The Twinkling Light Set: An increasingly rare but delightful type of decorative lighting


It’s that time of year again, the time where
we embrace the meaning of the holidays by relentlessly spending our money at various
shrines to consumerism around the world, and covering our homes in a superfluous amount
of lights. I’m not so much a fan of the former, but
I do like lights. And in this video, I’ll be showing you my
favorite kind. This is the part where you say, “This isn’t
what I thought the next video was going to be about!”, and you’re right. I just came back from a family trip and still
have to finish that one up. For now, though, I want to show you a special
kind of light. These lights seem to be fairly uncommon, which
is a shame because the effect they produce is in my opinion unparalleled. As you shall soon see. First a few qualifiers. If I were to refer to these as Hmm hmm lights,
I’d annoy a particular set of people. And if I referred to them as hmm hm hm lights
I’d annoy the opposite particular set of people. So I’ll take the British approach and refer
to these as Fairy Lights. Now you’re both annoyed. This video will focus mainly on incandescent
fairy lights because the sets I’m talking about fall under that category. So first, some general info. Note that this is from an American perspective
where fairy lights run at 120 volts. Incandescent fairy lights of this style tend
to be constructed as cheaply as possible. The wiring is done point-to-point, with the
lamp holders simply being a plastic tube thing with the wires just sorta poking up through
the bottom and being held to the sides. The lamps are equally primitive. Just a glass envelope with a tiny filament
suspended between two support wires that go straight out the bottom of the glass. A removable plastic base holds the glass with
the wires bent up the sides, and it lines up with the lamp holder, which presses the
wires of the bulb into the wires at the sides of the base. A set of 100 lights is typically made of two
series circuits of 50 lights each, with the lights running at about 2.4 volts. If you remove a light from the string, that
opens the circuit, and half the strand goes out. This is the cause of much frustration, let
me tell you. But, to prevent a burnt out bulb from opening
the circuit and thus killing half the string, the bulbs are constructed with a clever little
feature. At the base of the bulb, wrapped around the
support wires, is a little wire loop. This wire is coated with a weak insulator
that will prevent current from flowing through it at the normally low operational voltage. But if the filament breaks, the full 120 volts
is briefly present at the lamp because none of the other lamps are receiving current and
dropping the voltage down. The insulation around the wire loop will usually
break down with such a high voltage, which turns it into a shunt, thus shorting out the
lamp and continuing the circuit. This is known as an antifuse, and I said the
insulation usually breaks down because we have all had a set of lights that just refuses
to work for no apparent reason, and this is a possible culprit. That’s what light repair devices are used
for–by detecting voltage at each of the lamps, you can travel along the string to find out
which light is the last to receive voltage, and thus which one is likely the cause of
a fault. As an unfortunate side-effect of this feature,
each shorted lamp increases the voltage across the remaining lamps. With 49 operational lamps instead of fifty,
each lamp now gets about 2.45 volts. They’re rated at 2.5 volts, at least in
these sets, so one or two burnt out lights won’t be too harmful. But with only 45 lights working, each remaining
light gets 2.66 volts. With 40 operational lamps, the rest get a
whole 3 volts. Each burnt out light makes the rest work harder,
and thus increases the likelihood of future lamp failures. Eventually, the set will experience a rapid
cascade failure of all the lamps, turning the whole string into a short circuit, and
the fuse in the plug will blow. It’s for this reason that you should replace
a burnt out lamp as soon as possible in a string of miniature fairy lights. So, now that you understand the operation
of fairy lights a little more, let’s get to the subject of this video. Most conventional strands of lights come with
a couple of flasher bulbs, identified by a red tip. These contain a bimetallic strip that reacts
to the heat from the filament, causing it to bend. After a certain amount of time, the bimetallic
strip bends sufficiently to break the circuit. Once it cools down, the circuit will be reconnected,
and the filament will re-light, which reheats the bimetallic strip, and it goes out again. This repeats over and over and over again. When you replace any lamp with one of these
suckers, it will cause half of the light strand to flash because it will break the entire
circuit once the bimetallic strip has warmed up, and will reconnect it once it cools. I’ve always found this to be a rather dumb
looking effect, and I think most people agree because these flasher bulbs seem almost never
to be used. But, there are some strands of lights that
use a different kind of flasher bulb, and use many of them. These seem to be sold as “twinkling” lights,
and their approach is completely different. These are the subject of this video, and I
really really like them. These strands use many flashers, typically
every fifth light, and these flashers don’t break the circuit when the bimetallic stip
bends. Instead, they short out when the strip bends. This does two things. First, the current bypasses the filament as
it takes the path of least resistance, and the bulb goes out. But, it also increases the voltage to the
rest of the strand. When you first power one of these sets up,
the entire light strand is illuminated. But as the flashers heat up, they start to
randomly go in and out. This is a great effect on its own, but because
they short themselves out when they’re not lit, they slightly affect the brightness of
the entire strand. This is most easily seen with a new set still
wrapped together, because this entire bundle has no flashers among it. Notice how it shimmers. This happens because the voltage across these
lamps is constantly changing as the flashers do their thing. Yet another great side effect of the way these
work is a gradual transition in brightness with each flasher. Normally, flasher bulbs produce a very sudden
on-off effect since the entire strand goes on and off at once. Because the strand as a whole sees 120 volts
when it first receives power, the filaments nearly instantly achieve full brightness. The voltage between them doesn’t drop to
2.4 volts until they’re all hot, as the resistance of an incandescent lamp is about
15 times greater when it’s hot compared to when it’s cold. But since the lamps in a twinkling set only
see between 2.4 and 3 volts across them as they twinkle, they don’t have 120 volts
to get them started, so they don’t suddenly turn on and off like a conventional set. See, when you apply just 2.4 volts to a normal
bulb, it lights up very slowly compared to just plugging a set into the wall, because
the lower voltage will pass less initial current through the filament, and thus heat it more
slowly. This creates a more gradual turn-on for the
flashers which I find very nice. Now, you might ask, why am I making this video? The short answer is, I find these sets of
fairy lights to be nothing short of delightful. They’re a nice enhancement to a static display
without being annoying, and their randomness is appealing. Though animated LED based strands are available,
they don’t come close to these in my opinion. And, these sets are harder and harder to find. In fact, I don’t think many people realize
they exist. I rarely see people using them. The only place in my area that seems to reliably
stock them every year is Menards. Now if you’re not an American midwesterner
you probably don’t know Menards, but they’re a local chain of hardware stores, essentially
a larger, quite a bit more eccentric version of the Home Depot or Lowes, complete with
a banjo-filled jingle. ♪ Save Big Money at Menards! ♪ ACE hardware also had a small number of sets
for sale, but clearly they don’t sell too well as they’re kind of left alone among
dozens of other offerings. The Home Depot doesn’t appear to sell them,
and neither does Walmart. I don’t have a Lowes near me, otherwise
I’d have checked. If anyone knows of other places you can find
these, please let us know in the comments. It may be that they’re uncommon because
the rest of the lights are designed to tolerate the increased voltage the flashers let through. They aren’t your standard 2.4 volt bulbs,
in fact they’re 2.9 volts, a somewhat rare rating. This high voltage rating allows them to spend
most of their existence being underrun; they will see their rated voltage only in the rare instance
that nine or more flashers along the 50 light circuit are currently in the off state, which
virtually never happens with 10 total flashers. On average they only see 2.66 volts. And while we’re on the subject of fairy
lights, allow me to express a few grievances. This, I’m sure, is more preference than
anything, but there’s only one retailer near me, that’s ACE hardware, that sells
what I consider to be the “correct” color combination of simply Yellow, Red, Green,
and Blue for multi-colored light strands. Nearly everyone else uses orange instead of
yellow, and adds purple or pink. Sometimes there’s even a cyanish blue in
there. I’m most bothered by the replacement of
yellow with orange because yellow is a very bright color and provides contrast from the
others. Orange is too dark and similar to red. But that’s just my humble opinion. Also, I really don’t care for most multicolored
LED fairy lights offered today, largely because of the way they are implemented. Perhaps I’m out of touch, but I am not a
fan of the monochromatic blue LEDs used in them. They produce a visual effect for me of a fuzzy
halo and are almost hard to focus me eyes on. In fact, I find all of the colors but red
to be a bit jarring precisely because they are monochromatic. I’d like to see a set of multicolored LED
lights made with entirely warm white LEDs but with tinted diffusers just like in the
good old days. I think these would be easier on the eyes. In fact, that gives me an idea… I’m gonna do some experimentation and report
back in another video. In general I think LED fairy lights have gotten
very good lately, and the warm white color is becoming better every year, plus I think
applications like icicle lights or snowflake type things are a good application for cool
white LEDs. I particularly like the fact that since they
use so little power you can string many sets together without worrying about capacity. But I don’t like the fact that they’re
constructed just like incandescents sets. In fact, I purchased this set of lights just
to confirm my suspicions, and though I don’t want to suppose this is convention, I find
it rather funny that these are just regular LEDs with their pins shoved down a regular
lamp holder and bent up the sides, with the rest of the light strand design being essentially
identical to an incandescent one, aside from this little doodad which I’m assuming is
a diode and capacitor to limit current. I know other sets use fancier diffusers with
other shapes, but the sockets are usually pretty similar But on that note, it seems nearly every LED
set I’ve encountered is only half-wave rectified with no smoothing at all, which makes them
flicker like mad. Spin them around and you can see that they’re
lit perhaps only 10% of the time, owing to them only being lit at the very peak of the
positive cycle. Anyway, I’m all for energy efficient lighting
as anyone who follows this channel knows, but I haven’t seen an LED set that can duplicate
this twinkling effect so well. Most of them are animated strings like this,
but they don’t address each bulb individually so it’s an unsubtle and predictable effect. I have seen some applications of prelit figurines
with a small percentage of LEDs that do twinkle, but if memory serves the individual LEDs flashed
at a steady rate. They weren’t all the same flashing rate,
so they drifted apart from one another, but there was no randomness in each one. Also the rest of the lights were unaffected. I’m afraid I’ll have to just be a fuddy
duddy a little longer and keep buying a few backup sets of these each year. I’ve got 5 extra now. And no, I don’t have a problem. Thanks for watching, and I hope you found
this video interesting. Like I said, I want these lights to survive
and I want more people to know about them. I’ll leave you a view of the lights on my
balcony so you can enjoy them. If you’re new to this channel and like what
you saw, please consider subscribing! Of course, thank you to all of my Patreon
supporters for keeping this channel possible. You really make all the difference. You can support this channel through the link
that will appear shortly on your screen, or by visiting the link down below. Thank you for your consideration, and I’ll
see you next time. (Strained) Oh, god. Those were very hot.

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