How to Wire a Light Socket


Why It’s Important to Connect Hot and Neutral Wires Correctly


You can attach the wires to a light socket without paying attention to hot and neutral, and your socket will probably operate without anything seeming wrong, but the chance of getting a shock when handling the socket – especially while changing the bulb -- is higher if you don’t use the hot and neutral wires correctly.

Electricity creates a circuit through the bulb by running through the metal tab at the bottom of the socket, where the bulb sits, through the bulb, and through the metal threads where the bulb is screwed in.

When wired properly, the metal threads will never be “hot” or give you a shock, whether the switch is on or off. When wired incorrectly, the threads – and any metal touching the threads, including the outside of the socket, if it is conductive metal, or the threads of a light bulb – can give you a shock whether the switch is on or off. Therefore, it is important to follow the instructions for the hot and neutral wires carefully.


Wiring the Socket


  1. VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure any electrical device being worked on is not connected to electricity. Turn off the circuit breaker, remove the fuse, or unplug the device before starting. If you have any questions about the safety of what you are doing, please contact an electrician rather than doing the job yourself.

  2. Cut the wire to the length you want plus 10 inches.

  3. Use a 1.5” piece of self-fusing silicone tape to tape the cloth braid down 2.5 inches from the end that will be attached to the socket. The silicone tape sticks to itself (a little like Saran Wrap) but isn’t sticky. It will stay on best if you stretch it as you wind it around the wire. Try to keep the taped area as small as possible (going around in the same place) and not more than two or three layers of tape deep. This will make it so that you can keep the tape hidden. If the wire is twisted pair wire, also go around both wires with the tape, holding the twist in place in addition to preventing the cloth from fraying.

  4. Cut the braid (cotton or rayon) off the wire from the end of the wire to the tape. Use the finest scissors you have to snip vertically along the braid, taking care not to cut into the plastic at all. When you get to the tape, trim up all loose threads.

  5. Strip ½” of the plastic off the ends of the wire.


    A wire stripper is the best tool for this because it doesn’t cut the copper, just the insulating plastic around the copper. Make sure you use the slot in the stripper that matches the gauge of the wire you are using.


  6. Note: If you are intending to put a plug on the assembly, wait until you have finished wiring the socket and installing the shade, if any. If your wire already has a plug or something else attached to one end, you will have to thread all the pieces you need onto the wire at this point. See the picture at step 14.

  7. Tie an underwriter’s knot in the wire. This helps keep the wires connected to the socket even with some weight applied to the socket. The picture on the left is intended to show how to make the knot. The picture on the right shows the knot in the taped cloth-covered wire.



  8. Open the socket up into its top, bottom, and interior. (Please note that the interior – middle – piece of this socket is reversed in this picture. It should be facing the other way around.)


  9. Twist the exposed end of the neutral wire so that the strands of copper are firmly twisted together. See the chart below for which wire is hot and which is neutral.

    Identifying the Hot, Neutral, and Ground Wires
      Hot Neutral Ground
    Parallel Cord smooth wire ribbed wire none
    Twisted Pair *plain (no stripe) wire *striped wire none
    Three-Conductor black wire white wire green wire
    Plug/Socket narrow prong/gold screw wide prong/silver screw n/a

    * This is a Sundial Wire convention. In non-Sundial Wire, the hot wire is black and the neutral white. Sundial Wire uses the stripe/no-stripe convention so that the color of the plastic does not show through the braid. Also, in some of our wires, there is no striped wire, but a beige wire, which is hot, and a white wire, which is neutral.

  10. Make a little hook out of the end of the wire.


  11. Put the hook of the neutral wire over the silver screw in the socket, with the hook going clockwise around the screw.

  12. Tighten the screw.

  13. Do the same with the hot wire and the gold screw.


  14. Slip the bottom of the socket over the wire and up over the socket interior.


  15. Put the socket top over the socket interior and attach it to the socket bottom.

  16. Slide the strain relief over the wire in two pieces, oriented so that when they are screwed together the part that looks like the cap of a toothpaste tube has its narrow end facing away from the socket. (The strain relief squeezes the wire to create a grip and is also held by the set screw in the socket. This is used to make it so that all the weight of the socket and any shade supported by the socket are not solely supported by where the wires are screwed onto the socket.)

  17. Screw the strain relief to the socket.

  18. Screw the top of the strain relief to the bottom part.

  19. Screw in the set screw in the socket base to anchor it to the strain relief.


  20. We added two rings to hide the threads at the bottom of the socket. If you are going to put a shade on the socket, you would use only one ring below the shade.

  21. If you are NOT making the “Frames Wrapped with Ribbon” project of the September, 2013, Martha Stewart Living projects from the article “Shades of Genius”, skip this step and the two following steps.) Slide a second strain relief over the wire ORIENTING IT IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION from the strain relief attached to the socket. In other words, have the toothpaste-cap piece with its narrow side toward the socket. Position this strain relief so that the lampshade frame, which will rest on it, will be at the height you want, and screw the two pieces of the strain relief together. As with the first strain relief, the longer threaded piece of the inside of the strain relief should go inside the cap.

  22. Slide on the lampshade frame so that it is resting against the strain relief you just installed.

  23. Slide on a third strain relief ORIENTED IN THE SAME DIRECTION as the strain relief attached to the socket, so that the wide end of the cap is facing the socket. Assemble the socket so that it is flush with the top of the lampshade frame. Skip the next step.

  24. If you are using a lampshade with a spider fitter (a hole in the middle of supporting rods at the top of a lamp shade), as is the case with the September, 2013, Martha Stewart Living "Spin A Yarn" project, slide the lampshade onto the wire so that the hole in the spider rests on the top of strain relief. We don't recommend putting the shade between the two pieces of the strain relief as it doesn't allow the strain relief to grip the wire as effectively.