How I fixed a lamp

Soon after my wife and I got married, she used some of our wedding gift money to buy some lamps. We like them quite a bit. But one of them developed a big problem with flickering. I fixed it, temporarily, by bending the tab underneath the light bulb, but last week it deteriorated rapidly, ultimately reaching the point where any time we turned the lamp on, it blew the breaker immediately. Here’s how I fixed a lamp–for good.

After trying a few things, the solution ended up being replacing the lamp socket. A lamp socket is a $3.50 part similar to this one. I purchased mine locally, of course.

how I fixed a lamp
Always check the brass tab in the center of a light socket first. Bend the tab up to at least a 20-degree angle. If it’s badly discolored, replace the lamp socket.

First things first: Unplug the lamp before you work on it to avoid electric shock and potential injury.

I tried to clean up the socket where I could see it had been arcing, but that didn’t fix the problem. My best guess is that the arcing caused something to melt, causing a dead short somewhere that I couldn’t see. Arguably my attempt to clean it went far beyond the amount of effort that a $3.50 part justifies, let alone trying to troubleshoot it further.

And, frankly, I really should have done this when the lamp started to flicker, rather than waiting for the problem to get worse. If the second lamp develops the same problem, I’ll be more proactive.

I just replaced the socket’s internals. The socket housing either comes apart by unscrewing or prying. Try unscrewing the top, and if that doesn’t work, pull up slightly until you can see the seam, then pry gently with a screwdriver.

Inside, you’ll see the socket has two screws, each with a wire connecting from the cord. Loosen those screws to free the wires, and the socket comes out completely.

My local hardware store didn’t have just the guts, but whole sockets were available in the electrical aisle and cost less than $3.50 with tax. I just took the replacement socket apart, used the guts, and tossed the socket housing in the recycle bin.

To wire the socket, loosen the screws, then wrap the wires around the screws. The black wire goes to the screw that corresponds with the tab and the white wire goes to the screw that corresponds with the base. But if your wires aren’t marked, the lamp will still work even if you wire it backwards. Cinch the wire down with needle-nose pliers, then tighten the screws. Either screw down or press down the top of the housing, and your lamp is ready to go again.

I like the design of the replacement better. There’s a much bigger gap between the two conductors, making it less likely to develop a short like the old one did. And $3.50 and 10 minutes’ time is better than buying a new lamp.

And if you want to upgrade the lamp, just buy a different type of socket. They had pushbutton sockets, turn-knob sockets (if you prefer one over the other) and three-way sockets. If you like the style of the lamp but want to be able to use three-way bulbs in it, that’s a good way to make it more useful to you.

If the socket turns out not to be the only problem, replacing a lamp cord isn’t hard either.

One thought on “How I fixed a lamp

  • May 1, 2011 at 9:54 am
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    I’ve sometimes solved the contact arcing by using a nail file on the bottom of the bulbs to make it smooth and then by applying some conductive grease (the kind you used to use on distributor caps)

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