Introduction: Geek-cheap Under-Counter Lights - the Coolest, Cheapest and Most Sensible Under-counter Lights
Are you a geek? Do you want to be a practi-geek? Do you want your SWMBO to love your geekness? I have a project that you can complete in an evening that will light up her day.
The Need: I live in a 70's rental apartment and the cupboards are ok but not modern. Thus, no lights under the counter. I am 53 and my eyes would love to have lights under the counter but I neglected to mention that I'm also parsimonious (really cheap). So I had to design something myself.
I knew I wanted distributed light. I also know that I like convenience. I don't want to have to turn lights on - they need to be on when I likely need them. Let's not spend time on chatting, this project is simple enough for you to see the light as we proceed (luv them puns).
Pls ignore the water in the sink, the bags of spinach on the counter, etc. It's real life!
Step 1: Go Forth and Gather
1. Quantity 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 LED puck lights (press center for on/off, 3xAA batteries, $1 each at Dollarama). If you can only find the major brand version they'll cost you $5 or $6 but the project still works out real cheap.
2. Thin 2 conductor, polarity marked (stripe on on conductor), stranded speaker wire ($2.50 for 25 ft at no name electronics shop). See photo 2.
3. 5v DC power supply (wall wart). $2.99 used at Variety village. Probably $12.95 at most electronics shops.
4. Plug in timer and short extension cord.
Step 2: Understand This Light
Rotate the bottom piece and remove it to reveal the battery compartment. Notice that the 3xAA batteries are arranged in a triangle around the circumference. In 2 of the corners there is a simple angled bit of metal to connect the batteries (in series to total 4.5 volts). The third corner is the one that we're interested in. The battery direction indicators show that one connector is for the Plus and the other is for the Minus. Very important for LED lights (well, the less sophisticated versions anyway).
Essentially we'll just be soldering the power wires directly to these two connectors. Could this be any simpler?
The lights will be connected in parallel with each thus receiving the 5 volts from the power supply. The current requirement should be minimal so I didn't even bother doing the calculations to select a power supply, I just grabbed the first one that provided 5V DC.
Step 3: Daisy Chaining
I cut 4 pieces of 2 conductor wire (to connect 5 lights) and bared all the ends.
Then I connected the wires to each other (twisting the ends together nicely) to form what looks like a daisy chain. I hope I don't need to say this, but the 2 conductors are kept separate, not all twisted together. See the photo.
Then solder the twisted bits together. Amplifying what I said in the last paragraph, because the conductors are kept separate, there will be two solder jobs between each section of wire.
Now cut the end off the wire coming from the power supply and bare the ends.
Likely the 2 conductors are marked for polarity (stripe on one) but if not, simply plug it into the wall and touch the bared ends to the plus and minus connectors inside one of the lights. If no result, swap them. If no result, turn the light over and press the center to TURN IT ON and repeat touching the wires to the connectors. When you achieve success, mark the wire that you touched to the plus connector as PLUS.
Now twist the power supply wires to the end of the daisy chain you soldered together a few minutes ago. Keep the polarities consistent remember.
Step 4: Final Assembly (almost...)
1. Line up the lights. Remove the backs (set them aside for a tiny modification in next step).
2. Now, take your soldering iron and prepare the plus/minus contacts with a bit of solder. By soldering in 2 steps like this you reduce the risk of overheating the connector and melting the surrounding plastic.
3. Starting with one end of the daisy chain, solder the plus/minus wires to the plus/minus connectors inside the lights. Drape the wire over the edge of the light immediately above the connectors you soldered it to.
When you have reached the last one, you are effectively finished. Plug in the power supply and gaze in admiration at your achievement. Oh yes, go to each one and turn them on (grins).
Step 5: Final Step (almost Again...)
Hold the back to the light in about the correct position and scribe with a sharpie where the wire exits. Use a pair of chicken scissors or tinners snips to cut a bit of the back panel away relieving any stress on the wires. This will never be seen so there is no need to be artistic (or even careful).
Also, since the supplied double sided tape on these lights is really thin, the exiting wire would interfere with it. Pull off the protective layer and just put on a piece of foam double sided tape (thicker). This will allow the light to stick nicely to the under side of the cupboard despite the wire exiting the light on the back.
In my case I'm taking this just a tad higher on the geek scale by gluing magnets to the backs and affixing a flexible magnetic strip (arts/crafts store) to the underside of the cupboards. This allows me to easily re-distribute the lights to where I want them and to also remove them for moving day (leaving only the cheap magnetic strip to mystify the new tennants - bonus on the geek scale!!!).
Enjoy and revel in geek-cheap light.
Step 6: The Optional Bits
Oh yes - I mentioned convenience (and something in the options list...).
I don't like the look of wall warts. So I plugged the wall wart into a short extension cord and then plugged that nicely into a cute electronic timer in the outlet (this lets me hide the wall wart in a cranny under my cupboards).
Thus, these lights are automatically brightening my kitchen from 6 to 9 in the morning and 6 to 11:30 in the evening. I might get around to measuring the current consumption sometime but I'm satisfied that 15 LED's for 8 or 9 hours a day are not contributing materially to global warming and the consumption of non-renewable resources.
It might be a tad long, but I use the Canadian-designed extension cord with the flat plug. It is just that little bit more subtle. Don't buy it at the hardware store ($11 or so). I got it at Loblaws supercentre for $4.09.
and because I'm an artist too, here's a still-life shot that I created last week. A bloom from my hoya plant that hasn't bloomed in about 10 years.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.