Pulleys have been doing the heavy lifting for centuries. Simple machines comprising a grooved wheel, called a sheave, inside a wood or cast-iron frame, pulleys can be found in various designs and sizes based on the task they were originally created for.
Among the most common and collectible today are barn pulleys with wood sheaves and cast-iron housings. In the late 1800s, most were used to move hay from horse-drawn carts to lofts. To the American farmer, this mechanized system was the antidote to the back-breaking work of slinging hay with a pitchfork.
By the 1950s, the hay elevator had pretty much replaced the barn pulley system. The upside is that recyclers can now find pulleys at flea markets, salvage yards, and auctions, and put them back to work as hangers for potted plants on the porch, wood-block bookends in the den, or as the basis for an adjustable bedside sconce like the one I created at here. To make your own light, follow along for the easy how-to.
Inspired by a $500 industrial-look fixture in a catalog, I made this sconce for a fraction of the cost using a barn pulley. At $22, it wasn't the cheapest pulley, but it was clean, had a nice patina, and was stamped "Myers O.K." on the side. Such maker's marks add value and can also reveal a pulley's age—mine dates to the 1920s. A second, smaller screw-base pulley and the cast-iron bracket were $8 at a garage sale, and the cloth-covered cord, brass light socket, and Edison-style bulb totaled $42 from a lamp supply shop. To protect the bulb and yourself (it can get hot), you might consider adding a metal bulb cage.
Shown: Pulleys cost from $3 to $75. Clockwise from top: Dual-sheave industrial pulley; nautical wood block with hook; well pulley; screw-in shade or clothesline pulley; and barn pulley.
Clean the Pulley
To protect the wood sheave and give it a nice sheen, rub with beeswax polish. Linseed or tung oil will also do the trick. Wipe the cast-iron frame with WD-40 to clean it and highlight the metal's patina.
Wire the Socket
Strip ½ inch of insulation from each wire to reveal bare copper. Wind the neutral wire clockwise around the socket's silver screw and the hot wire around the brass screw. Tighten the screws, and fit the brass housing over the socket.
Coil the Cord
Fish the bare end of the electrical cord through the cast-iron pulley frame and loosely loop it around the grooved wood sheave a few times.
Attach the Pulley to the Bracket
Secure one end of a doubled-up length of twine to the top of the pulley and the other to the bracket using knots of your choice.
Add a Second Pulley
To guide the cord to a wall socket, insert the fastener end of a small screw-mount pulley through the existing drill-out on the lower portion of the bracket.
Hook Up the Plug
Once the cord has been threaded through both pulleys, complete the fixture by attaching the plug. The neutral wire wraps around the plug's silver screw, and the hot wire around the brass screw. Congrats! Your new pulley sconce is now ready to hang.