Okay kids, who thinks electricity is a demon that can only be mastered by memorizing arcane mystical symbols and gestures? Turns out that is only partially true, and this is the workshop I learned it at:

photo by Sean Campbell

Finger Lakes ReUse collaborated with the Ithaca Fixers CollectiveGet Your Greenback Tompkins and Significant Elements, a program of Historic Ithaca, to offer two well-attended repair skills workshops in May at the Ithaca ReUse Center. Curious-minded individuals brought their malfunctioning items hoping to learn the best way to fix them while some just came by to learn some tips.”

Seriously, I have tried via both classes and questioning patient electricians/shamans to brave even the simplest of wiring skills, and this workshop got me by far the furthest. Nick DiGiacinto from Significant Elements discussed projects brought by the participants one by one, then volunteers advised as we got hands on with our lamps, and it really worked for me.

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This is the found object lamp I started with. I have no idea where this came from, not to mention anything about lamps in general. The top and bottom seem to be almost different styles and materials, and the whole thing was heavily tarnished. The wiring was old, but not as old as the lamp, and it’s head hung sadly sideways. I mean it’s socket and brass neck were disconnected.

First things first-we were shown some of the tools of the trade, then the basics of electricity and the differences in lamp parts that you should be prepared to consider when shopping at the hardware store were explained, and noted down by someone who is not me. ( I wouldn’t have anyone think they could safely wire a lamp from reading this blog post, so I won’t be teaching it here per se. I did learn enough to make me able to learn more, and that’s what I hope to encourage here.) 

Table lamps are not required to have ground wire, so lamp cord contains two 18 gauge wires, a hot wire and a neutral one, bound together. Strip the insulation off this cord (too fun if you have the right tool),and you’ll see the paired bundles of copper wires inside. They would work if solid copper wires instead of the stranded wires that they are, but then your cord wouldn’t be as flexible.

My lamp was examined and exclaimed over and declared in need of a simple wiring job. We got all the materials we needed FOR FREE!,so I picked a yellow cord and plug combo, and a new metal cap and shell socket.

My friend didn’t have a lamp of her own, so we shared mine-luckily for me, as it turned out.
The first step was to unscrew the old socket from the lamp, then strip the ends of both the new wire and (after cutting the plug off) the old one, wrap the bundles of wires to each other and tape them. This is so you can use the old wire to pull the new one through the pipe inside the decorative body. We had to retape it a couple of times in a couple of ways in order to fit it through. My lamp had no felt on the bottom, so it was easy to see what was happening.


Some get this right away



Once you have it through the top,disconnect the old wire and socket, and remove the new socket cap. “Press” where noted on the cap, and it will pop off easily just as soon as you hand it to Nick.
Tie the cord in an uber cool Underwriters knot to keep it from being pulled back out of the lamp from the bottom.

Feed the new wire through harp bottom,then the cap, and you are ready to wire the socket.

The hot wire will attach at one end to the brass (bottom,less accessible) terminal. The insulation on the hot side of the cord will be smooth and unmarked,or if it is a separate cord, be black. The neutral wire will will go to the silver terminal in the socket and the insulation will have ridges or be marked, or if a separate cord, be white.If you have a polarized plug at the other end, the neutral wire will be attached to the wide prong. (Side note: a ground wire is green). Power reaches the bulb by running through the metal tab at the bottom of the socket (via the hot wire), where the bulb sits, through the bulb, and back out the metal threads where the bulb is screwed in (via the neutral wire), creating a circuit. The switch cuts the power on the positive side, stopping the power before it gets to the object.

This is the important part-when wired properly, the metal threads of a socket will not be “hot” or give you a shock, whether the switch is on or off. When wired incorrectly, the threads – and any metal touching the threads, including the outside of the socket, or the threads of a light bulb – can give you a shock whether the switch is on or off.

Screw the while thing back together and SHAZAM-you are an electricity wizard!

photo by Sean Campbell

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Editors note: Extra special thanks to Sean Campbell who generously allowed me to use his photos

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