Building an Ox Yoke Light from Found Vintage Materials
This simple project is built mostly from materials picked up at antique stores and flea markets. It makes a great light over a sink, dining table, or backyard island. It’s easy to put together and adds a very cool vintage touch to the atmosphere.
As I was browsing through antique stores, I started to notice a number of old yokes, like those pulled by an ox, horse, or donkey in farming work. They’re built using metal hardware and wooden bodies. The metal usually has a nice rusty patina and the wood is weathered by time. I can’t imagine how hard it was to farm with these. Maybe that’s where the saying “a tough row to hoe” came from? I can imagine, however, a great light fixture using one of these.
So the first piece you need for your ox yoke light is – an ox yoke. Or any yoke, it doesn’t matter who pulled it in it’s previous life.
Hanging bare bulbs from the end of the yoke would work, but I thought the piece needed something to make it more substantial. I wanted it to be prominent, and not just be invisible in the scene and provide light. Another object from the past I really like is the old enamel gas station outdoor light shade. These represent the attention to detail which has largely disappeared from modern workmanship. Modern outdoor lights have cages, or nothing aside from the housing and lens for the light bulb. Back in the day, I guess they decided a light should look like a light, and they spent the extra time and money to make it look like one by adding an enameled metal shade. It’s both functional in reflecting the light downward, and a design element.
I decided to add a couple of these old outdoor enamel light shades to the project. They add some color, and some mass. They transform this project from a fragile looking bulb-on-a-wire to a serious light fixture. If you’re too busy or can’t find these, you can sometimes buy replica porcelain enamel shades in black and green on Amazon. If they don’t have them when you’re looking, you can try a search for vintage outdoor light shade to find something which will work.
For safety reasons, I generally don’t use vintage electrical parts. I use replicas which are manufactured with modern safety concerns in mind. Old wires with frayed insulation, and light sockets which are heavily oxidized can cause sparks, and sparks can start fires. I highly recommend using new electrical parts in your lighting projects. You can find ones made to look vintage so you don’t have to use some tacky white extension cord or new brass colored light sockets to mar your project’s appearance.
Since the wires would be visible on this project, I decided on red twisted pair wire. If it’s going to be visible, it made sense to make it a design element. The particular yoke I used had some red paint on it, beneath a layer of green paint. The red wire would tie in well with the red in the yoke. A brown wire would work as well, but I thought it may come off as a poor attempt at a camouflage job. You can buy 25 foot lengths of twisted pair cloth covered electrical wire in Black, Red, and Brown.
Aside from wires, I purchased light sockets which were large enough that they would not pass through the holes in the tops of the shades. The socket itself will hold the shade up.
To assemble the fixture I simply wired up the sockets (How to wire sockets), and ran the wire through the shades. Then I wrapped each wire on each end of the yoke so that it would support the shade and socket. I routed the wire around the yoke and through the center ring. The fixture is ready to hang.
To hang it, simply attach the chain to the yoke’s center ring and to a hook mounted in the ceiling near the electrical junction box. Route the wires through the canopy cover. Connect both neutral wires (one from each light) to the neutral wire from the junction box, and likewise with the hot wire. Attach the canopy to the box, and installation is complete.
To make a plug version of the same light, you need longer wire as it has to reach from the ceiling to the floor and then to the nearest outlet. Aside from longer wire and a plug, everything else is the same.
Now, it needs bulbs. The fixture is big enough, it needs some bulky bulbs, so I decided to go with 60 watt globe shaped Edison bulbs.
All in, this project takes maybe an hour after you’ve got the materials and makes a huge and lasting difference in your decor.