Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Delicate Operation

Or, how to rewire an 1890s chandelier.

Some go better than others and this one went well, although I’m not quite done yet.

Here is the patient just after going under anasthisia. These early electric only fixtures are put together in much the same way they did the gas fixtures of the day. Everything is screwed on to a central piece of 3/8-inch black pipe.

Everything’s been screwed together a long time and sometimes they come apart easily and other times they don’t. This one came apart pretty easily. Whew!

One of the sockets came off at some point and someone made a repair with Band-Aids. It is a shame the original socket is missing because they really made them well back them. The second shot above is the inside of one of the sockets. It is heavy duty brass and chunks of porcelain. The sockets are put together with tiny screws that looked like they came from a watch maker.

The shots above are at the base of the chandelier, just under where the three arms connect to the base. They first solder the wires together and then covered them in electrical tape. The tape was still very good shape and not easy to get off.

The arms are attached to a manifold at the base of the main pipe with ¼-inch brass nipples. Here is one with the old wire still in it. The manifold would be hard to replace, but the straight pipe and nipples are still standard parts today for natural gas work. They can be purchased at any hardware store if they are damaged. Its better not to damage them though, so I work very slowly.

Because the nipple and pipe of the arm is only ¼-inch pipe it can be a challenge to get the new wire in. Normally, when pulling new wire, you would attach the new wire to the old one with electrical tape and pull the new wire through as you pull the old wire out.

That doesn’t work here. Not only is the opening small, but there is a 90 degree turn. Instead, I solder the new wire to the old. After I solder both I choose the best one and cut the other one off. I also apply a little grease to the first few inches of the new wire.

Here is the first one with the new wire in it. Its sort of a push-pull process to get it started. Once the solder makes it past the tight turn, it goes smoothly. The old wire is in good shape, so I’m not concerned with it breaking, but I do worry about my soldering.

And here it is completely dismantled and with new wire run through all of the parts. Next, I’ll put it back together and get a new socket for the missing one. This one goes in the back parlor. I have another one for the front parlor that is nearly identical, but it is slightly larger and with a little more detail. They should compliment each other well.

I didn't think I would have time before The Big Game, but I was able to get it mostly reassembled. All that is left is to hook up the sockets and this baby is ready to hang. It will be nice to have something more than a bare 60 watt bulb up on the ceiling.


Larry said...


You have given me the answer I need for feeding wires through an old floor lamp we have. Thanks for the tips!

BTW - I have you taged to our house blog - hope you don't mind.


Jennifer said...

Very neat! I loved watching teh "revitalization" of the light. Hopefully I will get to use that knowledge someday!

Sandy said...

Such patience! Lovely chandelier.

Anonymous said...

What kind of wire (gauge/name)are you using to rewire the fixture? I have an old gas fixture I want to retrofit with electric, but standard 18 gauge lamp wire doesn't fit through the gas holes. Your wire looks smaller.

Greg said...


I use the standard lamp wire. I've never done a gas fixture before, but I've talked to someone who has done several. What he did was drilled out the hole on the gas valve so it would except a larger wire.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Great thanks! By the way I've really enjoyed reading about you house. I have an 1885 farmhouse that I'm trying to restore after a heartbreaking PO 1980's remodel. All original woodwork gone on the first floor. Just sad.

Brian said...

After reading the comments on an earlier post, I see you used standard 18-gauge lamp wire? Is that the kind that comes with 2 wires running together (kinda like a lamp power cord)?

I wish they still made the cloth stuff!

Greg said...


Yep, that's the stuff. I buy it at Ace, but I'm sure you can get it any where. Ace also sells the cloth stuff, only now its Rayon now. It looks good, though. I used it on a lamp that had a chain, where some of the cord was exposed.

slateberry said...

ok i'm definitely adding solder to my lamp wiring arsenal. that is awesome! once i had a wire break during the critical pull-through and had to do the vacuum-cleaner, soda straw, and dental floss trick to get a new pull line started. luckily it worked. i love lamp wiring, it is so zen for me.

slateberry said...

Oof! The things we go through for our houses. I've blocked the details of what I've tasted over the years. I should wear a surgeon's mask sometimes...anyway, I taped one end of the straw to the fixture, and the other end to the crevice tool on the vacuum cleaner. It was beautiful to see how that floss got sucked through. I didn't really expect it to work but it did. Once I got a pull line going, I sprayed everything with WD 40 before trying to pull the second time. I notice you used grease too. If I had done that from the get go, my wire probably wouldn't have broken. If only I'd read your blog before I started that project...