pretty lamp on table
Megan Thompson

Rewiring 101

A great table lamp can cost a small fortune, but if you like to shop, you can find beautiful lamps at flea markets, estate sales, and even garage sales for a fraction of the price. The only downside? They often don't work. But that's a fixable problem, and a nice project for a rainy afternoon.

Tip: Give yourself a couple of hours to figure this out. The great thing about this project is that there are no time constraints on getting it completed. The lamp will sit quietly waiting for you to fix it without interrupting the household.


Lamp Update

Even if your lamp does work, you should replace the cord if it looks frayed or damaged, and the plug if it's cracked or loose. Otherwise, you could get a shock when you use it, or it could even start a fire.

Cut off a portion of the old cord and take it to the store to find a replacement that's the same size and has the same type of insulation. If you plan to replace the plug too, see if you can find a new cord with a plug already attached. Otherwise, you can buy a separate plug that will clip onto the new cord.

What you'll need:

  • Wire cutters
  • New lamp cord and plug
  • Scrap wood
  • Utility knife
  • Wire stripper
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Screwdriver

cutting lamp cord
Michele Lee Wilson

Step 1

Most lamp cords have two strands of wire that are each covered with insulation. In order to strip the wire, you first need to separate the two strands.

Use wire cutters to cut the new cord to length, with a little slack. Use a utility knife to slice the center groove until the blade digs into the wood, and then split the cord a few inches. Repeat this process on the other end of the cord, unless the plug is already attached.

Remove about 1/2 inch of insulation
Michele Lee Wilson

Step 2

Remove about 1/2 inch of insulation from both ends of each wire with the wire stripper.

Note: If you're using a clip-on switch, you don't need to strip the wires on that end.

use your fingers or needle-nose pliers to shape both ends of each wire in to the shape of a hook
Michele Lee Wilson

Step 3

Lamp cord wires are fairly malleable, so you can either use your fingers or needle-nose pliers to shape both ends of each wire in to the shape of a hook.

With the new replacement cord ready to go, remove the old one. This means you'll have to loosen -- and maybe completely disassemble -- the lamp's components.

There may be a fabric (often felt) covering the lamp base. You'll need to remove this. It's likely that a nut holds the lamp's components together near the base. Loosen the nut. At this point, all the lamp's components will become jiggly and loose, so if it's glass, be careful!

assemble lamp
Michele Lee Wilson

Step 4

Rewiring a lamp is like restringing a bead necklace; everything goes back on in the same order it came off. So, if you have to completely disassemble the lamp, place all the new parts in the same order. Detach the old wires on the socket, then attach the new ones by tightening the terminals onto each wire with the screwdriver.

Next, remove the old cord by tugging at it from the base. Throw it away. Feed the new cord that's already attached to the socket through the lamp's center. If you can pull it taut once it's all the way through, you can replace the socket shell and tighten the nut (and any other connections) at the base of the lamp. If there's a switch, reinstall that.

connect the plug
Michele Lee Wilson

Step 5

The final step is to connect the plug (if there isn't one already attached to your replacement cord). There are some really easy ones that merely snap onto the lamp cord. Buy one of these, and you've got new life for a vintage lamp.

Technique: If the lamp still doesn't work, unplug it and use the screwdriver to slightly lift up the tab in the lightbulb socket, which can flatten and impede the connection to the bulb.

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