Remember those pull down ceiling lamps from the 80s? A lamp hanging on a steel cable and you could adjust the height by just pulling or pushing the lamp and it would stay there. There was probably a gear and a spring in there, because you could adjust the balance by rotating a knob inside the mechanism. And it would click when moved down. But I cannot find any details.

Does anyone know how this mechanism is called and how it works?

EDIT: I found a picture.

Ceiling Lamp


2 Answers 2


According to lightingcompany.co.uk, this particular type of product is called a rise and fall light. It appears there are three types, one type in the original image uses coiled wiring to contain and release the necessary changes in wire length, and includes a spring loaded winch assembly, akin to retractable dog leashes in common use today.

Another version is represented by @Jonathan R Swift's image, using a counterweight and pulleys.

The third version encases the winch inside a decorative shell, and the winch wraps the wiring onto itself when the fixture is raised.

From the linked site:

Up and down over table lights are often referred to as rise and fall lights and The Lighting Company has a great selection of rise and fall ceiling lights including pull up and down pendant lights. When raised up, a rise and fall light will give a wide spread of light and when lowered over a table will create a more intimate dining table light. Adjustable rise and fall pendant lights which pull up and down are a great choice of lighting for over a dining table, as breakfast bar lighting or for lighting over a kitchen island. The Lighting Company's selection includes double and triple rise and fall lights with two, three or more separately adjustable up and down lights on a bar suspension which are ideal for lighting over larger dining tables allowing you to choose the height of each light. Traditional French rise and fall pendant lights and contemporary or retro style industrial style pull up and down ceiling lights are also popular choices.

Rise and fall lighting works best above tables and for lighting central kitchen islands, providing light where and when it is needed. Pull down lights also make a good choice of light fitting for a high ceiling as they can be raised or lowered as required. Pull down lighting can also be effective either side of the bed as an alternative to bedside table lights. The simple rise and fall pendants have a curly cable which allows the light to be lowered and raised back up again. The larger bar suspensions are suspended on sets of wires and the more traditional rise and fall lights have a balanced counterweighted mechanism to control the up and down movement of the light. The Lighting Company's selection includes traditional, classic and period rise and fall lights as well as modern rise and fall suspensions. The Lighting Company has a large selection of over table lighting, pendant lights that are also worth considering.

Retractable rise and fall pendant lights have a spiralled cord which you can push up and pull down to alter the lighting effect. The other style (which tends to be more traditional), is a winch and pulley style light.

The above section covers the "what is it called." The how it works portion is relatively simple.

A drum or winch body includes a spring and ratchets. The flat coil spring (typical) is lightly loaded when the winch body is fully loaded with the wire/cable being retracted.

As the cable is pulled out, the spring accumulates tension. When the desired length is reached, a small release of tension on the wire causes the ratchet teeth to engage, holding the cable at that length.

Ratchet mechanisms vary, but most require an additional pull to effect the release, which allows the spring to retract the cable to the desired location.

Links abound for this information, but my contribution is from direct exposure by dismantling various spring loaded products and examining the works.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if anecdotally anybody knows if you need to 'pull down to release ratchet before raising'. I can't tell from the photo... If not, it would be possible to use a 'tool balancer' for this effect - see fsindustries.com/more_info/er_series_torque_reel/images/… for a cross section through a larger one. The variable diameter on the pulley that the wire wraps around compensates for variation in the spring return force, so that it's truly 'weightless' at all positions. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2023 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ The small red knob on the front could be a pre-tension adjustment, which is very common on small tool balancers, supporting the theory above $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2023 at 9:38

The most common design that I'm aware of simply uses a counterbalance and two pulleys - there are no gears or springs. This mechanism is exceptionally simple and consequently robust. There's not much that can go wrong.

Height Adjustable Pendant Lamp

In this example, the counterweight would weight twice that of the lamp head itself.

  • $\begingroup$ By complete coincidence, I stumbled on this image which also shows the same design! i.imgur.com/gufNt9B.jpg $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2023 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ No. I added a picture of the thing I mean. $\endgroup$
    – iblue
    Feb 13, 2023 at 14:35

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