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Repairing Matchless Stars


MATCHLESS STARS: Don't discard them, Revive them!
Here's How

by Jim Rankin

When the Matchless Wonder Stars burn out, they can still have an endless life if you or a friend is good with your hands. You can re-light them and mount them to look like such as a bunch of stars-on-stems using this method, and even strings of lights could be fabricated. The important part of these Stars is not the original burned out light bulb, but the rays connected to the brown plastic collars, and we here preserve those. Once you see how simple this is, your imagination will be your only limit! Many antiquers are now asking $30 and up for just one Star, so never discard burned out or broken Stars! This basic method will also work for most other lights with some adjustments for each type.

BURNED OUT BULB: (1) Take a hack saw or small motorized drill such as a Dremel, and cut off the metal base from the plastic phenolic Collar being careful to preserve as much plastic as possible. The glass bulb will shatter inside, but that does not matter since all of the original bulb must be removed. Do that next by taking the drill or hand tools and scraping away all traces of the bulb from inside the Star. Crumbles of the cement that held the bulb will appear and the residue of this should be gingerly scraped off the inside of the collar. Measure and Note the diameter of the cleared hole now in the bottom of the Star's collar. This hole diameter will tell you the maximum diameter of replacement light bulb you can use.

(2) REPLACEMENT LAMP: Go to such as Radio Shack, a hardware store, or an automotive parts store and look for a Miniature Incandescent Lamps display or drawers of them and select a bulb that will fit into the hole in the collar, but not tightly. The voltage of the bulb you select will depend upon the voltage of the transformer you select which you will wire to power the bulb(s). For example, if the chosen bulb type is rated to draw 50 milliamps at the transformer voltage, and the step-down low voltage transformer is rated at 100 milliamps, then one such transformer will only deliver enough current for 2 such bulbs. If the store does not have separate low voltage transformers, it may have door bell transformers which are the same thing; do not connect transformers' secondaries (outputs) together unless you know buck-and-boost configurations! Try to match the total bulb(s) current to the rating on the transformer as closely as possible, and while a bulbs' voltage rating may be more than the transformer's output voltage rating, it must never be less (lower). You will later attach a power cord and plug to the transformer's primary wires (its Input) rated at your mains current (110-125 volts in the USA). You may be tempted to use LEDs, but their DC power supply, polarity, and anti-surge requirements are much more complicated, and they don't have the 'sparkle' quality you so much want for the Stars.

When selecting a bulb, remember that the higher the rated voltage and current (milliamps), the brighter the Star will shine, but the shorter the life span of the bulb will be, and the greater the heat inside the Star will be. The matter of heat is important, since too much will hasten the embrittlement of the plastic collar, and if that cracks or breaks, it will be difficult to repair, so you may want to opt for a lower current bulb at the transformer's stated voltage. Note: a transformer will only deliver its stated voltage when loaded to its stated current; if under-loaded, it will deliver more than the stated voltage (=quick burn out of hot lamps), if overloaded it will deliver lower voltage (= dim but cool-burning and longer lived lamps) and the transformer may go beyond its normal small warmth to become hot which will shorten its life, not to mention becoming a possible fire hazard. Be careful about matching total current of bulb(s) to rated current of transformer; a variance of ten percent is of no importance in this situation; but more than that can buy trouble. The Secondary wires of such low voltage transformers can touch one another for a while by accident without harm, but the Primary side where the high voltage mains connect to the power cord must NEVER be allowed to touch when plugged in; always wire up the primary (input) side first with the unit UN-PLUGGED. Safety First!

You will also need small wire nuts for the gauges of the wire you are using as well as electrical tape to secure them. Look for the appropriate Sockets for the bulb(s) there also. If they do not have existing wire leads, you will have to solder on lengths of insulated wire (20 or 22 gauge --AWG-- should be about right). You could also wire-in an Inline Fuse and its holder on the primary side to protect against a shorted unit, but that is not essential. Ask someone familiar to calculate the value of a Slo-Blow fuse for you if you opt for a fuse. It is not necessary to fuse the Secondary (output) of a low voltage (step-down) transformer, since the magnetic reactance will prevent dangerous current flow even during a short circuit. NOTE: when you find a supply of a suitable bulb, be sure to purchase as many as you can for future replacements, since such bulbs will soon go out of production as the brightness and longer life span of LEDs increases!

(3) ASSEMBLING: Aside from putting the replacement bulb into the new socket you bought, and inserting the bulb through the hole in the collar and into the Star, your assembly will depend upon your socket mounting and that will depend upon your final manner of display of the Star(s). If you intend to wire them in parallel (as though each one were plugged in individually off of its own transformer), then buying sockets with pre-attached wire leads will work out best to wire up a harness of wires to the transformer's output terminals or lead wires. This is also true if you are going to display them in a box or picture frame with all the wires behind the face panel through which you have pushed the Star(s). If you want the Star(s) on more or less upright stems, then selecting sockets with attached mounting tabs will be best --though any type of socket can be made to work if you are creative.

For example: to make some Stars look like they are in a bouquet of flowers, cut different lengths of coat hangers and attach one end of each to a socket, and the other ends can be inside of any base you choose. The transformer can be used as a base simply by clamping the coat hanger wire 'stems' to the ends of the transformer as with nylon 'zip' or locking ties, or just steel wire twisted around the transformer body. With the pair(s) of electric wires from each socket wrapped around each stem, twist electrical tape around the collar downward over the electrical wires and over the stem; this will secure the Star, lamp and socket on a stem as one piece, yet the tape can be unwound from the collar in future when the replacement bulb needs replacing. If desired, over-wrap the stem(s) with florists' tape in green, brown or white (available at crafts stores or wherever artificial flowers are sold). A plate could be put under the transformer, and the whole concealed in foliage or fabric, with the power cord coming out the back. If that is plugged into a table-top electronic dimmer (such as those made by Leviton and sold at hardware and home improvement stores), the light bulb(s) will have a much longer lifespan (DO NOT plug fluorescent, LED or neon lights into dimmers unless the dimmer is specifically labeled for that particular type of light and whether it is for an electronic or ferromagnetic ballast!). Check for sockets, transformers, and bulbs, etc., from electronics hobbyist Parts Dealers in the ads in the backs of magazines at the library devoted to them. Note that some such dealers deal in low price "surplus", so they may not have repeat stock of what you want, so always buy as much as you can of critical materials/parts at the same time.

When cutting glass or even metals, try to use one of the diamond discs made for such as a Dremel small scale drill. They cut very quickly and cleanly, and that is important when trying to salvage such as a glass figural. And if you are trying to cut a ceramic piece as a base, almost nothing aside from diamond will work. Place the item being worked on in a small hobbyist's vise lined with cloth to prevent slippage and consequent damage to the project -- or you! SAFETY FIRST: ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES! Bulbs are replaceable -- Eyes are not!

Your Wonder Stars and other lights now have new life, even if they are not quite as bright as they were originally.



As much as I would like to do the work for those who feel unable, I cannot, because I'm losing the use of my hands due to neuropathy.

Here are suggestions as to others who may be able to do the work for you: If you are near a big city, you will likely have a club of Ham Radio operators there and they are often listed in the the White pages under ARRL (American Radio Relay League) and most of these guys are familiar with electronics and hand work. Attend one of their meetings and ask around, or if they will let you, advertise for assistance on their web site, if any. You could also make up flyers at the local quick print shop and leave them there with a photo of the Star on it and your request and phone number.

The local college with a physics dept. may be able to recommend students who are willing--perhaps as an extra credit assignment?!!

Go to different electronics parts stores found under that heading in the Yellow pages and ask the various managers if they know of fellows who might do this for you. Be prepared to pay for this service, of course. Good workmanship will take a lot of the guy's time! For this reason of quality, you may only want to check out his work on one or two stars at first.

Do bring along a star wherever you go so that they will know what you are talking about and will become intrigued with something they have never seen before.

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