RE-LIGHTING YOUR BUBBLE LIGHTS, CONTINUED: Now that your NOMA Biscuits are bubbling happily away, let's try another light, this time a Royal "Crown" type light. Remove the bubble tube as before-by a good soaking in some hot water. It will come out just as easily as it did in your NOMA light. 

The plastic used in these lights is a bit harder than that of NOMA's, so the freezing procedure will not be necessary. Look around the seam carefully to see if you can locate a tiny separation somewhere to use as a starting point. If so, great! If not, you'll have to make a starting place yourself. In either case, press the long edge (not the point) of your knife into the seam, and then carefully begin to wiggle it back and forth. Use patience here, and don't put on too much pressure or become impatient. With continued wiggling of the knife blade, the two halves of the crown will eventually give up and come apart. You'll notice that the halves were put together with interlocking shoulders, and it is this locking arrangement that prevents light leakage at the seam. With the two parts now apart, change out the lamp, and use silicone as before to secure it into place. Again, take care that you do not block ANY ventilation holes. Reassemble and glue your halves together, silicone the bubble tube back in place, and you're second project is complete!

Finally, we'll talk a little about the famous and highly collectible miniature base series-type Paramount ring or saucer bubble light. As before, your bubble tube will come out with a little coaxing from our bowl of hot water. These beautiful lights are not glued together, but use a snap-lock method of closure that can be more frustrating to take apart than the other types. A look underneath the light will show what I'm talking about: you'll see a series of little tabs or teeth holding the parts together. At first glance, it will seem quite impossible to push all of these little teeth in at once, but I use a procedure that makes the job easy. Run to Wal-Mart or K-Mart, and buy the small size bottle of their store brand of pain reliever, such as their versions of Advil or Tylenol. Hopefully, you won't actually need the pills for this project, but the bottles themselves will be found to be quite useful. The top of these little bottles will be the exact size you need to help out with all of those pesky teeth. Open the bottle, and then put the base of your bubble light into it and press down. Be sure that all of the teeth are just inside the rim of the bottle. If you've selected the correct bottle size, you'll see that since the teeth are slightly beveled they are all being pressed in at the same time, and the bottom of the light will pop off nicely. So far, so good!

Now you'll see that the light bulb itself appears to be permanently in place, held in position by the solder blob on the base. Not to worry-a little very careful effort with the tip of the X-Acto knife will shear the solder away, allowing removal of the lamp. If you are quite ambitious, you might even use a soldering iron to remove the solder spot, but be sure not to overheat the lamp base and cause any melting of the plastic base. Once the solder is removed, press the base on the washcloth to pop out the lamp. Reinsert the new bulb, being sure to align the solder blob in the slot provided for it. You may have to trim the blob on the new lamp before reinsertion. If you want to be really nifty, you can add a bit of new solder to the spot where it was shaved, so that the light will look factory-fresh and no one will be able to tell that the light was ever changed out. If you are not using a soldering iron, carefully silicone the lamp in place as in our earlier projects. Snap your base pieces together, set the bubble tube back in place with silicone, and once again, your job is done!

Most types of bubble lights can be relamped with a bit of care and effort.

I HAVE AN OLD BUBBLE LIGHT TREE THAT IS SHEDDING. CAN ANYTHING BE DONE TO STOP THIS, AND WHAT IS THE TREE MADE OF? The old bubble light trees from various manufacturers are made of cardboard, metal and a material called Visca, and early artificial tree material. Over the years, the Visca will become brittle and dry,  eventually getting to the point where the slightest movement will break of needles. To date, I know of no procedure to prevent this shedding or to stop it once it has started.

Some collectors will choose to "rebush" their trees, using modern artificial garland material to restore the trees to their former glory. Gene Teslovic has kindly provided us with a bit of information on how to restore these old trees. Gene writes: "Concerning recovering Visca trees, it is easy, but a little time consuming. You have to shop for the correct material, and try to locate some artificial garland that is a s close to your tree's original covering material as possible. Look for something with no more than a one inch wide branch. I just get a 9 foot garland and disassemble it, unwinding all of the 'branches' from the main length. Each of these pieces will be about 12 inches long so just attach them together making one continuous length of one inch vinyl 'Visca'.  I start with about 20 feet because you can keep adding more if you need it. Begin wrapping the 'arms' of the tree, covering each socket and then moving up the arm. Go down the arm, wrap the socket, then back up
the arm. When the sockets and arms are wrapped you can begin doing the 'branches'.

Starting at the bottom, take a piece of covering around the center pole or cone to the length of the branch, usually as long as an arm. The rest is your long length end. When you have one branch as long as you need it, twist it tight with the long length end around the pole of cone. Measure the long length end the same as your short piece and snip it off. You now have your first 2 branches. Continue the process for the bottom branches and as you work up the tree, your branches get shorter. When you are done, you can trim the branches with wire cutters,  in case the shape is not just right. If  necessary, you can wrap another length of Visca around the pole or cone to snug it all up and to cover any openings left. The procedure is not very hard but as I said, just time consuming. Once you get the pattern down, it goes easy. A lot of the garlands sold today are loosely wound and easy to disassemble."

WHY DOES MY BUBBLE LIGHT LOOK HALF EMPTY WHEN THE TUBE IS NOT BROKEN? DID THE LIQUID EVAPORATE, BOIL AWAY, OR WAS IT FILLED WRONG DURING MANUFACTURE? Even though your bubble light tube looks completely intact, the small round ball of glass at the very tip of the tube has been broken off. Most of the time it is impossible to see the break with the naked eye, but under magnification it will be quite apparent. A good indicator of a broken tip is when a small amount of the bubble fluid remains in the very tip of the tube when the unit is held perfectly upright and tapped. When the tube is properly sealed, the liquid inside cannot evaporate or boil away. Occasionally you will come across a few tubes that were not properly filled at the factory, and sometimes, despite all efforts, a tube will not bubble. This is most likely due to a poor vacuum in the tube itself, and is a manufacturing defect.

WHAT IS ALL OF THAT CRYSTAL-LIKE STUFF IN MY BUBBLE LIGHT TUBES? Many bubble lights, especially the earlier ones, have activator chemicals in the tubes, to help with the bubbling effect. Most of the time, these are either common table salt or sugar crystals, which will not dissolve in the methylene chloride. Sometimes, these activator crystals will have been fused into big lump in the bottom of the bubble tube-this was done on purpose during the manufacturing process. In the case of the oil-filled Paramount ring or saucer bubble lights, the crystals are small pieces of pumice, intended to help start the bubbling action and enhance the sparkle of the tiny bubbles that the oil produces. With the Royal brand of bubbling lights, the activator crystals are larger than in most other brands, and the crystals have a tendency to darken as well.

HOW CAN A SMALL LIGHT BULB GET HOT ENOUGH TO BOIL THE WATER IN MY BUBBLE LIGHTS? The bubble tube does not contain water, but is filled with a chemical called methylene chloride. This chemical has a very low boiling point, so even the small amount of heat generated by a tiny light bulb will cause it to boil rapidly. In fact, it will even boil from the heat of your hand!

HOW CAN I TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN OIL-FILLED PARAMOUNT BUBBLER AND A METHYLENE CHLORIDE FILLED ONE? There are actually two ways to do this. First, examine the movement of the fluid-if it is quick and water like, it is most certainly methylene chloride, for the oil-filled tubes show a slow, heavy movement of the fluid. Secondly, the oil filled tubes always contain large, metallic-looking  flakes that are actually little bits of  pumice in the tubes,  while the methylene-chloride tubes have none.

WHAT TYPE OF OIL IS IN MY PARAMOUNT OIL-FILLED SAUCER BUBBLE LIGHTS? I am not certain what type of oil is used in the tubes, but I have often heard that it is rapeseed. The actual patent for the oil lights, number 2,412,171 specifies rapeseed, castor or cod liver oils, and describes the addition of a small amount of the traditional methylene chloride or ether as well.

WHAT ARE "SERIES" AND "MULTIPLE" WIRED SETS? HOW ARE THEY DIFFERENT? Series outfits are wired in a series, meaning that electric current must flow through each lamp in the string to complete the circuit. The burnout of a single lamp will cause all of the others to go dark as well. Parallel (or Multiple) wired strings are arranged so that each lamp gets power independently of the others. The failure of one or more lamps has no affect on the others.

I'M CONFUSED ABOUT THE BASE SIZES OF THE DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS LIGHTS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THESE TO ME? This is a confusing area, mainly because of the "mixed" terminology used when describing Christmas lights. Nowadays, we refer to the lights by their glass envelope size only, and call them (quite incorrectly, I might add) merely C-6, C-7 and C-9 lights. The "C" designation technically refers only to the glass envelope size of the lamp, measured in eighths of an inch at the widest point, and is not an indication of the base size. Theoretically, any base size can have any glass envelope size attached to it. Lamps are properly described by both their glass and base sizes, for example "C-6 miniature base". American lamps are described by the glass envelope type and size, with C being "conical", G being "globe or globular" and T being "tubular". Base sizes are miniature, candelabra, intermediate, and standard, with standard referring to the household size base we are used to today. Here is a chart of the common types of Christmas lights:

Common name

Base size

Glass envelope size/type

Common use

C-6 cones or flames


6/8" conical

series wired strings 

C-7 cones or flames candelabra 7/8" conical multiple wired strings
C-9 cones or flames intermediate 9/8" conical multiple wired strings
T-4 candle lamps miniature 4/8" tubular series wired strings
G-14 Round/Snowball/Lighted Ice  lamps candelabra or miniature 14/8" round series or multiple wired strings

Most common bubble lights are series wired miniature base, while some are the candelabra multiple wired type. The Lighted Ice type lamps can be either base size, as can the tubular candle shaped lamps. The miniature base Christmas lamps are no longer manufactured, but you'll find the candelabra and intermediate base lamps are still available, although in slightly different shapes than their older cousins. 

HOW CAN I DETERMINE WHICH BASE SIZE MY LIGHTS ARE? The easiest way to do this is to measure the diameter of the base with a ruler. Miniature base lights will measure approximately 3/8" across, candelabra bases measure about 1/2", and the intermediate bases measure close to 5/8". Measure carefully, for as you can see each size is only about 1/8" larger than the previous one.      

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CARBON AND TUNGSTEN FILAMENTS? Carbon filaments are just that: carbon based light filaments that used up huge amounts of current and gave off a great amount of heat. Extremely inefficient, the hairpin or horseshoe shaped carbon filaments burn with a warm orange glow and are easily recognizable due to this fact. The carbon used in household filaments was replaced with tungsten in 1907, but that material was not used in Christmas lighting until 1916. Tungsten filaments are far more efficient, using much less current and giving off a bright yellow-white light, and in fact tungsten is the same material used in the filaments of today's household light bulbs. These filaments are tiny, tightly coiled wires of tungsten which are far more durable than their stiff carbon counterparts. 

WHY DO MY CARBON FILAMENT LAMPS BURN WITH DIFFERENT BRIGHTNESS'S FROM LAMP TO LAMP? This is one of the great disadvantages to carbon filaments-inconsistency in brightness from lamp to lamp. It is not a defect in the lamp or an indicator of pending burnout, it is merely a reflection of the times when these lamps were made. The lighting industry was still developing, and efforts were underway to correct the brightness problem. When new, lamps were factory matched to ensure even brightness from lamp to lamp within a string, but the failure of a lamp and its subsequent replacement was a problem, as almost certainly the new one would not match the light output of the others. The earliest bulbs were rated for brightness in candlepower, with one candlepower being the usual power of a Christmas lamp. These lamps would have small, oval stickers on them indicating their brightness rating.

CAN I SAFELY MIX CARBON AND TUNGSTEN FILAMENT LAMPS TOGETHER ON THE SAME LIGHT STRING? This question must be answered with a definite "no". The electrical resistance ratings of the two filament types are so dramatically different that they will not burn satisfactorily when used together on the same string. Most early lighting sets even placed a warning on their boxes not to mix the two types together, as premature burnout would result.

I HAVE SOME BEAUTIFUL OLD FIGURAL LIGHTS, BUT THEY HAVE BURNT OUT. IS THERE ANY WAY TO GET THESE LIGHTS TO SHINE AGAIN?  Yes, indeed there is a good method to re-lamp your old figural lights! Chris Cuff shares the instructions with us:

You will need the usual favorite Dremel tool, with the fine cutting discs. (Please use safety glasses!- I have had one of these disks break and throw pieces at me!) You will also need mini 14 volt lamps with wire leads as shown, available from many electronics supply houses for about 75? each. You'll also use 1/4" wooden dowels, cut to desired length- (used for "stand-offs") Now, these lamps are 70ma current draw, so you will need to do a complete set of 8 for proper 120 volt series operation, or run them off a 12 volt transformer in parallel.
To begin, we will need a burned out C6 cone lamp, which you put into a napkin, hold it over the trash can, and squeeze the bulb with a pair of pliers to break the glass. Pick out carefully all the old crumbs of glass and setting compound. Unsolder the old filament wires, and set this base aside to use for your new base. You can try to soak off the old base on the figural if you want-too much trouble for my taste). Now, with the Dremel, cut the base carefully off the figural to be restored. I cut it off halfway down the threads, then with my nippers, "peel" the rest of the brass off. You will see the exhaust tip. Snap it off. Cut the lamp base, in an even circle, with the cutting disk. You will want to leave as much of a collar as you can. Looking at the picture, this is what you want to end up with.
Now, prepare the new lamp bulb as shown. You can choose either of 2 ways to do this- the preferred way is to cut a small piece of wood dowel, drill a hole thru
the center and mount it as shown in the picture at the bottom. The other, less preferred method is to just wire it in without the dowel as shown in the top picture. Using this simpler method allows the bulb to move and the result can be un-even lighting.
Now, solder the bulb's wires, making sure you have no shorts- test it with a
9 volt transistor battery. I find that now, I can simply press the new lamp in, without glue, but you probably should use a bit of silicone caulk to be safe. It will allow the base to be easily removed should you ever need to re-lamp the unit again! The picture here is one of the finished lamps, ready to once again shine on your Christmas tree!


Website visitor Dave Hill recently wrote me with another way to relamp figural Christmas lights. Dave pictures and describes his process below:

I've been collecting light bulbs for 10 years, and have only been on the Internet for a few weeks. After visiting your FAQ page on this site I was amazed to find there was a section on filament replacement and the method that you use. I am writing to you because for many years now I thought I was the only one doing it! How wrong I was!! However, over the years I was forced to make my own method and thought you and others would be interested in how I did it...
I first pried away the bayonet off the bulb. Then, where the glass chamfered down to fit bayonet, I gently rubbed the bulb on a surface of medium fine emery paper until the point where there was a sufficient hole to fit the new bulb.
Then, working on the bayonet, I broke away the base of the electrical connection so there was a hole.
Then, I was struck with the problem of finding a suitable substitute to fit in the base of the bayonet. This took longer than expected but eventually I came up with the perfect item: A good old BIC pen! I found that the stopper in the actual top of the body of the pen, that little black bit, works perfectly!!

So, this brings us to the point of connecting the parts together. In the pen stopper you drill a hole in the side near the ridge, about 1.5mm in size. This is for the side bayonet earth provided by a small brass washer that fits over the shaft of the stopper down to the point where the 1.5mm hole is. Then, drill a hole in the base of the stopper to allow a small brass eyelet for center connection (check photos below).
Now, take the wired bulb replacement and cut one wire at an inch, and the other at 3/4 of an inch. Strip back a very small amount of plastic sheathing off both wires, then push the longest wire through the top of the stopper center hole. Then, solder the wire into the brass eyelet making sure that you keep the plastic stopper away at this point so it does not melt. When cool,  fit into the stopper.
The next wire is the tricky one and takes a little bit of dexterity. Push the wire through side hole in the stopper, then slide the washer down stopper to meet it. Now, carefully solder it to washer. This now provides a stable fixture for entry into the bayonet.
At this stage, I would like to add that any Christmas glass shade can be permanently fixed to the bayonet as when new and with this method bulbs can be replaced as and when needed with no major work! -Dave Hill

Dave can be contacted through e-mail at:











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