What’s in a Socket?

Electrical lamp sockets from Sundial Wire

One of the things we realized early on was the fact that when people were replacing the electrical wire on their lamps they often needed a good socket as well. Since all sockets are not created equal we thought we’d give a short primer of the different types of sockets and their various components.

What is it made of and are there different finishes?

Metal lamp sockets come in three basic weights which are based on the underlying metal – heavy (cast brass), mid-weight (solid brass) or light-weight (aluminum). Most of the metal sockets we carry are in the first two weight categories as we’ve found them to be the best performers. For people who are looking for retro Bakelite style sockets, we also stock phenolic sockets which have the look and feel of Bakelite.

Metal sockets come with a variety of finishes on the exterior, including nickel, dark antique brass (or bronze), black, and brass. The finish on the side-exit sockets is slightly different, due to the underlying metal, but comes with a similar selection of finishes. Cast sockets also come in both non-threaded and UNO threaded variations (see description of UNO threading below).

Cast brass sockets from Sundial Wire


How does it turn on?

While we don’t offer the clapper to turn your lamps on and off, there are several other ways to light your lamps.

  1. Traditional on/off sockets as well as dimmer-knob sockets. The first clicks on and off, while the second smoothly rolls from low light through brighter light levels. Their insides are quite different, but they look identical from the outside.

On-off light sockets

2. Pull-chain sockets have a metal beaded chain which, when pulled, turns the lamp on or off (see below left). Push-through sockets come in side-exit sockets as well as some of our Bakelite look-alike sockets (see below right).

Pull chain and push through sockets

3. For pendant lights or other lights which have a different on/off system all-together (often a wall or cord switch) and are typically used in hanging light fixtures there are keyless sockets. These come in all finishes in cast, solid, and Bakelite, with UNO threading and without.

keyless sockets


4. If the electrical wire cannot run through the body of a lamp there are also side cord exit sockets, where the wire comes out of the socket in a hole on the side of the socket instead of through the bottom of the socket.

Side exit light socket

What is UNO?

We know you’re asking, what is UNO?  UNO is standard threading for lamp parts that has been around for a very long time.  You can use it by screwing a shade with UNO threads directly onto the socket, by screwing a UNO shade holder onto the socket and securing a shade to the shade holder (as shown below), or by putting a shade on the socket and supporting it with a UNO ring that fits on the threads.

How Do You Wire These Up?

Interested in learning how to wire a socket? Check out our socket wiring instructions here.

Helpful Tip

Finally, a handy tip for you regarding solid sockets. Have you ever have trouble getting the pieces apart on a socket that fits together by tension (like solid and side-exit sockets)?  We do, so we came up with an ingenious technique to solve this problem:

No, that’s not some weird, tiny lampshade, it’s a rubber jar opener (available on Amazon). You may be able to use the flat rubber kind of jar opener for this task, but we find this conical kind is amazingly effective. Simply grip the cap of the socket with the jar opener and twist or pull or do both at the same time. A socket that was seemingly impossible to get apart comes apart easily with no prying or scratching on the socket.

Do you have a favorite socket we didn’t mention? Please tell us about it in the comment section below.

Photos by Sundial Wire
Simpson GIF courtesy of Giphy

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