Can I cut Christmas lights to length? (or Do you sell custom cords?)

June 24, 2019

Most folks asking this question are interested in Christmas light strings that will be the exact length of the sides of their rooflines and driveways.

The thought of all that perfection without wrapping and hiding the ends of the cords is a fantasy for all Christmas light lovers!

Good news! We’re here to give you the installer’s secret to perfect lengths of Christmas light without the need to pre-measure and order to fit.

Short Answer:

Cut them to fit yourself, no special purchase required! (Other than an extra couple of plugs!)

Longer Answer:

Cut C7, C9, or E26 medium base cords to fit by clipping them with wire cutters and terminating them.

Think through your project and you might even be able to use the extra cord for another project. See our samples below!

The Explanation

We explained in our article answering the question, “Are Christmas lights in series or parallel?“, we discussed that while mini lights with small wiring harnesses wired in series cannot be easily cut to custom lengths, parallel wired cords can be cut and terminated.

Any cords that are made with 20, 18, 16, or 14 AWG “lamp cord” wiring can be cut to fit.

Commonly, these are cords with E12, E17, and E26 sockets. Like these! See more about these cords.

So, what is my first step?

Choose the bulb! (that choice will determine the cord)

There are an amazing number of choices when it comes to patio lighting.

Take time to see the wide variety of bulb shapes and sizes that are available.

Head over to this article about all the different bulb shapes and sizes.

We find this photo from that article to be super-useful.

As you shop, the bulbs are separated into two main categories:

C7 and C9 bulbs – most traditionally used for Christmas but great used all year on patios and for parties

Bigger, brighter party lights – these come in a wider variety of shapes and colors

So, browse and choose.

What’s my second step?

That’s easy! Using the size of the base of the bulb you’ve selected, choose a cord.

The criteria for choosing cords are:

  • Size of socket to match the bulb – E26, E12 (used for C7), and E17 (commonly used for C9)
  • Number of sockets
  • Distance between sockets – bigger the project, wider the spacing
  • Total length of cord – determined by number of sockets and the space between them
  • Color of Cord – white, green, black, and brown
  • Thickness of insulation

Here’s a few best starting points:

Is that all?

Almost! After you’ve selected your bulb and cord, you’ll need to choose a proper plug.

For C7 and C9 18 AWG wire, we love the ease of installation that comes with gilbert plugs. This video shows how easy they are to install!

For Commercial E26 patio cords, all you need are 15-amp rated male plugs if you are working with spools. Strip and install the wires on the internal terminal screws.

What about the ends of the cords where they’ve been clipped?

Choose one of the following ways to terminate shortened cords:

  • Install a female plug
  • Wrap with electrical tape
  • Use liquid electrical tape – available at local hardware stores, just follow the directions

Need a picture? Here are a couple of examples that are worth a 1000 words. Let us know if you have questions in the comments below. Remember to consult with a master electrician if you have any questions and to check your work.

Notice how in this example, if you lay out your cords and use the “end” of the second cord, the part you cut off will still have it’s factory installed plug and the “leftovers” can be used to light a small project!

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Shellie
Aside from throwing dinner parties that feature at least two kinds of cheese dip, Shellie's passions include travel, Mid-Century Modern furnishings and finding the perfect street taco. Has been known to snort laugh champagne.

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