help me fix my three way… lamp.
February 19, 2014 2:24 PM   Subscribe

we have a three way floor lamp (you know, the one that goes low, medium, high as far as light intensity, and requires the special bulb) in our bedroom. recently, the switch seems to have gone wonky, and only offers low, and, if we twist the knob only a certain amount, high. while we've learned the trick to make it work, and it's not like it's hard, i'm starting to get pretty annoyed with the fact that this isn't working anymore. it was not a crazy expensive lamp, but it also was not cheap, and i like that lamp, and i don't want a different one. i assume the problem is in the socket itself. can someone who hasn't tinkered with electronics since she was a teenager (and that was mostly to take stuff apart to see how it worked) but worked as a mac tech as an adult change out the socket pretty easily, or is this something i need to leave to the professionals?
posted by koroshiya to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
The first thing I would do is try a new lightbulb.
posted by amro at 2:36 PM on February 19, 2014

Check the lightbulb - these types of bulbs have multiple filaments, and when one burns out the lamp will still work, but it'll be missing intensities.
posted by augustimagination at 2:42 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can buy a three-way lamp socket and replace the broken one in your lamp. They're inexpensive ($3-$5 or so) and the replacement process requires nothing fancier than a screwdriver. Takes about five minutes.

It's not an electronics thing, it's straight up electrics. You just pull the old socket up to expose the wires (unplug the lamp first, naturally), pop it open either by unscrewing it or prying apart the crimping depending on how it's put together, loosen a couple of screws to let you pull the wires out, and then reverse the process with the new socket that you bought at the hardware store. It's simple enough to do that you could probably figure it out on your own just by poking at it with a screwdriver.
posted by Scientist at 2:45 PM on February 19, 2014

i guess i should have mentioned - i tried two different new light bulbs and the problem persists.
posted by koroshiya at 2:46 PM on February 19, 2014

Usually the 3-way bulbs have a low element and a medium element, and then just turn them both on for high, and what is being described does not seem like an element burning out (if so it would be low-off-low or off-medium-medium)

I would suspect the switch is getting worn rather than the socket. See if you can get the switch out and take it to a hardware store and ask them to find a replacement.
posted by ckape at 2:47 PM on February 19, 2014

Also, in response to what the commenters before me said, a three-way bulb with one dead filament won't go to its highest brightness. It will only have the low or medium setting. Three-way bulbs work by having two filaments, one low-wattage and one high-wattage. As the switch is turned, it goes from low-watt filament, to medium-watt filament, to both filaments, to off. One burnt out filament will give you either low-off-low-off or off-medium-medium-off, depending on which one is still good. There's no way you'd get low-off-high-off with only one filament, because the high brightness setting requires both filaments to be on. Also you wouldn't have the weird thing where you can only get one of the brightness settings by carefully balancing the knob between two clicks; that's a classic symptom of a bad socket.
posted by Scientist at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2014

Oh and the switch and the socket on a three-way lamp are generally a single unit. I assume we're dealing with a normal socket where the switch is just a little knob that sticks out just below the bulb and which you turn with your fingers; that's what you normally get on non-fancy three-way lamps. The switch is not meant to be replaced separately from the socket, you just buy the whole unit. Like I said, it costs about three to five bucks and takes five minutes and a screwdriver to swap out.
posted by Scientist at 2:50 PM on February 19, 2014

I have never owned one of these lamps that the switch didn't go bad on. In fact, the lamp i have in my living room right now has one of these switches and it's wonky.

I changed the socket+switch combo unit out on one of these when i was in the upper single digit age range, under the newspaper-reading supervision of my dad. It's basically just unscrew the plastic retaining clip at the top if there is one, or slide off a plastic sleeve below the switch, snap and slide or twist apart the socket, undo two screws, reverse with new socket.

Anything you've done as a mac technician that wasn't change out the battery on an older macbook would be more complicated. It's more technically annoying to change out the hard drive in a unibody macbook, for instance.

You should only need a single tool, a phillips screwdriver.
posted by emptythought at 2:56 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

awesome. thanks, everyone! i will give it a shot.
posted by koroshiya at 3:36 PM on February 19, 2014

Good luck!

Like emptythought said, those switches go bad all the time. Most people never discover how easy and cheap they are to replace though (since most folks find anything involving household electrical current rather intimidating, having had it drilled into their heads since toddlerhood that messing around with electrical stuff will mean instant twitching death) and many perfectly nice lamps are thrown away due to nothing more than a bad switch! (Most of my own lamps were found on the sidewalk with that exact problem.)

I feel like learning to repair lamps this way is one of the first initiations into the secret society of People Who Fix Stuff (Rather Than Throw It Out). Strike a blow against disposable culture, sister!
posted by Scientist at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2014

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