Wiring a Light Socket

Wiring a light socket isn’t complicated. The problem is, you can do it wrong and the light will still work. But there is potential danger in wiring it incorrectly. We’ll explain how to safely wire a light socket.

  • Unplug the plug end of the cord, if that’s applicable. Turning off the switch is not enough. Unplug it. Neither end of the cord should be connected to anything.
  • Disassemble the new socket. There are too many types of sockets to cover every possibility, but your socket will have some protective sleeve (usually cardboard or plastic) over the screw base and connection screws. Remove that by sliding it off. There may also be one or more pieces which the wire must pass through to enter the socket, remove those as well. These could be an end cap on the socket, a strain relief for the wire, or other pieces. Be sure to note the order and orientation of these pieces as you remove them. Take a picture of the socket first if you’re concerned about getting it back together properly.
  • Slide any pieces of the socket over the wire which the wire will need to pass through before it’s attached to the socket. Pay attention to order and orientation.
  • Separate the two wires from each other for a couple of inches or so, you need to tie a knot with them to prevent the cord from being pulled out of the socket. The proper knot to use is called an Underwriter’s Knot. See the picture below.

 

Underwriters Knot

Use an Underwriter’s Knot to provide strain relief for the cord

 

  • Identify the neutral wire. Of the two insulated wires in your electrical cord, one of them will be marked in some manner so you can differentiate between them. The insulation on one wire may have a small ridge in it, or the insulation color may be different, or one may have a stripe on it, or the color of the wires themselves may be different.  The wire with the ridge, or stripe, or the white insulation, or the silver colored wire (if one is copper colored and one is silver colored) is the neutral wire. If they are both identical, and you have a multi-meter or continuity tester, it will be the one connected to the wider blade on the plug.
Identify the neutral wire

Identify the neutral wire

 

  • Strip your wire in preparation for wiring – see our article on that topic at the link
  • Assuming your light socket uses screw terminals, form a hook in the stripped part of each wire.  The open part of the hook will need to be on the right side of each screw when we screw them in.
  • Unscrew the two screw terminals in the socket. They should have a stop in them so you won’t remove the screw completely (unless you try real hard).
  • The wire you identified as the neutral wire gets wrapped around the neutral terminal screw. This is the silver screw if one is silver and one is brass colored. It is the screw which connects to the outside threaded part of the socket. Wrap the wire around it, and screw the terminal in tight on the wire. Be sure that none of the strands of the wire end up sticking out. It might help to use a small flat-tip screwdriver to push them back under the screw head as you tighten it. No little whiskers should protrude from underneath the screw. Also, you want the insulation to come up to the screw, but not go under it. You want no bare wire exposed, but if the insulation goes under the screw it won’t be able to tighten down on the bare wire.
  • Now connect the other wire (called the hot wire) to the other screw terminal.
  • Make sure both connections are tight and any bare wire cannot touch another part of the socket or the other wire.
  • Re-assemble the socket
  • If you do have a multi-meter or continuity tester, you can check the connection by putting one probe on the socket ring, and the other at the tip of the base. There should be no continuity. If there is, something is shorted somewhere, so don’t plug it in until you can identify it and get it fixed.