Create Striking Candle Effects with Cheap Christmas Lights
Below are drawings that help explain concepts used in the Outside the Box story by Mike Post and F. Randy deCelle in the Fall 2015 issue of Southern Theatre magazine.
The twinkle lights are wired in series, so the power for each lamp is fed through one lamp to the next. Circuits need a return path so after the last lamp, a wire runs all the way back to the source. If you break the wire at any point between lamps, then there is no flow of electricity and they all turn off.
In series, the total voltage is the sum of all the voltages for each lamp. If you look at a string of 50, since America runs on 120 volts, each lamp needs 2.4 volts. We can round that up to 3 volts for convenience. So to power a single twinkle light, you need around 3 volts.
To test this, cut out three lamps from a string of twinkle lights, leaving them attached to each other. The rest of the wires you can set to one side. Touch the ends of your little daisy chain to the two contacts of a nine-volt battery. They light up – voila!
Most canister style batteries – AAA, AA, C and D – run at 1.5 volts. Every battery has two poles, a positive and a negative. The side of a canister battery with the little button is the top and is positive. Putting two such batteries in series adds the voltages together. So, if you touch the bottom of one to the top of another, that gives you 1.5 + 1.5 or 3 volts – enough to drive a single twinkie light. You can get various battery holders from electronic supply stores that hold the batteries to do this and other voltages.
If you need to connect a candelabra or other lighting effect to a dimmer so you can control it, you need to change the 120V to something else with a transformer. There are many different varieties of these, most typically described as “wall warts” or those power supplies for gadgets that get tossed in a drawer. For this purpose, you want one that takes 120V AC input and delivers AC output, not DC. You can find these at many different voltage ratings, 12V being pretty common. Look for amperage ratings as well if you are creating larger effects. If you were creating a candelabra with 12 lights, you would wire the lights into three series groups of four lamps each (4 x 3V is 12V) and wire each group in parallel to the transformer.