Refurbishing a Bardwell & McAlister Lamp (Part 1)

Film gear is famously expensive and one of the great democratizing forces for this generation of independent filmmakers is eBay. Virtually anything found on a movie set can be purchased in the myriad auctions posted everyday. The caveat of that democracy, however, is the often shabby state of used film equipment. Nothing escapes the ravages of production.

While much of that used gear is difficult to refurbish without considerable time and expertise, lighting equipment is refreshingly simple. Even at their most complex, most lights consist of a simple circuit and rudimentary mechanical parts. The biggest challenge, in fact, is keeping track of the various screws and washers that inevitably fall out. There is also something satisfying, particularly in an increasingly digital industry, about disassembling and cleaning a forty year-old light and rewiring it to modern standards. It is a solitary and tangible accomplishment.

It was with these thrifty and vaguely romantic ideas in my head that I began, this weekend, to refurbish a Bardwell & McAlister 2k fresnel that I found in the used auto parts section of eBay. Shipped from what I gather to be a disused farm in Wisconsin, the somewhat nautical-looking light arrived in Queens covered in sand and dust. The paint, however, appeared to be in surprisingly good shape. Rust was visible, but most of it only amounted to colorful surface pitting.

After wiping down the exterior with alcohol and some oil, I began disassembling the body of the light. Some of the screws were frozen, but some penetrating oil and a firm grip got most of them free. I found that the painted surfaces inside had fared pretty well. The two plates on either side of the socket assembly, on the other hand, were badly oxidized. I wiped them both with WD40 and followed with alcohol to get the oil off. Everything else needed a dusting and wipe. I cleaned each surface with alcohol and removed rust where I found it. All told, this process took a couple of hours to accomplish.

What remains is the more critical step of preparing the light for everyday use. The socket is clean and perfectly intact. The power cable(s), however, leave a lot to be desired. They are thin and worn, and terminate in a twist-lock plug. I believe this was originally suspended from a grid, so the cables only extend about three feet from the base of the lamp. The yolk also lacks a proper pin receptacle. My plan is to replace the cables with a 25′ standard 12/3 cable and Edison plug. For convenience, an inline switch will be spliced in about four feet from the base of the light. A pin adapter will be attached so that the light can be mounted on a stand.

Even with this kind of overhaul, the total investment should still be well under $200. One would be hard-pressed to find a new light worth buying for so little.

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