Introduction: Low Profile LED Shelf Lighting

Picture of Low Profile LED Shelf Lighting

Add nearly hidden lighting to shelves, cabinets and desk cubbies. It's great for hard to see areas, accent lighting and places where power outlets are not available.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

-12 to 16 high output (8000 or higher MCD) white LEDs per shelf/cabinet

-Small on/off switch, either push button or toggle switch

-3 AA or AAA battery holder or 3.5 Volt DC power supply


-Solder and soldering iron/gun

-Dremel or other grinding tool


-Hot glue gun

Step 2: Grind the LEDs

Picture of Grind the LEDs

Use the pliers to clamp the LEDs by the wires and grind down the lens part of the LED. Keep grinding it down until the side profile of the LED is square shaped - about as tall as it is wide.

The reasons for grinding the LEDs is both to make them lower profile, and also to frost the top surface so that the light output is diffused.

After grinding bend all the wires 90 degrees at the base of the LEDs. Bend all the wires the same way - polarity matters on LEDs. This will allow all the LEDs to be soldered together into one chain.

Step 3: Solder the LEDs Together

Picture of Solder the LEDs Together

Simply solder the ends of the pins from one LED to the base of the next LED, and repeat until you have one straight chain using all the LEDs. Typically, 12 or 16 are enough for each shelf or cabinet. Make sure all the LEDs have the same polarity (longer pin on one side, shorter on the other.)

After soldering, check if the chain is straight - resolder the crooked links until the LEDs form a straight line.

Test the string with some button cell batteries or with the 3 AA/AAA battery pack.

Step 4: Add the Switch and Power Supply

Picture of Add the Switch and Power Supply

Find a convenient place where you will be placing the power supply, power switch and the LEDs themselves within your cabinet and measure the amount of wire you will be needing.

Solder the wires to the LEDs. Solder the negative wire straight to the battery pack or power supply and solder the positive wires to the power switch.

Step 5: Install Lights in Cabinet

Picture of Install Lights in Cabinet

Use small amounts of hot glue to attach the LEDs, wires, power switch and battery pack to the cabinet and you're done!


mu0p (author)2007-02-26

Excuse my poor knowledge in electronics, im just starting out.. but, to my understandment now, each LED is about 3.5volts and you used 16 LEDS which would be about 56 volts and for you power supply you used 3 1.5volt AAA batteries which is exactly 4.5 Volts in power. which is no where near 56.. So my question how did you power 16 leds with just 4.5volts of power? ive been wanting to wire my leds in a line like this forever, but just couldnt figure out the volts/power thing if anyone can help that would be great!! thnx in advance!

sockmaster (author)mu0p2007-02-26

If all the LEDs are wired in series (the positive pin of LED1 is wired to the negative pin of LED2, the positive pin of LED2 wired to negative of LED3, etc....) then, yes, it would require 56 or so volts. If all the LEDs are wired in parallel (all the negative pins wired together, and all the positive pins together) it requires 3.6 volts - same as using just one LED.

mermicks (author)sockmaster2011-12-06

just want to add to this that in series connection there is a voltage drop on each component while in parallel connection there is a current drop that the longer you put a component the current supplied to it will be lessen.

KevinAlien26 (author)sockmaster2011-07-11

Im new to this too, hence the mind blown picture i use. Im learning new things every day on this website and you my friend have just taught me something else :) thank you

uuili (author)sockmaster2007-04-02

In this project are the LEDs connected in series or parallel?

sockmaster (author)uuili2007-04-02

These are connected in parallel

Bob7k (author)sockmaster2007-03-09

how long does it last on those batteries?

mu0p (author)sockmaster2007-02-27

thnx for the reply!! but one last thing, if say using 4.5 volts to power 16 leds in a parrellel... do they all recieve equal amount of good power, or are they dimmer then they should be since sharing so little power

Bob7k (author)mu0p2007-03-09

dimmer, but it works. i think this is a good idea, i wonder whare i can put something like this... did you think of using surface mount LEDs?

Eugene2009 (author)2008-08-16

LED's are non-linear devices. As you apply more voltage the current increases more than 1 to 1. LED's are specified at a particular forward voltage and current. a typical white or blue LED may be spec'd at 3.3V @ 20mA. If you apply a regulated 3.3V across a white LED the draw will be 20mA typical. You can get by not using a resitor to limit current. If you put 2 matched LED's in parallel the total draw will be 40mA. This equals a power of 0.132W. If you put these LED's in series and apply 6.6V the total draw is 20mA. This still equals 0.132W (TANSTAAFL). If you apply 5V to a typical 3.3V LED the current will go up to hundreds of mA and exceed the max power rating very quickly and burn out (remember non-linear). In this case you want put a resistor in series. The correct value would be the voltage drop (5V-3.3V=1.7V) divided by the current (0.02A or 20mA) which is 85 ohms. Different LED colors have different voltage ratings at 20mA. Red is 1.8V, green, amber and yellow is 2.1 to 2.5V and white and blue are 3.3V. If you test a batch of LED's with a constant current source (20mA) you would find some variation in voltage (3.0 to 3.5V)so if you apply a constant voltage (3.3V) across this same batch you will see some variation in brightness because brightness depends on current. To run LED's off of AC source you must rectify the AC(117Vrms*1.414=165.4Vpeak)and series wire 50 white LED's (165.4/3.3). If you use fewer LED's you have to calculate the proper resitor (don't forget to use the right power rating P=V*I). Rectified AC may cause a flicker that some people will notice. Using full wave rectification and a high voltage (300V) filter capacitor will help minimize this.

kashifsmalik (author)Eugene20092011-09-29

This is the best explanation of LED behavior I have come across in a long time. Keep up the good work.

ouss76 (author)2011-03-26

as i know, it isn't nice to drive a led without a resistor...

Cat on my Lap (author)2008-06-15

Mmmmm Goldschlager... Anyway, wouldn't it be nice to add a diffusing panel across the strip, so the lighting isn't so localized?

wiloland (author)2006-03-28

Hello, How long does the battery last?

baki22 (author)wiloland2007-10-13

hai every one , can used cell phone battery for the power this Led it 3.6v thanks,but need charging port for charge again Thanks

buttersnake (author)baki222008-04-28

Hey, thats a great idea! Just mount it and drill a hole to where you can just pop in a charger. Thanks!

quanta (author)2008-01-12

You can't just connect the LEDs to the power source directly. You have to use the combination "LED+resistor" in order to manage the current. Well, if you have a power source giving exactly 30 mA (which these types of LEDs need), then that's OK. In this connection, both the LEDs (life of an LED is 100000 hours) and the batteries will die soon. Now, the LEDs need the current somewhere around (16*30) = 480 mA. As i see in these pictures, the batteries are just plain types. To conclude, the won't last long. (excuse me about my grammer, if i make mistakes; english isn't my native lang)

Darkshot (author)quanta2008-04-06

hmm i see your point, but wouldnt the LED's give out less light?

montiet (author)2006-12-15

correct me if I am wrong, but if I used 10mm leds with a volatage rating of 3-3.6 and used a 3 AA battery pack which uses a series configuration it would put out 4.5 volts which would fry the led?

tinkertodd (author)montiet2006-12-17

interesting. How then would I go about installing a strip of these powered by a 12v battery? I'm looking to install something similar in my boat.

TLLCUK (author)tinkertodd2007-04-11

A good way to do this is by wiring 3 LEDs in series with a resisitor to create a cell, then connect addition cells in parallel. Calculations for resistor need to be made depending on the specification of the LED. Typically it is not recommended to wire LEDs in series, if one LED shorts or goes open, then all the LEDs in that cell go out. Personally, in practise, I have never seen it, but it is still possible.

schimmi (author)TLLCUK2008-02-24

what if you don't know the voltage of your LED;s because you raped them from some christmas light string?

GEris (author)tinkertodd2007-04-10

I live compeltely offgrid and am constantly looking for ways to conserve electricity. I'd love to know exactly how you end up converting this to 12 V

TLLCUK (author)GEris2007-04-11

We have a 30cm led strip which use either surface mount or 5mm leds. Both types operate from 12vdc and come in all standard colours. Alternativley they can be made DIY, all you will only need is, LED, resistor, stripboard (veroboard), connectors and wire. Calculations can be made to select correct type of resistor depending on the LED spec and the input voltage (in case you want to run it from 6v, 24v etc. Circuit can be modified to run from the mains or even to drive high power LEDs such as Cree or LumiLEDs. In fact, the circuit can be further extended to run RGB, either single colours of 3 in 1 packages.

Eriswerks (author)TLLCUK2007-04-11

I use a little web calculator to figure out what value of resistor to use for LEDs. It works for just one LED or for a number of them wired in series.

LED resistor calculator

As a side note, it is indeed wise to use a series-parallel circuit rather than wire a whole bunch of LEDs in series. It would work fine for a while, but the lifespan of the LEDs would probably be reduced. Make series-wired clusters of just a few LEDs, each cluster with its own appropriate resistor, and then wire those clusters to your power source in a parallel circuit.

sockmaster (author)tinkertodd2006-12-17

You might either try using resistors to drop the voltage to 3.5 volts (not sure what value you'd need to use), or wire multiple sets of LEDs in series to divide the voltage (eg: 12 volts divided into 4 sets of LEDs means each set gets 3 volts.)

tinkertodd (author)sockmaster2006-12-22

Thanks! I'll give it a try. Happy Hoildays!

sockmaster (author)montiet2007-02-26

4.5 volts is a little high and some LEDs might not like that, but it seemed fine when I first installed it. I switched to rechargeable batteries, which are 1.2V after I took the pictures and 3x1.2V = 3.6V, perfect for 3.6V LEDs.

sockmaster (author)montiet2006-12-15

Possibly. It would depend on the voltage drop caused by the resistance in the painted conductive traces. But if you plan on using 3 AA batteries, you might try using rechargeables which are 1.2 volts instead of 1.5 volts, which would make the power source a safer 3.6 volts.

sockmaster (author)sockmaster2006-12-17

Sorry! I was thinking of my other instructable when I answered the above! Ignore that part about the conductive paint :) ...but 1.2 volt rechargeable batteries are still preferred because it'll keep the output within your LED's 3 to 3.6 volt range.

uuili (author)2007-03-31

Im brand spanking new to electronics so i have a few questions here. If you use say 20 LEDs in series, can you still power them with regular batteries as in this instructable? I would like to use the mains to power the LEDs. What changes will I have to make to the configuration and will I need extra components? Really want to make one of these!!

downgrade (author)uuili2007-08-17

if you follow this instructables, more LEDs just takes more amps which means it eats through power faster, doesn't need more... to use it from the mains is a bit much considering LEDs like DC, and instead of 120v they prefer something between 2 and 3 volts. so what you might want to do is find a properly powered wall charger for some lost electronic device and use its wiring. So if you can find a wall charger that puts out very close to what the LEDs you have wants to use, there you go, quick solve to a big question

uuili (author)2007-03-31

I am totally new to electronics, here goes: You can use 20 LEDs in series and power it with 2 or 3 1.5V batteries? Also how would you go about using the mains to power these LEDs? Safely of course :)

thegreatguu (author)2007-02-23

I just did somethin llike that ...really great: cold light, just enough to see the keayboard without light blinding you :D Would anyone have a link or something to explain how to power this with usb?

wargo0813 (author)2007-01-26

super sweet idea

toekneebullard (author)2007-01-12

Neat idea. Would be really cool if you just added a small lip on the front/top of the shelf, and hid the LEDs behind that. This would make for a great little keyboard light for those of us with slide out keyboard drawers.

crazylikeacharger (author)2006-10-31

where is a good place to get bluk LEDs for a good price

Kent (author)crazylikeacharger2006-12-29

There are several LED companies from Hong Kong doing business on Ebay. You can get some great deals on packages of 100 LED's for about $20, and they include resistors. You may not need the resistors, because you should run the LED's in series to avoid wasting power. You should only use a resistor to fill in that last few volts. I plan to do an Instructable on LED voltage and current calculations.

montiet (author)2006-11-28

Anyone know how to run power from a wall socket to this? what would you need to do this?

such_momjeans (author)2006-11-23
SaintPatrick (author)2006-10-09

Liar! I'm looking at pictures of some copper tops, nonrechargeables. Cool project. Think I might try this, but drill holes in from the side that I want to stick the LEDs on and seat the light itself inside the hole. This would hide the wire as well...just have to find a good spot for the battery pack.

uncle frogy (author)2006-10-03

it would not be very difficult to install the LED chain in a small piece of molding (plastic or wood) and hot glue it in place for a nice finnished look. I will use this in projects for sure!

devophill (author)uncle frogy2006-10-03

Sounds like a good idea, pop!

bmikev (author)2006-09-18

this would be easy to mod for an outlet useing any old ac to dc power supply. great idea. also a potentiometer/transistor can be added to make a dimmer control.

parke (author)2006-09-16

where can i buy leds

japala (author)2006-09-05

And I would advice you to try to hook as many leds in series as possible. This lowers the current consumption, giving you a better battery economy.

sockmaster (author)2006-03-29

It depends a bit on which LEDs you choose, how many you use, wether you use AA or AAA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries... I'd ballpark it at around 20 hours using alkaline AAs -- but it still keeps going after that, just slowly getting dimmer and dimmer as the batteries run down. I use rechargeable batteries, so whenever it looks like it's running down, I just recharge them.

0.775volts (author)2006-03-29

with that many leds wired in parallel, the current draw is usually not significant enough to burn out. i made a set of led poi a couple of years ago using 8 leds in parallel, running straignt off of a cr-123 lithium battery. they've been fine for the past two years. when using a power supply, however, i would watch out that you don't give the leds too much voltage/current, or else they will burn out. metku mods used to have a pretty decent calculator on their website for figuring out voltages and resistances, if you google "led resistance calculator" you can probably find some similar sites.

italianscallion (author)2006-03-27

i'ts my understanding that with parallel led configurations, each led should have a series resistor to even out and limit the current flow. individual leds are subject to minor manufacturing differences, so one led could end up using too much current, which will make it burn out, eventually... at least this was the case a couple of years ago. it is possible that the new, high output leds have tighter tolerances or include an integrated resistor?

White LEDs have improved in the last few years. I've noticed they don't even put resistors in multi-LED flashlights anymore. Should you happen to notice one bad LED that is dim, just replace it with a different one. I have a number of these lights around the house and they've been working fine for a few years now.

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