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How To Wire A Cord Switch

cord switches

PLEASE NOTE: this page is in progress.  We had it all set and a slip of the mouse erased the whole thing, permanently, and we haven't been able to face redoing it until recently, so please just be patient a bit longer and we'll get it fully fleshed out.

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

You can attach wire to a plug, socket, or switch without paying attention to hot and neutral, and your light will operate without anything seeming wrong. However, if your electrical component, plug, socket, or switch, is wired correctly with regard to the polarity, the hot and neutral wires, you will get some protections from shock that you will not get if you don't pay attention to the polarity.

Electricity creates a circuit through a light 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 for both the plug and the socket and a switch if you decide to use one.

With a switch, the neutral (and ground if there is one) wire stays uncut and the hot wire is cut so that the circuit can be broken and unbroken as the switch is set to the off or on position.  Using the hot wire as the cut wire is important to maintain the correct polarity all the way from the plug or hard-wiring to the socket.

Installing the Switch

We recommend wiring the switch before wiring the socket and/or plug because if you make a mistake with the switch wiring and have to cut the wire shorter as a result, it will be less work (and aggravation) if you don't have to also rewire the plug or socket.

What You Will Need

    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. A few simple tools are necessary to complete this process. Clockwise from left you will need:
      • a screwdriver (flat head or Phillips head depending on the screws in the switch you are working with),
      • a pair of scissors capable of cutting through soft plastic (for cutting strips of silicone tape),
      • a fine pair of fabric scissors (for snipping off the end of the cloth braid),
      • silicone tape (to bind the ends of cloth-covered wire to prevent fraying, available here),
      • a retractable knife like a box cutter (for cutting into the outer plastic of a jacketed cord),
      • and a wire stripper with a slot that accommodate the gauge of wire you are using. The second picture below shows the slots, labeled by gauge, in the wire stripper.
Tools Needed for Wiring a Plug and Wire Stripper Head with Gauge Slots

Prepping the Wire

  1. Determine where on the wire you want to place your switch.
    • For a tabletop item, you will want the switch a few inches from the base of the item so that it sits on the table or just over the edge of the table when you have the item positioned where you will normally have it.
    • For a pendant light, you will want to put the switch close to the plug so that the switch is easily reached, not up in the air.
  2. For all wires, you need to determine which is the hot and which is the neutral wire. You will be cutting the hot wire and leaving the neutral wire uncut, so this determination must be made before taking any other steps. The process of determining this is different for each type of wire.
      • For Twisted Pair Wire
        • If you are using gold cotton with gray tracer or putty cotton with gold tracer twisted pair wire, the wire without the tracer, the wire with the solid braid, is the hot wire.
        • For twisted wires without tracers, you will need to go to the end of the wire closest to where you are going to install the switch and pull the braid back enough to see which wire has a stripe on the PVC and which does not. Then carefully follow the wire that does not have a stripe on the PVC, the hot wire, back to the point where you will install the switch. Put a mark on the hot wire with a Sharpie in the center of where the switch will go (so that the mark doesn't show after installation).
      • For Parallel Cord
        • Parallel cord has the hot and neutral wires side-by-side, connected, with a small, thinner channel between them. The channel is designed to be pulled apart so that the hot and neutral wires can be worked with separately. Therefore, identifying the hot wire in parallel cord is a matter of knowing which side of the wire the hot wire is on.
        • Using a utility knife and or small, sharp scissors, remove a very small amount of the braid at the center of where the switch will be installed, being very careful to not cut into the PVC underneath.
        • Make the point of the utility knife as short as possible and make a small opening in the channel between the two wires, being extremely careful not to cut into the PVC that covers the wires. If you expose any copper, you will have to tape over that area or start completely over.
        • Pull the two wires apart just a bit.
        • Apply silicone tape on each side of where you removed the braid, with the outside of the tape being just inside where the edge of the switch will be. You want to be careful not to have the tape show once installation is complete.
        • Make sure you have some tape wrapping around the PVC so that the braid cannot slide down the cord.
        • The smooth side of the wire is the hot wire; ribbed is neutral.

         

        parallel cord prepped for switch installation

        Parallel Cord Prepped

         

      • For Pulley Cord
        • Pulley cord has a PVC jacket surrounding the hot and neutral wires (and ground wire if the pulley cord is 3-conductor). To identify the hot wire, you need to remove the braid and the PVC jacket.
        • Using a utility knife, remove a very small amount of the braid at the center of where the switch will be installed, being very careful to not cut all the way through the PVC jacket underneath.
        • Apply silicone tape on each side of where you removed the braid, with the outside of the tape being just inside where the edge of the switch will be. You want to be careful not to have the tape show once installation is complete.
        • Make sure you have some tape wrapping around the PVC so that the braid cannot slide down the cord.
        • Make the point of the utility knife as short as possible and make a horizontal slit in the PVC jacket, being extremely careful not to cut into the PVC that covers the wires. If you expose any copper, you will have to tape over that area or start completely over.
        • Cut all the way around the PVC jacket a little bit inside the two places where you taped so that you can remove the jacket from the area where the switch will be.
        • The black wire is the hot wire.
          pulley cord fabric removed for switch installation
          pulley cord fabric and jacket removed for switch installation
      • For Overbraid Wire
          • When working with one of our overbraid cords, you must remove a portion of the braid in order to access the underlying wires. Start by determining how much of the braid you will need to remove based on the length of the switch you are wiring. The switches that we carry that can accommodate our overbraid cord are all 2 1/2" in length so you will want to cut no more than about 2" of braid off the cord to start.
          • Wrap silicone tape around each side of this area.  The distance from the outside edge of one side of tape and the outside edge of the other side of tape should be no more than 2" to keep the tape from showing once the switch is installed.
          • Begin removing the braid in between the taped ends by carefully making a small opening in the braid with the tips of the small, sharp scissors and cutting to the tape on each side of where the switch will be.  You can also use the retractable knife to make this lengthwise cut, taking extreme caution not to cut into any of the underlying wires.
          • After you've made the lengthwise cut, cut around the edges to remove the braid from the switch area entirely.

         

        overbraid wire, braid removed for switch installation

        Overbraid Wire Prepped

         

      • Cut the hot wire in half and tape any loose fabric down to prevent the fabric from sliding down the cord. Strip 1/2" of PVC off each end of the hot wire and twist the strands of copper together.


     

     

  3. Twisted Pair Wire
  4. Put a piece of silicone tape 1/4" from the center of where the switch will be installed for rotary, identify hot by going from end - only have 7/8" to work in - cut hot wire - cut braid back 1/8", tape ends over copper same for parallel except cut two wires apart for large or vintage slim, put tape 1/4" from ends of switch, take braid off in between - if took off neutral leg, do other leg - cut hot wire in half, strip 1/2", twist
  5. Installing the Switch


    1. For Large or Vintage Slim Switches
        • For Twisted Pair or Parallel Cord
          • If you are using parallel cord, make the blade of the utility knife as short as possible. Then very carefully insert the point of the knife in the channel between the two wires, right in the center of where the switch will be installed. Then pull the two sides of the wire apart until they are separate in between the two pieces of tape. IMPORTANT: If you nick the PVC on the neutral side so that the copper is exposed, you will need to completely tape over the nick or entirely start over with the switch installation in a spot where the insulation is not compromised.
          • Determine where the center of the switch will fall on the hot wire and cut it at that point. DO NOT CUT the neutral wire.
          • Use the wire strippers to remove 1/2" of the insulation from each side of the cut hot wire and twist the strands together.

           


          Wires Prepared for a Large or Vintage Slim In-Line Switch

           



        • For Pulley Cord
          • You must remove a portion of the PVC jacket in order to wire the switch. Start by determining how much of the jacket you will need to remove based on the length of the switch you are wiring. The switches that we carry that can accommodate our pulley cord are all 2 1/2" in length so you will want to cut no more than about 2" of PVC jacket off the cord to start. Begin by carefully slicing only the braid lengthwise down the wire with a retractable knife. Once you have removed the fabric, bind down the ends of the braid with silicone tape to prevent fraying. The distance from the outside edge of one side of tape and the outside edge of the other side of tape should be no more than 2" to keep the switch looking neat on the outside.


       


      Pulley Cord Prepped for Removal of PVC Jacket

       



          • Next, remove the PVC jacket. Very carefully slice the PVC lengthwise with the smallest possible amount of retractable knife blade exposed as possible as to not cut into any of the underlying wires. IMPORTANT: If you cut into the neutral wire or a portion of the hot wire that you will not be stripping, you will have to start over. Once this slice has been made, use a combination of the retractable knife and a pair of scissors to cut off the jacket and any plastic or paper padding inside the jacket, leaving only the hot and neutral wires. Bind the jagged edges of the jacket adjacent to the initial silicone tape you applied with another piece of silicone tape.


       


      Pulley Cord with Braid and PVC Jacket Removed

       



          • Finally, cut the hot (black) wire in half with wire cutters, strip off 1/2" of PVC from each end, and twist the strands of copper together.


       


      Pulley Cord Ready for Wiring to the Switch

       



      • For Parallel Cord
          • You must remove an amount of fabric from the cord so you are able to separate the hot (smooth) from the neutral (ribbed) wires while still being able to keep the bare portion inside of the switch and not exposed. Using a retractable knife, slice down the groove between the two fused wires to easily remove the cloth without piercing the PVC on either of the two wires. Use silicone tape to bind the ends of the fabric to prevent fraying. The distance between the outside edge of one piece of tape and the outside edge of the other piece of tape should be small enough to fit into the switch without tape showing out the wire way holes.


          • , split the hot and neutral wires in half, again making sure not to cut into either of the wires. Cut the hot wire in half and tape any loose fabric down to prevent the fabric from sliding down the cord.


         

         



            If you are wiring one of our large switches or the vintage slim switch, remove 1/2" of PVC with wire strippers and twist the strands together.


         

         



        • When working with one of our overbraid cords, you must remove a portion of the braid in order to access the underlying wires and wire the switch. Start by determining how much of the braid you will need to remove based on the length of the switch you are wiring. The switches that we carry that can accommodate our overbraid cord are all 2 1/2" in length so you will want to cut no more than about 2" of braid off the cord to start. Begin by firmly and carefully slicing the braid lengthwise down the wire with a retractable knife, taking extreme caution not to cut into any of the underlying wires. Once you have removed the braid, bind down the ends of the braid with silicone tape to prevent fraying. The distance from the outside edge of one side of tape and the outside edge of the other side of tape should be under 2 1/2" to keep the switch looking neat on the outside.

           

           



          Cut the hot wire in half and tape any loose fabric down to prevent the fabric from sliding down the cord. Strip 1/2" of PVC off each end of the hot wire and twist the strands of copper together.

           

           



           

           

          Wiring the Switch

           

        • Now that your wire is ready to have the switch installed, there are a couple factors to consider that depend on what type of switch you have chosen.
        • The easiest switches to wire that we carry are the rotary switches as well as the slim style switch. These switches use a “vampire tooth” terminal to connect the wire to the switch. This means that there is no stripping of the wire and screwing it into a terminal, rather the wire is pressed down onto a sharp tooth that pierces the wire’s insulation to make contact with the copper inside. These switches are only compatible with our twisted pair wires and our parallel cords. They have a channel inside the switch for the neutral wire to pass through uninterrupted while they have an opposing side where the hot wire will get pressed onto the tooth and there is a small barrier between the two cut pieces of the hot wire. Since there is this barrier between the two ends of the hot wire you will need to cut these wires down by a very small amount, at most 1/8”, to fit them into the hot wire channels.

           

           



          When screwing the two parts of the switch together, make sure the hot wire is in the right spot where the “vampire teeth” will pierce it. This becomes more of a problem with the twisted pair wire since itdoes not lay flat so you may need to twist the wire slightly and hold it in place as you screw the two pieces together. Note: these switches will not look nice and tight and "assembled" until the two pieces are completely screwed together.

          TROUBLESHOOTING VAMPIRE TEETH SWITCHES: When we have installed switches for customers we sometimes have had switches that failed to work in spite of having been installed seemingly correctly. What we have discovered is that sometimes the vampire teeth are not biting into the wire enough to make contact with the copper, which, of course, is necessary to make the electrical connection. If you have a switch that does not work (the light or appliance does not turn on with the switch in any position) open the switch back up and inspect the two ends of the hot wire. If one or both have a dent but is not pierced where the vampire tooth made contact, here’s a trick to fix that: Find a piece of PVC (the plastic that surrounds the copper inside the wire) that is left over from when you stripped the end of a wire. Strip another 1” if you don’t have the PVC. Cut the piece of PVC in half lengthwise and cut a piece to the about 1/2” long and 1/4-18” wide. Place that little piece under the part of the wire that will be pierced by the vampire tooth. This will raise the wire up enough for the tooth to pierce down to the copper. MAKE SURE NO COPPER IS STILL IN THE PIECE OF PVC THAT YOU USE AND DO NOT USE ANY OTHER MATERIAL. You know it’s safe to use the PVC since it is used as insulation. Do not take the risk of using any other substance.

           

           



        • The vintage slim switch is the next easiest to wire. This switch can accommodate any of our wires and features an easy to use screw terminal in the center of the switch. Note: this terminal necessitates a very small flathead screwdriver to tighten the screws onto the wire, 1/8” in diameter max. These switches are made in Italy and contain two extra screw terminals on each side of the switch that are normally used for European wiring but can be removed for American wiring. Simply pry them out of the switch with a screwdriver and discard. This switch also features two clamps on the inside of the wire way holes to hold the wire in place and press it down to allow the switch to snap together – this switch does not screw together like the others, it is instead pressed together and will lock to prevent it from coming apart. You will need to get the clamps out of the way in order to wire this switch. Remove one screw entirely and set aside. Loosen the second screw enough for you to be able to rotate it out of the way then tighten that screw again to keep it in place and out of the way. Do this for each side of the switch.

           

           



          Insert the tip of the bare, twisted copper into one of the terminals and tighten the screw as far down as possible. Be sure the wire is attached to the terminal by giving it a tug and checking that it does not fall out.

           

           



          At this point, for every wire except twisted pair, the outside edge of the silicone tape on the wire should be inside the wire way hole. If it extends beyond the wire way hole, unscrew the terminal, clip the end of the previously stripped hot wire by the amount you need to get the tape inside the switch and repeat that process. Once the wire is attached to the terminal and the tape is not showing out of the wire way hole, guide the neutral wire around the terminals and press it down into the channel that one of the discarded terminals once occupied. There are two tabs at either end of the terminals that press into the other part of the switch and must not be pushed aside or otherwise impeded from entering their corresponding slots in the other part of the switch. You must navigate the small space in the switch by fitting the wires where they need to go without interrupting the tabs’ ability to lock the switch together. Repeat this process for the other screw terminal, making sure there is enough hot wire to reach the terminal and get screwed in while not allowing the silicone tape to show out the second wire way hole.

           

           



          Once this is achieved, rotate the clamps back around to their original position and screw them down all the way over the wire.

           

           



          Finally, snap the other part of the switch over the wired part. If you need to separate these two parts of this switch again, you can pry each side up with a small screwdriver and push them apart.

           

           



        • The final switches are the large and vintage large style switches. While they are not difficult to wire, there are a couple extra steps involved that the rotary and slim switches do not necessitate. Firstly, each of these switches have easily removable tabs located at the wire way holes which can be taken out to accommodate larger wires like pulley or overbraid cord (our twisted pair wires and parallel cords fit without removing these tabs). On the vintage large switch the tabs can be snapped out of place. The plastic tabs on these switches are quite brittle and can be broken off by prying them with needle nosed pliers. Try to break off small pieces gradually while eventually making sure the wire way hole is smooth and will not scuff up the wire. On the other large switch the plastic is not as brittle and the tabs must be cut out with a sharp knife.

           

           



           

           



          Very carefully cut out this semi-circle, taking extreme caution not to cut yourself or cut up the outside of the switch. Try to remove as much of the tab as possible while keeping the edge of the wire way hole smooth. All other wiring instructions for these two styles of switches are exactly the same. Take one end of the hot wire and make a hook out of the stripped, twisted copper. Loop the hook around the narrow part of one of the screws and tighten the screw down, sandwiching all of the strands of copper under the wide part of the screw. For all wires aside from twisted pair wires, make sure the outside of the silicone tape on the wire at this end of the switch does not show out of the wire way hole. If it does, cut down the hot wire slightly and try again until the wire looks neat coming out of the wire way hole.

           

           



          Next, run the neutral wire through the channel under the terminals. Make sure the wire goes around the raised holes that the switch’s set screws tighten into, otherwise the switch will not screw together completely. Wire the other end of the terminal the same way, making sure the neutral wire does not impede the raised holes and making sure the silicone tape does not show out of the second wire way hole.

           

           



          Once the switch is wired properly, put the other part of the switch on the terminal side and screw the two pieces together. For the large switch there are two Phillips head screws to join the pieces.

           

           



          For the vintage large switch there are two flat head screws and two small nuts. First insert one nut into the hexagonal hole on the side of the switch with the terminals.

           

           



          Hold that nut in place with one finger while inserting one of the screws into the corresponding hole on the other side of the switch and screw it in until the screw works its way into the nut.

           

           



          Repeat with the other screw/nut and tighten each side.

           


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