How to Rewire a Lamp

You find a lamp, you love the lamp, the lamp’s cord may have been chewed on by a teething opossum … in the year 1942. Here’s how to rewire that lamp.

Vintage ceramic lamp with shade and hand painted roses on a black background.

Allow me to introduce you to “the lamp”. I love this lamp. It’s not mine, but that doesn’t make me love it any less. And to be honest with you, by the time I finish writing this post it might be mine. This is all dependant on how quickly I can find a spot for it and break the lamp that’s in that spot right now.

The lamp is for sale at my sister’s store but it needed to be rewired so I grabbed it and brought it home under the pretence that I wanted to do her a favour by rewiring it. I really just wanted to walk it around my house seeing if there was somewhere I could put it.

I also needed a lamp to demonstrate my latest DIY on how to rewire a lamp so the level of my selfishness and this lamp is really quite deep.

If you’re scared of electricity or the thought of rewiring a lamp makes your stomach feel all funny pop a Gaviscon and keep reading.

Because it took me longer to try to find a spot for this lamp than it did to rewire it. And I have a very small house.

There are a few different things on a lamp that might need replacing:

the wire

the plug

the socket

But most often the problem is the wire and the plug, with the socket being fine.

If *just* your plug is a mess then you can just cut the old one off and attach a new one that just clips into place like this one.

But if the wire is chewed and the plug and lamp are old you’re going to want to rewire the whole thing. Which sounds like a “thing”, but it isn’t.

How to rewire a lamp.

You’re just going to need a flathead screwdriver and a new wire with a plug on it (you can buy a wire with plug on Amazon or at any local hardware store) for around $5.

You don’t need the whole HUGE rewiring kit that includes a new harp, socket and other thingees. For a simple rewiring job, you just need the wire and plug.

  1. Remove the finial and shade. If the harp can be removed, take that off too.
The underside of a large vintage painted lamp, with an old brown cord coming out of the base.

2. Flip the lamp over. If it has felt on the bottom pull it off.

3. Pull the top part of the socket out.

4. Remove the top part of the socket then pull the cardboard cover off.

5. Now you can see the socket and the wires. If the socket is in good shape (doesn’t look burned or sketchy) you can replace just the wire and plug. If the socket looks suspicious replace it as well.

6. Unscrew the wires from the socket. Don’t completely remove the screws, just unscrew them enough to be able to easily remove the wires.

7. Now the wire is unconnected you can pull it through the base of the lamp and save it for another project. Just kidding. Throw away the mangled cord and plug.

Old brown lamp cord with exposed wires at the plug end and throughout the cracked brittle wire.

That right there is a very good example of an almost hilariously dangerous lamp wire. Cheer yourself on that you’ve just averted a potential fire, shock, aesthetically unpleasing disaster.

8. Run your new wire back into the lamp the way the old wire came out.

9. Once the wire is through pull the wire apart so you have a few inches free. You’re about to tie a knot.

10. To stop the wire from getting any stress on it, or pulling out from the socket you should tie what’s known as an Underwriter’s Knot.

11. If you have too much wire left on the top take a pair of scissors and cut each wire off. Then gently cut through the insulation and pull it off revealing the wire underneath.

12. Twist the wires a bit and then curve them into a U shape so the wires will easily hook over the screws on the socket.

Does it matter which wire goes where?

Yes! When you’re rewiring a lamp you have to pay attention to which wire goes where.

You’ll notice that the wire you bought has one wire that’s ridged, and one that’s smooth.

The ridged wire will always go to the silver screw (which is neutral).

The smooth wire will always go to the brass screw (which is hot).

13. Hook your wires over their corresponding screws and tighten the screw making sure to keep the wire in place.

14. Pull the wire from the base of the lamp until the knot is as far down as possible then replace the cardboard and then top of the socket.

Vintage ornate painted lamp with original shade and new wiring.

It seems like a lot of steps but it isn’t really. Watch the video.

There you go, you rewired a lamp like some sort of electrical genius. Before you know it you’ll be replacing chandelier sockets, installing breaker panels or remembering to always use a tissue when handling a halogen bulb.

Actually I suppose at this point you may have just learned HOW to rewire a lamp but that’s knowledge you will always be able to keep in your brain (or browser bookmark) for when you need it.

How to Rewire a Lamp

How to Rewire a Lamp

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $5

How to rewire a lamp because the wire is mangled or maybe you just need a longer cord!

Materials

  • Lamp wire and plug

Tools

  • Screwdriver (flathead)

Instructions

    Remove the finial and shade. If the harp can be removed, take that off too. Flip the lamp over. If it has felt on the bottom pull it off.

    Remove the top part of the socket then pull the cardboard cover off.

    Now you can see the socket and the wires. If the socket is in good shape (doesn’t look burned or sketchy) you can replace just the wire and plug. If the socket looks suspicious replace it as well.

    Unscrew the wires from the socket. Don’t completely remove the screws, just unscrew them enough to be able to easily remove the wires. Pull the old wire out of the lamp through the bottom.

    Push the new wire up through the base of the lamp and out the top.

    Once the wire is through pull the wire apart so you have a few inches free. You’re about to tie a knot.

    To stop the wire from getting any stress on it, or pulling out from the socket you should tie what’s known as an Underwriter’s Knot.

    Twist the wires a bit and then curve them into a U shape so the wires will easily hook over the screws on the socket.

    Hook your wires over their corresponding screws (ridged to silver, smooth to brass) and tighten the screw making sure to keep the wire in place.

    Pull the wire from the base of the lamp until the knot is as far down as possible then replace the cardboard and then top of the socket.

    Put a bulb in the socket and give it a test run!

Notes

Remember:

Ridged wire to silver screw

Smooth wire to brass screw

Also, I regret to inform you that I still, even by the end of this post, have not found a place for the lamp.

So that settles it.

I’m going to have to bring it back fixed to my sister’s store which is going to be a REAL blow to my relationship with her. She’s going to think I’m … altruistic, kind, helpful and all kinds of other alarming things.

God only knows where this kind of wrong impression of me is going to lead but I suspect there might be some awful awards dinner and perhaps a commemorative plaque.

 

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How to Rewire a Lamp

16 Comments

  1. Leslie Russell says:

    I have two lamps whose only problem is that the switches broke off. I bought new ones but the plastic is so soft it just stripped when I screwed them on. Completely aggravating. I guess I’ll have to go this route unless you have another idea? Or can recommend the best glue in the world?

  2. Lauren from Winnipeg says:

    Of course! Where were you on Friday when I rewired two mid-century table lamps for the first time? I also replaced the sockets because they were tri-lights and were not needed. Luckily I was able to text our electrician son for moral support lol. Lamps are no longer scary and I finished with a great deal of self satisfaction. My god, I feel like I can do anything. I’m now off to create the perfect cup of coffee….

  3. Vikki says:

    After all these years, I now know why one half of the cord has ridges and the other half is smooth. Thank you for that information and also the underwriter’s knot. I always look forward to reading what you will bring us with each new post.

  4. Penny says:

    Thank you for the underwriters knot. Useful information and a good laugh is why I come here.
    Time to read the comments for the chuckles!

  5. Siri says:

    Thank you so much for the excellent instructions . I have soooooo many lamps that need this attention ! Thank you Karen !!!!

  6. Clare McK. says:

    If you attach a thin cord to the old wire before you pull it out, with a bit of sticky tape or some thread then you have a mouse line to pull the new one through the innards of the lamp. It isn’t always possible but worth a try.

    • Clare McK. says:

      Oops, forgot to say… Or use the old wire as the mouse line, strip off some of the plastic cover and twist the copper cores together.

  7. Claudine Bratcher says:

    OMG! If I lived near your sister’s store, I’d go in and buy that lamp. I absolutely love it. I have one that’s probably just as old. It was given to me and my handy hubby immediately replaced all the wiring in it. AND I tell everyone, I’ll break your arm off if you even look like you’re going to touch my lamp. AND don’t even look at it too long or you’ll have a black eye.
    Thanks for your article on rewiring lamps and the video. I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading it when it hits my email.
    Claudine in Fort Worth, TX

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Claudine! And I know, I love that lamp too. Obviously, lol. And don’t worry, should I ever meet it I will not touch your lamp. ~ karen!

  8. Mia Pratt says:

    Living in a village in Mexico, I occasionally find beautiful old things like antique lamps for my house – but the catch is, they don’t work. Most of this vintage-ish stuff was brought here by Americans, Canadians or Brits who lived here in the long-ago past and then either moved away or died, leaving their stuff behind to be sold to people like me who, rather than decorating with easily-found Mexican stuff that works, choose instead to decorate with shabby chic leftovers from the bygone days of England, France and elsewhere. Every lamp I own came from a local bazaar or market, and none of them worked when I bought them. Some I carried to a local electrical shop to have fixed, but others remain on my closet shelf just as they were found – dusty, in need of love, and without wiring. This weekend I plan on changing that, if it stops raining long enough for me to walk up to the local ferreteria (hardware store) for wiring supplies (it’s rainy season). Plus we’re under strict stay-at-home quarantine orders anyway, advised to only go out for essential shopping – and after 5 months of that, I’m bored out of my mind. This is definitely essential shopping, and offers the perfect reprieve from my boredom – a simple and inexpensive repair project that will inevitably result in my needing to move every single piece of furniture in the house into a new configuration that incorporates additional lamps. Yay!

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