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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thoughts and lessons learned on the chandelier project


What an incredible project this turned out to be!  First, the fabulous find in a local antique store, followed by several weeks of just studying how the chandelier was put together, strategizing, dismantling, cleaning, rewiring, rebuilding and finally getting it hung in its new home. It was a fun project and we would definitely do again. In fact we have a line on another that is sitting in someone's garage.

To tackle a project like this you need several things: 

  • patience
  • a basic knowledge of lamp wiring, a friend that has more knowledge than you and Google for questions that come up along the way
  • a strategic mind and knack for organization
  • an ability to work with small parts and pieces with the manual dexterity to wire them together
  • a tall, strong person with electrical knowledge to help hang the finished product 
  • a love of reusing or repurposing broken, worn out or old things
Oh, and a love of puzzles is critical.

How we did it

We have rewired lamps and a simple chandelier before, but had never attempted a project of this scale. A total of 344 pieces had to be removed without breaking (or losing), cleaned, sorted and stored while the frame was restored and rewired. This is where the strategic thinking and organizational skills came in. We studied the chandelier for several weeks, took at least a hundred pictures, and came up with a plan before we took anything apart.

For information about the history or what the chandelier originally looked like we visited antique and antique lamp repair shops and talked to the experts. We also did a lot of trolling the Internet for photos, information, history and purchasing parts.

I found 24x36 heavy paper at the local art supply store that proved invaluable. Drawing a template as we removed all the parts made the project doable because it allowed us to  catalog everything and give us a plan for reassembling. I'd also like to give credit to the Ziploc storage containers that kept the parts safely in usable chunks.

The first arm of the chandelier I cleaned with dish detergent and a toothbrush. It was a lot of work and the pieces didn't get as clean as I had hoped. So, onto the Google to find out how to clean soot covered glass. The answer is -- soak in an ammonia solution and the soot dissolves in seconds, with no hard work at all.

Re-pinning the crystals and pinning the flat crystals and rosettes to the frame renewed my wire wrapping and jewelry skills that had gotten rusty. I was a pleasant surprise how quickly the skills came back.

The holes in the frame that the electrical wires had to go through to be merged were too small for the plastic insulated lamp wire to wire each candle individually. We rewired each arm in series. The original wiring was done because of this. When we finished and plugged the chandelier in to test we found that with incandescent bulbs the individual lights were only getting half the power they needed. Our solution, rather than taking everything apart and rewiring, was to use LED bulbs. Brilliant solution as they require so much less electricity and pass more electricity onto the second bulb in the chain. If we do another project like this we will not wire in series.

We were going for more of a preservation rather than restoration approach for bringing the chandelier back to life. One thing I would do differently next time is re-silver the metal cups that cover the wires and the center candle as I did with the frame. I may do it sometime in the future if it bothers me too much. It was a conscious decision not to silver them, but after seeing the chandelier in all its gloriousness and turning out much better than we ever expected, it somewhat detracts from the overall effect.

We did not use the crystals that came with it for two reasons. One was that there were only 27 and we needed 32 for the bobeches and with a lot of Internet searching we couldn't find any to match. The other reason was that we didn't think they matched the style of the chandelier very well.

You may notice that one of the candles is quite crooked. We did not attempt to straighten it for fear of breaking the metal frame. We were discussing with our very talented son who said we possibly could have heated it up to soften it and then try to straighten, but even that would have been risky. Shorter candles may have hidden the defect somewhat but we weren't willing to rewire at the time.

All in all we are very happy with the job we did and smile every time we walk into the room and see it sparkle.

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