1991 >> April >> Exhibiting Your Insulators At Home  

Exhibiting Your Insulators At Home
by Larry Larned

Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", April 1991, page 20

Are you faced with where to store your collection? Or how to display it? One way is to leave it in boxes -- not much fun. Another way is to spread it on the floor -- hard to see and easy to step on. Or another way is to place pieces all over the house on window sills, dining tables, kitchen counters, toilet tank tops, beside tables -- tough to know what's what and where a particular piece is. So, what to do? 

I've been faced with this question since 1952 when A.T.&T. cut the poles and let 'em drop on a major open wire toll line which ran through the woods on my folk's place in Westchester County, N.Y. Of course, I saved the insulators! 

Over the past 25 years I've seen insulators displayed many different ways -- at shows and at home. My preference? Lighted shelves done in a tasteful way. I prefer the natural look for displaying insulators and for women too! Let's face it, insulators were made for use in their natural environment, reflecting light from all directions. And not everybody has enough window space to exhibit their collection in natural sunlight. Somehow apples have a greater appeal on the tree than in a bowl. So be it for insulators.

Considering all of these thoughts, I decided to share with you a recent project for building lighted shelves -- good winter time project. First, consider what you want to display -- maybe all the models don't qualify. Then locate a wall which "needs shelves" and can support a heavy load -- these beauties weigh at least 1 lb. a piece and some can be downright hefty (CD 331). Second, consider what insulators you may collect in the future (almost impossible) and plan your shelving needs accordingly. Third, consider your zone of greatest visual acuity (step aside Dr. Ruth) and plan to place a shelf within this zone. Usually this is about eye level. Certainly not at the ankles and not eight feet in the air. Fourth, consider and appropriate length of shelving for the wall you plan to use -- keep proportions in mind. Fifth, be sure to allow enough space between shelves. Spacing must include the shelf thickness, the fixture height with tube, the glass shelf above the tube and the average height of insulators in your collection plus two inches.

Lighted shelves have the advantage of providing vertical illumination with the bottom of each insulator only a fraction of an inch from the light source -- only the glass shelf separates the two. 

Now on to construction. This separates the doer from the planner! Use materials readily at hand and avoid spending a fortune -- after all what's more important -- obtaining more insulators or investing in fancy shelves? For my purposes I chose 12 foot shelves of No. 2 pine (1" x 4" which actually measure 3/4" x 3-1/ 2"). And now to the foundation work -- this is important. Using a stud finder or small nail, locate the studs or wall supports. Every second stud should support a metal wall shelf bracket which in turn will support the insulator shelf unit. 

Consider where you want the shelf to be and working from left to right place a pencil mark on the wall where the closest stud is located to the shelf's left end. Now measure from this mark the length of the shelf you plan to use and search for another stud. The shelf can overhang the end supports a foot if need be. Now put a mark on the wall where the closest stud is located to the shelf's right end and at the same height as the left mark. Terrific, we have the end points!

I chose 5" x 4" pressed metal brackets for the shelves. Although made of lighter gauge metal than solid steel, they don't rust and their cross section is actually stronger and more elastic. The metal brackets should be fastened to the wall studs using 1-1/2" steel wood screws (no nails). Next fasten all the brackets to the wall. Now its decision time again and a matter of personal taste. A fascia board will need to be nailed to the wood shelf in order to hide the light fixture and to support the glass shelf. I chose 1" x 6" weathered barn board -- the grays complement my collection of SCA and purple glass. Prior to nailing the fascia board to the wood shelf every 18 inches, tack a length of 3/8" x 1-1/2" lath onto the back of the fascia board just a 1/4" below the top edge. This will support the glass shelf. At this time, also tack a length of lath to the wall -- placed so that when the wood shelf and fascia board are in place, the tops of the laths are parallel. Now place the shelf unit onto the metal brackets making sure the shelf is level. Use 1/2" wood screws to fasten the bottom of the shelf to the metal brackets. Great job -- but the best is yet to come! 

I used 4' single tube fluorescent light fixtures -- three to a shelf and ganged together with a single wire to a plug. Just place the fixtures on the shelf and plug into the wall outlet to test the lamps. If they light -- great! Go on to the next step: the glass.

This is a little tricky hut not hard. I used single strength window glass cut at my local hardware store in three foot lengths. The important dimension is the width. With the wood shelf and fascia board in place, measure the distance from the wall to the back of the fascia board at one foot intervals over the total length. If all the measurements are the same -- fine. If not, figure an average. Allow an additional 1/8" to the glass width -- why? Because when the shelf is fully loaded -- the lights, window glass and insulators -- some deflection will occur and the fascia will move slightly to accommodate the load. The glass should be snug when placed between the wall and the fascia board. As a finishing touch, place a tie wire at each end of the fascia board using screw eyes and picture wire: one eye in the wall stud and the other in the fascia board. The wire is tied between the two eyes and prevents the fascia from moving away from the wall.

Now with everything in place turn on the lights, arrange your insulators and enjoy your collection!

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