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Ideas from Ed: Fixture fix (Volume 7, Issue 3)

It wasn’t all that long ago that I tore down a suspended ceiling and fluorescent lighting in a very old house, and this is what greeted me where an original ceiling light would have been:


As in many homes that are about a hundred years old, electrical wiring was run in the same wall/ceiling/floor cavities as were gas lines.  I’ve been puzzling for a while on just what to do to enable me to install a modern (but historic in appearance) ceiling fixture.  Probably the gas line could be unscrewed, or maybe I could find some type of light that had a large enough “bell” shape at the ceiling to cover things.  Still, that didn’t leave me any good way of attaching and anchoring things.  (By the way, of note is that this wiring is done the “old way” where power goes through the fixture before it goes to the on/off switch.  Flipping the switch to “off” does nothing at the ceiling, as the wiring is still “hot,” so the breaker needs to be turned off before making any connections.  I always understood that was so that if a short was to develop on the “downhill” side of the circuit, no fuse/breaker would pop – the light would just turn “on” to indicate the problem.  This is NOT how new wiring should be done!)


Sometimes I know just what I’m doing when I tackle a project.  At other times, I kind of just “figure things out” as I go along.  This project is definitely the latter.  I reasoned that most ceiling lights nowadays attach using some type of bracket that screws into/onto a “work box” of metal or plastic.  It occurred to me to try to incorporate an octagon box “extension” which has no “back” to it, meaning that it could go OVER the gas line stub without interference.  Here’s what one looks like:

I went to my trusty stash of lighting odds and ends (you do have one, don’t you?) and looked through them to find a bracket that would fit onto this box and have a center threaded hole like many modern lights require.  Here’s some of my stash, and the selected bracket:

My plan was to build a “shell” that would fit over the existing circle of wood and the stub of the gas line, house the octagon box and bracket, and permit an easy install of a new light.  I carefully measured everything, and then cut out a thick circle with a radius roughly 3/8 of an inch larger than the wood circle on the ceiling.  I also marked a circle on that piece with a radius about 1/8 inch larger than the ceiling piece.  I cut the outer circle on my bandsaw, and the inner circle on a scroll saw, leaving a “loop” of wood.

I used a thinner piece to make a “cap” and then made a cutout with the scroll saw to accommodate the octagon box.

I glued the cap onto the rim piece and sanded it smooth.  Then I rounded over the edge using a shaping bit in my router.

I gave things a test fit.

While studying how it looked, I tried to figure out a way to attach it securely without any visible screws.  I’m also a bit of a perfectionist about having the box flush with the bottom surface of this cover.  What I came up with was to cut a second circle of thinner wood, cut another octagon box hole in it, and drill through four corners of the box so that it could be screwed to this second piece.  I could then locate the box precisely once the whole unit was slipped into the outer shell.  (I did need a very thin shim on a corner so the box would end up exactly flush with the cover.)


I screwed the inner plate/box combination to the shell.  Now by running two screws up through the octagon box mounting tabs into the ceiling circle of wood, I could pull the whole unit tight to the ceiling.

Attaching it went as planned, and I ran a bead of caulk around the edge where it met the ceiling.  Here it is, ready to paint…


After 2 coats of primer (that’s what I use for final ceiling paint), I couldn’t resist putting up a fixture that I had, even if it’s not the one that will eventually be there.  I think it came out very well!

I hope all your projects go well.  Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!




If you’d like to download a PDF of this “Ideas” column, click here:

Ideas from Ed 2024_May_Fixture_fix
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