How to Rewire a Vintage Lamp
Learn how to gently clean and rewire an antique brass 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 antique shop guessed that it dated back to the very early days of electricity, even possibly converted from a gas lamp given certain characteristics.
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. 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.
The vintage lamp had accrued a lot of dust, whereever 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.
The solution, coupled with the soft bristled toothbrush, was enough to clear the many crevices of dirt and dust.
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?
In prepping the new wire for wiring the lamp, it was advised to dab super-glue 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 x 13″W at it’s widest point.