Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let There Be Light!

I'm kind of scared of electricity. In third grade, my class took a trip to a dairy farm. For some crazy reason, we were allowed to roam, unsupervised, in a pasture with an electric fence running down one side (before the days of liability insurance and negligence lawsuits, apparently!). One of the boys (it was always the boys' fault. . .) told us that if we stood in a long line, one behind the other, touching the person in front of us, and if the boy in the very front touched the electric fence, we would all feel the jolt. Uh huh. Let's just say that it didn't end well. Ouch.

So ANYWAY, I'm kind of afraid of stuff involving wiring. I've always had lamps professionally rewired when they needed it. I keep reading on DIY blogs, though, about how easy it is. How it takes 10 minutes, MAX. How any dummy can do it. So...I thought I'd try.

Here's our case study, a lamp I picked up for a pittance at a yard sale a few weeks ago:

The shade was ripped, scary, and dotted with mildew, so everyone else had passed it by. I couldn't understand how no one had noticed the gorgeous urn base and the beautiful deep teal color! 

 I mean, yes, it had the world's largest crooked harp, the socket was corroded, the cord was a little "crispy"...but that didn't stop me. I was determined to save this pretty old gal. (I decided it's a female. Totally a girly lamp, right?)  I didn't even try to turn it on when I got it home. Too afraid--refer to electric fence story above.

Instead, I headed to the home improvement store, where I picked up a replacement socket, cord, and a human-scale harp for about $14.00.  I decided to work on the rewiring at my parents' house over the holiday weekend, just in case something exploded/caught fire/emitted sparks and I needed backup. And so I'd burn THEIR house down, instead of my own. (Shhhhh! Did I say that out loud?)

I looked at about 17 sets of rewiring instructions online, all of which appeared to entail the same steps, and all of which contradicted the weird, translated-from-Chinese instructions in the socket and cord packages from the home improvement store.  I decided to just dive in.

Step 1:  Unscrew the World's Largest Rusty Harp and loosen the old socket. There was something in all the instructions about testing the soundness of the old socket and cord before replacing them completely. Since I was pretty sure the old wiring was an electrocution waiting to happen, I instead yanked it out, cut the old cord with some very high-tech kitchen shears, and spent about 30 minutes cleaning years of grime, rust, and stickiness of unknown origins off the lamp base.

Step 2:  Go get my father.  Did I mention he's an electrical engineer?  Now the plan becomes clear, right??  (I never claimed this was a how-to post!) He had that baby wired up in about 5 minutes. The cool thing about my dad is that when he comes to help, tools just magically appear. See that orange-handled thingamajig in the background, next to the screwdriver? Apparently that's a wire cutter/stripper. It just appeared along with him. Awesome.

Anyhow, here's the lamp with her shiny new, non-scary socket all installed:

When the time came to plug it in and test it, I may or may not have squealed and run into another room as my dad plugged it in. My dad, on the other hand, fearlessly tests things by touching them with his finger. [Disclaimer: DON'T DO THIS. Did you READ the dairy farm story?] Maybe it's some kind of electrical engineer bravado, but he just tapped that socket with his bare hand. I had a small heart attack from my vantagepoint in the neighboring room.

OF COURSE it worked beautifully--he's an electrical engineer, after all! I'm just a freak. Being shocked by an electric fence in 3rd grade will do that to you.

I was soooo pleased with myself, it was almost as if I had actually accomplished this DIY on my own.  In all seriousness, though, my dad explained things to me step-by-step, so I may  work up the courage to try it on my own next time. Or maybe "on my own," but at his house. Just in case.

I didn't love the black plastic knob on the socket, but I had an epiphany that I could shine up the old [very tarnished] brass knob from the original socket set and substitute it for the plastic one.

Worked great! Same story for the original finial from the ginormous harp. Both now look shiny and new. (Oops, I didn't get the finial in this photo, but you'll see it below.) I really think the brass knob adds a little something--don't you?

Here's the final product, with a pretty, modern, non-mildewed shade:

Isn't she a beaut?  I'm pretty pleased. The moral of the story? Rewiring a lamp really is a DIY-able project, especially if you're not crippled by fears of being electrocuted. And FYI: everyone thinks it's so handy to have doctors and lawyers in the family. But electrical engineers? Can't beat em! 

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  1. Yes, it's definitely a "she" lamp...look at those curves ;) And she is a beaute! Love her.

  2. Very pretty lamp, aren't you glad you took the plunge and conquered your fear?

  3. Fabulous! I have been trying to get up the courage to make some pendant lamps, and I even have electrical experience. (Of the good kind.)

  4. I love your lamp, especially the colour, well done!

  5. Oh you brave, brave soul! I applaud you. I am even scared to plug in the old lamps that I find when I go antiquing!I will try to draw some courage from your inspiring post. Thanks for sharing!


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