Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1.  How do I obtain the "correct" lamps for my vehicle?
2.  How do I evaluate my lamps?
3.  What is a restoration plan and how do I develop one?
4.  How do I conduct a lamp restoration?
5.  Do you have any other hints for lamp restoration?

1.  How do I obtain the "correct" lamps for my vehicle?

The restoration of a carriage is not complete until it is outfitted with the proper accoutrements.  On occasion, a carriage will have retained the original lamps provided at its manufacture.  In such cases, it is usually best to keep the original lamps with the carriage and conserve or restore them in a manner consistent with the work done on the carriage.  In many instances, the lamps will have become separated from the carriage and be unavailable.  This will then require consultation of the carriage maker's records, if available, to determine the appropriate style and size of lamps for the carriage.  In the absence of the maker's records, the research may be directed to other carriages of similar design, carriage restoration experts, or carriage competition judges who have expertise with the particular class of vehicles to which the carriage may be assigned.  Armed with the information so gathered, one may go about the search for that "just right" pair of lamps among equine antique dealers, auctions, and purveyors of carriage accoutrements.

2.  How do I evaluate my lamps?

When the appropriate lamps have been obtained, it is advisable to evaluate the lamps and determine what work needs to be done.  A conservation or restoration plan can then be formulated.  If the lamps are in reasonably good condition, basic cleaning, polishing, and touch up techniques may be employed.  However, if major damage, such as broken lights (glass), rusted body components, damaged reflectors or poor finish are present, a more in depth job will be in order.  In this case, a restoration plan should be developed.  The plan should identify all components to be repaired or replaced.  Consideration of the order in which to complete each task or phase of the restoration will alleviate redoing work already accomplished.  This process will also help determine whether or not the necessary skills, equipment, products, and components are available to the owner, and identify the possible necessity of sending the lamps to a professional for restoration.

3.  What is a restoration plan and how do I develop one?

A restoration plan consists of a listing of the major phases of the restoration with sub-headings detailing each phase.  A plan within the scope of the interests and abilities of the average carriage enthusiast might consist of:

1) Gross clean-up - Washing, removal of foreign material (e.g., insect nests, wasps, oil, or dirt).
2) Operating components
        A. Clean and dress threaded parts (candle tails or wick holders).
        B. Tighten door hinges and adjust door latches.
3) Polishing
        A. Liners (reflectors)
        B. Mounting (bright metal exterior trim)
4) Finish
        A. Buffing
        B. Touch up paint

Only the more experienced or adventurous will want to take on a restoration involving one or more of the following: Complete dismantling, requiring desoldering and consequently resoldering of major components, replacement of glass, polishing scratches out of glass, removal of rust-frozen operating parts, replacement of rusted-through parts, repair or replacement of age-cracked or broken spun parts, replating liners and mounting, and/or complete refinishing of paint.  These tasks may best be left to the professional lamp restorer as they require resources not normally available to the average carriage enthusiast.

4.  How do I conduct a lamp restoration?

After the restoration plan is formulated, the work can begin.  A good way to begin and end a restoration is with photographs.  Additional photos during the course of restoration serve not only to document the process, but also provide a reminder as to how to get the lamps back together in the case of a more involved project.  (Click here for an example)

Generally, the gross clean up phase can be accomplished with commonly available household detergents and plenty of hot water.  Rinse constantly and rub lightly to avoid scratching the lamps.  A razor blade scraper will remove hardened material from glass surfaces.  Avoid using sand paper or pointed tools on or near the glass.

A threaded part frozen with rust, such as candle tails, candle caps, or oil founts, can often be loosened by applying heat or penetrating lubricants.  Once apart, the rust should be removed by wire brush or other means.  Dry graphite applied to the threads will help to prevent future problems.  Door hinges, latches, and other moving parts can be made operable by similar means.

Cleaning and polishing of liners and mounting can be accomplished with non-abrasive products such as FlitzÒ or PeekÒ brand metal polishes.  Multiple applications may be required depending on the degree of tarnishing.  While the polishing products themselves are not abrasive, dirt and tarnish particles are abrasive.  Therefore care should be employed to avoid dulling or scratching the bright metal surfaces.  Often silver plating will be worn through due to repeated cleaning and polishing when the lamps were originally in use and/or due to recent clean up efforts.  If this is minor it may be acceptable to simply polish the entire surface and use it as is.  If is it desirable to restore minor worn areas in silver plate, a restorative silver plate and cleaner such as SilversmithÒ, made by EZ-way Chemical Co., PO BOX 525, Burlington, WA 98233, may be used.  Special care must be exercised in using silver plate products, as they are usually cyanide-based and extremely poisonous.  They should not be used near food or in food preparation areas and appropriate personal protection, such as eye wear and rubber gloves, should be worn.  Though these products are available to the amateur, silver plating and touch up may be best left to the professional.

Minor touch up of the paint may be accomplished with model builder's enamel and a small brush.  If the paint is in reasonable condition an application of a good quality automotive wax such as PolierÒ made by FlitzÒ, on both the painted and bright metal parts will lesson the necessity and frequency of cleaning and polishing, and enhance the appearance of the lamps.  Applying wax-based polish to the glass surface can often diminish minor nicks and scratches on glass.  New paint should not be waxed or polished for at least 90 days to insure sufficient curing time.

Currently, the preferred method of complete refinishing of carriage lamps is to use modern automotive products and techniques.  Hand-brushed lacquers may be used, but the products and skills required to accomplish a first rate job are rare.  At the other extreme, hardware store "rattle can" paints are used.  These products generally lack the finish quality and durability desired, though an acceptable job may result with proper care and time invested in the preparation work.

5.  Do you have any other hints for lamp restoration?

Do preserve the maker's insignia, if present.  It validates the historical value of the lamps and should not be polished out, painted or plated over in a way that makes it illegible.

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