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Lamp Part & Wiring Intro
Lamps Class
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In this lesson, we will begin to lay the necessary groundwork for all your lamp projects to come. We'll learn about safety certification for commercial lamp parts, the different types of lamp cord and which to use when, and how to tell the Hot wire from the Neutral. Knowing how to wire correctly means knowing how to wire safely! And as we all know, safety is first (and second, and third...).


Practice Makes Perfectly Good Lamps

To learn proper wiring techniques, in the next few lessons we'll be making two mini practice lamp cord sets.


Practice cord set #1


Practice cord set #2

Before ordering the items you need (listed below), I recommend choosing which pendant and table lamp you want to make from Lesson 8 & Lesson 9, because you may be able to use some of the parts you'll need for those in this lesson. You'll be able to re-use everything from the practice cord sets for your lamps (with the exception of the short lengths of lamp cord), which will save you $$.


Where to Buy Parts

Hardware stores have a very limited supply of good looking, quality lamp parts, but you may find some of what you need there. The rest (or all) can be purchased online. In an effort to reduce shipping fees for you, the majority of the parts I link to are from Grand Brass, with only a few exceptions.

The best online options for lamp parts are:

www.grandbrass.com - Most of the parts I link to in this lesson are from Grand Brass. They have almost EVERYTHING. The only downside to them, is that their website is not the best (requires a lot of scrolling through options to find your part) and delivery can take up to 2 weeks if you live on the West Coast.
www.txlampparts.net - Texas Lamp Parts. They offer faster delivery than Grand Brass, but their selection is slightly smaller.

Smaller or more specialized suppliers:

www.antiquelampsupply.com - Antique Lamp Supply has a limited selection, but carries the round self-adhesive felt circles that I love!
www.mylampparts.com - My Lamp Parts also has a limited selection, but had the lamp base I was looking for. (Mug Stack Lamp)

The widest selection of cloth covered cord (Grand Brass is a close second):

www.sundialwire.com - Sundial Wire are producers of cloth covered cord made entirely in the USA. Not UL listed.


Practice Cord Sets Parts List

There are many color options in all of the below parts, so I also recommend choosing the colors that will compliment the lamp projects you plan on making later in the class. If you'd like recommendations, I'm happy to help!

Lamp Cord Segments

Sockets

Switches

Plugs

Hardware


Safety Certification

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) are the two most common certification symbols you'll see on lamp parts in North America. These marks mean that the parts have been tested for, and passed, the requirements for all National safety standards for lamp parts.

I recommend always using certified parts, with ONE EXCEPTION: cloth covered cord. There are a few types of cloth cord that are UL or CSA approved (carried by online retailer Grand Brass), but the majority of it is not. :(

If you are making lamps just for yourself or for friends, use as much cloth covered cord a you like! They are perfectly safe to use even if they're not certified. If you plan on selling your lamps, you'll have to stick to the few colors/styles that have passed certification. The product descriptions on all lamp part web stores will tell you whether or not a particular cord has a certification number. It won't say 'uncertified' if it's not -- it just won't mention UL at all.


Lamp Cord

We'll start this wiring adventure with learning about our electricity superhighway and current connector... LAMP CORD!

The lamp cord we'll be using is made of 18 gauge wire (gauge = thickness) coated in a thermoplastic insulation, or 'cover.' The insulation protects us from being shocked by the electrically charged wires inside the lamp cord. There are cords available made from thicker and thinner wires (22, 20, 16, 14 gauge), but 18 gauge is industry standard for most portable interior lamps, so we will be using 18 gauge exclusively for this class.

As discussed briefly in 'Current' Affairs in Lesson 1, lamp cord comes with either two 18 gauge wires(Hot + Neutral)which is indicated as 18/2 or 18-2, or three 18 gauge wires(Hot + Neutral + Ground), indicated as 18/3 or 18-3. This info will either proceed or follow the cord type name in its supplier product description.


18/2 or 18-2 wire


18/3 or 18-3 wire

Safety Fact: In commercial wire sizing (AWG - American Wire Gauge), as the number goes down the gauge goes up! 16 gauge wire is thicker than 18 gauge (counterintuitive I know!) and as a result can deliver more power. Larger appliances will require a much thicker gauge than 18, so never use lamp cord to rewire your dryer or anything other than lighting for that matter! If a device draws more power than the wire gauge can handle, it can potentially overheat (and cause a fire).

But not to worry, if you stick to using 18/2 and 18/3 cord for all your lamps, AND your wiring is done properly using certified parts, you will NEVER cause a fire. Lamp cord has been made specifically for this application.


COMMON LAMP CORDS AND THEIR USES

Here is a list of the most commonly sold lamp cords, their characteristics, and applications:

Note: One of the coolest benefits of making your own lamps is being able to choose the color/type of cord, so that it either 'pops' and complements the lamp or is as visually subtle as possible, depending on what you're going for. So I've listed the color options for all types of cord as well.

SPT-1, 18/2 - SPT, also known as zip cord, is short for Stranded Parallel Thermoplastic. This means the two wires (Hot & Neutral) run parallel to each other in an insulated Thermoplastic cover. I use this for table and floor lamps. It comes in either a simple plastic cover or a nylon or rayon cloth outer 'jacket'. SPT-1 cord is:

  • flexible
  • easy to maneuver through standard lamp pipe and hardware
  • BEST USE: table and floor lamps
  • Plastic Cover Colors: this less expensive type comes in white, cream, brown, black, gold, and clear
  • Cloth Covered Colors: this super fun, but more expensive cord comes in a wide variety of solid colors and two-tone patterns.

SPT-2, 18/2 - This cord is made with the same gauge wire as SPT-1, but its insulation is thicker. While this thicker insulation means it's somewhat more resistant to heat and abrasion, unfortunately, the thicker the lamp cord, the more problems you may encounter when trying to insert, pull, or slip the cord through your lamp or fixture. For this reason, I avoid using this cord. SPT-1 is more than adequate for all table and floor lamp applications. NOTE: If you are considering trying to sell your lamps, you may be required to use this thicker, less subtle cord. SPT-2 cord is:

  • less flexible than SPT-1, but slightly more heat and abrasion resistant
  • harder to work with
  • BEST USE: table and floor lamps in UL Certification situations only. I really dislike using this cord. : P
  • Plastic Cover Colors: white, cream, brown, black, gold, and clear
  • Cloth Covered Colors: n/a

Twisted Cloth Covered Wire, 18/2 - This is a great cord to use if you want an old timey look. It is:

  • very flexible
  • easy to maneuver through standard lamp pipe and hardware
  • BEST USE: table and floor lamps
  • when used with a strain relief, can be used for lightweight hanging pendants
  • Colors: it comes in a wide variety of solid colors and two-tone patterns

SVT and SVT-B, 18/2 & 18/3 - The name SVT came from its original use Service Cord Type Vacuum Cleaner Thermoplastic, but is now used on lamps as well as other small appliances (i.e.: desktop fans). It's a round cord that is perfect for hanging pendants, as the double insulation (the outside layer and the individually insulated interior wires) can hold more weight than the SPT cords. SVT cord is:

  • less flexible
  • not recommended for maneuvering through standard lamp pipe
  • BEST USE: hanging pendants and floor lamps
  • Plastic Cover Colors: white, black, grey, red, clear silver, royal blue
  • Cloth Colors: it comes in a wide variety of solid colors

CORD SETS

It is possible to buy cords that come pre-wired with the plug, and sometimes even the socket and/or switch. While these can sometimes be time savers, I find them limiting as far as customizing socket type or cord color and length. Once you've learned to wire up your own set, feel free to dabble in the pre-made sets. But please don't start there as you'll miss out on valuable learning.


Hot & Neutral Wires

The most important thing to know about lamp cord is how to tell the Hot wire from the Neutral. Why is it important to connect Hot and Neutral wires correctly?

When wired properly, the metal threads of a socket will never be “hot” or give you a shock, whether the switch is on or off. When wired incorrectly, the threads – and any metal touching the threads, including the outside of the socket, if it is conductive metal, or the threads of a light bulb – can give you a shock whether the switch is on or off. So for this reason, it's very important to follow the instructions for the Hot and Neutral wires carefully.

Which is which?

On both SPT wires, the Hot side of the insulating cover is smooth and the Neutral is ribbed or 'squared' with 2 ridges.


Smooth HOT Wire


Ribbed NEUTRAL Wire

On Twisted Cloth Covered, SVT, and SVT-B cords, the black wire is Hot and the white wire is Neutral. If you are using an 18/3 cord, the green wire is ground -- which is unnecessary for us to use -- and will get cut off when wiring the plugs and sockets.


Quiz Time!

{
    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "What are the two most common safety certification symbols found on lamp parts?",
    "answers": [
        {
            "title": "AU and CSA",
            "correct": false
        },
{
            "title": "CSA and UL",
            "correct": true
        },
{
            "title": "UL and LSC",
            "correct": false
        }
        
    ],
    "correctNotice": "Nice work! While there are other testing labs that are authorized to test and certify lamp parts, these two are the most commonly used by far.",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}
{
    "id": "quiz-2",
    "question": "What is the most common wire gauge used for lamp cord?",
    "answers": [
        {
            "title": "16",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "18",
            "correct": true
        },
{
            "title": "20",
            "correct": false
        }
    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct!",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}
{
    "id": "quiz-3",
    "question": "What are the Neutral wire identifiers for SPT & SVT cords?",
    "answers": [
        {
            "title": "ribbed / black",
            "correct": false
        },
{
            "title": "ribbed / white",
            "correct": true
        },
        {
            "title": "smooth / white",
            "correct": false
        }
    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}

What's Next?

Now that you have a basic understanding of lamp cord characteristics, it's time to start building our practice cord sets. See you in the next lesson where we'll start you on the road to becoming a lamp whiz!

CLASS PROJECT

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