Antique Light Restoration Can Be a Long, Bumpy Road
Labor of love. Torture. Insanity.
It really does run the gamut when you restore antique lights.
I started Old West Coast Lighting Company in 2015 with little idea of what doing so would entail. All I knew was I loved old lights, and I thought it might be fun to work on them. I started with a pair of Harmony House ceramic sconces that I thought I could refurbish and sell to some other fellow antique light lover. Mercifully, that set was an easy fix.
As other light projects came and went, I certainly wasn't as lucky. Chandeliers with hooded sockets are some of the hardest to work on. Unsnapping and resnapping the socket housing in these covered enclosures makes me grind my teeth. Sometimes the sockets or hoods continue to twist when they shouldn't. Maybe the sockets on four of the chandelier's arms go smoothly and then that fifth arm and its socket that just won't cooperate.
Then there are the fixtures that are poorly designed. How in heaven's name did anyone think they'd be able to run wires through these too-tiny holes and secure a nest of wires in a too-tight space? I've had to grind out larger openings and try multiple ways of placing wire in its housing so the light can be reassembled. One chandelier in my inventory continues to languish as I still cannot figure out how old cloth wiring was pulled through its enclosed arms.
Finding replacements for broken or dilapidated pieces can be a real scavenger hunt as well. One of the best ways to find a needle in a haystack is at Grandbrass Light Parts. It has a great selection of reproduction items, and I get most of my replacement inventory there. But I also have a large collection of cast-off parts from real antiques that are pressed into service when needed.
All these examples I place in the insanity/torture column. I can't count the number of hours such lights burn up as I drop down the rabbit hole trying to make them beautiful and serviceable once again.
But let's get back to that labor of love part. Despite the time and frustration some of these antique lights present, I get a huge sense of satisfaction seeing their transformation.
Sometimes the lights I work on start off in pretty good shape. Their surface still looks nice and maybe all they need is a good cleaning, a few new parts and a rewire. Easy peasy.
But a lot of the lights I work on need major restoration. I suspect these lights may have been stored in some attic, barn or shed and, as a result, the elements have taken their toll. I've taken on some real buckets of rust and all that entails: gobs of dirt, frozen screws, broken socket stems, and a myriad of missing parts.
In these extreme cases, I take the light completely apart and sandblast each of its components. It is so cool when you find that most, if not all, of the piece is made of cast brass. Once all the old paint and dirt are gone, the piece is primered and repainted. Then the puzzle begins as I have to remember how to put the light back together. (A wide variety of photos are often a life-saver at this step!) I'll add new wiring and any other new parts the light may need. And with a little bit of luck, the light is returned to its former glory. I'm often amazed at how such sorry-looking hunks of metal can be brought back to life. Some of my favorites are those that started off looking the worst. Here's one: https://oldwestcoastlightingcompany.com/product/riddle/
I've decided to try to do a better job of including "before" pictures with some of the lights offered for sale. Only then can someone appreciate the long road of restoration many of these lights travel.
So, labor of love. Torture. Insanity. Despite it all, I think I'll land mostly on the labor of love side of things.
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