How to Use a Barn Pulley to Make a Wall-Mount Light Fixture
Create a unique sconce—based on a commercial industrial-look fixture—for a fraction of the cost
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.