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can't tell the difference between smooth and ribbed wires on a fixture, they look the same

can't tell the difference between smooth and ribbed wires on a fixture, they look the same, in addition the wire coming out that's supposedly copper doesn't look copper to me, any advice?

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Posted 2013-07-20T18:31:48+0000  by jlfrank46 jlfrank46

The wire is probably tinned copper which can look like aluminum.  Depending on the manufacturer, it can be a little tricky to tell what side is ribbed.  Usually you can feel the ribbing.  If it's not there, you can figure out the two sides using a continuity tester.

Posted 2013-07-20T20:32:46+0000  by Adam444

Hello jlfrank46,


Thanks for your question and welcome to the community!

If you have a grounded (3 prong) cord, then you shouldn't have a ribbed wire. That setup is for polarized, or 2 prong cords without a ground.


You will need to trace which one is a hot wire, a neutral, and if the last is bare, that should be your ground wire.


If this isn't your setup, you can upload an image for us to see. Or just as good, describing to us what fixture or device you want to wire.


Hope to hear from you soon,


Posted 2013-07-20T20:35:40+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL
I'm a complete novice at electricity. I have a continuity tester. If I touch one of the fixtures wires with the probe, what else do I touch to complete a circuit. And if I get a light on the tester does that mean I have the neutral or the hot wire. At this point the elec. is off and nothing is connected.
Posted 2013-07-20T21:19:04+0000  by jlfrank46

Here's a picture, the two lowest hanging wires are from the fixture and are the ones that I can't tell which is whichphoto.JPG

Posted 2013-07-20T21:35:41+0000  by jlfrank46

A lot of continuity testers have different setups for wires, but most have a test wire with an alligator clip and test probe lead to give you a reading. And I'm glad you are playing it safe by having the electricity off completely; its the only way this type of tester works.


A light on the tester should mean that the circuit is continuous; that the device is fine. A hot wire is the wire that provides electricity running from the circuit. This is only one wire typically for an AC current. A neutral is what is returned and completes this circuit on an AC line. But there are other setups if this is low voltage or DC current.


More importantly though, was this a light or switch you are trying to replace? Let me know exactly what you have here, and we can assist you further from here.



Posted 2013-07-20T21:37:17+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL



Having the image uploaded is WAY more helpful than you will ever know.


The black wire coming out of the ceiling that is capped off should be your hot wire. The white wire (it looks as that; the other wire with the yellow cap) coming off should be your neutral wire.


The bare silver wire appears as a ground. You can attach, or bond the ground to the crossbar that is in the junction box. Do this since it appears you have no ground coming off the fixture.


Attach one of the wires coming from the light to one of the black wire, and another to the other capped off wire. DO NOT cross wires, make sure they are separated.


Once you do this, you can turn on the circuit breaker after making sure all the connections are safely secured. Once they are, turn the power back off to the lights (from the breaker, NOT the switch) and then finish hanging the fixture.


Try that out and let me know if it works out for you,


Posted 2013-07-20T21:42:06+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL

Thank you for your assistance, but I'm still a little confused.  The bare silver wire comes off the new light and I was thinking it should connect to the copper ground coming out of the box.  The copper wire is the one with the orange cap on it.  The other two wires from the box, one black and one white.  I still don't understand how I know which wire coming off the light attaches to black and which one attaches to white.  The two insulated wires coming off the light look the same. 

Posted 2013-07-20T21:57:55+0000  by jlfrank46

Okay lets start back to the beginning to make it easier.


Since you only have two wires coming from the light, simply make one attach the white and the other to the black. Simple as that. Don't separate or cross the wires, just place one from the light to the black wire and the other to the white.


The copper wire will be connected to the silver bare wire. This will be your ground.


I didn't see that the copper had an orange cap, I apologize.


Follow these steps, and secure them with the wire nuts and electrical tape.


Once you do that, turn the breaker on and check to see if this will effectively turn the lights on and off via the switch.


let me know if you have any further questions,


Posted 2013-07-20T22:06:55+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL
I was able to determine continuity by testing from the tab inside the lite socket that had a black wire connected to the wires coming out at the top of the chain. I connected black from the house to that wire and all is working. Thanks again for your help.
Posted 2013-07-20T23:06:31+0000  by jlfrank46

You got it right.  With a lamp socket, the tab at the bottom is "hot" while the threaded part is "neutral".  


Good job!

Posted 2013-07-21T03:53:08+0000  by Adam444
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