How to Make Earrings from Old Xmas Lights

Every year, my folks put strands of those big ol’ outdoor lights on the evergreen trees in their backyard. Before the lights can go up, however, they have to be checked for shorts and burnouts.

Poor burnouts. Functionally useless but still so colorful.
Poor burnouts. Functionally useless but still so colorful.

All this happens around the same time stores start filling their shelves with holiday-themed accessories, like necklaces with tree-shaped beads and reindeer antlered tiaras or whatever. And, of course, earrings made to look like Christmas tree lights.

The Lake Grove Elementary colors are my fave. Go Leopards!
The Lake Grove Elementary colors are my fave. Go Leopards!

Turns out you can make your own earrings that look like this, but cost less than a buck per pair and take about fifteen minutes to put together.

I will now reveal to you the mysterious secret to making your own high-quality jewelry. Here’s what you’re going to need:

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Grab a pair of those light bulbs, a pair of earring hooks, a pair of jump rings (I used the 6mm size), some needle nose pliers, end cutters (or wire cutters), some wire, a jeweler’s hammer, and a small nail. You can get all the jewelry-making material at a craft store. I got most of this stuff at Micheal’s.

Also, here’s a diagram of a light bulb so you know what I mean when I say stuff like, “cap” and “contact wire.”:

Don't study it too hard. There's not going to be a quiz.
Don’t study it too hard. There’s not going to be a quiz.

First, gather the hammer, the nail, and one of the bulbs. Look at the screw base of your bulb and find the electrical contact – it’s #11 on the diagram up there. There will be a (probably black) plastic base, and then a little piece of metal. The metal bit is the electrical contact and you’re going to pop it off.

SAMSUNG CSCIt’s soft metal, so all you have to do is hammer your nail far enough into the metal to gain the leverage to separate it from its plastic base. I do this by holding the bulb in my palm and hold the nail to the side of the electrical contact (where it meets its plastic base) between my thumb and forefinger.

Position the nail right about there.
Position the nail right about there.
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This is how I hold the nail when I tap it with my hammer.

Gently tap the nail until it’s made a small divot. Then, reposition the nail into the divot. This will give you a better hold on the nail so you can tap a little harder. It will only take a few seconds of tapping to get your nail far enough into that soft metal so that you’ll have enough leverage to pop it off like the cap on a soda bottle. If you have trouble with this, try tapping a little harder. You can also grip the contact with your needle nose pliers and pull it the rest of the way off.

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Once that’s off, you’ll see the hole underneath it. See the contact wire sticking out? Ignore it. Don’t see the wire? Doesn’t matter. Whether it’s there or not, don’t worry about it.

Now check out the cap – that’s the threaded thing that screws into a lamp and is #9 on the diagram. You should be able to find a small hole there (maybe more than one). Reference #8 on the diagram if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.

That hole leads to a glass tube inside the cap that can guide wire either up into the bulb or out through the base (through that hole you just made). Bend about half an inch of wire around your index finger so it makes a “J” shape.

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Thread the wire through that hole in the cap so it runs out the hole in the base – Formerly Known As Electrical Contact.

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If you have trouble, remove the wire and keep trying. There’s only two ways it can go, so if it’s not coming out the base, it may be going up into the bulb.

Now you should have half an inch of wire coming out through the base (this is your front wire). Clip the rest of your wire so there’s another half inch coming out through that hole in the side of the cap (this is your back wire).

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Set that aside for a second while you attach a jump ring to an earring hook.

These guys! With the 6mm jump rings, you don't even need pliers – I open and close them by hand.
These guys! With the 6mm jump rings, you don’t even need pliers – I open and close them by hand.

Last steps: slide your jump ring (with hook attached) down the length of wire that runs out the base of your bulb (the front wire).

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Make sure the hook faces backward, that is, front-to-back (front wire-to-back wire), otherwise when you go to put your earrings on, they’ll hang backwards. Next, pinch the wire ends toward each other so they cross in the middle and make an X.

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Use your needle nose pliers to grip both lengths of wire right above where they cross (the “X”).

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Make sure to keep the earring hook forward – keep it in place with your index finger while you hold the rest of the bulb in your hand. Twist the wire ends together, twisting the back wire over the front wire. Continue to twist several times until the wires are tightly intertwined with two little rabbit ear ends sticking out the top.

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Grab your wire cutters and clip your two wires just below those rabbit ears.

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You can now push that twisted wire piece backwards, either with your finger or with your pliers, until it lies flat.

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Check it out. Now you’ve got a holiday light bulb earring. You can do it all again and make a matching one, or make a mis-matched pair, or just wear one and look like you’re too cool to care.

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Or you can get a bunch of piercings and put a light bulb in each one.

Nifty, eh? And for much less than the corporate fat cats are charging for their inferior versions that are usually covered with glitter or some stupid nonsense. Screw the Man! Speaking of which, I did all the touch-up work on my photos with GIMP, the free, open source alternative to Photoshop. I’ve been using this program for three or four years and love it.

One final word, on categorizing this post under “upcycle.” I hate that term, but I had to use it for the sake of search engine optimization, or SEO. That’s right, I know my SEO. On a completely unrelated note, I still have some hours available for freelance writing, research/analysis, and content management work.

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