Monday, February 17, 2014

Glass Insulator pendant lights

I am so happy that Retro Renovation did a little story on my painted tile kitchen backsplash project that I blogged about last time. You can check out their site here A few people seemed interested in our glass insulator pendant lights that were seen in the photos. Also, I promised in my last blog post that I would talk about how they came to be.

When we bought our house the kitchen came with some pendant lights that we really didn't care for. There were four of them, of varying lengths. They didn't seem to be that old and were in good shape but were a little too cute for us. They had white, stained glass shades with an iridescent finish in a hexagon shape. The metal piece that covered the top of the shade also had a flowery scalloped edge.  They were the only lighting in the kitchen except for some under cabinet lights.  Here they are taken down and ready for Craigslist. You can see how they looked when they were still up on my last post about the painted backsplash.

I knew that we wanted something more vintage-retro modern.  Scouting around on Pinterest I saw some pendant lights made from old glass insulators. Love at first sight! First of all, I love glass since I am a mosaic artist. Secondly, the color! The insulators usually come in a lovely shade of aqua blue.  Thirdly, my father and grandfather have collected these kinds of insulators. I remember them lined up on a window sill at my grandparents farmhouse. I'd seen some insulators for sale on Craigslist so of course I had to make some. Glass insulators were used on telegraph lines.  They used to be found on telegraph lines along railroad tracks.

I would call this an advanced DIY project. You should consult an electrician.  Have your work checked and have the electrician install the lights.  You don't want to mess around with electricity.
I bought one insulator to test out how difficult it would be to drill a hole through the glass. I purchased it at a local place that dismantles old houses instead of demolishing them and salvages and resells the materials (Urban Miners in Hamden, CT). I noticed that they had a whole bucket of insulators so I could make the rest of the lights.

I bought a diamond bit for my drill in a hold size large enough for the light cord to fit through. I had checked out the pendant light kit from a home improvement big box store already. It's messy to drill through glass and potentially hazardous.  Safety glasses are a must. You do not want to get glass dust or a shard in your eyes. I did the drilling out in our garage. I put the insulator upside down, so the open end was at the top. I poured a little water into the insulator so that it would no overheat while I was drilling through the glass. I put a piece of scrap wood under the insulator to cushion it while I drilled, too. It takes patience and a steady speed. Even with the water the glass gets pretty hot and I had to stop a few times to let everything cool off. It probably took me 10-15 minutes to drill all the way through the glass and my hands had pins and needles for a while. But, success! I had one shade done!
I've read that you can use a drill press to make the hold but I don't have one and can't comment on that.

I drilled the rest of the shades and my husband and I got to work on the wiring. Like I mentioned before, the pendant kits can be purchased at a home improvement store. The kits are for standard sized bulbs, too big for the insulators. The space inside the insulator for the bulb is quite small so a candelabra bulb is the size we want. I bought four candelabra socket kits. Now comes the advance part. Remove the standard size bulb socket off the pendant kit and attach the candelabra socket to it. I followed the directions from this blog but I confess I had to read and reread it several times to really understand what I was supposed to do.  ttp://

Now, since these four pendant lights are the main lighting for our kitchen we needed them to be bright. At first I just put in some candelabra bulbs that we had lying around the house. They were bright enough but the bulbs stuck out from the bottom of the insulator shade quite a bit. I looked and looked for tiny, bright bulbs but came up with nada. We found some halogen bulbs online that were super tiny but also very, very hot. Halogen bulbs give off a ton of heat. They were also very expensive. They seemed to work great at first but one of my insulator shades cracked due to the fact that the cord was a bit crooked and the super hot bulb was too close to one side of the shade.  *sad face*. We ended up taking out all of the halogens and went back to the regular candelabra bulbs. I've gotten used to seeing the ends of the bulbs and the overall effect of the pendant lights is nice. The blue color goes so well with my painted backsplash and at night there is a cool band of aqua light that gets spread along the ceiling.

My dad says he wants me to make him some insulator pendant lights for his kitchen. They probably remind him of his old collection.


  1. Oh my! Those pendants are absolutely gorgeous. You transformed those overly simple lamps into something chic and cool, which are perfect if one has flair for a mix of retro and modern. Thank you for sharing that DIY feat, as well as the link for the instructions. I hope you're having a great autumn season.

    Eleanor Roy @ Douthit Electrical

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