There are several areas and situations around the home where a pull-chain fixture can be more practical than a light operated from a switch which requires you to walk over to the switch to turn it on.
We’re talking about light fixtures inside closets, in certain areas of basements, directly over a workbench, or over a power tool such as a table saw where you always need extra lighting while using it.
Providing such a source of light from a pull-chain fixture can easily be the more practical solution providing that you use the proper accessories for the job.
1. Planning the Pull Chain
Locate the nearest junction or terminal box where you could tap from an existing live wire. With this figured out, take your measuring tape to measure how much wire you will need to run a drop from that electrical box to where the light fixture will be installed.
You can add about 16-inches for the connections in both boxes, plus another 2-feet or more to provide extra slack for unexpected obstructions and to make the task more manageable. The cheaper 14/2 cable should be adequate for the job.
For an installation where the ceiling is unfinished with exposed joists, the task just got very simple as pretty much any octagonal ceiling box will do just as long as it is properly attached to the joists.
For a finished ceiling, you’ll have to resort to a "cut-in” box, which is basically an octagonal or round terminal box with two or more special brackets that can spread out (as in spreading their wings) as the box is installed in place.
The fastening brackets come in different design types. Some have spring-loaded wings that you hold in while inserting the box into its orifice to spring out over the inside of the drywall surface when completely inserted into place.
Others are attached with separate clips or brackets that are inserted into special openings into the sides of the box and can be pulled tight with pliers once the box is in place
But the one that offers the best support for ceiling fixtures is the round box with a top support flange and three fold-out wings.
You just have to simply insert the box inside the hole and when you start turning the fastening screws, the folding wings attached to the screws simply rotate or unfold into place, opening up inside the ceiling cavity.
The screws are then tightened right up while pulling the wings against the drywall securing the terminal box in position.
You can now complete your shopping list and get your supplies with the proper terminal box, the right amount of cable, and adding two cable connectors, five or six wire-nuts, a pull-chain light fixture, and a light bulb.
2. Cutting the Opening Through the Drywall
Using a stud finder, make sure to find out where the joists and the furring strips are located and mark your chosen location away from such obstacles.
Trace the outline of the box on the ceiling, making sure it is smaller than the box’s outside flange.
Since you’re cutting through the ceiling and the dust will likely fall on your face, put on a pair of safety goggles or glasses and cut out the opening with a jigsaw.
3. Putting the Wiring Through
Installing the wiring from the live terminal box to the ceiling opening could be the trickier part of this job, all depending on how much cable fishing it will involve.
The level of accessibility that you get to fish the wires through will determine if the task will be either straightforward and simple, or downright complex enough to leave you cutting out sections of drywall (to be repaired later) in order to let you drill holes through wall plates and studs so that you can get the cable to the terminal box opening.
For instance, if you’re lucky enough that there is an attic overhead, you can simply locate the right position in the attic and drill from above through the wall plate then put your fish wire down through it.
Turn off the dedicated circuit breaker to the electrical box from where you will connect your feed.
Remove the cover plate and pull out the outlet, switch, or fixture from the box.
If the electrical box is of a cut-in type, release the holding brackets and pull out the box from the wall. If the box is screwed into the wooden framing from the inside, remove the screws and pull out the box.
If the box was attached from outside before the wall or ceiling was covered over, you’ll have to pry it out with a thin prying tool inserted at the height of the nails or screws, to give enough slack so that a reciprocating saw with a metal blade can be inserted between the box and the wood to cut the fastener.
The box can then be pulled out. The level of difficulty in removing the box will determine the degree of damage it will sustain and might even leave you having to buy a new terminal box.
With the box out, you can now examine the inside of the wall for possible obstructions and also possibilities.
The objective is to get the cable through the easiest possible path dodging every piece of framing, firewalls, and various types of support members in the way by going around them, above, under, and sometimes through by drilling holes in critical junctures.
Once the cable is passed through with the extremities sticking out at both ends, start by fixing the cable at the fixture’s end by first removing 8-inches (200 mm) of the external jacket with a utility knife, and then peeling off about 1/2 to 5/8-inch (12-15 mm) of each wire’s insulation using your wire strippers.
Remove a knock-off plug from the new cut-in box and put a cable connector in place. You can then put the cable through the connector up to the jacket and secure the cable into the connector’s clamp.
Putting the cut-in box in place, first make sure the wing are all pushed in against the outside of the box then push the box through the opening. You might have to tilt and wiggle it a bit to get the cable through but once inside, push it in up to the flange and start screwing in the brackets.
That will cause the wings to open up so you can keep on tightening until the wings put pressure against the underside of the drywall. Tighten them all until they’re tight and secure.
You can now install the pull-chain fixture by connecting the ground wire to the ground terminal on the box, the white wire to the silver terminal screw, and the black to the brass terminal screw on the fixture. Your fixture can now be installed onto its terminal box.
Returning to the terminal box connected to the breaker, remove about 8-inches (200 mm) of its jacket off and remove the first 1/2 to 5/8-inch (12-15 mm) off the white and the black wires, following the same procedure as in step 3.5.
Remove a knock-off plug from the box and insert the cable through it securing it with a cable connector as in step 3.6.
Push the box back into the wall and secure it with the means provided for that particular box—likely by screwing into the wood against it.
Connect the newly added wires to the ground wires and terminal, the white wire to the silver terminal or to the other white wires, and the black wire to the brass terminal screw or the cluster of pig-tailed black wires.
Replace everything back in the box and put the cover plate back in place. You can now switch the breaker back on, insert a light bulb into the fixture and pull the chain... and there shall be light!