Make It Work: A Vintage Lamp

Grandma challenged me to rewire one of her favorite lamps recently, a vintage molded brassy model that’s no doubt sat in the attic for 30+ years. I love a good grandma challenge. Neither my mom or I ever remember seeing it before, and a lamp expert at a local Rochester shop guessed that it dated back to the very early days of electricity, even possibly converted from a gas lamp given certain characteristics.

Vintage lamp repair.

I like it a lot, dude’s got personality, and while it may have been a more mass-produced model, in it’s current form it’s in beautiful shape. It just didn’t work anymore.

Vintage lamp details.

It’s not unlikely that your own extended family has their own broken, vintage light in the back of their attic, and even though my Grandma thought it would be a costly (or even impossible) repair, I was happy to give it a try and return it to its useful state. Keep on reading to see how it was done!

The vintage lamp had accrued a lot of dust, where ever it was that it had been stored. The first thing I did was give it a quick clean-up, not with a harsh agent because we actually kind of like the patina that has formed during it’s lifetime, but with a simple toothbrush and a light cleansing mix of Barkeeper’s Friend and water.

Lamp cleaning with Barkeeper's Friend.

The solution, coupled with the soft bristled toothbrush, was enough to clear the many crevices of dirt and dust.

Lamp cleaning with a toothbrush and gentle cleanser.

The real reason I had taken this lamp in its assembled state to a lamp wiring specialist, was because I wanted to try and duplicate the silk-wrapped cord with a similar one. While silk cords are no longer readily available, he did stock nylon wrapped electrical cord (at the tune of $3/foot) in a dark brown, which I really liked and thought was infinitely more handsome than the plastic-coated cordage available in mass.

More imporantly, taking the lamp into the specialist also saved me a bit of money because he advised that I wouldn’t need new electrical hardware for the plug or bulb, even noting that what I had was in great condition and the newer components weren’t always made so well. I tore right into it, disassembling the old wiring in full (dislodging even more dust, how could one lamp be such a dust trap?):

Lamp disassembly.

In prepping the new wire for wiring the lamp, it was advised that I dab superglue around the edge of the cord to prevent fraying. As I began to strip away the layers of fabric down to bare copper wire, it was apparent that the fraying would have been really bad and quickly destroy the whole cord had I not followed this tip.

Supergluing to prevent fray.

Wiring a lamp is fortunately pretty easy, when you focus on how it was wired during disassembly. Even so, I was thrilled that it worked on the first try.

Lamp rewiring, success!

I’ve been toying around with a few lampshades too. Originally, the unit would have come with a glass pillar like this one, but that is long gone.

Glass pillar lamp top.

I learned that you could find one pretty easily at a salvage shop for a few dollars, I knew Grandma was hoping to fit the updated lamp with a shade, so I picked up a few for size. While a shade that clipped onto the bulb would have worked, I opted for a model with the dropped halo (I have no idea if that’s what it’s really called) that sits around the base of the light bulb itself. One of the many shades I bought for testing (shown in the next few photos) was this one from Target.

Shade that will work on a vintage light.

It fit amazingly, even better than I expected, and even if it ends up not being Grandma’s style, I’m happy to be able to point her in the right direction. This one is 9″H and 13″W at it’s widest point.

Wired vintage lamp with Target shade.

Catching the home improvement bug at an early age, Emily Fazio is a now a devoted DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects she covers on her blog Merrypad range from painting a wall to building a deck, so it’s only natural she landed at DIYNetwork.com. You can follow Emily on twitter at @merrypad and like her on facebook at facebook.com/merrypad.

24 Responses

  1. bob says:

    That was useless…..I want to know how to rewire….ie get the wire through the metal tubes and around 2 90 degree corners?

  2. market says:

    It's evident that you know what you're writing about and you've managed to do it in an interesting way. you need informations about I'm curious what will be in the next article � expect to see me here quite often! great job!

  3. Lorrie says:

    I would like to make a lamp from an old ceramic jug any web site for help? We just bought our daughter a wood chalet home in the woods, and looking to make rustic lamps.

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  7. Floor Graphics says:

    Make anything work out of anything?! awsum!
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  8. Lille Menage says:

    Very nice work Emily! My mother has a lamp like this. Thanks.

  9. Guest says:

    Well I sure know more about grandma than how to rewire a lamp! Could someone write an article on how to rewire a lamp? Thanks.

  10. Barbara J says:

    I too have two floor lamps, made of Heavy Brass… I haven't tried to turn them on yet as I don't want them to blow up on me… But I would like to rewire them if they are not in working condition.. they are both with an arm, so you can move it… What do you suggest… I usually can do anything… but I bought the brass cleaner and yet you didn't use it…

    • merrypad says:

      Hmmm, I haven't had the opportunity to rewire a lamp with an arm yet. I would imagine that you would disconnect the cord from the bulb end (while it is unplugged), and carefully pull it through and feed in a new cord. Without seeing it, it's hard to guess how difficult that would be. You might have luck taping the loosened end of the old cord to the end of a new cord, so that as you pull the old cord out you are simultaneously running the new wire into the lamp through the same path.

      Hope this helps!

  11. BJ Knight says:

    I agree with Carol. Where are the steps to actually rewiring a lamp???

    • merrypad says:

      Hi Carol and BJ Knight: Sorry to have oversimplified the process.

      Once the cord is stripped of coating, each end will have two exposed wires. There are only two places that the wire can go, two places on the bulb end of the cord and two places on the plug end. The wire is connected to the mechanics of the lamp, If you ever have an opportunity (maybe with a thrift store inexpensive light) you should try taking one apart and putting it back together. It's much easier to see how things work once you've explored with them, and chances are that all you will need is a simple flathead screwdriver (just remember to keep the lamp unplugged in while you're dissecting it. If it's unplugged you will not get zapped and can toy freely). Hope this helps!

  12. Carol says:

    This article tells us nothing about how to re-wire it!

    • BJ Knight says:

      I agree with Carol. This, though a nice article did not give instructions on how to rewire.

  13. Phillip perry says:

    Nice lamp

  14. vintageviolet says:

    I love that you stayed true to the lamp with the wire, but gave it a new feel with the shade. There's a great company here in MA that sells vintage style cloth covered wires and plugs in awesome colors http://www.sundialwire.com/ I used them for a vintage lamp redo and LOVE the finished look (I swear im not affiliated with them, I just think they're product is awesome and I heart the vintage style)

    • merrypad says:

      Thanks for the tip, VintageViolet! I spent a lot of time looking for good resources for the wire and landed on the local store only because I knew I could see the wire in person to compare the way the coating on it looked. There are so many options! Glad to know an alternative place now.

  15. Diane says:

    Neat piece! The Target shade is a good fit. Grandma doesn't have a story to go with this lamp?

  16. [...] this post on DIY Network, you’re about to see how I totally got it workin’ all over again. She’s going to [...]

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About Emily Fazio 

203Posts

I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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