On the lighter side: lamp repair involves a shade of devotion

SATURDAY'S HEROES

February 20, 1993|By ROB KASPER

I fixed a lamp. This brought my attempted lamp repair average to about .250. One out of every four lamps that goes under my screwdriver survives. While this is not an average that will propel me into the ranks of the professional lamp repair persons, it is an improvement.

The lamp I fixed was a guy lamp. In our house there are guy lamps and gal lamps. The easiest way to tell the difference is to note where they hang out.

The gal lamps, named in honor of their purchaser and protector, are in the living room. It has the clean couch, the chairs with matching legs. And it has lamps that, I have been told, have "a sense of style." This means they have pastel colors and break easily.

The guy lamps, also named for their purchaser and protector, can be found in the distant corners of the home. They have, I have been told, "no sense of style."

Maybe so. But they give out a lot of light. And they are tough.

The lamp I fixed, for instance, looks much as it did 10 years ago when it entered the house. That probably has something to do with why it is banished to the third floor. It is brassy, has a crooked neck, packs a three-way light bulb and sports a circular shade. Unlike so many of those "tasteful" lampshades, this shade can take a licking and bounce back.

This lamp began its career in the living room. But as has happened to other lamps of my liking, this one was relocated. After a short stay in the living room, it appeared in the family room. There it served with distinction for several years until it was moved, yet again, to the third-floor bedroom of the youngest child.

Not every lamp can serve in a child's bedroom. The demands are great. It gives illumination for endless story readings. Its constant glow provides a beacon of reassurance to a suddenly awakened child. It is the family version of the perpetual flame.

When I noticed that this old trooper was in need of repair, I acted quickly. The lamp gave no sign that things weren't right. It kept doing its job, even though its socket was dangling from the neck by two wires.

How that happened to the lamp was not clear. It could have been felled by a flying pillow, or struck by an airborne shoe, or brought down by a wrestler tossed from a nearby bed. These were the hazards of working in a kid's bedroom.

I unplugged the lamp and took it down to my basement workshop. I knew that if you leave a broken lamp sitting around for very long, it can quickly fall from favor. The longer the lamp sits idle, the easier it is for you to forget about its glorious days as a household fixture and to think of it merely as a source of spare parts.

I unscrewed the lampshade from the socket and stared. A small piece of the socket that joined it to the neck of the lamp had been snapped in half. The socket had to be removed and replaced.

I unscrewed a small set screw at the base of the socket. While the socket appeared to be in one piece, like a unitard, it was actually a two-piece outfit. The top and bottom pieces would come apart if I applied pressure to the place on the socket marked "press," while twisting and pulling. I never did find the official "press" point, but I improvised and got the job done.

Next I pulled away the cardboard insulating sleeve and saw the two screws that the ends of the wire were connected to. I loosened the screws and jiggled and tugged the socket loose.

Then I did a very smart thing. I put all these socket parts in a small plastic bag and carried them with me to the electrical parts supply store.

Lamp sockets are common. But the kind that allows the lampshade to be screwed into it is not so common. That is what the clerk at the parts supply store told me. It took him 10 minutes of searching through his stock to find the kind of socket I wanted. The quest proved to be so difficult that I got the feeling that if I had not taken the old socket along for comparison, the new socket would not have been found.

Back home I put the new socket in, attaching the brass screw in the socket to the wire with a smooth covering and the silver screw to the rough-textured wire. This, I had read, "preserves polarity." I was not sure what that meant. But when I plugged in the cord and turned the switch, the lamp did not go "poof!" When the lamp goes "poof," your polarity is unpreserved.

I put everything back together, and returned the lamp to its post. No one else in the family seemed to care, but I felt proud I had done a good deed for one of my own, for one of the lamps of my life.

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