Need a hand tool to extract a threaded flashlight bulb base.
April 25, 2016 11:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for needle nose pliers that work in the opposite direction of regular needle nose pliers.

I have this old school flashlight (aka torch) in which the bulb burned out. I opened the front of the flashlight to unscrew the burned out bulb so I could replace it, but the glass bulb merely disintegrated in my fingers.

I took a pair of needle nose pliers to the center of the bulb in the hopes that I could find something in the bulb base to grip on to, but I merely ended up pulling all of the guts of the bulb base out.

Is there a needle nose tool that acts in the opposite way of regular needle nose pliers? Ideally, I'd like a needle nose tool made out of steel, preferably, that will expand (rather than compress) to firmly grip the metal wall of the bulb's cylinder as I press the handles together so I can then unscrew the base and put in a replacement. (I'm thinking an LED, of course.)

Any ideas or suggestions, people of the hive mind?

Many thanks in advance.

Rick aka Nifty
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
Have you tried balling up a wad of duct tape, pressing it against the inside of the bulb base, then pressing and twisting?
posted by strangecargo at 12:04 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Plug the base with glue or epoxy, with along with a screw or a lump of metal you can grip with pliers, then twist it out?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:09 AM on April 26, 2016

I've torn bulbs like this, and tried various ways of inside-out plier tricks. The problem is that it presses the cup against the side of the socket, making it harder to turn. I had to use needle nose pliers to pry the edge of the threaded metal cup away from the side of the socket, then grab the bent metal edge and kinda turn it. I wish I had thought of the duct tape thing, though.
posted by rhizome at 12:09 AM on April 26, 2016 [13 favorites]

rhizome: "The problem is that it presses the cup against the side of the socket, making it harder to turn."


I've had most success with filling the base with hot glue & jamming slightly opened needle-nosed pliers into it when set. This has worked even on old radios where the bulb is frozen with age into a helical coil thread that tries to tighten as it's unscrewed.
posted by Pinback at 12:34 AM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Grabbing the rim with needle-nose works for me too. It helps to lightly jiggle them as you're turning (counterclockwise) and try grabbing in a few spots.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:51 AM on April 26, 2016

I think one classic home remedy for this situation is to press a potato into what remains of the bulb and try to turn it out with that... It sounds like you have a pretty small space to work with, but I would maybe look for a sweet potato with a thin end that might fit. Sweet potatoes are even firmer in the raw state than a potato and they have dry flesh, which should alleviate slipping.
posted by Slothrop at 4:32 AM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Circlip pliers, if you get the external clip type, work in the fashion you want.
posted by deadwax at 4:50 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lockring pliers. Squeezing the handles causes the jaws to spread.
posted by fixedgear at 7:23 AM on April 26, 2016

Seconding Slothrop. The standard remedy is a potato.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:46 AM on April 26, 2016

Expansion Pliers. Expanding Pliers.
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If the "old school" flashlight has been sitting for a while, there may be corrosion - either from battery chemicals or just moisture in the air. A small squirt of WD-40 or other corrosion breaker will help lubricate the metal and give you a better chance of loosening it.

When you get the bulb out, try to clean the socket with a tiny wire brush or even a pencil eraser.

There is a product sold both for automotive use and for standard light bulbs that is designed for lubricating bulb bases that may help you in the future.

It is very tricky getting bulb bases out since the socket material and the bulb base material are often very similar materials. It you apply enough pressure to the bulb base, it tends to deform, jamming the walls of the base into the socket, making it that much harder to remove.

There are also specialty tools mainly designed for removing broken bolts, etc. but if you can find one that is close in size to the bulb base, it would spread out the points of contact and give a good grip on the bulb base. The spiral on these tools is left handed, so they will grip the bulb in the way it needs to turn.

I've used a standard flat-bladed screwdriver close to the diameter of the base to remove a broken bulb base. The tip of the blade was narrow enough to engage the very bottom of the socket without bending the threads of the bulb base.

Just take your time and don't apply too much pressure to deform the socket. Good luck!
posted by tronec at 2:01 PM on April 26, 2016

Skip the potato-- the potato solution is tehre to get a grip on broken glass, which you've said isn't bearing up anyways.

I'd go with bent-nose pliers; it's a relatively common tool over specialty stuff, and they're basically more-precise needle nose. From there, I'd try to deform the bulb base, which is going to be thin sheet aluminum, out of the threads and out of the flashlight, or at least get a good enough grip to try spinning it out of the threads.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:29 PM on April 26, 2016

Wow! So much information here. Thanks very much to everyone. I ended up using a very pointy awl to create an opening between the bulb base and the flashlight's socket. That created enough room for my slightly but still pointy needle nose pliers. I was then able to use the pliers to grab the bulb base enough that I could rotate it out of the socket.

Now my problem is that the socket appears to have noticeable corrosion lining it, although, luckily, the tip contact point looks great. I was thinking of grabbing a bit of steel wool, wedging it into the socket and rotating it around.

You knowledgeable folks have any suggestions for cleaning the corrosion out of the socket?

I hope I can rescue this old flashlight. Thanks again for all the help so far.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:26 PM on April 27, 2016

Steel wool should be fine.
posted by rhizome at 4:46 PM on April 27, 2016

Steel wool can embed steel in the brass shell causing rusting and difficulty removing bulbs in the future. A safer alternative is the green scouring/abrasive pads.
posted by Mitheral at 8:28 AM on April 28, 2016

OK, I used a 3M scratchless pad cut into strips, and that seems to have cleaned things up nicely (not pristine, but it looks like it'll make good contact).

I'm off to my local Batteries + Bulbs* store to see about getting a LED replacement for the incandescent bulb. Let's hope the flashlight's switch still functions, otherwise this was an exercise in futility. I'll have them test the flashlight with an incandescent bulb before I commit to the LED replacement. They'll also have a multi-meter to check for voltage at the socket. (I have one, but it's buried somewhere in my basement since I don't have enough space I'm a completely disorganized fool.

Thanks very, very much to all who responded! Once again, AskMe/MeFi saves my day.

*I have no affiliation with the chain or any of its stores. It simply is my new favorite store and I wanted to mention it because I didn't even know they existed until I happened to drive past one and popped in for a look. Maybe there are other Mefites who would like it as well.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:39 PM on April 28, 2016

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