The first half of the 20th century saw the advent of electric lamps and the conversion of oil lamps to electric. Many lamps from this time period were made or retro-fitted, 50+ years ago and amazingly are still being used today. As older lighting ages the electrical components often deteriorate. For safety reasons it is wise to inspect vintage lighting from time to time. If you have any doubt, about any electrical component, replace it. Your safety is worth more than the cost of the replacement parts.
and.......... antique lighting and lamps are often beautiful and unique! While they may need a little love and care from time to time, the benefits often out weigh the effort. Bringing an old lamp back to life is both aesthetically rewarding and provides an inner sense of accomplishment.
What is involved in Rehabbing old Lighting
Inspect your lamp to see what needs fixing or replacing. Remember to always unplug / disconnect any lamp, from the power source, while working on it. Lamps most often fail due to a faulty socket, old wiring, a loose connection, or a bad switch. Replacing some or all of these parts is often very manageable.
Choosing the Correct Replacement Parts:
After inspecting your lamp, make a list of the steps you are going to take and the supplies you will need.
It is always best to replace older lamp cord when rewiring a lamp. As the outer covering, on aged lamp wire, tends to crack and become brittle providing a dangerous situation. When rewiring lamps it is easiest to use a cord with a plug already attached.
Standard lamp cord is 18-2. This means it is made up of 2 - 18 gauge copper wires.
Plastic covered lamp cord comes in two insulation thicknesses: SPT-1 and SPT-2. The actual copper wire is the same for both thicknesses.
SPT-1 is a standard size used on many older lamps, it easily slips 3/8" lamp pipe.
SPT-2 has a thicker plastic covering. This makes it more resistant to abrasion however it is harder to slip 3/8" lamp pipe.
Some lamps just need a good tightening. If the lamp assembly is loose there is often a nut on the bottom of the lamp that can be tightened. When tightening be sure to hold the socket so that the lamp assembly stays stationary while tightening the nut. If the lamp is glass or ceramic care should be taken as too much tightening-pressure can cause the glass or porcelain to crack.
If the wiring is loose, remove the socket cap. Tighten the screws which hold the wires. Replace the cap, making sure it snaps into place.
Getting ready to rewire - removing old electrical components:
It is helpful to take pictures of your lamp, while taking it apart. You then have a visual record to review of how it was previously assembled.
To rid lamp of old wire and socket:
Before beginning: disconnect lamp from power source
Remove socket shell. If necessary use a flat head screw driver to pry this socket shell up.
Loosen socket terminal screws. Unwind wire so that wire can be gently pulled out from base of lamp.
Once wire is removed, loosen set-screw (if there is one) which secures socket. Socket can then be un-threaded from lamp pipe
Below are guidelines for rewiring a standard lamp type. Many lamp configurations have been used over the years. Each type may require a slightly different approach depending upon the individual lamp assembly.
Screw new socket cap onto threaded pipe.
At lamp base run lamp cord through side outlet hole in lamp base, up through center pipe. If base does not have a side outlet hole, run wire up through lamp pipe.
Slide wire through socket cap
Slightly pull apart wire so that leads are long enough to tie a U.L. knot with a little left over to connect to socket terminals.
Determine the neutral wire and the hot wire. Wire with smooth plastic covering is positive/hot, wire with slight ribs in plastic is neutral/negative.
Wrap positive/hot wire around brass terminal, wrap neutral/negative wire around silver terminal, tighten screws
Slip cardboard insulating sleeve over socket, then slip remaining outer metal shell over socket snapping it into place.
The Outward Appearance
Iron lamps have a warm textural appearance. Many of these old iron lamps are in good condition with a pleasing natural patina. However, if the iron is rusting it should be carefully cleaned. Either hand rub with fine steel wool our use a good metal polish or home remedy to clean the iron and remove any rust. .
Brass or Brass-plated? Before addressing the finish, it is best to test your lamp to tell if it is brass or brass-plated. The easiest way to tell is by using a magnet. Simply touch the brass portion with the magnet. If brass the magnet will not-stick, however the magnet will stick to many other metals that have been finished to look like brass.
Solid Brass Lamps that are not lacquered, can be finished in various ways. They can be left in their natural state to age over time, polished to a lustrous glow or darkened to appear old.
Brass-plated Lamps are tricky. Over time a plated finish tends to break-down becoming somewhat splotchy. Enhancing this type finish, depends upon the existing condition of the plating and what the preferred final outcome is. The internet provides many suggestions and solutions.
Lacquered or not-lacquered? Lacquer is a thin coating that is sometimes applied to brass and other metals. Its purpose is to prevent tarnishing. Over many years lacquer can break down. When this happens the lacquer needs to be remove and if preferred the brass re-lacquered.
Glass, porcelain, or ceramic lamps
Lamps made of a breakable material such as glass, porcelain, or ceramic should be checked for cracks or chips before beginning any restoration. If damaged, they may not be worth the effort or expense to restore them. These fragile parts should be carefully washed and well dried before reassembly of the lamp.