The Graffiti Research Lab Vienna tool development archive is finally being brought to light. Here we present the Powerthief, an old piece of technology that we didn't come up with, but is worth reviving. By now they are mostly made redundant in every day life, and also illegal in most of central Europe. However, there are still useful applications for it in our environment today, especially if you're in need of a power-plug where there is usually none available.

The basic idea is pretty simple: in a lot of today's urban environments you can find a regular light bulb reasonably close-by. In Vienna, where this was executed, you can find one above almost every doorstep. The technology is even simpler - take the screw-cap of a regular light bulb and instead of connecting it to filaments it's being connected to a power socket.

To see how we made it and use it, we have a video we presented at the 2 year anniversary of the lovely gallery INOPERAbLE:

This project deals with electricity. Make sure not to blow yourself up!

You will need:

  • A light bulb
  • Electric cabling
  • Plastic tubing to cover the cabling
  • Power socket
  • Epoxy
  • Something to cut the tubing
  • Soldering iron and solder

Step 1: Putting It Together

There isn't all that much to do. The steps have been captured (and played faster) on the video linked on the intro page. Remember that this project is dangerous and the use possibly illegal if you are in Europe. Improvise. In the video we used hot glue, but epoxy works better.

  • Break the light bulb and get rid of excess glass/other material
  • Solder the cables onto the connections (bottom and side) of the screw cap (there's no + / - since it's AC, so connect it how you want)
  • Make the casing from the tubing
  • Put the screw cap and the casing together with the epoxy
  • Connect the cables to the powerplug and put it on with epoxy
  • Test with care in a safe environment

Step 2: Using It

If you're using the Powerthief outside, be aware that you do not know what sort of cabling your powersource uses. Because of that, it's potentially dangerous for you and your equipment - we strongly advise against hooking up a 3000W projection/sound system as it might melt the cables and/or the Powerthief.

This tool is intended as an alternative powersource for people that want to elevate their voices outside, but are in a situation in which using other equipment such as batteries and inverters or gas generators isn't an option (for example because of $$$). Be absolutely sure that this is what you want to use.

Even though in the video we have a projector that has rather low light output, our tests with regular home projectors that take 300W to 500W and have between 2500 and 4000 ANSI lumens were successful and reliable, even using them for longer than an hour was not a problem.


Thanks to everyone involved and surrounding the development of this project: F*, Quartier digitaler Kultur, Bre Pettis, Evan Roth, James Powderly, Theo Watson



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    136 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This device can be found at Home Depot for $2.50. You can plug a light into it and a power cord at the same time. If you replaced the incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb and made sure the device you plugged in used less than the difference in wattages then the same amount of light would be put out and you wouldn't actually be stealing the power. And you wouldn't run the risk of over loading the supply wires.

    socket plug.jpg
    6 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    now try to get it outside wonderland america.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    This "Plug In Socket Adapter, also from Aubuchon Hardware, can be used to convert the above "Plug Base Attachment" back into a socket, so that you could change a bulb by just yanking it! No more screwing on a stepladder or standing on a chair!* Much safer.

    Plug-in socket adapter.jpg

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Also available is one that converts the lamp socket into one receptacle. Here in the US AC receptacle are polarized, to insure that the neutral conductor, isn't switched with the line conductor, and of course the safety ground isn't carried through with these adatoptors. In the event you homebrew one of these things make sure, the neutral remains the neutral.


    10 years ago on Step 1

    The polarity does matter in AC, for safety purposes. The "Hot" wire (black or red) connects to the centre, and the "Neutral" (white) goes to the side.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    In general, what you say is true. However, you have no way of knowing that the light circuit is correctly wired. And that standard may not apply in other countries. In the UK, the old standard was that red was live, black was neutral and earth was green, yellow or striped green/yellow. The newer standard is that live is brown, blue is neutral, and earth is bare, or green/yellow striped. However, the biggest issue with this hack is how to turn the light on?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    A very basic circuit tester can tell you which is hot and which neutral.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    why does everything has to be complicated in the UK? the only standards I can remember right now is that we stopped us aluminum wires in housing.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Hahaha it sux. Had to watch the whole video to notice that... We have it here in México! and they are legal so how many of them do you need?



    in the uk your household lighting should be rated at 6 amps.
    if its commercial it may be more like 10 amps,
    as to france, they wire lighting radials on a 16 amp breaker.
    but both the UK and france have RCD protecting the whole fuse board rated at 30mA.... this is a rad idea but you gotta have a rough idea what your plugging into, and in the worse case if you pull to many amps you'll trip the RCD, if it doesn't have one you'll trip the breaker....
    if however the owner has an oldschool fuse board with re-wirable fuses and has either used the wrong rating of fuse cable or used some tin foil from an old kit-kat wrapper, you'll probably start a fire.
    this is still a rad idea and i need one in my life.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    It's called a "plug body". You screw it in to a light socket. Been around since about 1910.

    1 reply