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hpr3787 :: It shouldn't crackle like that

Rho`n describes fixing the wiring to a ceramic Christmas tree

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Hosted by Rho`n on 2023-02-07 is flagged as Clean and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.
Christmas, electrical, safety.
Listen in ogg, spx, or mp3 format. | Comments (0).

general.

Synopsis

The Friday before Christmas, my partner's mother called and asked if I had a short indoor extension cord she could borrow. When I arrived at her house, she showed me her display of ceramic Christmas trees for which she needed the extension cord. These decorations have two pieces. A base which holds a small light bulb, and then the tree which sits over the light and has translucent colored plastic 'Christmas lights' which are illuminated by the light bulb inside the tree. There were four ceramic trees of varying heights—from 14" (~36 cm) to 6" (~15 cm) tall. While helping to arrange each of the trees electrical cords and plugging them into the extension cable, one of the trees wouldn't stay lit. If you turned the base or moved the cord it would light back up, but then go out once you took pressure off the cord. I could also hear crackling at times when moving the cord—not a sound you want to hear in an electric ornament.

After separating the pieces and turning over the base, I could see not only the sparks, but why it was sparking. At some point, one of wires had come lose from the light socket and was taped back in place with what looks like duct tape. The ornament was made in the 1950s. I'm not sure when the repair was made. It is an ornament that has been passed through the family over the years. The plastic which held the wire in place had failed over the years, and the tape was also failing from the electric sparks that would occur when the wire was moved around. You could see burn marks on the tape around the wire.

At first I thought I may be able to fix the side with the bad wiring. Maybe solder the wire onto the socket to give it a good electrical connection, and then use electrical tape to cover the hole where the socket casing had failed, but in the process of taking the wire out and removing all the old duct tape, the socket's electrical contact fell apart. This was for the best, the whole socket needed replacing, but I wasn't sure I could find a replacement socket that would fit through the hole in the ceramic base.

While doing my last minute Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve, I stopped at one of the big box hardware stores to browse the electrical section and see if I could find a replacement socket that might work. Of course I hadn't brought either the old socket or the light bulb, but I found a small rack with replacement sockets that looked like it might work. The candelabra style socket replacement looked like the correct size—for both the light bulb and the hole in the base of the ornament.

Once I was home, I tested the fit of the light bulb, and the socket was the correct size. It was just a little to big for the hole in the base, but I was hoping I could just grind off some of the raised plastic lettering and maybe a little off the sides of the socket here and there to get it to fit in the base. I was leery of using my Dremel tool to make the hole bigger in the ceramic base. I didn't want it to crack or chip the finish. I ended up doing both. Grinding down some of the plastic on the replacement socket and grinding out the hole in the ceramic base.

A bit of electrical tape wrapped around the new socket created a snug fit between the hole in the ornament's base and the socket. I then hot glued the socket to the inside of the base to provide extra stability. Next step was attaching the old cord to the new socket. The cord was in good shape except where it was connected to the old socket. I evened up the end of the cord, then stripped it, and then connected the cord to the new socket with wire nuts.

After flipping over the base and screwing in the light bulb, I tested the repair. Success!

Top view of old light socket
Top view of old light socket
Side view of old light socket
Side view of old light socket showing extent of damage where the cord was attached.
Original cord
Original cord after removing it from old light socket.
New candelabra style light socket.
New candelabra style light socket with raised plastic lettering removed by Dremel.
Side view of new socket
New socket showing more shaping done with the Dremel.
New wiring in base of ceramic ornament
New wiring in tucked into base of ornament. Wire nuts used to connect old cord to new socket.
Top view of ceramic base with light bulb screwed into new socket
New socket installed in base with the light bulb screwed in.
Lighted ceramic tree ornament
Ceramic tree lit up after completed repair.

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