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Opening a Light Bulb

By: Greg Alvey

Light bulbs can make wonderful containers to house our ships in bottles and whimsies.  They are very clear with little distortion so our creations are easy to see and display.  Light bulbs come in an amazing variety of styles and sizes and that offers the artist a great opportunity to build objects and scenes that fill the container in an interesting and unique manner. 

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But the first step to being able to use a bulb for a container is to remove the socket. There is no one best way to remove the socket from the bottle so that you can get into the bulb.  Many books and web pages that address this question suggest that either you drill or chip away the black ceramic end on a socket and insert the model through this opening.  Once done, you fill and seal the hole and paint it to resemble the original socket.  Another way is to saw through the metal socket and then re-glue it back on after you have inserted your model into it.   Either method can work and can offer a satisfactory solution, but you must plan to dress up or hide the socket afterwards, and this is not always easy to do.

Sockets are glued on tight to the glass with a very strong and unyielding form of glue that keeps it from being removed.  Once, however, I did find an old large 1000w light bulb where the socket was already very loose and with a great deal of patience and by being very careful, I was able to slowly but surely turn the socket back and forth until the socket was connected to the glass by only the metal wires that light up the bulb.  I was able to pull the socket away from the glass enough distance to cut these wires.  Removing the socket after that was very easy and, later, it could be re-glued to the glass with no sign of damage at all.  Sometimes we just luck out, so be on the look out for bulbs with the socket already loose.

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I have successfully taken light bulbs apart by immersing the socket in Muriatic acid (often used for cleaning toilet bowls and can be bought at Lowes, Home Depot, and other plumbing and hardware stories) and soaking it for a 24 hour period.  In time, the Muriatic acid loosens and dissolves the glue holding the socket to the glass so that it becomes loose.  You need to be careful releasing any gas in the sealed bulb, and breaking free the filament from inside of the bulb.  If this process is successful, you should have a glass base sufficient in size to reglue the socket on in its original position. It will be completely undetectable and no one will be aware that it has ever been removed. The following pictures show the socket removed from two different light bulbs. As you can see, there is ample glass to reglue the socket back on after you have inserted your ship or whimsy in the light bulb.

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Caution:  First, anytime you use an acid or chemical, protective clothing, eye protection, and attention needs to be given.  The acid WILL burn your skin, clothes, and other objects that it gets on so be careful! Second, the Muriatic acid needs to be thoroughly washed off to remove any of the chemical residues. Third, the Muriatic acid may discolor the brass socket or change it to a dull color. This may be okay but if you want to protect the socket from discoloration you will need to coat it in a wax or similar material.  Finally, newer sockets and non-brass sockets may actually be eaten away by the acid so be sure to test the acid on a similar bulb whenever possible.