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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Chalk paint chairs 101: cheapskate style

We are chalk painting chairs here at Apple Hill today. But, first, a few disclaimers:

1. I have never used chalk paint before.

2. I am not even a reliable furniture painter — I have had successes and failures — about an equal number of both.

3. I am not known for patience.

Yeah, I’ve been wanting to try chalk paint for the dining room chairs for several months, but I’ve never had $100 to spare on an experiment, that might very well be a failure. See number 2, above.

Enter a few DIY chalk paint recipes that just call for latex paint and plaster of paris. Hmm…. I could do that. But what about the wax? I had done a bit of research and discovered that mostly what gives people problems with the chalk paint technique is doing the wax; I also read quite a few articles that said regular paste wax was perfectly acceptable and had a better learning curve. But I wanted to do the dark wax because I love that streaky, antiqued look. One day as I was searching, I came across a page that suggested using dark shoe polish — the paste kind in the tins — as a substitute for dark wax. Ah ha. The cheapskate wins again! Unfortunately, when I went back to try to read it again, I couldn’t find it anywhere… (The joys of the internet.)

So, if you’ve read this far, you will note that there are about 397 disclaimers in the above few paragraphs.

Vintage chairs at St. Vincent de Paul's for $6.99 each.

Vintage chairs at St. Vincent de Paul’s for $6.99 each.

What really jump-started this project was the discovery of two chairs at St. Vinnie’s for $6.99 each.   One of the chairs had been sanded; the other one they gave up on and left as is. They probably sat around in someone’s basement for a few years as an unfinished project before they were donated to the the thrift shop. (Not that I would know anything about that.)

As I was dusting them, I found a little circle tag that labeled them as Gunlocke Chairs. This company could have an entire post by itself, (President Kennedy’s office chair was a Gunlocke…) and the trademark dated the chairs for us — sometime between 1940 and 1970. There are some Gunlocke chairs on for sale E-Bay for quite a lot of money, but I don’t think painting these chairs will make them go down in value much.

Cheap DIY stuff and cheap chairs make for a do-it-now project. The only thing lost if it doesn’t work is TIME. I gathered my waxes, cheesecloth, a chip brush, paint, plaster of paris, and sandpaper. Now, this post is going to tell you what all the other DIY chalk paint posts don’t tell you. From a complete newbie who is not on anyone’s payroll, and whose husband (a professional painter, carpenter, and general construction guy) kept shaking his head and nay-saying the whole time. (Fact: I am generally not a rule-follower. Fact: Mr. H.C. IS a rule-follower. That’s why his projects always look so good and mine don’t always.)

PAINTING
Throughout blogdom you can read that the best part of chalk painting is that you don’t have to do any prep work. Just paint over any finish on the piece, and ta da… No sanding, no priming. In fact, the high price of the stuff is justified by saying you don’t have to buy primer. So hear me now — unless your piece is perfect, you have to sand. Yes, the chalk paint is thick, but it doesn’t cover over nicks, scrapes, gouges or peeling paint. If you have a spot where paint has peeled off, it is going to show. Unless maybe you do five coats. Or maybe the expensive chalk paint covers better. I can’t say about that.

Chalk- painted chair with paint only, and just a little sanding.

Chalk-painted chair with 2 coats of paint and a little sanding.

Secondly, the chalk paint is really thick. It has plaster of paris in it! So you have to keep stirring. Hold your brush in one hand and stir with the other. Now keep in mind, this is the DIY stuff. I got interrupted after painting one chair and didn’t go back for an hour or so. The paint was very thick and when I tried to stir it, I got lumps because it hadn’t been constantly stirred. I put three coats on the first chair, but because the paint was drying and lumping in the container, I only got two coats on the second chair. I would have preferred three coats. Yes, it dries that fast.

Third, yes, it dries that fast. The posts on the expensive chalk paint assure us that we can save it, and just add water if it thickens. Perhaps that is true; I’d sure hate to spend $$$ on a quart of paint, use just a little and have to throw it out. There was no way I could keep the paint I mixed up. By the time I put the second coat on the second chair, it was lumpy (see above) and so thick I ended up just chucking the whole rest of the mix in the trash.

Fourth, because it is so thick one has to be extra careful with painting edges and using a smooth stroke. Edge runs can be sanded off, true, and then you have a distressed piece. But if you weren’t planning on distressing your piece, you might want to think again about using this type of paint. I was careful, and I still had many, many edge runs and blobs. And I could make a lot of bad puns about distressed furniture and distressed painters of furniture, but I will save you from that pain. Just let me say that you should probably plan on sanding off a lot of the edges and letting the underneath show through. That wasn’t a problem for me, because that is what I’d planned on doing.
the trouble with chalk paint

The recipes I found were all similar. (Salvaged Inspirations, lists four different recipes and compares which worked best.) The recipe I used was 1/2 c. plaster of paris mixed with an equal amount of cold water. Then I added 1 1/2 c. latex paint and stirred well. Emily Fazio wrote an article on the DIY Blog Network using this recipe, although she specified mixing the plaster of paris with warm water. Everything else I read — even the instructions on the PoP carton called for cold water. So I used cold water. Maybe next time I’ll try the hot water to compare.

The paint went on nicely. You can see brushstrokes though, so expect that. The second coat covers better. The third coat looks even better. It dries quickly — did I say that already? One can sand off lumps and runs and distress the edges almost immediately. I used a 150 grit sanding block at first and that seemed too coarse. Mr H.C then went to get me a finer grit — 320 — and that worked well. It distressed the edges without taking too much paint off the rest of the chair. Wipe the chair clean when it is the way you like it, and you are ready to wax. (I have heard that you can also sand after the first coat of wax, but why would you? You can tell what your piece will look like — the wax doesn’t do anything but make it shiny and give it a hard finish. Gums up your sandpaper too…)

WAXING

The number one rule for waxing is not to put on too much at one time. Many light coats are the goal. Most of the articles I read suggested cheese cloth. The brand name chalk paints sell big expensive round brushes with long handles for the wax; I could not find one in any store. I ended up getting a chip brush (natural bristle) and a separate brush for the dark shoe polish that is a brush for putting polish on shoes. (You can usually find them being sold right next to the shoe polish.)

Paste wax on cheesecloth For applying the wax, the instructions call for a small amount of wax on the cloth, folding over the cloth, and rubbing it on through the folded over cheesecloth.

I didn’t care for putting the wax on with cheesecloth. Maybe it is because I’d never done it before, but I ended up putting on the wax, and rubbing it off again because I couldn’t see where I’d applied the wax. The chip brush worked much better — I could see the wax, and the shape of the brush prevented me from getting too much wax on it.

I found instructions that said to leave the wax on for anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours, then buff it with a clean cloth. I tried both 15 minutes and 2 hours before I started to buff the wax, and honestly? I couldn’t tell a difference — perhaps it was just a little harder to buff after the longer time. Here is where I used the cheesecloth — buffing the wax. Fold and refold it, and then get a new piece when it gets covered with the wax you are taking off.

This is the rewarding part. You are working hard, and the chair starts to look beautiful. However, don’t expect the wax to cover blobs or brush strokes because it doesn’t. It is a finish that looks hand done. If that’s what you like, good. If you want a smooth, professional looking “just-bought-it-home-from-the-furniture-store look” then try something else.

The far chair has had a coat of regular wax and a coat of dark wax. The other chair has only been painted.

The far chair has been sanded and had a coat of regular wax and a coat of dark wax. The other chair has only been painted (two coats).

ADDING DARK WAX

The dark wax is the most fun. Although I must say I didn’t use official dark wax, I used SHOE POLISH! Mr. H.C. was totally worried about this. He didn’t want to sit down in his good white pants and get a dark stain on the seat of his pants. He didn’t think shoe polish would be permanent enough to sit on. Heck, he was even skeptical about the clear wax rubbing off on clothes.

I tried to look up the ingredients of the shoe polish and the ingredients in dark wax, but it just took too long to find incomplete answers, so I gave up. Here is what I did discover: Dark wax isn’t easy to come by. Neither Lowe’s nor Home Depot stock it, although you can special order it from both places. Many hardware stores carry the clear paste wax, but the dark? Not so much. You can buy Minwax special dark wax on Amazon for $14.17 + shipping. SC Johnson makes a paste wax for wood, and guess who makes the famous Kiwi Shoe Polish? SC Johnson. It worked for me.

Dark wax changes the color. Try it on a sample or an inconspicuous area first. I knew that I wanted the darker color, and I planned for that when I mixed the paint. That is one great point for the chalk painting technique: it is flexible. You can add color, take away color, sand, wax, dark wax, embellish with metallics — and the list goes on.

Dark wax on one rung of the chair...

Dark wax on one rung of the chair…

Adding the shoe polish was different from the paste wax. (By the way, all instructions and posts that I read say to always do a coat of clear wax first, otherwise the dark stuff will be really dark and not look the way you pictured it.) Work on a small section at a time, using a smallish brush. Either go with the grain, or in a circular motion. Then wipe it off with a piece of cheesecloth almost immediately. I found that I was a little heavier with the dark wax on the second chair, so later I went back and added more dark wax to the first one, so the colors would be closer. Again, this is part of the nice flexibility of chalk painting.

I let the first chair sit for a week and when we came back, we did the white glove test on the seat of the chair. A little tan, waxy film came off on the cloth. So I did the second chair with the shoe polish, and then I coated them both with two more coats of clear wax, just to be on the safe side. The clear paste wax can says that it doesn’t dry for scrubbing and cleaning for up to thirty days, but the chairs seemed dry and fine for sitting on after twelve hours. How do they look?

These chairs have two coats of paint and four coats of wax. (One chair got three coats of paint, but honestly, I can't tell which one it was, now that they are both finished.

These chairs have two coats of paint and four coats of wax. (One chair got three coats of paint, but honestly, I can’t tell which one it was, now that they are both finished.

Final comments?
I’m glad I didn’t spend the money for the expensive chalk paint for these cheap chairs. They were a perfect small experimental project. If I had a big expensive piece that I was doing, well, I might splurge. I would guess the expensive paint has additives to keep it from drying and lumping so fast. The other point is that I had specific paint I wanted the chairs to go with — the wall next to them. I wanted them to be just a couple of shades lighter — with the commercial chalk paint you go with their colors. They have beautiful colors for sure, but this was just one more reason I tried the DIY stuff first. And for the next project I’m probably going to fork out the $15 for the dark wax from Amazon. Just to compare. Although it does tickle me that the shoe polish seemed to work just fine and it was about $5 (counting the brush.) I like how they turned out, although there were a couple of distressing moments — sorry I had to say that. They aren’t perfect, but they are good enough for me, the recovering perfectionist…
chalk painted chair

97. The Table’s Tale

I think I might have been the first item they purchased for the cottage.

I was reduced to being sold for $35 at the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Washington. It was absolutely humiliating, but they were very delighted. She wrote about it in her second post 2. The Sanding Queen, dated May 30, 2012 and called it a great deal. I shudder to think of it.

This is what I looked like the day they bought me. Table--before

Yes, I admit I was no beauty anymore; I was a bit down and out, but I had solid black wrought iron underneath, and at one time I was imposing. (Imported from Europe, but I don’t like to brag.) Plus, I lived Large. Lots of people could squeeze around me, say grace, shout about the mashed potatoes, spill gravy, slosh coffee, and just, well, eat, drink and be merry. I was a table that said Home.

I heard her say that she was just going to paint me and let me be a shabby chic table;  I don’t know what that means, but I am no Shabby Chick! I put all my hopes on the man; I could see he was a carpenter — all those tools! He could appreciate nice looking wood, even if I was just a fancy veneer over plain pine.  Everyone has a veneer, right? And my heart and covering were both good solid woods. (And I do have great, curvy legs, if I do say so myself…) When the man got out his sander I was a bit nervous, but he was easy on me and I came out looking like this:harvest table

A bit pale maybe, but definitely not shabby! Suddenly I’m feeling sort of Pottery Barn-ish.

work tableI tell you I was thinking, Yes! Now I’m home and there will be real meals again! And then I was covered up in layers of plastic tablecloths, sheets, and tarps, and it was back to being a work table for two more years! Even though They Said they were going to fix me up, I was  beginning to lose hope.

Then she uncovered me, moved me around, and started with the sandpaper on my legs… I wasn’t sure what to think about that pot of green paint she had with her. I thought that whole paint thing had been taken care of already. I made her bump her head a few times before I decided I kind of liked that silky green paint on my legs…

Table

But still they hadn’t done anything to keep those gravy stains from permanently damaging my new complexion. When they finally moved me in place, I tried my best to look like I needed a vacation to the islands or somewhere sunny. Alas, all they did was give me a fake tan. But that oil rubbed on my skin did warm me up, and three coats belonging to Polly somebody have just brought out my inner glow.putting poly on table

At least they have fixed up the walls I’m sitting beside. Talk about shabby? Oh, my! And those little lights above me are very sweet — they can be dim or bright depending on their mood, but we all have our little quirks, don’t you think? I think we’ll get along fabulously.

Am I not beautiful?

Dining room table and breadboard

What concerns me now is the chairs she might surround me with… I don’t want to tangle legs with mismatched Duncan Phyfes or lazy benches or painted-up shabby chicks. And no bistro chairs, please. What is a redeemed table to do but worry about the company she keeps? I think several upright parson’s chairs would do quite nicely, thank you.

dining table

“Eh,” she says, “you’re getting a bit uppity don’t you think? I don’t need La Table telling me what to do!”

table and green legsBut may I quote Better Homes and Gardens here? The dining table is “a substantial piece of furniture that sets the tone for the entire room…”

“Ahem!” she says. “I saw another table just like you today for sale at Construction Junction for $45, so don’t go upscale on me!”

Forty-five dollars?

Hey, bring on those cheap shabby chick chairs…