Repurposing an Antique Heat Lamp into a Cool Desk Lamp.

Repurposing an Antique Heat Lamp into a Cool Desk Lamp.

Antique and Vintage Heat Lamps – A repurposing dream

In the early part of the 20th Century right through to the mid-century period heat lamps (sometimes called health lamps) became hugely popular. There were infrared lamps, heat lamps and combination lamps. These old lamps were of dubious benefit to the user but they were hugely popular in the days before advanced pain killers and medicated rubs and gels.

As a kid, I can remember my great aunt sitting in front of a heat lamp which she used to help with her backache.
Some of these early century lamps were really well made and were built in a period when plastic and cutting corners were not involved in manufacturing. For a number of years now second-hand Vintage and Antique heat lamps have been selling well online both as restoration projects and as already restored table lamps or desk lamps.
There is no doubt that these old and unusual desk lamps have a lot going for them in terms of design, style and relative ease of conversion into a working vintage desk lamp.

Below are details of a project that I recently carried out to produce and unusual desk lamp from a long-forgotten Antique heat lamp.

The Project.

I recently received a call from a contact who had come across some interesting bits and pieces whilst clearing “rubbish” from an old forgotten garage. Much to my delight, he had found a really old early 20th-century heat lamp that had sat untouched and unloved for decades in a dry old garage.
The lamp dated from around the 1930s period, it is beautifully made and is entirely metal in its construction. The base of the lamp is made from cast iron with a three-footed base that has scalloped edges with moulded borders. The wonderful shade is a beaten round copper dish with a hammered snakeskin pattern. The link between the base and shade is made from wrought steel with its original thumb nut adjuster, the lamp was even found with its original wire heat guard and its rubber wiring grommet.
It’s a great looking and well made old heat lamp, the most amazing aspect of this find was its condition, the lamp had not been polished, painted or restored, it was found to be in excellent original condition and was just a bit dirty and sticky!

Here are some images of the heat lamp as found.

The first place to start with something like this is to strip it into its component pieces, the lamp was really well made and was held together with small nuts and bolts. The copper shade was made of a quite thin gauge metal with a fully rolled edge to add stiffness. The base was solid and had its original black painted finish that looked to be 99% perfect.

This lamp had a large ceramic insert with a two-pronged fitting, the ceramics were wrapped in wire that would generate electrical resistance heating when plugged into the mains, these wires would glow red which explains the heat guard!

This old ceramic fitting was discarded which left two round holes in the middle of the lovely copper bowl.
The first job was to make a hole dead centre of the bowl to accept a short length of threaded lighting tube onto which the new lamp holder would mount. This hole was difficult to make with a drill due to the thinness of the copper so the hole was filed out using small engineering files.

The next task was to fit the new lamp holder and wiring, the lamp holder was screwed to the threaded rod and onto the shade, the copper shade was strengthened at the fixing point by adding two more modern heavy brass and steel washers once fitted and tightened the shade was solid and ready for mounting back onto the base.

Note – If you are carrying out a rewiring project like this there are a few important points to remember and to incorporate into your project.
• Make sure you use components that meet the safety standards in your country (buy new)
• In the UK earthed (grounded) wiring must be used with metal components.
• Make sure the wiring route avoids sharp edges and use plastic grommets for cable protection.
• Incorporate a cord grip or cable-stay to avoid loose and unsafe connections at the lamp holder in the event of the wiring is pulled sharply or the lamp dropped.

The shade was then mounted back onto the base, this was done using the original small imperial nuts and bolts, the shade and mounting plate had both been formed and adjusted to match when the lamp was built, another sign of the hand made nature of items from that era.

Here is an image of the lamp rebuilt but uncleaned.

The final task is to carry out a thorough clean and polish. This finish of this old heat lamp is wonderful, the finish is original, it has never been repainted or polished and as such it has a great degree of even copper tarnish that has taken decades to develop. If the shade was to be polished this aged look would be lost forever.
The lamp was cleaned using a modern cleaning oil. The heat guard was given a fine burnish with wire wool to remove slight surface corrosion.
Finally, the lamp was sealed and protected with wax. I use a top-quality wax for this purpose which is called “Renaissance Micro Crystalline Wax Polish” – This is the best wax finish for such a project as it cleans, protects and brings out texture and colour from any material, it is used and recommended by top museums. It is expensive but a little goes a long way and it is definitely worth the cost.

Here are some images of the cleaned, waxed and completed new and unusual desk lamp, there may be others that are similar but this is really a one-off piece of Antique desk or tabletop lighting.

The lamp repurposing is now complete. 

In use the aged patina of the Antique Copper really glows.

I hope you like this new lamp repurposing project, I am very pleased with the result and the way the new desk lamp looks so fresh and original.

If you fancy giving something like this a go I can highly recommend it, these old heat lamps were designed to be connected to the mains making them one of the easier conversions to carry out.

Materials – Fine wire wool. Cleaning and Finishing Wax. Earthed Wiring. Earthed Brass bulb holder. Inline switch. Brass threaded tubes. Various wiring sundries.

Time Spent on the lamp – 2 Hours.

I often have a number of Vintage Industrial items for sale in my eBay shop here – Hertfordshire Lighting and Design

I would love to hear from anyone who has performed a similar repurpose project; it’s always great to share ideas with other people.

If you have any questions or need advice on any item of Vintage lighting please contact me and I will do my best to help.
Michael Adkins.


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10 thoughts on “Repurposing an Antique Heat Lamp into a Cool Desk Lamp.

  1. Thanks for this article! I really like antique things, and repurposing them just increases their life span. This is a very interesting project. To bad i don’t have a heat lamp. Otherwise i would definitely made something out of it.
    Great content, keep it up.

    1. Hi There – Thank you for the comment. You are right that the life of these great old objects is extended – Antiques and Repurposing are “Green” which is another bonus in todays throw away society. Mike

  2. Hi Mike,
    Wow, what a great project. I have a lot of respect for people like you who restore vintage and antique items. I love seeing the end result. Personally, I’m not an expert in antique items but I do like to watch restoration type videos because I find it satisfying watching them bring back the life in items. Thanks again for this comprehensive article and sharing your restoration story.

    1. Thank you,
      It is a very satisfying thing to do, especially when you are dealing with something that was made with care and skill many years before.
      It does take time but is worth the effort.

      Thanks again – Mike

  3. Wow! The final result of the lamp really looks so cool and just amazing. I really respect you for restoring life back to the lamp as you have successfully expanded its life span. I like antiques and when they are being reworked on, it makes it much more better as you’ve done with the lamp. Unfortunately, we do not own a heat lamp at home but my friend’s mum own one and I will definitely help them rework it. Great post. Thumbs up!

    1. Thank you for the nice comments. Expanding the lifespan of something is very satisfying, it does make something unique and environmentally positive. As an Antique dealer friend of mine says “Antiques are Green” – Regards Mike

  4. Your post is very unique I have never come across a website like you that teaches about antique heat lamp, I love learning new things I find your website interesting, presently am novice at antique heat lamp but I would love you to also make video on YouTube in how to do that. I have friends who love trying new things out I will be sharing your post on my social media.

    1. Hi There – Thank you for the nice message. I think it would make a great video subject as it is fairly simple and easy to follow. Thank you for sharing. Kind Regards Mike

  5. I have literally just bought one of these on EBay.
    I’m an electrician so it’s a nice easy project for me.
    I plan on using a fancy looking filament lamp so it will look amazing!!!
    Did you sell yours? If you did can I ask you how much it fetched???

    1. Hi Tom,
      These old lamps are great projects, the base lamp comes up really well when they are finished and properly wired. I agree that the filament style bulbs do add to the look.

      Yes i sold the light – I will reply by email regarding that aspect.
      Kind Regards

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