All About Cloth-Covered Wire




Electrical Requirements

The first consideration is the electrical requirements of your application. If you have any doubts about what gauge you need or whether you need two- or three-conductor wire, you should consult an electrician. If you are installing the wire in your house (as opposed to on a lamp or appliance) you should always contact a building inspector to determine the laws in your state.

Sundial personnel do not make recommendations on gauge or number of conductors due to liability issues. We encourage our customers to be very sure they use a reliable source to determine which type of wire to use.

Most of our 3-conductor wires come in a 2-conductor version, but where we offer only a 3-conductor version, please note that you can always use a 3-conductor wire where you only need two conductors by clipping the third conductor and leaving it unused.

Please also note that the knob-and-tube style wire is intended for theatrical use only and its use as wiring for buildings does not meet modern building codes.

Cloth-Covered Wire Terminology and Styles

Conductors

A conductor is just another word for a wire, something that conducts the electricity. The conductor can be stranded or solid core. If you don’t know whether you need two- or three-conductor wire for your application, you should consult an electrician or building inspector.

3-conductor

Three-conductor wire has three wires used for positive, negative, and a ground wire. If you don’t know whether you need two- or three-conductor wire for your application, you should consult an electrician or building inspector.

2-conductor

Two-conductor wire has two wires, either in parallel or twisted, one wire being used for the positive wire, one for the negative.

single-conductor

single-conductor wire can serve as the positive, negative, or ground wire, but must be paired with at least one other conductor to wire a lamp or appliance.

Gauge

The lower the number of the gauge, the heavier the wire. For example, Sundial Wire’s knob-and-tube style wire is 12-gauge and is the heaviest wire in our line. 22-gauge is the smallest wire in our line.

The gauge needed for a lamp or appliance is dependent on the draw of the bulb(s) or motor and the length of the cord. The voltage and temperature ratings of the wires are listed on the web site and the price list.

If you are in doubt about what gauge you need, you should contact an electrician. Sundial does not make recommendations on gauge due to liability issues.

Stranded or Solid Core

Right now, all of Sundial Wire’s wire is stranded except for the knob-and-tube style wire, which is solid core. Normal lamp cord is stranded.

stranded

Stranded wire is made up of several finer gauge wires twisted together to create the final gauge. For example, 18-gauge wire is often made from 16 30-gauge wires twisted together. Wire is stranded to give it flexibility.

solid core

Solid core wire is made of one solid wire. It is very stiff and holds its shape when it is bent.

Style

We make six styles of cloth-covered wire. They differ in the way in which the conductor(s) are put together.

Pulley Cord

Sundial Wire's pulley cord is a perfectly round three-conductor cloth-covered cord.

Our pulley cord is constructed using three copper wires, each stranded and covered in PVC insulation. They are twisted together, padded, and braided with either a cotton or rayon herringbone weave. Pulley cord can be used for table-top, floor, or pendant lighting as well as small appliances.

Please note that any of our three-conductor wires can be used as a two-conductor wire by clipping the third wire and leaving it unused.

Overbraid

Sundial Wire's overbraid cord is a cloth-covered cord with three conductors contained in one cord where the spiral of the twisted wires gives the cord a wonderful texture.

Overbraid wire is constructed using three stranded copper wires, each covered in PVC insulation, which are twisted together and braided with a cotton herringbone weave. Overbraid cord can be used for table-top, floor, or pendant lighting as well as small appliances.

Please note that any of our three-conductor wires can be used as a two-conductor wire by clipping the third wire and not using it.

Parallel Cord

Parallel cord is a flat cord. (Even if it looks round in the photographs, it is NOT ROUND.)

Sundial Wire's parallel cord is constructed from SPT-1 cord, which is two wires, side-by-side, bonded together by the PVC insulation to create one cord. This insulated cord is covered in rayon or cotton herringbone braid.

This wire is suitable for table-top or floor lighting and small appliances.

While parallel cord can be used for pendant lighting, the aesthetic effect of this wire when used for pendant lighting is not pleasing to most people.

Twisted Pair

People often confuse the words "braided" and "twisted". All of our wire is braided with either cotton or rayon. In twisted or twisted pair wire each of the two conductors is covered in cloth braid and then the wires are twisted together.

tracer

Some of our twisted pair wires have a tracer in the braid of one conductor. A tracer is a small amount of a yarn of a different color from the main color of the braid which is woven in at intervals. The use for this, in the days before plastic was between the braid and the copper wire, was to be able to differentiate which conductor was which at each end of the wire, so the electrician could easily know that he was wiring positive to positive and negative to negative. Now the PVC under the braid is always differentiated, either by each conductor being a different color or by one of a pair of conductors having a stripe in the PVC. We put tracers in the braids of some wires for historical accuracy and/or because it is attractive.

Single-Conductor

Single-conductor wire is constructed of one copper wire, either stranded or solid core, which is covered in PVC insulation and a cotton or rayon braid. All of our wires are stranded except for our 12-gauge single-conductor knob & tube wire. This wire is also the only one of our wires to have lacquer.

Please note that if you are going to use this wire for a power cord, you will need two or three strands as there is only one conductor in this wire. If you want a solution where you use only one cord, please consider our pulley cord, overbraid, twisted pair, or parallel styles.

knob and tube

This wire is a reproduction of wire used for house wiring from the 1880s to the 1930s. knob and tube wiring in wall The wire is called "knob and tube" because it was run through porcelain wire clamps, called knobs, to hold it to the wall. The wire was run through porcelain tubes where it was run through the wood parts of the house frame. knob and tube close up There is a description and several great photos of knob and tube wiring at Wikipedia's knob and tube page.

Please note that this wire is solid core, which means it is one solid piece of copper, NOT made of several finer strands. As a result, the wire is stiff, not bending easily, and holds its shape when bent. The wire is single-conductor with a lacquered, black cotton braid over PVC insulation.

This is a Sundial Wire exclusive, not available elsewhere, and was manufactured especially for replacing existing knob and tube wiring in historical sites, museums, diplays, etc. It is also useful for any application requiring a heavy duty single conductor wire.

PLEASE NOTE: BUILDING CODES PROHIBIT REPAIRING EXISTING KNOB AND TUBE WIRING IN BUILDINGS. IT MUST BE FULLY REPLACED IF IT IS TO BE ALTERED. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR BUILDING INSPECTOR BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO EXISTING KNOB AND TUBE WIRING. THIS WIRE IS INTENDED FOR MUSEUM, THEATRICAL, AND NON-BUILDING WIRING.

Braid: Rayon or Cotton

Sometimes people ask us for braided wire when they mean twisted wire. The word twisted refers to the wires literally being twisted together. Our twisted pair is the only twisted wire we carry. All of our wire is braided. Either rayon or cotton is braided in a herringbone weave to get the cloth covering onto the wire.

Both cotton and silk were used early in the 20th century to cover wire. Today we still use cotton but now use rayon instead of silk.

The only reason to choose a cotton or rayon covering is whether you want a matte or a shiny cloth covering.

We are often asked if either material is more practical than the other. We have no information that either fabric is more long-wearing than the other.

cotton braid

The cotton provides a matte (not shiny) covering, which is more appropriate on appliances and more utilitarian lighting lamps.

rayon braid

Rayon, which like silk is shiny, is used for more elegant lamps, radios, phonographs, etc.

Lacquer

Cloth-covered wire can also be lacquered. Lacquer was used to keep the cloth from fraying at the ends. It was used mostly in utilitarian situations rather than when the wire was likely to be on display. For example, our knob-and-tube wire is lacquered and its function was to provide wiring within the walls of a house.

Cloth-Covered Wire Style Recommendations

Rayon or Cotton?

Both silk and cotton were used as braid from the earliest days of electricity into the 1940s. We now use rayon instead of silk, but the property they share is that they are shiny and, therefore, somewhat elegant. Cotton is matte, not shiny, and has a more down-to-earth, utilitarian look. Therefore, we recommend rayon for elegant lamps and even for fans, radios, and Victrolas and the like if they are meant for formal settings.

Cotton is generally used for more utilitarian lighting and appliances, but we have also seen beautiful iridescent wire on a toaster, so there aren't any hard and fast rules. There were few standards during the days of early electricity, so you can be fairly sure that if you go with something you like, that you will be in the realm of authenticity.

Wire for Antiques

Most of our cloth-covered wire is stylistically correct for antiques. The only factor that would render any of our cloth-covered wire inappropriate for an antique would be color. Some of our colors are meant to replicate what we have seen on old appliances: black, gold, putty, light and dark brown cotton, and black, gold, mahogany, walnut, white rayon.

All but one of the styles of wire that we produce are appropriate for the time from the earliest days of electricity through the 1940s. The exception is parallel cord, which started to be used in the 1930s and was used sparingly in the following decade.

Mostly, what you should put on your antique should be a matter of what appeals to you. As noted above with regard to choosing cotton or rayon, there were no standards or even any usual practices in the early days of electricity.

Wire for Fans

The members of The American Fan Collectors Association are experts in what wire to put on what fan, down to which wire might have been on a fan in a given year. They have a forum where you can ask questions like, “I have a 1932 Emerson fan. What wire should I use for the power cord and head wire?” While the AFCA members have the expertise to answer these fan-related questions, we at Sundial Wire do not, so we recommend consulting them.

Wire for Pendant Lighting

All of our wires are appropriate for pendant lighting except for parallel cord. Because this cord is flat, not round, in our opinion it looks peculiar when used for pendant lighting. Nor has it, to our knowledge, been used for pendant lighting in the past, whereas we have seen installations of cloth-covered wire used for pendant lighting in all other styles.

Wire for Table-Top or Floor Lighting or Appliances

All of our wires are appropriate for table-top or floor lamp use. However, you might find that 14-gauge pulley cord might be stylistically heavy in these applications.

Cloth-Covered Wire Glossary

The glossary terms are defined elsewhere on this page. Please click on the word to find the definition.