How-To: Rewiring An Old Lamp

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This post accompanies a joint class that Des Moines Rehabbers hosted with Area515 Maker Space.

Thanks for attending! We’ll update this post as we find more resources.

A Brief History of Lighting in The U.S.

1620-1850 Candles
1780-1930 Oil
1850-1930 Kerosene
1820-1920 Gas (Local)
1850-1920 Gas (Piped)
1880-1920 Gas/Electric Combination
1888 Welsbach Gas Mantel: brighter gas light, allowed burning downward
1880-now Electric


Supplies! (These are Brian’s recommendations, and are not meant as endorsements from the Des Moines Rehabbers Club or Area515)

  • Lighting parts:
    • Miller’s Hardware has some more attractive plugs and a variety of socket options. They also sell lamp wire by the foot.
    • Lowe’s has most of the parts you may need for working on newer fixtures and many older parts too.
    • Menards doesn’t quite match Lowe’s but is close; they’re better for black iron pipe if you want a 1-stop shop.
    • Sunlan Lighting has one of everything! Stop in and see it all at once if you’re ever in Portland, Oregon (They do mail order also)
    • (Chicago)
  • Black iron pipe fittings:
    • American Plumbing Supply: 504 E Grand Ave in East Village (note: hours are M-F 8:30AM-5:30PM)
    • Menard’s seems to have the most extensive selection on hand
    • Ace Hardware stores tend to have the largest selection of adapters from one size to another
    • Lowe’s has limited selection
    • has more unusual fittings



A sketch showing various electrical terms and customs, such as the colors to use for hot and neutral wires
Some of the industry standards you should follow when you repair or build your own lighting.



How to tie an Underwriter’s knot:

  • (Sorry for all of the ads; their phone apps are great though!)


Bulb options:

  • Incandescent, traditional:
    • Pro:
      • familiar look
      • likely the least expensive per bulb
      • Still the easiest to find in specialty shapes / colors / etc
    • Con:
      • standard efficiency is below 5%, remainder is converted to heat
      • Uses the most current
      • Lifetime is usually shortest of all options
  • Incandescent, retro Edison filament:
    • Pro:
      • Historic look
      • Warm light
      • Recently became popular and now fairly easy to find
    • Con:
      • can run hotter than regular bulbs
      • still inefficient
      • can be expensive
  • CCFLs (cold-cathode compact fluorescent lamps)
    • Pro:
      • Many sizes available
    • Con: losing popularity
      • their real-world performance hasn’t been nearly as good as in the lab.
      • burning them base-up can drastically shorten life
      • not recommended for table or floor lamps that could fall over, as the bulbs are fragile and will release a small amount of mercury when broken.
  • LED Filament Bulbs (2015)