In this instructable you will learn how to set up and install inexpensive under cabinet lighting in your home with minimal cost and difficulty using affordable cold cathode tubes normally used for PC case mods. This is my first instructable. I will do my best to make it clear and easy to follow.


Previously when you prepared food in my mom's kitchen you would be standing between the ceiling light and your work surface, thus casting a shadow. Additionally, under cabinet lighting tends to look nice. It's quite the dramatic effect in person and definitely stepped up the look of the kitchen a lot. It's less harsh of a light in person and significantly improved visibility while working in the kitchen.

Cost & Power Usage

I was able to light my mom's entire kitchen for under $40.00 including all parts. Additionally, the lights are quite power efficient, using about 3 watts per light tube (I used 6 pair / 12 tubes total). Total wattage=36 watts, or 3amps at 12V. This is a little over half the power usage of a normal 60watt incandescent bulb. Your final project price will vary depending on your supplies and the size of your kitchen.

Compare With and Without

1. Under cabinet lighting on, Ceiling light off.
2. Under cabinet lighting off, Ceiling light on.
3. Both under cabinet lighting on and ceiling light on.

Step 1: Collect the Parts

Below are the parts and tools I recommend for this job. You can get away without some or substitute things. It's a pretty simple job to get this and set it up if you're handle with things and know the basics of electricity. This project is low voltage for the most part (wires between the inverter and lamp are very high voltage but you shouldn't need to mess with these at all) but of course always practice safety with electricity and unplug things before touching wires. BE SAFE!

Details for a few of the parts are listed further below.


1. Cold Cathode Lights w/ Inverters* (2 light tubes per inverter)
2. Power Supply (12V DC for these lights)*
3. Wire for connecting power to inverters
4. Staples or something else to hold up wires under cabinet
5. Power Switch (optional)
6. Inline Fuse (optional)
7. White Paint* (optional; see below)


1. Wire Cutters
2. Soldering Iron
3. Solder
4. Electrical Tape
5. Multimeter

*Cold Cathode Tube Kits

I used white 12" tube kits from petrastechshop.com. They put out quite a bit of light and come on quickly. The light is less harsh in person than the camera makes it appear. They were on sale at the time for $3.75 or something. Shop around for the best price. Make sure the kits you get come with TWO 12" tubes and an inverter. Some places try to trick you with just one tube included for the same price. One of my tubes didn't light and I emailed the store and they sent me a working replacement which I received two days later.

*Power Supply

I used a HIPRO brand DC Switching Power Supply designed for a laptop. I got it from sciplus.com for about ten bucks. It's rated for 3.33A at 12V, aka 40W (watts = amps * volts). It gets quite warm as I'm approaching it's upper rating. Each individual lamp uses about 3 watts (6W for a pair) so total up your expected usage and get a supply over that. I am using 12 lamps (6 inverters) for a total of about 36 watts.

*White Paint

Before you start wiring things up, decide if you want to paint. If so, paint first so it can be drying while you work! Depending on how bright you want the lights to be and the color underneath your cabinets, you may want to paint under your cabinets to help reflect more light. I opted to paint the bare wood under the cabinets white to help with reflectivity so more light would reflect downward. This is entirely optional but it should help. Other colors may help soften the light, such as a pastel tan or yellow.
<p>Awesome! Also, this is the cutest kitchen ever. </p>
<p>Great. Fast. Cheap. Beautiful. Useful. Thank you.</p>
what is an inverter? <br> <br>thanks! <br>marC:)
Thank you! This is excellent. Bought a house last year and now we're trying to make a closet w/shelves out of the area under the stairway that was totally closed off. Space is tight... want to keep the mini-renovation costs to a minimum. I found the answer for lighting the shelves here! <br> <br> I plan to use my old 400W desktop PC power supply.... I'll never use it for anything else. <br> <br>Great work and thanks for the post. <br>
&nbsp;You do not want to use velcro in a kitchen. Over time, grease, soot, and nasties in the air will clog the fibers and create a non-sticky, nasty mess. This mess will cause the velcro to fail, most likely into whatever recipe you are working on, which doesn't include lighting.
You are talking about the black hook and loop stuff which is just one type or model of Velcro. There are many kinds of Velcro, including coarser stuff that clogs less, and stainless. <br><br>In a home and above your sink, even the regular stuff is not going to get clogged. You would need to do so much deep frying that everything else in the kitchen gets ruined also. :-)
I'm actually in the middle of doing this lighting project right now.<br /> GB (Gardner Bender) makes 3/4&quot; cable plastic staples that mount<br /> these cold cathode tubes perfectly. Use one at each end of the tube.<br /> I swapped out the nails normally used to fasten the staples with<br /> two #4 by 7/8&quot; wood screws. Staples are white in color and are<br /> part number PS-1575. You can get them at your local hardware<br /> store for a couple of bucks for a package of 15.<br />
Definitely go LED.&nbsp; It will last as long as your cabinets and cost you nothing to run.&nbsp; <a href="http://www.saviolighting.com/WAC-InvisiLED-Tape-Light-p/wa-led-t.htm" rel="nofollow">www.saviolighting.com/WAC-InvisiLED-Tape-Light-p/wa-led-t.htm</a><br /> <br /> I got these installed a month ago and I've loved it ever since.&nbsp;
You broke the instructables rules. Its like rule one of the rules. You must use LEDs for all lighting. I thought everyone knew this : ) Although cold cathode tubes are cool too.
Actually, the rules state, they must either require high voltage, high efficiency, or both. ;-) This is both.<br />
wait . it don't have to all ways be about LEDs it can be some thing else =-p<br/>
haha, yeah I know. I'm surprised they didn't kick me for it! :) I thought about using LEDs then decided it would horribly complicate this. I would either have to connect a ton of cheaper LEDs to get the same amount of light as one of these tubes or else use expensive high output LEDs. Not to mention issues with mounting, diffusing the beam, connecting hundreds of little wires and resistors, etc. I do look forward to cheaper high output LEDs though...
These guys sell LED Strips that are pretty reasonable. I haven't bought from them but the strips look like they would be good for a project like this.<br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.ledshoppe.com/ledstrip.htm">http://www.ledshoppe.com/ledstrip.htm</a><br/>
Careful with LEDs not intended for residential lighting. As you know, there are all sorts of colors that are called &quot;white&quot;. Typically, LEDs are cheaper and more efficient at higher color temperatures, but put off a bluer light. The softer/warmer light creates more heat and requires some sort of thermal management to keep from killing the LED/light engine.<br/><br/>For reference, incandescent bulbs put out light around 2,800K (energy star calls this 'soft white'), quartz halogen ~3,000K ('warm white'). Residential LED fixtures put out by major manufacturers tend to be 2,800K, 3,000K, or 3,500K. Commerical offices tend to run around 4,000K. The &quot;daylight&quot; bulbs put out around 6,500K.<br/><br/>The DOE solid state light website does a good job of discussing LED lighting: <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/index.html">http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/index.html</a><br/>
The lights that I see in the catalog are meant to go inside a desktop PC. Is there any reason not to use a desktop power supply for this as opposed to the laptop power supply? The laptop is prettier, but the desktop could be hidden or made into a cabinet. Mostly I have several of the desktop power supplies in my arsenal and the power plugs even look right. Oh yeah. I love the instructable. And my kitchen is now in pieces.
Good instructable. Undercabinet lighting is a great feature for a kitchen. I have only one comment not covered by someone else yet (that I noticed). It's kind of a safety issue to have an unprotected breakable glass element over a food prep area. You should really consider putting an acrylic shield over the bulbs/tubes. Building/electric codes require it. I say that because they tend to be safety-oriented, not in a big brother way. Good work.
The cold cathodes used here come inside an acrylic tube sealed at both ends. Very good point though if someone gets some different tubes from another source that aren't encased! I didn't think to mention that. Thanks!
How could you install this to work from existing US home wiring? I need to replace our current under-counter fluorescents - we think their ballasts are shot, as the bulbs are burning out with costly frequency. Is there an over-the-counter component for electronic newbs that could supply the DC inverters?
BIG LOTS sells a kit that includes 3 connecting 12W florecent fixtures that plugs into counter wall socket. $23/set. Each fixture is 18" long. In my kitchen I connected 4 fixtures to one outlet and 2 fixtures to another. This was a better setup for me and my limited skills.
If you don't want to mod a laptop supply or something, you can get 12V transformers for things like pond pumps, sprinkler timers, etc. Home Depot has some 12V supplies for these purposes but they cost more. However, they do support a much higher wattage than the laptop ones.
There are dozens of DIY undercabinet lighting kits available in North America. Everything from flourescent to led to powersucking halogen. They're easy to install and user friendly. Check out the orange box or other similar stores and you're sure to find something to suit your needs.
You are asking questions in which there are no good answers, other than 'Consult an expert.' The transformer can be purchased for US power. However, you may want to just replace the ballasts as they are usually fairly easy to replace and are cheap.
His bulbs came with inverters. My guess is most of them normally do, too.
Who puts plants (fake or not) beside their stove?? I would imagine it gets all gross and greasy.
People composing nice photographs to go with their articles do :-)
They are clean too! :)
Try to keep the tubes away from steam, like over the stove. Over time it can contaminate the high voltage connection and cause the tube to short and over heat.
I'd like to try this. My FEIT brand mini fluorescent undercounter lights are dying like flies and very expensive to replace. Current price of these lights is $5.75 per pair. I found them on ebay for even less.<br/> It looks like the inverter runs at 5 ma(rating on the website). So you should be able to run 660 sets on this power supply. <br/> Or 40 watts / .06 watts = 667 inverters.<br/> What am I misunderstanding here?<br/>
Thats how much current the inverter itself consumes, the bulbs consume more.
The CCTs appear to be rated at 3W each and the max output of the supply is 40W so, in theory he should be able to run up to 13 lamps (40w/3w=~13). Not sure though it CCTs pull more current powering up which could further limit the number of bulbs per power supply.<br/>
Where do you get 3 watts? <br/>12 v x .005(5 ma) = 60 mw<br/>
In the intro under Costs & Power Usage he states that the CCTs use 3w per tube. Also, if you look closely at the picture of the power adapter (Step 1) it shows it's output as 12v x 3.33A or a max output of 40W.
That 5 mA at the inverter's voltage (ie. what the tube draws), not at the 12v input voltage. I can't find the link to the inverter for this post, but from this one:<br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.svc.com/clk12wt2.html">http://www.svc.com/clk12wt2.html</a><br/><br/>Input 12V<br/>Output 680V<br/>Current 5 mA<br/><br/>So that's .005 A * 680V = ~3W. The current draw on the input side at 12V should be closer to 0.25A.<br/><br/>BTW, svc does charge shipping :( but has very cheap ccfl's. Dual 12&quot; for $7, not nearly as cheap as the OP but still decent. I'll have to check out the link from this post though, sounds good.<br/>
Nice stuff! I personally like the cool white look, but I think other people may prefer the warm white look. Keep up the excellent posting.
A nice simple project that anyone can build! Good idea! If you want to save power though, the switch should be on the power lead to the transformer rather than after it, because even though you switch the power off you will still be consuming power in the power supply transformer windings.
wow this effect is really beautiful... man, what an awesome DIY project. thanks so much for sharing... i'm going to be moving into my first apartment soon and i would like to make the place feel really nice, i could see myself investing a bit of extra money to do something cool like this. :)
Very secksay. :D
The adhesive on the velcro shouldn't be a problem. Just use the staple gun on the velcro part that goes on the wood, and it will stay there forever.
Exactly! Whenever you want velcro to stick to wood, use the adhesive, but staple it as well (using a staple gun). Use a nail punch to set the staple if necessary to ensure maximal hook to latch surface area.
Don't cold cathodes dim over time? What is the life expectancy, in hours, of these tubes? Just curious, I like the idea overall.
Looks great. I'm not one who's ever going to mod a computer case, but always thought these tubes were pretty cool. Guess the only downside of doing it with the tubes, is that they can't be dimmed. You're either all on, or all off. I went with halogens under my cabinets, but they use a LOT more power, and can tend to get warm. How's the heat level on yours? I'm assuming the Cold in cold cathode tube answers my question, but you never know....
Thanks! Yeah, it would be nice to be able to dim them. They get just very slightly warmer than things around them. Not warm enough to damage anything though and you could hold onto them as long as you wanted.
Looks nice. Most of my friends and my parents use the LEDs which I like but I have to say that those are just accent lights. Yours however provide the type of light i'd like, which can be a full replacement for a overhead light. Whats the total amps on this (you mention 36 tubes)?
I'm using 12 tubes with on 6 inverters. It's using about 36 watts, or 3 amps at 12V. A little over HALF of a normal 60watt lightbulb, not factoring in inefficiencies in the power supply. When I'm back at my mom's house I'll use my multimeter to measure usage including the power supply. Still, at less than the power of a normal lightbulb it's pretty nice.
If you want to eliminate the vampire effect, put the switch on the AC side of the power supply. What particular inverters are you using? I have a few of these tubes from a touch screen PC, but the inverters are on a PCB and pretty much useless to try to re-use.
Great point on placing the switch before the power supply to prevent any residual power usage while things are off! I'm just using the inverters included in the light kit. These kits were intended for placing in computer cases for modding and special effects so they include the inverter. Everything is also wired with connectors so it's all modular. I tried to using a laptop's cold cathode and inverter once for another project with no luck. I think the inverter required certain control signals to be sent to it so it wouldn't work in 'dumb' mode for me. Probably signals to control things like backlight brightness or something...
Ahhhhh! A kit! Now that would be much easier!! Are they fairly thin, like the LCD screen backlights?
Yeah. The tube itself is the same though the kit ones are inside a protective acrylic tube to help protect them from breakage so they are a lot easier to work with.
Stunning! I'd really like to do something like this in my kitchen. :D
Thank you very much! It's amazing how much a difference the under cabinet lighting makes!

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