Intro: Art Noveau for the 21th Century
Recently I've got my hands on a genuine Art noveau lamp. While it is not so special to see one of this lamps in this city, finding one that is in excellent nick with respect to the glassware is not so easy. After inspecting it thoroughly, I figured it could be an interesting restoration project. In this project I'm describing how I resorted this lamp to it's former glory while updating the electrical components to todays safety standards. I chose to use warm white LED-bulbs since this specific lamp suffered form thermal issues since it was made. Despite that I tried to stick as close to the original as possible.
If you are thinking about a similar project you may want to get the following utilities:
For cleaning and corrosion removal:
- Dish Soap
- Baking Soda
- large Bags
- brushes and rags
- kitchen wipes and microfiber cloth
- metal polish
- lamp sockets
- two core, stranded wire for all sockets attached to metal parts
- three core, stranded wire with a fabric cover to connect all sub parts of the lamp
- plenty of wire end ferrules
- a glassfiber scratch brush to clean contacts in old sockets
- electricians tape
- tying wire to pull wires through cramped spaces
- hot glue
For restoring parts:
- many small containers, masking tape and a sharpy to indicate the parts
- brass stock
- brass screws
- different tools
For troubleshooting and tuning:
- Some light bulbs with different light temperature and intensities
- a thermometer (contactless or with a wired probe)
- a multimeter
Step 1: Inspection
Now take the lamp apart carefully and be sure to mark all the parts. I used a maker pen to pairwise index all the mating surfaces. I marked them on the inside so that the paint cannot affect the de-corrosion bath or the polishing step. Using a waterproof marker is definitely a good idea. Also take a lot of photos so that you can look up critical steps and they make a nice documentation afterwards.
In fact as simple as it looks but this things consist of more tiny parts than one might think. Don't make the mistake to think that parts that look very similar are identical. The arms holding the outer lamps, in this case, differed just a few millimeters in some dimensions so that they are not interchangeable. Packing tape works great to lable groups of screws and other small bits and pieces.
To further ease disassembly, have wirecutter at hand. Cutting the cables in some places helps to avoid fiddling, however, have enough sticking out of any part so that you can remove everything. In many cases the insulation will be very brittle. Look out for decolored portions as they may indicate hot spots in the constructions. Many of this old lamps suffer from a very poor thermal design. If you are going to rebuild this lamp with more original tungsten lamps instead of led lamps you may want to check the temperature of this spots afterwards.
Inspect especially the electrical components that you wish to reuse. Usually they are the weakspots since electrical engineering has come a long way since then. Having many dissimilar metals often causes massive corrosion. If you like to reuse this components test them with your multimeter to see if they work properly. Personally I would replace them where possible to avoid hassle.
Step 2: Pre Cleaning
Now you have the bare brass pieces accessible clean them using a sponge, hot water and dish soap. This items will have collected a lot a dirt over the years and have residual wax from old polish on its surface. By removing that, it exposes bare metal that we need in the next step. Avoid hard brushes or abrasive cleaning since that will scratch the surface. First of all it looks better but it will look terrible when buffing the surface.
The pictures demonstrate this procedure form having the lamp dissembled to having all the parts cleaned form decades worth of dust.
Step 3: Removing the Corrosion
The brass pieces will have developed a thick corrosion layer, removing this layer using only polish can be tedious. A lot of it can be removed using a mix of vinegar, water and tablesalt. I'm sure one could improve on the recipe, although, the one I used was 2 liters of water, 2 liters of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of salt and a dash of dishsoap. I let the parts soak for half a minute before rinsing a buffing them.
Smaller parts can easily soak in a bucket, however, larger parts would require a big container and a lot of solutions. To avoid that I put this parts one after each other with the solution in a plastic bag. By putting some random objects under the bag one can submerge them pretty good without the need for a lot of that cleaning solution.
After that buffing the parts using commercial brass cleaner is a breeze. I used microfiber tissues for that task since they don't tear around rough edges and leave fibers. Be sure to use a cleaner that has a lot of sealer like wax in it to prevent corrosion in the future.
The first picture demonstrates the progress after each step. The fist item is just cleaned, while the second just came out the solution and the third one is already polished.
Step 4: Adding New Wires and Sockets
The starting point is surely to decide which lamps you are going to use since this dictates many requirements for the cables. Try some lamps with a properly wired socket on an extension cord to experiment with different light temperatures and types of lamps. Also make sure that they will fit in your glassware when resembled.
Check if lamps run hot inside the glassware since this could cause problems later on. Usually LED lamps generate a lot less heat and draw less current, which makes them especially attractive for this kind of application.
Now it is the time to add new wires, sockets and switches to the lamp. This step is critical with respect to safety. If you are not trained in this field you should ask an electrician to choose cables with the correct wire-gauges, isolation strength and temperature rating for your application. For this there is really no rule of thumb follow your countries guidelines for electrical installation. The very same is true for a proper grounding of the lamp. Some parts may have no solid metal connection (like the chain in the middle of this lamp). Then you need to use 3 core wire to ensure a permanent earth connection in between the parts.
The channels within this lamps are sometimes quite tight, using binding wire to pull cables trough can make things a lot easier. To avoid problems later on cut them with a lot of length to spare. When you put the lamp together later on you will find out that you often need this extra length and you can always cut is shorter anyway.
Usually this things are very curvy why you should go with stranded wire. However be aware that whenever you clamp a stranded wire you need ferrules to go on the ends. Be sure to have the suitable pliers and enough of the ferrules handy.
Step 5: Putting It Back Together
Use the photos and the markings to put the thing back together. Stay clam since the packs of wire and the tiny screws make this step time consuming. You will need some wire clamps to make all the required connections. Hot glue allows you to keep them from moving around inside the lamp otherwise they may block openings during assembly.
Before testing it you should use the multimeter so see if the earth connection is good to all metal parts and that there are solid connections to all the sockets. Also see if the live wire really ended up on the proper contact of the socket.
After everything is in its place and the lamps are in I would recommend to put the lamp on a test stand and let it run for some time with the glassware on. This is the ideal situation to test if some parts are running hot. If so, you have to fix this since this will lead to insulation faults over time. These are annoying at best but more likely be right out dangerous.
Step 6: Eyjoy
This project is now complete and you can enjoy your valuable piece in its restored glory.