Restoring a Bardwell & McAlister Keg-Lite

I received a generous gift from a friend — a Bardwell & McAlister Keg-Lite. It’s a vintage studio hot-light with a 750 watt  bulb, fresnel lens, and barn doors. He hadn’t used it in years, so it was very dusty, but he told me it was in working condition, and he advised me how disassemble it to clean it.

I bought the cleaning supplies, and as I dusted it off, I noticed that the fresnel lens was cracked, though I didn’t know if it was cracked all the way through. Upon removing it to clean the back side, I learned that it was, in fact, in three separate pieces. Thus began my odyssey to restore the light.

I started with an Internet search for the manufacturer, Bardwell & McAlister, which was clearly legible on the back door of the light. Amazingly, they are still in business. Their site was no help regarding vintage equipment, so I called customer service and was put through to a very helpful man. I explained my project and that I was looking for a replacement fresnel lens. It turned out I needed much more than that.

The good news: The six-inch fresnel lens is still standard and used in modern lights. For $35.00 he could ship me one, but I opted for immediate gratification thinking I could find one easily in New York City, the capital of the world, where I should be able to find anything. My mistake.

The bad news: The gasket that held the lens in place was wrapped in asbestos insulation which must be removed, then the gasket must be wrapped in high-heat fiberglass tape. In addition, the power cord is not original to the light, and it had no switch, so turning the light on and off meant plugging and unplugging it from the wall — neither convenient nor safe. I’d need a 15-amp inline toggle switch.

So now I have instructions to restore the light and a simple shopping list: six-inch fresnel lens, high-heat fiberglass tape, and a 15-amp inline toggle switch. The gentleman at Bardwell and McAlister said I could get the lens from any theatrical lighting store, and the tape and switch would be easy to find at The Home Depot.

The six-inch fresnel lens was easy once I found SLD Lighting, which has a store in the Theatre District. They had the lens in stock, and I bought it on the spot. The rest was trickier. The Flatiron Home Depot proved yet again that the sales people don’t know much about what they sell. First I asked the concierge where I would find the fiberglass tape for my electrical project. He sent me with full confidence to the plumbing department. The plumbing department salesperson said there is no tape of that description in plumbing, but I wouldn’t find it in the electrical department. He said with full confidence that I would find it in the paint department. I gave up and went to the electrical department to look for the 15-amp inline toggle switch. The salesperson there had no idea what I was talking about. He left to find a manager and returned saying that the closest they had was a three-amp switch. Knowing little about electricity, I asked if he knew what the difference was, and he shrugged his shoulders. Trusting they guy at Bardwell & McAlister, I left without buying anything.

I then went to three other independent hardware stores. I couldn’t find what I wanted, but I got completely different opinions on what I needed to do and whether or not what I was asking for even existed. One store owner told me that a five-amp switch is the maximum I could get, and it would work fine with my 1,000 watt fixture. Lucky I didn’t listen to him. Fortunately, one store referred me to two local electrical trade suppliers. I went first to Midtown Electric Supply, and asked for the fiberglass tape. I got it, but they were so rude to me when I asked some questions (I’m not a professional electrician and needed some advice) that I left without asking about the switch. I got much more courteous service at G&g Electric Supply Company. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the switch and didn’t think I’d be able to find one. At least they confirmed that it was the right switch for a 1,000 watt light.

Then it dawned on me to try Barbizon Lighting Company. I knew of their existence in the photography, motion picture, and theatre lighting industries, but I had never used them. I called to explain my project, and they told me they had the 15-amp switch. I reserved it and went to the store to pick it up. When I had the switch in my hand, it looked very small, and I asked to confirm it was a 15-amp switch. The man helping me squinted at the label and said it was three amps. He searched the computer and said he had found one last 15-amp switch in stock. About 10 minutes later it arrived at the register in an unmarked zipper-lock bag in 17 distinct parts with no instructions. A store manager came to give me a quick tutorial, and now I had everything I needed to restore the light.

So this gift of a perfectly working hot light cost me:

  • $8.90 — Cleaning supplies
  • $13.28 — Scotch glass cloth electrical tape from Midtown Electric Supply
  • $16.33 — Six-inch fresnel lens from SLD Lighting
  • $43.01 — Arri 15-amp inline toggle switch from Barbizon Lighting Company
  • $30.00 — Copay to have a doctor look at my profusely bleeding thumb that was in the way when my Xacto knife slipped off the wire I was stripping in order to install the switch. As an Eagle Scout, I should have known better. It was a deep puncture wound, but my tetanus vaccination was up to date and I didn’t need stitches.

Total cost: $111.52. But now I have a working vintage hot light, great experience restoring it, and a fun story to tell. That fun will work its way into the photos I make with it. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post with some of those photos.


24 thoughts on “Restoring a Bardwell & McAlister Keg-Lite

    • Wow, thanks for the tutorial! I purchased a lot of photography gear about 4 years ago when I started getting into photography, and the man sold me two of the lights you’re describing. I went through the same thing with calling B&M about the lights, and they told me the same thing.

      I’m in Buffalo NY, and I went to like 8 hardware stores trying to find the heat tape with no luck and kind of set the project aside to restore the old enlargers I was given with the deal. The one light is a smaller keg on a smaller stand like the one you have pictured, the other is the same light but on a counter weighted super tall heavy fulcrum type dealy (boom light?) I’ve fixed up everything except heat taping the Fresnel lenses and that metal pinch dealy that holds them in. So cool to see someone else went through the same project. Theres that one guy online who has a totally redone crome dipped looking one that he rents out for like 600 a day to movie sets and places like that but he had no information.

      Thanks so much for the info on how you did things! Pretty cool to see someone else using the same antique lights and being excited about em 🙂 I don’t know if we have the same model, all mine had where some of the bardwell and mcalister logo left on a sticker and when I called b&M they said they don’t do repairs/support lights that old. Removing the asbestos was a little unnerving lol

      I think the main difference with our lights is mine had big cast metal toggle switches build in on the side of the one, and then there was a powerswitch in the center of the super long old ratty black cord that i re wired into the new wiring.

      so cool so cool!

  1. Will any class H rated glass cloth tape work you think, or did you specifically go with 3m for reliability? I asked an electrician friend and he’d never even heard of class H insulation tape, found some from some retailers online though. Again, thanks for posting this 🙂

  2. When I start having better luck with developing and printing my own film I’ll have to show you some 🙂 Regrettably I haven’t been shooting with anybody in my garage/basement lately.

    I don’t see the bulb light link but my browser is being a little strange anyways. This is a crappy photo (first week of having a camera, few years old) of the bulb. It’s a bad photo but the shadowing shows the filaments

    I’m still pretty new to photography in general. I’m really eager to make better use of these lights. I tried a few times and people were upset that the light was so hot even from a distance. They’re really incredible though. The one night I had them In the garage a couple hundred feet away from the house and it was still able to clearly illuminate the roof heh.

    Thanks a bunch, going to check out that bulb site 🙂 Maybe we can start a flickr group or something for our lights lol.

    • Wow, film! Someday I’d like to try that. I’m old enough to have used it, but I got started in photography later in life and went digital. Yes, the lights are very hot, and during my trial shoot I turned mine on only during shooting. But the actual 1940s Hollywood film noir look you can get is hard to replicate.

      Your bulb looks different from mine. Since the link to my photo didn’t work (I never tried a photo link in a comment reply before), I’ll email it to you. By the way, I’m enjoying this conversation we’re having.

  3. wow I was given a light just like yours and am trying to find its year. I was excited to see that it was possible to be as old as the 1930’s. Did you ever find a date on the light ? where?

    • Sorry, I don’t. I’d like to know myself, and I looked for some kind of inscription but couldn’t find one. There were some labels that were rubbed off from age, and perhaps one of them could have had a date on it.

  4. Just bought one at a camera show for 45 dollars, completely intact. I am more interested in using it as a light in my home theater. I unplugged the 1000 wat bulb, placed an entire IKEA LED lamp inside, secured with one zip tie, and Ta Da, i have a cool new high efficency light.

    • Right, they make great home lighting when rewired for that use. I’ve seen them restored this way in high-end home design stores with really high price tags. What you did sounds really clever and very economical.

      • Hi guys,
        I have 3 different makes of these lights in various conditions with the best being a Bardwell McAllister. I’m either looking to sell them or rewire them myself but I haven’t had any experience whatsoever in doing anything like this! I have been in contact with an owner of a theatrical antique store that is interested in purchasing them from me but is telling me they have very little value because of a) they come ‘a dime a dozen’ and b) the asbestos and difficulty of removing it to rewire. Are they telling me the truth? What do you suggest I ask for them $wise? Or are they easy enough for me to redo and sell for big $ myself?

      • I didn’t have much difficulty removing the asbestos, as I mentioned in my post, though I can’t say that the way I did it was safe. The antiques dealer is probably right that the lights have little value rewired to work as original photography studio lights. However, I see them fetch high prices when stripped of their paint, brushed metal finish applied, and rewired for household use. I expect people find them decorative.

  5. Hello Alan,

    I found 3 of these lights, although mine are 2k fixtures with original bulbs in tact and fully functioning. I own a video production studio and we have them around as decroative pieces, but I may try to restore the paint job. They look scary as they are now. Any other info on resources for removing paint and adding paint to something like this?

    • Sorry, I don’t know about removing paint, though I assume it can be done. I’ve seen many of these lights in boutique furniture stores with the paint removed but no new paint applied, just the bare metal, coated to prevent it from rusting. They are rewired for household use. They look rather nice that way. I expect the paint must be stripped by a specialist, since enamel on metal is nearly impossible to remove by mortals. I tried it on a file cabinet once and failed.

  6. Hey Alan,
    We have have a Bardwell & McAlister, Inc. Burbank keg light that we would like to sell “as is”. Needs to be rewired and needs new bulb. Wish I could send you a pic, but am having trouble pasting. I was wondering if you had an idea of what price to sell it for?
    Thanks for your help,

    • Cynthia, I don’t know what to say. I’ve seen keg lights stripped, refinished, and rewired as room lights for sale for thousands of dollars in boutique shops. If you can find someone who will flip it that way, you could probably get a few hundred dollars. If you want to sell it as-is for use as a studio light, I don’t think it’s worth much at all. If you check eBay, you’ll get an idea. Good luck!

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