheapo bit first — it was dull and crooked so my hole ended up looking terrible.
Step 4: Glue the Five Top Pieces
Once you’ve drilled a hole through all five top pieces, you can glue them up together. First, I figured out how I wanted them to be stacked, again flipping the grain direction for every layer. Once I was happy with the arrangement, I drew an X across all five so that I’d know I haven’t switched any pieces around later.
When gluing the five pieces together, I applied glue only to the surfaces where the pieces were going to touch. The top and bottom do not need glue yet, even though the second picture above may lead you to believe otherwise.
To make sure that my pieces are aligned perfectly, I let them dry around the test tube, as seen in the photo. This was a decision not well thought through, as some of the wood glue had stuck to the tube on the inside. But I was able to pull it out with a little bit of persuasion. The glue came off the glass easily after I let it soak in a jar full of warm water.
Step 5: Glue Top and Bottom Pieces Together
Not much to explain here. After the top five pieces have been glued up, they can be glued to the bottom. Be sure that everything lines up well.
Step 6: Sanding
On the next day, when the glue was fully dried, I sanded the piece from all sides. I started with 80 grit sandpaper to remove imperfections. Then I switched to 120 and then finally to 240 and 350 to create a silky smooth surface. It was a lot of work, but the results were worth it.
Step 7: Bravery Test
This is what Bob Ross would call a bravery test. It’s a step that can either take your project to a whole new level — or ruin it completely. For me, it was the former.
As shown in the pictures above, I removed a chunk of material with a hand saw. A bandsaw would have made the process easier, but I don’t have one.
Step 8: More Sanding
I ended up making two more cuts on the same side until I got a look that I liked. I was aiming for a straight cut at first, but then I realized that a curved look would probably look better.
To achieve that look, I sanded the cut side with 80-grit sandpaper by hand using a sanding block. I switched to 120 and then to 240 and 350 when enough material was removed.
The vase ended up reminding me of a ship’s sails. I was quite happy with that admittedly improvised yet pretty cool look. The picture above shows the base without any finish on it.
Step 9: Applying Lacquer
… and this is what it looked like after several coats of spray lacquer had been applied. On the next day, when the lacquer was fully dried, I gave the entire piece some light sanding with 350-grit sandpaper and sprayed it with several more coats of lacquer.
Step 10: It’s Complete!
The vase was now ready to be admired. I was happy with the look and relieved by the fact that it could easily support flowers larger than the one pictured. The wooden base alone ended up weighing 338 grams, according to my kitchen scales.