Shotgun Shell Lights Final Project

After some exploration and creative thinking, I ended up creating a string of shotgun shell lights. I based my project strictly around using empty shotgun shells. I initially thought of creating art for art’s sake and using the shells as the border or outline. I also thought about using the brass to make drink coasters but was inspired by an old strand of Christmas lights hanging in my room to go the direction I went. The idea started after watching the movie Chef and noticing the classic chili pepper lights hanging in a restaurant used in one of the final scenes of the movie. I then thought if it would be possible to connect the shells to the lights in my room to emulate the red chili pepper lights and give my First Navy Jack a nice set of American shotgun shell lights.

The Process:

First I took the old set of Christmas lights down


Next is to take a used shotgun shell and cut a cross slit into it


Then I took the led bulbs on the light strand and pressed them into the cut out.


Once I pressed the entire green backing into the cut out I would pull back on the strand to basically seal the cut out making it extremely difficult to the the light out due to the way I made the cuts.


Finally I hung the lights back up where I originally had them hanging over my flag for a sweet extra twist and nice color of red lighting.


My design process was relatively linear similar to the one my group drew up during the in class exercise. I went through a couple iterations though, usually restarting the process once it failed. Typically the process starts with a problem then working towards a solution to the problem but this time I started the process with an item (the shotgun shell) and worked to find a solution to reuse the item. My design actual design process was more test and fail and retry rather than spending time planning but overall I followed my ideal design process pretty well.

As I mentioned before, my vision originally was art for art sake and using ammo in an artistic way. I have seen many creative ways to reuse shells and casings for art such as jewelry, sculptures, and art (such as a painting or image). But I have also seen ammo used for more functional reasons such as a .50 cal shell turned into a bottle opener. This was my biggest inspiration since it added an aesthetic to a common item while reusing an old item for another function. When I came across my idea it was the perfect fit for both artsy and functional.

In the end I was extremely happy the way it turned out. I was worried about the way I attached the lights if it would look natural and show off the shotgun shell enough where people noticed but I think it turned out well. If I had more time I would explore other ways to attach the shells using glue or a heat gun to reshape the plastic/wax/clay casing around the bulb rather than cutting through it. It may or may not turn out better but it would’ve been interesting to try. I hope to use other shells to try and make a few bottle openers next and plan on using a laser cutter and 3D modeling to design them and continue to reuse old ammo shells for other functions.



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35 Comments. Leave new

  • […] it, like Ethan Gehring’s nutcracker from a grenade casing, Shen Shu’s toy cannon, and Chad Alvarez‘s string of shotgun shell lights.      Here is a full scale example from Kris Kuksi, a “post-industrial Rococco […]

  • These look great, it’s cool that you really upcycled something you use personally. Nicely done!

  • I really like this, the decor is authentic, red blooded ‘murican! They make shells in a lot of colors too, so if you wanna make christmas lights you can.

    You mentioned that you wanted to punch the primers out. That’s pretty easy to do with just a punch. Come in from the front of the shell and just knock it out. Then you’ll be able to drill the primer seat to whatever size you want. It should easily accommodate any light you want then, and it will shine out the front more evenly.

  • Shawn Sprinkle
    Shawn Sprinkle
    February 9, 2016 9:47 pm

    Cool idea! Before next Christmas you should find some green shells and make a light strand with both red and green casings

  • Jason Mcgrath
    Jason Mcgrath
    February 9, 2016 7:48 pm

    You mentioned the chili lights in the Cuban restaurant that inspired you. These lights would go over great in a Redneck BBQ joint!

  • That’s cool! It seems like it would provide some nice mood lighting. Definitely hang it from an American flag, or use it to light up a gun case.

  • Peter Brunsgaard
    Peter Brunsgaard
    February 8, 2016 7:33 pm

    Those look cool! Do they produce much light in the dark? I really like the red glow that they give off.

  • America! Sweet idea that adds a great effect to a home. These would be cool to warn off enemies with by hanging outside your house

  • Thomas Brunsgaard
    Thomas Brunsgaard
    February 8, 2016 3:03 pm

    It could really cool to make another set using a much longer light strand. I’ve seen ones that have built in blinking, which would look very interesting (although it would probably be very distracting to have it hanging inside). You should consider making more of these as gifts. Nice simple idea to reuse shell casings!

  • Nicholas Flood
    Nicholas Flood
    February 8, 2016 2:57 pm

    I think it is pretty interesting that you were inspired by chili pepper lights. The final design definitely reflects that, which is awesome. It would look better in my opinion if the light in the shells were more uniform, instead of concentrated at one point. Otherwise, nicely done!

  • Samantha Maierhofer
    Samantha Maierhofer
    February 8, 2016 2:21 pm

    Interesting approach to making light strands more interesting and personalized. It would be cool to see what other parts you could implement into future designs!

  • I appreciate your mind-set of not using power tools for the upcycling processes. It’s also interesting to hear your inspiration for your project. I agree with your choices for design improvements for next time. Cool project.

  • Ashley Zimmerer
    Ashley Zimmerer
    February 8, 2016 1:34 pm

    Cool idea. To me, it looks like a very ‘red neck’ aesthetic, especially paired with the flag. I like the simplicity of the design; it’s good you didn’t need to make any extra fittings to get the lights to stay in the casings. Maybe you could cover the cord, or find a different color cord?

  • Neat! Can you find blue or white casings to enhance the ‘MERICA?

  • Jacob Mccormick
    Jacob Mccormick
    February 8, 2016 12:49 pm

    Awesome idea to make small lights more interesting, maybe you can string them up on the christmas tree next year.

  • I really like how similar it is to chili pepper lights. I think it turned out really well and appeals to a very specific aesthetic. It might be interesting to use shells that are different colors.

  • Joseph Yoshimura
    Joseph Yoshimura
    February 8, 2016 12:23 pm

    I like how the shells have that red tint to it, yet in the center the light actually shines through it so effectively. How well do the LED bulbs light up the room? It looks like it could be nice sort of nightlight thing for kids… or not since shotguns. But a nice glow nonetheless

  • What kind of shotgun do you have? Also, the lights look great!

  • Sreyas Krishnan
    Sreyas Krishnan
    February 8, 2016 12:20 pm

    Simple and effective!

  • Ryan Yankowsky
    Ryan Yankowsky
    February 8, 2016 12:19 pm

    Great idea, like the coloring of the shells as they are lit. Would be interesting to see multicolored shell casings used. definitely going to be a favorite for gun owners/fans.

  • David Holliman
    David Holliman
    February 8, 2016 12:19 pm

    Great decorative piece– I think you could use other colored shotgun shells to alternate the color scheme if you wanted.

  • I think that is is a very simple project, and looks very good for the amount of effort. I think that this makes it appealing.

  • Brittany Warly
    Brittany Warly
    February 8, 2016 12:19 pm

    this was a unique idea and I like that you really did upcycle something that you use. Also, I like the look of the lights above your American flag

  • Simple, and good looking! Threading through the firing pin would be cool, but I think this looks badass.

  • Chip Bollendonk
    Chip Bollendonk
    February 8, 2016 12:19 pm

    Definitely followed the “gun aesthetic”! Is the plastic something that won’t melt? I imagine not, since of the whole gun shell thing…

  • Nice Idea on using the shotgun shells. You might want to remove the caps underneath so that light travels easily.

  • Rachel Grosskrueger
    Rachel Grosskrueger
    February 8, 2016 12:19 pm

    This is a really cool way to reuse your shotgun shells! Very American as you said and it could be really fun to use that to decorate a Christmas tree going along with that theme.

  • I do agree that it would be nice for the lights to be a bit brighter, but this is a good way to reuse something that otherwise would never be.

  • Interesting aesthetic. The shotgun shells were an interesting idea. What would happen if you had different color lights in the shells?

  • Very creative use of shotgun shells here. While the red glow is definitely cool, one thing to work on in the future would be to come up with a design that highlights the shotgun shells more as they sort of blend in right now. Good job!

  • Anfal Abdulrahman
    Anfal Abdulrahman
    February 8, 2016 12:18 pm

    Your project turned pretty cool, very up-cycling and has unique look and lighting to it.

    thank you.

  • Cool project, the glow through the shell works really well.

  • really nice glow to the shells.

  • This is a pretty cool project. I like that you used shotgun shells. The red creates a cool effect with the lights. It is too bad there aren’t more lights on the string of lights.

  • I think your use of shotgun shells to create a unique string of lights was a clever idea. It sounds like it is something that you will use and will certainly catch a person’s eye. One thing worth a try might be cutting the shells in strips nearly to the end, but not quite, then curling them back so they resemble flowers. Granted, that would probably more appealing to me than you. 😉


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