Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wire Your Own Pendant Lighting - Cheap, Easy, & Fun!

Bare bones pendant lighting - the vintage style with just a cord and bulb - is SUPER trendy right now. Use an Edison bulb, and it's steampunk. Use a fancy silvered bulb or globe and it's modern/industrial chic.

Simple as these light are, though, they're still super pricey in stores. The more steampunky styles average over a hundred dollars each, which isn't too bad if you just want one, but what if you want several?

Well, never fear, crafty decorators! I AM HERE TO HELP.

So for our bedroom lights I was inspired by these beauties over on Etsy:


Awww YEAH. 

Ok, so orange wasn't going to work in our room, but I love the colored fabric cord and shiny socket. (And there are several other bright colors at the shop; hit that link up there to see.)

Trouble was, I wanted a cluster of 3 pendants for each side of the bed, and 6 pendants would total over $450. Ouch.

So after a lot of research and some super simple assembly, I was able to make two pendant bunches like this for just $115:

 

That's just over $19 per pendant, for those of you without a calculator handy, as opposed to $75 (or much more) for a store-bought pendant. Suh-WEET!

And that's with me splurging on the extra nice sockets, too. There are options for assembling your own that would cost as little as $12 each pendant, if not less. SERIOUSLY.

Here's what you need:

First, head over to Snake Head Vintage to drool over all the different options for cloth-covered wire and sockets. After a fair bit of research, I decided that was the best site for getting everything you need - wire, sockets, and ceiling canopies - in one place. (And no, they're not giving me anything to say that.)

You might find cheaper options if you want to piecemeal it - especially for the sockets, which I've seen for as little as $2 each -  but the convenience of ordering everything in one spot won me over. Plus the cheap sockets LOOK cheap, so if your pendants are hanging at eye-level, I advise springing for the nicer ones.

Here are all the different finishes you can get for your sockets at Snake Head:
COPPER!!! AAIEEE!! (Seriously, I have to find a reason to make more pendant lights, you guys.) 
(For these fixtures I used brushed silver, though, in case you were wondering.)

If you're going to make a swag pendant that plugs into the wall, then you'll need a keyed socket like these. (Meaning they have a knob on the side to turn them on/off.) If you're going to hardwire your lights into the ceiling and use a wall switch, though, then get the keyless sockets. (Unless you like the look of the knobs, of course - they won't hurt anything. I just wanted mine to look more streamlined.) Both styles are about the same price; a little less than $9 each.

For the wire, you're going to want their two-wire twisted variety, which is fabric-covered and comes in a bunch of nice colors:

All of their wire is sold by the foot, so you can get the exact amount you need. (I bought 5 feet per pendant, and ended up with almost a foot extra each - but always err on the side of extra.)

If you're plugging your lamp into the wall, you'll also need - surprise! - a plug. For hard-wiring you can skip that, though.

And lastly, you'll probably want a ceiling canopy - aka, this thing:

 
The canopies at Snake Head come in 8 different finishes, and only cost $4.50 each. SOLD.

The pre-drilled center hole in their canopies is JUST large enough to squeeze three twisted wires through. If you plan on using more wire than that, you'll need to drill out the center to make it larger.

Ok, so you've got your materials. Now what?

Fresh out of the package. Isn't it preeeetty?

I know assembling your own lighting is intimidating, so I'm going to walk you through it - and trust me, it's very, very simple. All you need for tools are a pair of wire snips/strippers and a screwdriver. You can do this.

Ready?

Ok, start by removing the base of your socket. For the styles like mine, that ring in the middle untwists. For cheaper sockets, the bottom just pops off.

Once the bottom of your socket is off, the metal sheath easily slides off the guts of your socket, leaving you with this:


There are two screws on the side or base of your socket. You need to attach the two strands of your wire, one to each side, as you see I've already done here. 

The fabric on the wire slides up easily, so no need to cut that; just scrunch it up, strip off the plastic coating on the wire about an inch or so, bend the copper wire into a U shape, hook that over the screw, and tighten the screw down with your screwdriver. (It doesn't matter which wire you attach to which side with this style, since you'll be using a vintage-style non-polarized plug - if you use a plug at all.)

THAT'S IT.

If you're still feeling iffy, here's a handy video tutorial I found, with the relevent bits being between :50 and 2:40



He's using one of the less expensive style sockets here, which is why the bottom just pops off and the screws are on the bottom. He also adds an "underwriters knot," which I didn't use, and I honestly don't know if it's necessary or not with my style socket. It can't hurt, though, if you want to add it.

[Update: Sounds like it's a good idea to add that knot for strain relief, so do go ahead & add it!]

Here's another angle of my socket with the wire attached on both sides:

Oh, and learn from my mistakes: make sure you slide the bottom half of your socket cover onto the wire before you attach the socket. (How many times did I make that mistake? SO NOT TELLING.) 

After the wires are attached, just slide the base of the socket back up the wire, nestling these guts inside it, and slide the top sheath back on over the top, securing the two together with the twist ring. (Or snapping them back together, if that's the style socket you're using.) Oh, and do not remove the cardboard sleeve inside - I know it looks odd up-close, but it's an essential insulator, and is never meant to be removed. If you look closely at your lamps around the house, you'll see most of them have the same sleeve - although some styles use plastic instead.

Once it's all assembled again, tighten the small screw at the base of your socket where the wire goes in; that will help hold the weight and keep the wires from twisting. Don't tighten it much unless you have a plastic guard there, though; you don't want to risk piercing your wire.

See the little screw at the top of the socket? That one.

Adding a wall plug is equally simple; the end half of that video up there includes the instructions, if you need them.

However, if you're wiring these into the ceiling - or ideally having someone else do it - then your pendant lights ARE DONE. All that's left is finding some fun bulbs! 

Speaking of which, I originally planned to use silver-dipped bulbs like these:


They're only about $2.80 each over at 1,000 Bulbs, but I never got around to ordering any. The globes I have in now look pretty sweet as-is, anyway.

Oh, and we loosely looped our wires into a knot to bunch them together, but you could also get creative with hanging your pendants at different heights:

You can see the rest of our room here, if you haven't already.

Really, given all the different metal finishes and cord colors and bulb styles out there, the options are almost endless. So have fun creating your own custom pendants!



Disclaimer: I am not an electrician, and what I've shared here is almost literally the full extent of my electrical knowledge. So please have a qualified electrician install your lighting. John has installed hundreds of light fixtures over the years (he was a licensed handyman when we were painters just for that purpose), so he handled installing ours.

If you're just plugging your light in to the wall, though, you should be fine. Just don't plug your new light in and then immediately leave for a 2-week vacation or something, k? :)

If you still have questions, check out Snake Head's FAQ page, or feel free to ask in the comments below, and I'll do my best to find the answers for you.

I hope this was helpful, guys! Be sure to share pictures if and when you make some custom pendants of your own!

Oh, and here's a handy graphic for your Pinning pleasure:

*****

Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!

42 comments:

  1. If you live near a Home Decorators, I just discovered their lighting conversion kits. It's basically a pendant light you can screw in to a recessed fixture. I'm sure other stores have them, but it has completely opened up our renovations for us.

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  2. Cardboard. Huh. For an insulator? Granted my electrical knowledge is almost nonexistent but doesn't that seem a little I dunno, flammable? I mean that's what I put in my wood stove when balled up newspaper won't do the job because it's just too darn cold outside or the fire gods are angry or the wood got snow on it or I was just having a bad fire making day. Or maybe I'm just too paranoid or it's magic cardboard or something.

    Still, this is making me want to build a few for the house I am building. I trust you know what you are doing and this has given me a few ideas. :)

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    1. HA! Well, yes, but I guess if you have sparks inside your lighting fixture then you've got bigger problems than a piece of cardboard in there. :D If you check the lamps around your house, dollars-to-donuts they have that same cardboard sleeve. I never really noticed it before making these, though!

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    2. I think my uncle once told me it was for the ground wire. The wires in your fuse box have a sleeve that's like the brown paper bags. He explained a lot to me (including the reason they use a flammable material), but that was eight years ago, and I was primarily there to call 911 if he electrocuted himself, so I was really nervous given how his day was going and the fact he was soaking wet from his previous repair gone wrong.

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  3. It does matter.

    I haven't worked with the type of wire you used here, but ordinary lamp cord has a ribbed side and a smooth side and lamp sockets have a gold screw and a silver screw. The plug will have similar gold and silver terminals if you're wiring for plug-in use. If It's for permanent connection in an electrical box in the ceiling, you should find a white wire and a black wire (make sure the power to the fixture is turned off at the switch or the breaker and test that it's off using a tester).

    It's important that the connections maintain the proper polarity. The ribbed side designates neutral. It may have a stripe instead of ribs or if the insulation is in two layers the inner, individual layer will be white (versus black, or no stripes or ribs, for the "hot" side). White or ribbed or striped in the lamp cord should be connected to the silver terminal in the socket and the same in the plug (which will have the wider blade). If you're wiring it into a ceiling box, it'll go to the white wire twisted together with a wire nut.

    Don't make electrical connections in a wall or ceiling or similar outside an electrical box. Only use a wire nut or, in the case of a switch or outlet, the screw(s) provided.

    An underwriter's knot is important to provide strain relief, especially if you're hanging the weight of the socket and bulb on the cord. The set screw is not for tightening against the wire. That could prove dangerous if it pierces the insulation or over time rubs a hole in it. The screw is intended to be tightened against the threaded rod that the cord runs through if you are using the socket in a lamp.

    If you check any typical lamp with an incandescent bulb, chances are good that you'll find that the insulating tube in the socket is made of cardboard although plastic is common, too.

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    1. Oh, I almost forgot. See the little white thing where the cord enters the socket in the picture of the fixture from Etsy? That looks like it's probably a proper strain relief that would be suitable to screw the set screw against while protecting the wires running through it. If it's what I think it is, it should be available from any hardware store, though you may have to search to find the correct size.

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    2. It's true that it DOES usually matter, but with these vintage wires you use a non-polarized plug (sold at the same site), so there is no positive or negative side like with modern lamp cord. That makes the two sides interchangeable when you're attaching them to the socket. If you watch the video tutorial I included, the guy mentions this around the two minute mark. Thanks for the clarification, though; I'm going to go edit that bit about the set screw & underwriter's knot now!

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  4. I love your tutorials, but I am so terrified of electric-y things that I'll pass making my own. Who needs new lighting, anyway? Certainly not me! :) But I like your lights, Jen!

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  5. This is not a style of light I like, but I love your Photography, your enthusiasm and your explanations. I read every word just to enjoy your voice. I'm so happy your back on here posting your enthusiasm

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  6. Not sure about the loopibg of the wire... isn't it a bit... flammable with fabric cords in a know with lots of electricity going through?

    Also, for our pendant lights we got regular lamps and just took off the screens. It's not fabric wire, of course, but it looks ok :)

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    1. Curse you small mobile keyboard. *looping *knot

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  7. Wonderful tutorial! I had to laugh out loud at this: as I was scrolling down, I came to the picture with the copper socket, and said "COPPER!!! AAIEEE!!"- and then continued to scroll to see your comment directly underneath that was EXACTLY what I just said! Great minds and all that.

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  9. In case anyone else opened the video just to see how to tie the underwriter's knot and was disappointed that his hands kept slipping out of camera range while he did it, here's a tutorial: Underwriter's Knot (youtube). (once more with functioning link).

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  10. I need to convince my husband that he wants bare bulb pendants.

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  11. I am showing this to my husband as soon as he gets home. I bet you anything we have copper pendant lights in our kitchen by the end of the month!

    p.s. Could I bribe John to come install them? We're local, and not electrically inclined :)

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  12. I love Edison bulbs! they just look so cool!

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  13. I'm so not a fan of looking at bare bulbs because they are usually blinding, but these don't seem too bad. These would be extra cute if they were staggered a bit like you mentioned.....just an inch or 2 so they nestle in the curve of the one next to it.

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  14. oh and i love love loveeeeeeeee the new bedroom and the color choices.

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  15. Although not my style, I still think these look really cool. And you always do such neat projects! I'm concerned about the knot in the wires, though. It's never a good idea to put any kind of knot in electrical wires or cords, even loose ones.

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  16. Dear Jen, Our house was robbed around 4 A.M. on Monday morning. I forgot to lock the garage door and will be kicking myself forever over that. Anyway, the reason I am writing to you at Epbot is that I know you have a huge following and maybe you can help get the word out about something I wish I had known: keep a record of the serial numbers on your power tools, electronics, etc. The police can use them to alert pawn shops and other places where thieves might try to resell your belongings. - Kathryn

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  17. I love the tutorial but would also like to know how John hard wired the 3 pendant lights to the wiring in your ceiling. That's what mostly puzzles me about bunches of pendant lights.

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    1. Since no one answered this, I'll take a stab at it since it's a really good question. I *think* that you would just twist the same colored cords together (black to black to black, white to white to white, for all three) then just twist each big black wire that you've created to the black one in the ceiling and do the same for white. Twist on some wire nuts and then cover with the ceiling mount/canopy. That's how I would probably do it anyway!

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    2. That was my question. Fix the sockets, then what? Thanks!

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  18. I ordered some stuff from Snake Head Vintage and am pleased to say that they have excellent customer service. Another source is Sundial Wire which may have some colors or parts you need that Snake Head doesn't have. I particularly like dimmer sockets because they make your lamp or pendant into an accent light that's not too bright which was a concern of another commenter. When dimmed, you can really see the distinctive filaments of the old-style bulbs.

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  19. Jeez Jen, between you making it look easy and my mom willing to help with the assembly, I might start the new year with the new lamp I've been wanting!

    First I have to finish finding non flammable stuff for the frame....

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  20. I can't tell you how helpful this is! I have been searching for a pendant light just like this, but didn't want to spend the money and wasn't confident to make my own. But now I am thanks to you! Great tutorial.

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  21. In attaching these fine wires, I like to twist them to the right and then lightly tin them with solder. Bend the wire then in the direction that you will be screwing the screw. I believe this makes a stronger connection and not just squashing down the wires and give the screw something to bite into. I don't believe it causes any resistance with a light tinning. Good tutorial.

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  22. What Color wire did you use and what size and watt lightbulbs?

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    1. The wire was their silver gray color, and I *think* the lightbulbs are 40 watt, although they may be 60.

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  23. Any problems with the bulbs overheating being next to each other? I was thinking about trying this maybe 6 or 7 bulbs.

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    1. Not that I've ever heard of, and I've seen modern fixtures with up to 10 in a big bunch - but you might ask the electricians at your local hardware shop, just to be safe.

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  24. this is exactly what i've been looking for but wondering if you could wire them (3)together to one plug - that whole concept boggles my mind - not to mention my husband thinks i'm going to burn our camp down! - Marci

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  25. Jen, thanks, this is a great tutorial! I have a question: I'd like to use these the same way you did - to hang them above each nigthstand. I am affraid though that they will be too bright if I want to read and my husband wants to sleep (which happens all the time). I know lamps with shades are probably more appropriate, but these just look SO good! What has your experience been? Aren't these better lets say for kitchen or dining area as opposed to a bedroom where you want to have "dimmer" lights? Thanks!

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    1. You can actually wire these up with dimmer switches, Olga, which is what we did, and for exactly the same reason! It's great to turn them down to just a dim glow for reading or mood lighting.

      John installed our switches into the sides of our headboard, which is SUPER convenient, but you could also install them on the wall beside the headboard.

      Note that dimmer switches CAN be difficult or even dangerous to install yourself, so make sure you get someone with experience to do it, k? (If installed incorrectly, they can get dangerously hot inside the wall.)

      Or, even easier: you could use lower wattage bulbs, and/or install the sockets with switches on the side, so you can turn off all but one bulb for less light while reading.

      I hope one of those options work for you! Good luck!

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  26. Oh man, super bummed. I added the plug to the first one, tested it to make sure the light worked (it did!), then completed the other two. I then went to plug in another one and the light bulb sparked and went out -- and now, none of them will turn on. I know you gave the caveat of not being a professional electrician (and hey, turns out I'm not either ;) ) but I was sooooo cloooooose. Any ideas?!

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    1. Hi Kim, I'm going to say check your connections. A lot of the time, a bare wire in the fixture might be touching another piece of metal and that will short it out. Usually, you can open it up and you might even see some blackened metal. Just make sure, check and double check, that your wiring is clean. If you did get a short, you might have tripped a breaker so check that as well. Finally, check each light separately before hooking them all together. If you're still stuck, email us some pictures and we'll go from there. Good luck!

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  27. Hi Jen, Sorry if this shows up twice. I didn't see it post. Is there a way to make all three wires connect to one plug for a swag style pendant? Or, do you end up with three plugs? Thanks! Jeanne

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    1. Yes, you can absolutely connect all 3; that's what we did on ours. It's usually as simple as connecting each of the 3 pendant's side wires into the same wire nut, but double check with the electrical guy at your local hardware shop, just to be safe.

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  28. Is there a limit on the length of the wire for the pendant drop - I am needing 11' drop from a very high ceiling? This is a great option - thanks!!!

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    1. No, the distance of wire shouldn't be a factor unless it's a HUGE distance - as in hundreds of feet. A dozen or so feet is just fine.

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  29. wondering if this would be possible to make for outdoor lights?? Would the socket hold up in weather and would the cords last in the UV light? Most of the wiring will be enclosed in galvanized metal gas pipes which will be decorative.

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