Electric Hands | Exploring the World of DIY
I worked at Harold's Lighting for 3.5 years and took away from it a valuable set of tools and knowledge on the workings of lighting that I will never forget. My home is now filled with fixtures that have been rewired by myself and, more often, with the help of wonderful co-workers. I touched on it a little in my post about designing my home, but I wanted to delve into it a little deeper to describe the rewarding and interesting creations of restored fixtures.
You can typically tell a fixture needs a rewire when the socket (the aperture the bulb screws into) is charred or rusted and/or the wiring is brittle and shows splitting and exposure of the copper wire underneath. Time does its work on all fixtures, as heat accumulates and wears out the socket, and those signs of damage are worth addressing. I would recommend if you have any lamps of your own that you want to keep, but are hesitant to use because of such damage, to take them to Harold's. The same applies if you aren't comfortable attempting the work yourself. I will admit upfront that I am very biased, as Harold's is a wonderful place, but my recommendation is genuine because I know they provide quality work and are reliable and committed. They are also proud of the work they do, bringing old fixtures back to life, which is a validating skill that has defined them for 60 years. As a lamp technician (novice) I can speak to its truth. You can check out their website here, they welcome walk-ins for quotes at any time from 9-6 (http://www.haroldslighting.com).
I admittedly got addicted to rewiring once I kind of got the hang of it. There is gratification in being able to build and revitalize by your own hands, which is why the do-it-yourself world is so great. There are thousands of posts to read through and you will be inspired to create, fix, modify, and design. Truly, the creativity is wide and long and awesome and I am continually inspired by what people create. So to satisfy my DIY curiosity I began the rewiring journey. Below are some tips and observations I have learned along the way.
Understand the Wire Thing: The relationship between the cord and the socket is an important one. There are two screws on the socket and once the cord is split each end of the exposed copper wire is tied around it to create the conductivity. Here's the DTR: The gold screw on the socket goes with the smooth side of the cord and the silver screw goes with the ridged side of the cord. I burned that into my brain for the outcome because, if done backwards, sparks flicker and those are not an enjoyable experience.
Thrift Shop Perusal: I recommend looking for fixtures that have interesting details, whether that be texture or a combination of materials, Goodwill and Value Village are great sources for fixtures in a state worthy of fixing and that are not a huge investment (around $10-$20). Antique stores also offer really unique finds though you may have to pay around $30-$150 depending on the type of fixture. Usually the easiest fixtures to work with are those with either a candelabra or medium base socket. Fixtures that take halogen bulbs are harder to work with and require parts not always easy to obtain.
Keep in Order: Many times I got so excited in pulling apart a table lamp or wall sconce that I would forget the order of its components. Nuts, screws, couplers, weird looking connectors, all play an integral roll in keeping the fixture solid and safe. Without them the fixture will be loose and teeter, run the risk of twisted cords, and cause a whole raucous of problems. So a helpful way to ensure all goes back the way it came on, is to lay out each piece consecutively and take a photograph. Even going so far as labeling the order with sticky notes in case things get mixed up.
Favorite Tool of the Trade: The wire stripper. It takes a steady hand and understanding of how far to cut into the cord to remove the plastic sheathing without snipping off the whole section. My first several attempts ended in a bunch of little pieces of cord strewn about. The way to best judge it is when you feel the insulation begin to bend, upon the slightest change in texture (i.e. the wire beneath), begin to pull the insulation away from your body. Be sure to keep the same pressure (no more squeezing the pliers down) and the insulation should slide off. Sometimes you'll have to repeat the process if the insulation hasn't been cut through completely, if straining your muscles for 5 minutes isn't yielding results, just do so gently. Also, mind anyone positioned in the general direction of pulling away because though small, the plastic pieces can be surprisingly uncomfortable when collided with a face. I have endangered people in the past.
Practical & Playful Considerations: There is the practical side to a rewire and then the more aesthetic side. If you are working with a standard socket you can choose between an on-off, 3 way, or dimmer socket. I prefer, 9 times out of 10, a 3 way socket because they provide more flexibility than an on-off and are more dependable than the dimmer sockets. With the transition into LED becoming increasingly mainstream you can now purchase 3 way LED bulbs that are lower energy, lower heat output, and still provide a great amount of light. Then the fun aesthetic side...you can choose from a variety of cord colors in either the standard rubber or rayon wrapped. The rayon wrapped cord is very beautiful and gives light fixtures an antique and slightly regal impression to the fixture. One point worth noting though is if there are any pets who inhabit the home, that fabric can be very enticing and over time will wear and unravel from the cord (that unraveling isn't damaging to the function of the lamp, just to its aesthetic).
All that's next, I suppose, is to pick out a shade. I might share thoughts on that soon too :)