110. Song for July

Barn painted, tractor repaired,
Barn painted
Jewels ripening, jam jars prepared.
Catalpas blooming,
catalpa blooming
hammocks waiting to be hung.
field of thistlesFields of wildflowers smiling at the sun.
Goldfinches yearning for those early seeds,
Spotted fawns feasting on the high weeds.
spotted fawn
Spider webs in the oven instead of on the grill,
Sunrise in July
  Sun rises early over the distant hill.
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 Berries transformed, sweet on the tongue.
bare feet in clover
Bare feet in the clover,
July's song is sung.

109. A Light for your Path, Part 2 : Rewiring old lamps

This post is the second part of a series on old lamps. The first was painting; this one will show you how to rewire an old lamp.

Disclaimer: Some people don’t want to tackle lamps and that’s okay. Truthfully, if I didn’t have my handy Mr.H.C. handy, I might not have tried it either. Safety first! If you are hesitant, don’t try this at home. :-)
For this project I bought the kit that included a new lamp cord; my local hardware store actually had more selection of lamp repair parts than the big box stores.

For this project I bought the kit that included a new lamp cord; my local hardware store actually had more selection of lamp repair parts than the big box stores.

If you don’t have a lamp to repair, quickly run out to your favorite junque shop and get one. I’ll wait. Don’t spend more than $10 because you will have to buy a lampshade and that’s where you will want to splurge. (If you’ve tested your lamp and it works, that’s great! Maybe all you have to do is paint it or spruce it up. The last time I bought a lamp, we tested it at the store, it worked great, and three days later is stopped working. So…) Stop by a hardware store and buy a lamp rewiring kit, too. Then you can use all new parts.

I am making two assumptions here: 1. You have made sure that it isn’t just a burned out light bulb; and 2. You have unplugged the lamp from any electrical outlet. Okay, let’s get started.

IMG_4311You need a basic screwdriver, a wire stripper, a sharpie, and if you (or someone in your household) have a continuity tester you can use it, but it isn’t necessary. The goofy looking tool is a wire stripper. We’ll look closer at it later.

Let’s review Tip # 2 from the last post:
Tip # 2. When taking apart a lamp, especially if you are doing this for the first time, remember how it goes back together. Put all your parts together in a big tin can, or place them somewhere in a line to help you remember what washer goes on what nut.

I was very careful to keep all the pieces together in a tin can, but still, I lost a nut…  Luckily nuts are easy to come by in this house…

Lamp repair

Mr. H.C. is providing the technical expertise for this post. (That’s one reason I’m writing it: so I’ll have a written record for myself so I can go back and look it over without having to bug him about every little thing.) One other thing: sometimes rewiring requires three hands. See if you can find a spare one around the house somewhere…

Tools and Basics
Lamp socket

First let’s look at sockets. You can buy them as a push switch, a turn knob, a three way turn knob, and most of them have a little pull chain option if you’d like to be very retro. It looks like this in the package, but comes apart into 4 pieces. If you are taking the lamp all apart to paint it, you should just replace everything old with new.

Here are the 4 pieces of the socket: the base, the cover or shell, the cardboard insulator, and the socket/switch.Lamp socket

The new one will come in pieces; the old one on your lamp will have to come apart. On the shell, usually next to the switch, is some unreadable writing. It says Press. You are supposed to be able to press the cover in and release it from the base. Sometimes it works, but if the socket is old, it could be corroded or electrified together, and you may have to press and pry with a screwdriver at the same time.

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This is the new socket/switch, so there is no wiring attached to it yet.

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Don’t you hate it when DIY posts have photos of clean hands? Yep, so do I.

Let’s take a break for a minute and examine the socket/switch. In the left photo the screw is silver — this is the neutral screw; on the right, the screw is brass — this is the positive, or hot screw.

Lamp wire

This wire is marked which side is the hot wire. This wire is new and the tips are nicely soldered together.

Lamp cords are made of two stranded wires, the neutral and the hot wires. The hot wires must be attached to the hot screw and the neutral wires must go the neutral screw. Lamp cords generally aren’t marked as to which side is which; when you take off the wire from the hot screw, it might be helpful to mark that side with a sharpie or nail polish — something to let you know which is the hot wire. If you have a handy dandy continuity tester you can use it here, but there are other ways to determine which is the hot wire. See Tip #1.
Tip # 1: The plug on a lamp cord has two prongs and one is larger than the other. This is the neutral or ground prong. If you straighten the wire and follow the cord up, that section of wire is the neutral wire. Conversely, if you follow the section of wire up from the smaller prong, that’s the hot wire.

Lamp socket and harp base

The U-shaped piece of metal under the socket is the base for the harp which holds the lampshade. This is the American style of lamp shade holder, so it’s likely your lamp has one. Don’t forget to put it back on before the socket.

The cord goes down through the lamp in a hollow metal tube with threads on each end. At the base of the inside of the lamp tube is a nut holding the whole thing together. The top of the lamp tube is screwed into the base of the socket we just took apart. Consequently, when you unscrew the socket base, you might just unscrew the whole tube. Yes, I’ve done it. (If you are taking it all apart to paint it, you’re going to replace everything anyway, so don’t worry — this is only tricky when you are just repairing a lamp.)

Putting it Back Together

Put the cord through the hole in the bottom of the lamp, then through the threaded tube, putting the lamp pieces together as you go. Every lamp is different; the lamp I painted had three pieces and one long tube that connected them all inside. Many lamps are just one piece with a short threaded tube just below the socket. Make sure to leave plenty of wire out the bottom of the lamp to plug it in. After the wire is all the way up the tube and into the base of the socket, you only need a few inches of cord.

Tip # 2: Mr. H.C. says I can’t leave this out: When the base of the socket has to be reattached to the lamp, twist the cord in the opposite direction — counter-clockwise — about six times (just by hand). This is to keep the cord from kinking while you are screwing the base of the socket into the lamp.

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This cord has the hot wire marked; the strands of wire are nicely soldered, so they just have to be curved around the correct screw and the screw tightened. Also note the underwriter’s knot in the cord.

Wire strippers

Lamp cord is generally 18 gauge, and if you look on the wire strippers there are numbers that correspond to the size of cord to be cut.

Once the cord is through the socket base, and the socket base is back on the lamp, you have to split the two sections of cord and uncover those strands of wires. This is where you need the wire strippers. The goal is to just cut through the plastic of the cord and not cut any of the wires.  Put the cord in the correct notch of the wire strippers and squeeze gently; then with an upward motion just peel that plastic off.

Tip # 3: Each and every one of those strands is important. If you cut any of them accidentally, move down the wire a bit and try again.

After you have prepared the wire ends, split the cord a little further and tie a knot in the cord so it won’t slip off the screws. There is a cool knot, called an underwriter’s knot that is generally used. It looks like the symbol for infinity, and See Jane Drill has a great video on how to learn to tie it. It’s simple and it looks like this.
Underwriter's knot

Close up of lamp wiresIf the strands of wire are not soldered, they have to be neatly twisted together before they can be wrapped around the screw. Twist them together in a clockwise fashion and bend the wires into a half-circle that will fit easily around the screw. Once you have the wires in place with the correct screws, tighten the screws, and put the socket back together. Remember in Tip # 2 above we talked about how important those strands of wire are? Here as well — if any stray wires end up sticking out around the screws, unscrew them, retwist the wires, and try again. (If you are using a new cord, chances are this is already done for you — another reason to buy the whole kit and just replace everything.)

All that is left is to fit the harp over the harp base, choose a lightbulb (that is a feat in and of itself these days…) and go buy a lampshade.

And now I will confess that I wish I had written this post before I started. And one more thing … if the lamp flickers when you turn it on, don’t use it. Turn it off and seek electrical guidance from a local lamp guru, an electrical expert, a polished professional, a guiding light in the field of lamp repair. Okay, sorry. Mr. H.C. says I shouldn’t make jokes about this being a shocking experience.

If you need more information or my instructions are as clear as mud, here are a couple of web sites that go into great detail (they also use photos of clean, nicely manicured hands): How to Repair a Faulty Lamp for Dummies or Family Handyman’s How to Repair a Table Lamp. But again, I think totally rewiring is easier than repairing. Just my opinion…

And my lamp? I totally changed my mind and went with a creamy linen shade. I don’t always like to get white shades because my walls are mostly off-white and I don’t want the shade to disappear against the wall. But the mirror behind the lamp changes all that. What do you think?

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108. a light for your path, Part 1: never buy a new lamp again…

True confession time: in the forty plus years since I have been furnishing my own dwellings I have only purchased two new lamps.

(My sister, the decorator, would say, “Yes, I can tell.”) 😄

But I get much joy from making something shabby look good again. And you can too, here at Lamp Repair 101.

Step One: Painting/Cleaning the Lamp
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This lamp was purchased today at Construction Junction for $10. I needed a taller lamp to go with the washstand I just redid. (See post 78 for a before photo of the washstand.) I was looking for a basic lamp to paint. The top and bottom part of this lamp will be spray painted with my favorite Oil Rubbed Bronze shade of Rustoleum; the middle will be painted with the left-over chalk paint from the washstand, a pretty shade of blue green, Calico, from Sherwin Williams.

Usually I test old lamps but there were no light bulbs at the check out counter and the folks who work there are pretty much “Eh, you want it, you buy it. Ya don’t want it, somebody else will buy it…”

Lamp partsI dusted it, cleaned it with vinegar and tested the lamp. The switch was a turn knob, which didn’t click cleanly in place and the light from the bulb flickered. It would need to be replaced with new lamp parts from our favorite Big Box Store.

Tip # 1. If your significant other tries to direct you, ignore all their instructions and do it your way. Then if it fails, you can blame only yourself. Conversely, if it fails after you’ve done it THEIR way, you will be muttering about how you should have done it the way you wanted to in the first place…This is true in all of life.

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I was going to just mask the middle and spray paint. Instead Mr. H.C. suggested I take it apart. He usually knows best, so I did. (See Tip # 1.) In retrospect, he was right (he usually is) because the socket was going to have to be replaced anyway. I should have just taken the whole thing completely apart, instead of keeping it linked together.

Tip # 2. When you take apart a lamp, especially if you are doing this for the first time, Remember how it goes back together. Put all your parts together in a big tin can, or place them somewhere in order to help you remember what washer goes on what nut. (If I can do this, you can too; I scored 0 (Zero) on the mechanical ability tests we had to take in high school…)

 

Note the blobby spray paint

Note the blobby spray paint

Tip # 3. Don’t do your spray painting on a day that has 99% humidity and temperatures in the eighties. It takes forever to dry and then easily scrapes off.

All the DIY blog posts I’ve ever read make it all sound easy and never write a word about messing up. You will get the truth in this post. I have never had any metal not take to my favorite Rustoleum oil rubbed bronze spray paint. Last week I even spray painted a shiny metal lamp shade. It worked great. The shiny fake brass top and bottom of this lamp did not take the paint. I lightly sanded them, put a light base coat on first, and then watched as the second finish coat  just scraped right off. It was disheartening. (See Tip # 3.) And time consuming.

Tip # 4. Do not use a cheap brush for chalk paint.

I already had the chalk paint for the middle of the lamp, but you can find the recipe here. The best tool I had for painting a curved lamp was a small foam brush. The cheap brush that I started with left bristles everywhere and had me bristling. (Sorry, couldn’t resist — see Tip # 4.)

After I had sanded and scraped off the goopy-never-did-dry coat of spray paint, I started again. This time I took the pieces outside where there was a slight breeze, and spray painted again. I didn’t touch them for four hours, and this time they dried fine. Who knows? I’m blaming the humidity and the bad working conditions of the garage…

Putting the lamp back together was the most fun of the project. In Part Two of this post we will cover rewiring; if you aren’t into learning how to rewire, then just skip it and look at the final photos of my beautiful new old lamp.


Or maybe you like this lampshade better?

Tell me which you prefer, and in the next post I’ll show you the one I kept.

Note about the washstand: This may or may not be the way it stays. I needed it to look good in a hurry, which meant only sanding the straight parts. The pieces in between the drawers are curved; there are insets on the sides that need much sanding work, so I took the quick route and painted what wasn’t easily sanded. It fit the bill for fast, but I’m not sure if I like it; at least it will do until I decide…Plus, it’s a compromise between “Don’t ever paint oak/husband” and “But the color goes better with the room/Wife.” What do you think? Hmm. Might depend on your gender?