Lantern Light – Simple Vintage DIY Lighting
I’ve always wanted to use a vintage railroad lantern to make a lantern light. I’ve been searching for a good candidate lantern at a great price for some time. Unexpectedly, I recently had the opportunity to fix a lantern light for a family member who had built it decades ago. The light bulb isn’t visible in the finished project, so you don’t need an Edison bulb, but it’s a great vintage lantern light and it’s so super-simple I wanted to share it here.
Here’s the lantern. It has two sides which the light shines through. One is a plastic panel which I assume was put there to replace an original piece of glass. This gives off a diffused general area light. The second is the original glass lens which is very thick. This provides a focused spotlight effect, as well as a little ambient light.
The only tools and supplies I needed for this were a rivet gun with a couple of rivets, a drill, a pair of pliers, wire strippers, and a couple of wire nuts. All cheap, and mostly on-hand. I did have to buy a rivet gun and rivets. In researching rivet guns, I found the criteria for me were one that was well built enough to last, and had heads for multiple sizes rivets. This rivet gun from Amazon fit those criteria. Pick an assortment of rivets like these as well. The tool is inexpensive and rivets are easy to use, so there’s one more tool in my toolkit.
Refurbishing the Lantern Light
The side of the lantern light with the panel opens, and a metal tray slides out. This is where the original light source sat. I’m not sure if it was simply a candle or a more sophisticated kerosene burner of some type.
As you can see, a candelabra light bulb base is now attached to the tray. The one in the light when I got it was defective due to age. I replaced it with the one in the picture, which is identical to the one which was there before. The new candelabra base came with a straight post on it. I used the pliers to make a 90 degree bend in the post at the same point as was on the original one. I then drilled out the original rivets so I could remove the original base. I drilled two new holes in the new base and riveted it to the metal tray. It was important to use two rivets, because using just one would have allowed the base to rotate on the tray.
The bulb base may come with two wires affixed to it. On the lantern light, a hole had been punched in the side and a simple plastic electrical cord routed through it. I would have used a cloth covered cord, but in this case it’s not my light so I left it as is. Another concern I had was the sharp edges of the hole in the metal could cut through the cord, causing a short. When you route a cord through a hole, you need to think about possible wear on the cord. Using a rubber grommet, a few cents from the hardware store, is a wise idea. Another consideration is strain relief. If this gets carried around by the cord, there’s nothing keeping the cord from pulling right out of the lantern light. In this case, a simple knot tied in the cord inside the lantern seemed appropriate. It wouldn’t pass UL testing, but it’s better than nothing.
Once the power cord and bulb base are in place, it’s a matter of stripping the wires and connecting them with the wire nuts. The neutral wire in the power cord is indicated with a ridge on the insulation of that wire, and attaches to the white wire or outer ring of the socket.
Completing the Lantern Light
With everything connected, I slid the tray back into the lantern and replaced the bulb. The original bulb had a Sears brand name on it. I’m not sure if you can even buy Sears branded light bulbs anymore. It was burned out anyway, probably by the bad socket. I used a clear flame tip bulb like this one. A torpedo bulb like this would have been more appropriate, but flame tip is what I had on hand. When putting a light bulb in an enclosed space like this lantern light, you need to think about heat when you decide on a wattage. In this case, the lantern is already ventilated around the top and was designed and built to have some high heat source in it. I used a 25 watt bulb, which it turns out produces plenty of light in this case, and the lantern doesn’t get too hot to touch.
Here are a few pictures of the newly refurbished lantern light all lit up.
If you’ve made a lantern light, I would love to hear about it and see some pictures.