Thursday, 4 April 2013

Let there be light!

Or:  How to wire a front opening dolls house using its hinges...

I now know what inventor of the light bulb Joseph Swan and his friend William Armstrong felt the day they finished wiring Swan's house in Gateshead up to the new-fangled incandescent filament electric lamp device type-thingy that Swan had made in his shed, and flicked the switch.

The house called Underhill, (which coincidentally was built in the same year as No1 Heatherside Corner) lit up like a Christmas tree and in doing so became the first private house in the whole world to be illuminated by electric light bulbs.

Armstrong was so impressed with his mate's invention that they trotted round to his place, a house called Cragside in Northumberland, on the way to the pub for a celebratory snifter, and installed light bulbs there too. 

Handily, he had also been busy and just happened to have built the world's first hydroelectric power station in his back garden, which was more than up to the job of powering the new lamps in his gallery. 

This week I had a similar scale epiphany, when, mentally drained after several hours of complicated scientific experiment and research, I finally pushed the tiny white plastic plug from the Mini House’s outside porch light, into my lighting strip and watched the minuscule bulb gently come to life like an amorous glow worm’s derriere.

The reason for my delight?  I, the person who can barely wire a plug, and who has the dexterity of someone whose fingers are made of (the now defunct) Porkinson’s Bangers*, and who has no hydroelectricity at my sausagey-fingertips, had just managed to wire up the light, using the Mini House's hinges as conductors. And it only, totally unexpectedly, bloomin' well worked first time!

By the bye, did you know Porkinson's Bangers were originally created by celebrity photographer Norman Parkinson and were sadly abandoned by the company who owned the rights after his death, following what they called "a sausage portfolio review"?

"I had the mortification one fine morning of finding you on my track and in several particulars ahead of me -- but now I think I have shot ahead of you and yet I feel there is almost an infinity of detail to be wrought out in the large application now awaiting development and that your inventive genius as well as my own will find very ample room for exercise in carrying out this gigantic work that awaits execution."
Joseph Swan. In a letter to Thomas Edison, (who didn't really invent the light bulb) on 24 September 1880.  
Read more: Lighting a revolution


The things you will need to succeed:

Two brass hinges and brass screws, or your existing hinges, sanded on the back to remove any paint. (Hinges and screw fittings must be brass!)
External 12v light fitting, plus lighting strip and transformer
Extra roll of 12v lighting cable
Point-nosed pliers
Lino cutting tool or craft knife
Strong double sided adhesive tape
Masking or sticky tape

Firstly check your light is working before installing it, by plugging it into the lighting strip and connecting to a transformer. If your light is self-adhesive, paint the outer edge of the sticky pad to blend in with the light or outer wall finish.
Use a bradawl or drill to make a small hole to mark the position where your light will sit, and where the wire will go through the front of the house.
Add your hinges, or use the existing ones, to the opening inside edge of the house front. The hinges and screws must be brass, and paint-free where your wires will touch the metal to  give a good contact. The wires go underneath the hinges, so if you are using the existing ones,  remove them and lightly sand any paint off the underside to give a bare metal surface.

NOTE: Each light you require to be wired via this method must have its own set of hinges. 
On the reverse of the opening house front, mark a line from the hole you have made, along the path you wish the light cable to go, towards the hinges. Use a Lino cutting tool or craft knife to cut a shallow groove along the line.
Remove the plug from your light (save the plug for later) then thread the light cable through the hole you have made, from the front. Fix your light in place using the sticky self-adhesive pad or screws supplied, as per the instructions.
Cut a thin strip of strong double sided adhesive tape and run it into the groove you have cut on the reverse of the opening house front, using a blunt point to press it in firmly before removing the backing paper. Press the lighting cable into the groove you have cut, onto the self-adhesive tape strip. This will hold the cable in place while you work. Once you have completed the installation you can simply glue, fill and paint over the tape and cable, to create a smooth surface, thus embedding the cable.
Run the cable along the groove to the hinges. Just before the point where it reaches them, carefully split the end to create two separate covered wires.  Make sure you have enough cable to reach both hinges. Use a cigarette lighter to gently melt the plastic coating off the ends of the wire, or pinch gently and pull, making sure you don't break the actual wires inside.

Twist the ends of the wires together to make one.   Cut the wire ends to the correct length. You want just enough exposed so it will fit neatly under one half of the hinge, without overhanging. (Image shows wire before cutting to correct length)
Loosen the hinge screws and slide the end of one wire underneath each hinge.  Tighten the screws again. Make sure the wire stays under the hinge and doesn't get caught  in screw thread. It must only have contact with one side of the hinge. Use a small strip of sticky or masking tape to hold the wire in place while you work on the other.
Take your spare roll of lighting cable and cut a length long enough to measure from the hinges  to where your lighting strip or sockets will finally be fixed when the project is finished.
Split the ends of the cable (as previously done with the first wire) and again twist the exposed  wires and fix under the opposite side of each hinge, to mirror the first.  Make sure the ends of the  first wires are not touching the ends of the second ones. Hold the cable in place with  small strips of sticky or masking tape.
Suggestion: Run the second cable down the edge of the inside wall of the house to the bottom and underneath the house. If you are lucky enough to have a recess, you can run the cable to the back of the house or to the lighting strip without further need to hide it. If, however, you do not have this option, repeat the part where you cut a small groove with the Lino tool or craft knife and follow the steps to hide the cable in this way.
Once your cable is run to where it will exit the house and join the mains circuit via a lighting strip, or other means, re-attach the plug you removed earlier, to the new cable and test again by plugging it into the lighting strip and transformer.If your light does not illuminate, check that each cable end is securely fastened,  and is not touching anything apart from the under side of your hinges. Check also that the  cable ends are not touching each other and that the underside of the hinges are free from paint or anything else which may cause a break in the circuit.
Once your light is in place and working, run a fine line of wood glue along the entire groove where the cable is sitting, taking care not to get glue on the hinges themselves. You can then use wood filler or similar to smooth over the groove and paint or paper as required.  Finally, make sure your light is secured to the outside of the house and that's all there is to it! Jump for joy!

For another tutorial on the same subject see also: Hard wiring a front opening dolls house by Christine Errico


  1. That is such a great tutorial, might give it a try sometime.

  2. Thank you! I take it you have wrestled the computer back from the kids on their Easter break! It was easier to do than I first imagined. Opens up all sorts of possibilities!