Thread Number: 36883  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Wiring in a vintage ceiling light
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Post# 394432   7/6/2018 at 04:16 (729 days old) by Seijun (Portland, OR)        

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Last week I found one of those really cool saucer-shaped retractable ceiling lights. The cord is cloth-covered with three protruding wires. I would like to install it in our kitchen, but I am not sure if I should be trusting cloth-covered wire from the 50's. I have not tried taking the light apart yet to see how the retracting mechanism works or how easy it would be to put in a new cord. Anyone here have experience with old lights like these?

Post# 394439 , Reply# 1   7/6/2018 at 09:25 (729 days old) by suckolux (Yuba City, CA)        

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I did months ago when I redid my kitchen/ dining room. Memory issues/ meds so I just took it apart and wired the new and old cord together and pulled it through. I used a Black Hoover cord, wanted black anyway! New ceramic socket. Totally LOVE It, used car polish on all of it, some chrome polish too

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Post# 394527 , Reply# 2   7/8/2018 at 14:44 (726 days old) by huskyvacs (Midwest)        

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If you plan to use it often with retracting it up and down a lot, you should replace the cord. Both for the fact that it is old and brittle and will not stand up to frequent use today, 60 years on, and also the fact that you can fray away the asbestos insulation on the cord over time and have a risk of spreading spores. It would be a minimal amount, but still a risk.

Make sure you get the same wire gauge and sheathing diameter or the retraction mechanism won't work right. You can get modern replicas of antique cloth cords on eBay by the foot, which might work out if you want to keep its antique feel and not look like an old fixture with a modern extension cord lopped on.

Post# 394550 , Reply# 3   7/9/2018 at 02:55 (726 days old) by MadMan (Chicago, IL, USA)        

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I used to have one of those lights, actually installed and working. The cord on that was fine. Still, if you plan to use the retracting ability a lot, replace the cord. is a good place to check. You can get a variety of colors and cloth types. I honestly have no idea how the pulley mechanism opens up, hopefully it's not simply crimped shut. But apparently you can pull a new wire through it without disassembling?

Though... are you sure the wire is old? If the cord has 3 wires in it... grounding standards wouldn't have mandated 3 wires until... the 70s or 80s? Something like that. Are the wires coming out cloth covered themselves or rubber/plastic insulated? How brittle are those wires, because that'll be your indicator. Those attaching wires get the most brittle first.

Post# 394559 , Reply# 4   7/9/2018 at 08:22 (726 days old) by suckolux (Yuba City, CA)        

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Mine came apart very easily. just the plastic nuts on either end of the center section, the " egg" opens up, spool inside had a notch to put a pic in to keep it unwound while replacing the cord

Post# 394725 , Reply# 5   7/11/2018 at 22:53 (723 days old) by Seijun (Portland, OR)        

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Thanks for the tip on opening the egg! I had yet to figure it out.. Here are some pictures. And silly question, but how do I find out what gauge wires this is using?

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Post# 394736 , Reply# 6   7/12/2018 at 02:38 (723 days old) by MadMan (Chicago, IL, USA)        

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Y'know... I know they're cloth covered wires, but ceiling lights often would have cloth wires to tolerate the temperature from incandescent bulbs. I wanna say this fixture is from the 60s or the 70s, and that cord is probably just fine. Diameter of the wires can be measured with a caliper, and translated into wire gauge by googling 'wire gauge chart.'

But seriously? Don't stress about the gauge. For two 60 watt bulbs, 120 watts max - assuming you're actually using incandescents and not LEDs - pretty much any wire you find suitable for this will be more than robust enough. I'm looking at pulley cord (that's what they call it, btw) on and theirs is 18AWG. Again, more than enough for two bulbs. Seriously a 1000 watt toaster will typically have 18AWG cord.

Googling it, it looks like 18AWG will do 10 amps up to 50ft of wire. 10A * 120V = 1200 watts. Even if you did 2 100 watt incandescents, you'd still have a whole kilowatt left before you reached the limit of the wire.

If anything, just make sure the outside diameter of the cord is roughly the same as any replacement you get.


Post# 394737 , Reply# 7   7/12/2018 at 03:14 (723 days old) by huskyvacs (Midwest)        

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1968 was when grounded 3 prong outlets became required by electrical code. I also see "made in west germany" on that spool. That would date it from 1955+. I'd say sometime in the mid 1970's though because my basement was renovated in September 1978, and the bathroom fixture has a glass shade with that exact same pattern on it.

The wires look in very very good shape, they actually might be a retardant cotton or rayon braid and not asbestos, but lop that nasty splice off the end of the hot wire before connecting new wires in, and be very careful with that cracked glass shade.

You might not have to rewire. I'd say give it a trial run with the original wires for a few months of use and check it again for any wear spots. For me I would replace the wiring just because I'm paranoid over electricity, but then again all the wiring in my house is from the 1950's so go figure. Wiring does accumulate more heat though when coiled up, and the old cotton sheathing didn't do much at alleviating that problem.

Good luck!

Post# 394748 , Reply# 8   7/12/2018 at 08:41 (723 days old) by suckolux (Yuba City, CA)        

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Sweet light, looks a lot like one in the home I grew up in from 63, but I am sure many looked that way.

Post# 394759 , Reply# 9   7/12/2018 at 10:58 (722 days old) by Seijun (Portland, OR)        

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I thought pull-down fixtures were just a 50's thing. Sweet that it is probably from the 70's, since it will be going into our 1970's themed kitchen!

We will be using LED's with it. The cord should not get too warm running LEDs I assume/hope?

I am keeping an eye out for a replacement glass cover. I don't think this one is in any immediate danger of shattering, but it is a shame about the damage.

Post# 394795 , Reply# 10   7/13/2018 at 01:42 (722 days old) by huskyvacs (Midwest)        

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The first half of the 1970's still had a rather 1960's identity until the mod and disco era fully kicked in. But yeah, LED's draw less load than an incandescent, yes. Because I think it was...90%? of a incandescent bulb's total power is wasted on heat. LED bulbs do have a small heatsink around the base that will get warm but it's still about 80% less heat than a incandescent. An LED bulb would not stress the vintage wiring much at all. You could put a 75w LED in it and be good. It would help your shade too, because hot and cold cycles on the glass if using an incandescent would gradually expand the crack.

That's why various lamps have different light bulb wattage ratings for safety because of heat and load ratings on the wire. I remember seeing a wooden table lamp in the trash dump once before, had a 100w bulb in it. The socket and the wires inside it were just completely cooked and the shade was half burned. The cord was also bubbled up halfway through the length of the wire too. I replaced the socket and did a complete rewire and left the burned shade on it and put a 40w bulb in. It became a lamp for the back of my garden shed at the campground for many years.

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