Buying an Old Lamp – Know What You Are Getting

I work on old lamps. That’s what I do, but what about buying an old lamp? Say you found that perfect lamp at a local flea market to sit on that table that has been begging to have something to show off. Here are some important points that will help you in your buying venture. If you are the wheeler/dealer type, you might find this information gives you some bargaining power in scoring the deal. Since there are more lamps that use a traditional socket/switch combination.  This first set of Tip’s are associated with these type lamps.

  • Try to use a standard incandescent bulb for your tests. Both floresent and LED bulbs can sometime flicker when turned on, but an incandescent is a lot easier to validate the switch and socket.
  • Does it work? Cycle it through the on/off sequence a couple of times. Is the light brightness between transition from On to Off crisp and intended? Or does the light sort of stutter between settings?  It should be crisp, but check or change the light bulb. Note: If it is a 3way switch, it will cycle an extra click before and after the bulb illuminates when not using a real 3 way bulb. That’s still okay. Floresent and LED bulbs may flicker when they are first turned on, so that is normal to.
  • If you don’t have access to power, turn the switch several times. Dose the switch have a nice positive “click”, almost like snapping your fingers? If so, that’s good! If it’s kind of mushy between clicks, the switch is showing some internal wear.
  • The cap and shell should fit together well and stay together. If it’s a loose fit between, it may need replacing.
  • Most table lamps are built with multiple pieces. Look to see that the lamp is solid and doesn’t act like it wants to do the hoola hoop. Even though this might seem like an easy fix, the entire lamp may have to be taken apart to be fixed properly.
  • Look inside the socket, it should be relatively clean, limited grayish wear to the tip. If its near black in color and the tip is noticeably pitted or miss-formed, it may  be time for a new socket.
  • Most sockets use a cardboard or paper sleeve and still do today. This keeps the wiring and socket from touching the shell. It also provides a bit of insulation so the lamp shell does not get too hot. Look at the color of cardboard. The darker the cardboard, the hotter it has gotten, maybe too hot. If it breaks by the touch, it is deteriorated beyond its usable live. It also tells us the internal wiring at the socket could be  in a similar condition. Meaning it will need a full rewire.
  • Look at the cord; it should not have any nicks, cuts or cracks in it. Most lamps have plastic cords and they should have kind of a satin luster to the finish, not dull or flat (almost chalky). The cord should be pliable and should (reasonably) spring back to its natural state.  Cord wear is usually in this order; 1)loss of pliability, 2)slight color change to dull, 3) cracking and breaking up. I typically recommend changing the cord if any of these signs are present.
  •  Plug: it should be solidly attached to the cord with none of the cord signs mentioned above and no exposed copper wires. No black electrical soot marks around the metal spades on the plug. The spades should also be clean and smooth, no nicks or gouges.
  • Plug II:  If the plug/cord looks like the un-polarized  one below, the plug and cord is almost 60 years old and should be replaced. After 1962 the US National Electrical Code standardized on the polarized style also pictured above. This was for a safety reason to better protect the consumer.

This covers most of the electrical issues, next time I will talk about looking at the body or fixture itself as all problems are not equal and may be a challenge, expensive or not worth fixing. 

Hopefully this will help you be an informed consumer and assist in scoring a better deal on that new find. If you find a lamp that needs some TLC, let me know as I can fix it.  Good Hunting.

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Christmas Lights, Electrical Safety and Adopting LED Technology

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), estimates  240 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 150 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year. Together, these fires result in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in direct property damage.

For some reason, I am believed to be a Scrooge when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Normally, I let my family deal with all the  details including unpacking all the decorations, placing ornaments on the tree, getting the doggie Christmas collars out, etc. But I do serve as the pack mule in unloading the attic to get it downstairs out of the attic,  but a Scrooge I’m not!!… Ok, maybe curmudgeon.

Point One: Christmas lights in all their glory are a huge waste of energy. Four strings of C9 (old school) regular Christmas lights can consume 1800 watts of power or 1.8 kwh. On an individual house basis, it may not seem like much but add it to about 25% of all households and it works out to be a lot electricity. Not to mention, the selected idiots that adorn their house to the point that you can no longer recognize it. Ok, so you kind of get me at this point, so lets move on.

I have officially changed my tune!!!!!!!!Believe it or not, I bought Christmas C7 lights (on sale) to hang outside. We’re talking outline the house type lights… This is a big step for me. So with all this lead-in, where am I headed you ask. Dont forget, this is a blog about home maintenance anyway!!

Before we go to far, let it be known what amount of lights I have installed.

  • 3 – Strings of 200 count C7 outdoor LED lights
  • Total bulbs= 600
  • Wattage per string 19.2W
  • Total waste of energy 57.6Wh
  • About the equivalent of one 60W light bulb, most of us waste that much energy on any given day

I will contain my excitement to exterior decorations and electrical load, but lets remember what the NEC code says about connected devices:

NEC 210-23  15 and 20 Amp branch circuits: …The rating of any one cord and plug connected utilization equipment shall not exceed 80% of the branch circuit rating. Furthermore… the total rating of equipment fastened in place shall not exceed 50% of the branch-circuit. In short, no one plug should exceed more than 80% of the circuit rating and that any stationary equipment (i.e. dishwashers, waste disposer) that constantly draws power should not exceed 50% of the rated circuit. Typical residential branch circuits (outlets, wall switches and fixtures) may be rated at 15 or 20 Amps.

So, we have a circuit budget of roughly 1100 watts for a standard plugged outlet ((15A*120V*.8pf)*80%).

Choosing the Lights: If you dont already own exterior lights, go for  the LED versions (C7 or C9). By far, they will last the longest and cost the least to run. C7 and C9 are bigger bulbs and are easier to manage. If you take care of them, they could last a life time. Additionally, the prices have continued to fall over the last few years.

The following chart is a general guideline is fairly conservative. Most Christmas lights will provide the limitations and wattage. As mentioned in my calculation above, at 80% you have a budget of 1100 watts, at 50% your budget would be 720 watts.

C7 or C9 Lamp Wattage Lamps per Outlet Lamps per 15 Amp Circuit Lamps per 20 Amp Circuit
.6 Watts (LED) 250 Lamps(bulbs dim the farther
your runs are from main power source)
2400 Lamps 3200 Lamps
1 Watt (LED) 250 Lamps(bulbs dim the farther
your runs are from main power source)
1440 Lamps 1920 Lamps
2.5 Watts 300 Lamps 576 Lamps 768 Lamps
3.7 Watts 250 Lamps 389 Lamps 519 Lamps
5 Watts 175 Lamps 288 Lamps 384 Lamps
7 Watts 125 Lamps 205 Lamps 274 Lamps

Key Points to Christmas Light Installations:

  1. Stay within the wattage limitations mentioned; 1000W at 80% and 720W at 50%. The light packaging should provide you to total wattage. Just subtract it from your total wattage budget as you organize your lighting plan.
  2. Attempt to either use a dedicated electrical circuit  or one that does not have a lot of static or dedicated load.
  3.  Limit the string to string connection to no more than 3 or what is provided as the manufacturers recommendations.
  4. Limit the per outlet load to no more than 50% of the per circuit limitation. 80% rule: 500W. 50% rule: 360W
  5. Use timers or remote control switches to turn the lights on and off to limit the energy usage.
  6. Dont fall off the roof
  7. Merry Christmas… BOB
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LED Bulb Technology, More Light, Less Wattage

Unless you have been under a rock for the past 3-4 years, LED light bulbs have been creeping into the stores for about the last 8 years. As with any new technology, the initial cost is higher than normal, however, as manufacturing processes are refined the prices start falling. As an early adopter, I started fiddling with LED bulbs in 2008 and wrote my first article on using LED bulbs in a landscape lighting system in 2009. Back then, a MR16 based bulb was about $25. Today that same bulb is  less than $6.  (See Whole House Landscape Lighting)

Additional incentive to move away from incandescent bulbs driven by our government will result in incandescent bulbs being just specialty bulbs and less for general use. The prime directive in their initiative is to reduce consumption of electricity, and for the most part this is what most of the published propaganda supports. Most all written documentation shows you a comparison chart to reach a near equivalent lighting level with a huge savings in consumption.  HOWEVER there is a secret the government is not telling you. With this change in technology, many existing fixtures can actually supply more light (using LED’s), without being dangerous or exceeding the wattage limitations of the fixture design. So, what does this really mean; With traditional lighting wattage limitation in fixtures are all based on using incandescent bulbs. In older houses, it can be difficult to get more light in certain places of a home without making major upgrades or adding more fixtures. If you live in a house built before the 2000’s there are typically fewer light fixtures and outlets causing it to be difficult to get more light in a room without calling an electrician by adding lights or outlets.  With an LED bulb replacement you may be able to get a lot more light out of the same fixture without risk without exceeding the wattage limitation of the existing fixture. There is one simple rule: Never exceed the manufacturers wattage limitation of an outlet or fixture. This rating is usually stamped or labeled on the socket or fixture

Just for a moment, lets get in the weeds to understand why this will work. Here are a couple of definitions that will help in understanding the concept.

  • Wattage: In simple terms, a watt is considered a unit of power. It is not really a measurement of light. But since the invention of the incandescent light bulb we have used the consumption of power (wattage) rating as a reference to the light output. As for an incandescent light it consumes a lot more power than  light produced. An incandescent light consumes (by generating heat) about 90-95% of its power to produce the amount of light it produces. In other words, its about 5% efficient.
  • Lumens: Simply put; Lumens is as a measurement of the total amount of visible light, regardless of the consumed power or wattage. So, even though there is a relation, they don’t exactly correlate.  

An incandescent bulb heats up a metal filament (tungsten) in a controlled environment (bulb). That metal turns super hot resulting in both visible and non visible light as well as a lot of heat. Where a LED (light emitting diode), radiates light in a narrow spectrum, without the high amount of heat found with the incandescent bulb.

Heat: Since LEDs radiate light, they emit very little heat. In comparison, incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80% of their energy as heat. LED’s use about 75% less energy to produce the same amount of visible light. This should be the  AH-HA moment for you. 

LED Chart

Taking advantage of the LED:  Lets say you have a fixture that is rated at 60 watts, like maybe an old recessed kitchen light found back in the 1950’s. Its in the correct location, but you want more light. So without changing the fixture (assuming the socket and wiring is intact), you can upsize the bulb to a 2600 lumens equivalent, and still only use 30 watts of power. As a measurement of light you went from 800 lumens to 2,600 lumens with an increase of over 3 times the light of the original 60 watt bulb!! Impressive huh!! Granted the government will recommend that you replace the bulb with the 7 watts (800 Lumens)LED bulb. By using the 2600 lumens bulb you can increase your available lighting without having to change the fixture or exceed the wattage limitation. Granted you will about 23  additional watts of  power, but I don’t even have to do the math to tell you its a lot cheaper than having an electrician add new fixtures. The chart to the left is a simple conversion of standard bulb wattage’s vs. lumens.

The LED bulb is a great advancement and we will continue to see new uses and options with the technology. Hopefully I’ll have reasons to write future articles about LED’s.

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Recent Refurbish Projects

Life has been busy at Dallas Lamp and Light!! As with most lamps, much of our business is associated with electrical rewiring, however we still work on long-term projects of our own as well as customer projects that require a bit more work to bring them back to life. I have included a sample of a few of our latest projects. I tried to show before and after where I could.

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I had a client call about a light fixture that was in her house as a kid. While cleaning out here parents house they found it disassembled in a box. She couldn’t remember what it looked like but this is what she brought, minus a couple of parts.

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We found some suitable parts to put it back together and had to assemble it hanging

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The chandelier was produced in the late 1940’s-50’s by the Holophane company. Known for their refractive light shades they produced a lot of light. Even though this particular model is no longer produced, the Holophane brand (now owned by Acuity) has been producing industrial lighting since 1906.

 

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This is a wood chandelier, that was electrified, but all the guts were gone. It was missing a few parts so we had to come to a creative solution.

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All new electrics, for 40W bulbs, new candle covers and a unique center piece that just happened to match.

 

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These two items might go in the “guess what this is” category, so if you haven’t figured it out yet, these are inverted antique pool table legs

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The client wanted the lamps to remain old or rustic looking so I use a lot of recycled hardware. I haven’t seen the shades he has picked yet, but they will definitely be conversation pieces

 

White Stiffle

These were originally two very nice brass Stiffle lamps. The finish was a bit worn. The customer was looking for an all new look. We stripped and sprayed them in gloss white enamel.

2BrassStiffle

One of the original lamps pictured to the left before the process of disassembly, and respray

 

BlackReferb1

This was an interesting and challenging restoration. This is a hanging swag lamp made up of 6 sections, two of the sections were broken and had to be repaired. The project was media blasted, repaired, rewired and coated with a matt black painted finish. The lamp is used outdoors and shows-off some interesting shadow patterns at night.

 

ButterflyAfter

All original brass was stripped and recoated with a textured powder coating of antique brass. All electrical was replaced as well.

Pendant1

These three fixtures started life as hanging swag lamps. The customer wanted them to be pendant fixtures to hang over a counter/bar area. We replaced the chains with pipes, added new canopies and swivels so they would hang correctly, as well as all new electrical and porcelain sockets for high wattage bulbs.

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This was a conversion from a two bulb lamp to a single. All new hardware and electrical was included.

 

photo 1

As you can see from the original picture on the right. This was a pair of 60’s brass lamps. The brass finish was worn, so we media blasted the old finish and recoated it with an antique brass painted finish. All electrical was updated as well. The matching pair is available for purchase.

 

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Green Vase Style Lamp

270We ran across this sad little green vase lamp a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately the vase was in good shape, even though everything else was gone. The vase did have some markings but nothing that I could source back to its origin. For the most part, you would have found this in a parlor in the 30’s and 40’s, possibly on top of a free-standing radio.  It stands about 11 inches without the lamp hardware.  The first picture is before we started.  Follow the story to see where it goes.

Lamp Assessment: The vase lamp was intact, and there was a  little wear on the gold leaf but not enough to be an issue. All the lamp parts were gone and I think they left the cord in the base just so someone would recognize it as a lamp.

Disassembly:  There really wasn’t much to disassemble on this one, since most everything was gone as the neck, harp and fixture switch was already gone.

The designer was not involved in this one, so I am operating without a net. This should be a fairly easy restoration to get it back in service.

The Restoration Plan:

  1. Use light bodied solvent to clean the surfaces
  2. Lightly polish
  3. Add Check rings and neck to elevate the harp base and lamp socket
  4. Replace the electrical socket, switch and cord

The Restoration:

  • The cleaning and polishing proceeded as expected. The ceramic finish was durable and it just took a good cleaning.
  • I used a 2″ neck with a 8″ harp to extend the height to about 21″. All hardware is new, brass in color to best match the gold leaf trim
  • All electrical was replaced including the socket, switch and cord. The wiring and cord were replaced with a period correct lamp cord and plug end. I used a knob switch to use with  a standard one wattage bulb
  • I added a cord bushing at the base of the lamp and a new felt bottom to the base so the ceramic  surface would not scratch a desk top.

274As you can see in the final picture, it looks like a real lamp!! I also added a small finial.  Another survivor project, as it turned out to be a nice functional, safe working lamp that will give many more years of service.

This was a “like new” restoration, and we started with a good patient as the lamp vase body was in good shape, it just need new hardware and wiring.

Shortly after I finished this one, I noticed it gone from the shelf, figuring it got sold. Ended up, my daughter took a fancy to it, so it is now at her house.

If you have an old lamp on its last leg, let us help you bring it back to life or give it a new home. Call us or email us with you next lamp project.

BOB

Dallaslampandlight@gmail.com

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Rodale Model 87 Industrial Desk Lamp

Rodale #87While on vacation a couple of weeks ago, we were able to pick up a few lamps along the way. We typically look for the ones that appear on their last leg and are sitting off in the corner. Sometimes they end up as parts, other times they can be brought back to life. In this case, I found this Rodale #87 behind a display case. In the 30’s and 40’s, the American Industrial Age was in full swing. Several manufacturers made these highly durable desk (goose neck) lamps for businesses and manufacturing settings. The first picture is before we started.  Follow the story to see the process.

Lamp Assessment: The lamp was intact and other than the cord, appeared functional. Electrically, it didn’t matter as it would be completely rewired.  The decorative base was a bit tarnished, and clam shell cover had a couple of “character dings” in it.

Disassembly: I took the lamp apart and found it structurally sound. The goose necks are usually the problem in these types of lamps. Sometimes they can loosen up because the inner flange is just flared to keep them in place. This one looked good. These lamps were built tough.

Per the designer, she wanted to leave as much of the patina as possible on this one. It had some white speckles, from some unknown source. So the plan is to just clean it as best as possible.

The Restoration Plan:

  1. Use light bodied solvent to clean the surfaces
  2. Lightly polish
  3. Replace the electrical socket, switch and cord
  4. Re-surface the base so it will sit flat and not wobble and add felt to the base.

disassembledsurfaced bottomThe Restoration:

  • The cleaning and polishing proceeded as expected. I did take a little of the finish off, but not enough to change the appearance
  • We replaced all the electrical parts including the socket, switch and cord. The wiring and cord were replaced with a period correct lamp cord and plug end.
  • Using 80 grit sand paper combined with a flat surface, I was able to smooth the base. Then I added a piece of felt to the base so the metal surface would not scratch a desk top.

FinishedAs you can see in the final picture, the appearance didn’t really change much in the picture as that was the plan. If you look close, you can see the built in paper clip holder and pencil rest. To add a 21st century touch, I also dropped a 2g zip drive on the base as well.  I consider this a survivor project as it turned out to be a nice functional, safe working lamp that will give many more years of service.  I like the way this one turned out, I may actually keep this in my office for a while. If it grows on me, it may stay.

If you have an old lamp on its last leg, let us help you bring it back to life or give it a new home. We can either keep them intact as we did this one or do a complete “like new” restoration.

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