It’s almost Christmas, so you’ve dragged your Christmas tree out of the basement/garage/spare room/shed, where you’ve carefully stored it since last year. You look back fondly on how its lights twinkled, changed colour, flashed, and did all sorts of other Christmas tree light things. Best of all, because your tree uses the QuickConnect system, you didn’t have to worry about putting all those lights on – they’re already on the tree! Aren’t you pleased you spent several hundred dollars and bought a QuickConnect Christmas tree?
So, you set your tree up and plug it in, just waiting for the explosion of light that signals Christmas is almost here and...
Oh, that’s not good. You can swear at it all you like, but the problem you have now is that, with minimal decent-sized trees in the stores, your QuickConnect lights don’t work on a section of your Christmas tree.
What Are QuickConnect Lights?
With QuickConnect lights, the power and control signals for each section of the tree are carried by wires in the metal tree trunk. The sections have a plug at the bottom, a socket at the top, and wires down the middle of the metal tube/trunk. These connectors are designed so that you can’t connect them incorrectly.
So Why Don’t My QuickConnect Lights Work Then?
The concept behind the system is good but, like most concepts, it’s easy to do a poor job in the implementation, and in this case the manufacturers have done just that. The plug was so poorly made that the pin in the centre tends to get stuck in the socket and gets ripped out of its connector when you pull the tree apart. That’s regardless of how carefully you disassemble it. If you look in the socket below the section with the non-functioning lights, you’ll see something like this:
That flat bit in the middle is the mangled connector from the section above, ripped out and stuck in the wrong connector. This is the part we need to fix.
Stop Rambling On! What Can I Do?
If you’re in a hurry, try pulling the pin out of the socket with a pair of needle nosed pliers. Straighten its contact out, and gently push it back into the middle of the plug. You may have to rotate it a bit, as there’s only one way it will fit. Once you’ve pushed it in, and it’s just a little proud of the surrounding ring, put the section of the tree back in place. Switch the lights on again and, if you’re really lucky, the lights will come on. That’s great, but bear in mind this is a temporary fix, and when you disassemble the tree again that pin is going to get pulled out again. So, if they’re working now, DO NOT PULL THE TREE APART UNTIL AFTER CHRISTMAS!
That Didn’t Work! What Do I Do Next?
Do you have the receipt for the tree? If you have, and the thermal paper hasn’t conveniently faded to nothing, and by some miracle it’s still under guarantee, take it back and get a replacement. It’s much less trouble.
Of course, there’s a good chance it’s out of guarantee, or you don’t have the receipt – I mean why would you need it for a TREE? - or you can’t get a replacement tree and you really need one. If that’s the case, let’s look a bit closer at your tree.
So Can I Fix My Lights?
If your tree trunk sections are solid, and the only place you see the light wires is through tiny holes, then you’re screwed. If they look like this though, with a connector screwed onto the end, and the wires coming through that connector, there’s a chance you can fix it. The connector I’m talking about looks like this:
As a check, this is what the at the bottom of the other section will look like. It shouldn’t have that hole in the middle – that’s where the pin should go.
A Warning and Disclaimer
The fix I’m describing is not recommended by any manufacturers, and will invalidate any warranties or guarantees on your tree or lights. If you do this, you’re doing it at your own risk – don’t try blaming me if anything goes wrong. This is just a description of something I did, don’t try saying I suggested or forced you to do this.
Let’s Get Started Then!
You’re going to need a few basic tools to do this, so get them ready before you start:
- A screwdriver that fits the screw on the trunk – it looks like a Philips to me
- A pair of needle-nosed pliers
- A pair of small wire cutters
- One of those extra hands devices with crocodile clips to hold components. If you don’t have one a pair of pliers and a nearby child will work.
- A soldering iron, and solder. This is an electrical fix, and most of the problem seems to be a lack of solder. I used a Weller iron, although the most important thing is that it’s not too powerful - somewhere between 15 and 50 watts is fine.
- Some very fine wire – florists’ wire is great. It’s really fine and strong, often with green or black varnish on it. You’ll need between about 4 inches and a foot of this. You can get it from a dollar store.
- Some fine sandpaper, a sanding block, emery cloth, or anything else like that.
- A continuity tester – either a professional one, a multimeter set to measure resistance, or a battery, a bulb and some wires – anything you can use to check continuity.
- An area to work where nothing will get damaged by the soldering iron. An upside-down old baking tray does the job – trust me on this!
I Have These Things – What Do I Do?
Firstly, disconnect the tree from the electricity supply.
Then, if you haven’t already pulled the centre pin out of the socket at the top of the lit section, do that. Just pull it straight up, with the needle nosed pliers. Don’t twist it at all or you’ll tear the contact off. Once you’ve done that, put the contact pin somewhere it won’t get lost.
Next, take the section of tree whose lights don’t work. There will be a hole in the side of the plastic connector at the bottom of the trunk section, with two wires coming out of it. The wires on my tree were red and white, I’m going to assume yours are too. Follow these wires away from the trunk and you’ll find a block connector that connects the two wires to the lights. Mine looks like this:
Things are much easier if you disconnect this connector. Those two little tabs on the sides (pointed to by the red arrow) lock the connector together. They need to be pulled away from the sides of the connector so that you can pull it apart. Use your fingernails for this. Once you’ve done this, start pulling the connector apart, ideally without just pulling the wires. If you can get your fingernails between the two parts, where the blue arrows are pointing on the photo, that’s ideal. With a bit of work, you’ll get the parts of the connector apart. You’re probably thinking that this is a bad design, but remember it was never meant to come apart, it was just meant for people to be able to connect quickly.
Towards the base of the section of the tree there’s a screw through the metal tube. This holds the connector on to the trunk. Remove that screw and put it somewhere safe, maybe near the connector pin.
Now you can pull the connector out of the end of the tree trunk section. It will look something like this:
Next you need to find out which wire connects to which part of the connector. The part of my tree with lights that didn’t work was the top section, and only had two contacts in the connector – the ring and the pin. The pin was missing, which is why we’re here, so use the continuity checker, or whatever you’ve decided to use, to find the wire that’s connected to the circular “ring” contact. On my tree, that was the white wire, but it may be different for you. Once you know this, the other wire is the one that goes to the pin, and that’s the one you’re interested in. Mine was red, but maybe yours isn’t. Make a note of the colour, ready for the next step.
Using the wire cutters, cut the wire that connects to the pin contact as close as you can to the body of the connector. DO NOT cut the wire that registered as having any continuity – that was to the ring! The PIN contact wire needs to be cut. Check it TWICE before you cut it. If you cut the wire to the ring contact, I can’t help you.
Strip about an inch, or 2-3 cm if you’re in Canada, off of the insulation on the wire you just cut. Twist the cores together and tin the end with the soldering iron.
Use the sandpaper and rub away the varnish on the last inch (2-3cm) of the florists’ wire.
Hold the plug connector you took off of the tree, and thread the florists’ wire sanded-end first up through the hole where the pin contact should be. It will appear in the hole where the other two wires emerged from the connector – you might need another piece of wire, a crochet hook, a screwdriver or something to pull it sideways out of the hole. Once you have the wire sticking out of both ends of the connector, it should look something like this:
Now, solder the end of the florists’ wire to the tinned end of the wire you cut:
Now might be a good time to mention that you’re about to pull the electrical wire down through the hole using the florists’ wire. There might be a slight problem in that the insulation on the wire makes it just a little too big to fit though the hole, or rather the smaller hole where the pin’s contact went. Anyway, use a knife held at 90 degrees to the insulated wire to scrape down the insulation a little. If you’ve ever curled strips of paper with scissors, that’s the action you want! Go all around the wire so that the insulation stays even, and shave around a 3 inch / 8cm length of the wire. Remember that although the insulation will be thinner, it’s carrying a low voltage so everything should be fine. Remember, your tree was already broken, so it can’t get any worse.
Pull your freshly thinned wire through the hole with the florists’ wire. It will take some wiggling, but you’ll get there. Eventually you’ll see the tinned end of the copper wire sticking out of the bottom of the connector.
Once the copper wire is sticking out of the connector, use the soldering iron to melt the solder holding it to the florists’ wire, and remove the florists’ wire.
Use the sand paper, or other abrasive, to clean the flat contact area at the end of the pin contact.
Grab a passing child – you’re going to need an extra pair of hands. Make sure the child is old enough to hold things steadily, but not too old to start demanding payment. I mean, they’re getting to enjoy the tree when it finally works!
Get your child/helper to hold the connector in one hand, and the connector pin in the other. Let them use the pliers to hold the pin, because you’re about to make it very hot, and you don’t want to damage them. (The child, not the pin!) With the copper wire held against the inside surface of the contact, solder the copper wire to the pin.
Now is a good time to check the continuity between the pin and the socket at the other end of the wire you’ve just soldered it to. Your fix should have restored the continuity.
Now put the soldered end of the pin back into its hole by gently pulling the copper wire from the plug end, fiddle with the pin until it fits back into the hole:
Now you have a choice – you can either remove the pin again, add a dab of glue to the soldered end, and put the pin back, or you can leave it as it is without glue. Bear in mind that when you disassemble the tree, the pin may well come out again, so at least you’ll have a second chance to glue it.
In any case, you’ve now finished the repair. Put the green plastic connector back on the tree trunk section, and replace the screw you removed earlier. Reconnect the plug on the connector to the socket on the tree lights. Put the newly-repaired section back onto the tree, switch it on and everything should look much better:
Is There A Catch?
Yes. Well, there was in my case. Even though the same LEDs display as white or coloured, they now refuse to light when the tree is set to display white lights. Yes, that’s pretty poor but then, given that we started with that section of the tree not working at all, it’s an improvement.
It’s been a long time since I did any soldering, and to be honest I would have preferred it to be on something other than a Christmas tree. Still, it’s a simple job, and an example of how a good idea like QuickConnect lights can be spoiled by a cheap and shoddy implementation. That might sound mean, but if you’re paying a couple of hundred dollars for a big Christmas tree, you probably expect it to last more than a year. Especially as the reason we had to replace it was because the previous tree had the same problem and, even more annoyingly, the new tree had changes that looked like it had been improved.
Hopefully, if you’ve tried this fix and it worked, it saved you having to do what many of the reviewers had to do, which was throw the tree away. With any luck you’ll get many more years out of your newly-fixed tree.