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Mining cheap, bright white LED bulbs from Harbor Freight Flashlights

Picture of Mining cheap, bright white LED bulbs from Harbor Freight Flashlights
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The Harbor Freight 27 LED flashlight, Item # 67227 or 69567 is a great deal, even if you just plan to use it as a flashlight.  The list price is $5.99, but it's very easy to find coupons online or in your local newspaper ad to get the flashlight for $3.50 or less.  And it comes with batteries!

The flashlight is an absolute godsend if you have a use/need for high brightness LED bulbs.  The 27 LED's in the flashlight each have a forward voltage of 3v and a forward current of 50mA.  In comparison, white LED's cost $2.50 for a package of just 2 at RadioShack.

With just a soldering iron, a multimeter, some wire, and a "third hand" (either store-bought or homemade), you can extract all 27 LEDs for whatever nefarious purpose should suit you.
 
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Step 1: Take the flashlight apart

Picture of Take the flashlight apart
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For some reason, my flashlight body is orange.  The newer ones have blue bodies, but are otherwise the exact same.

Unscrew the three Phillips head screws on the back cover, then pry the back cover off with a flat-bladed screwdriver. This will reveal four more Phillips head screws--remove these.  Remove the batteries also.

The top cover, lens, and reflector should all be fairly straightforward to remove.  After removing the batteries, snip the two wires leading between the circuit board and the battery compartment.

The magnet on the back of the cover is useful for retaining the screws.  Keep the magnet, screws, and hooks for other projects.

Step 2: De-solder the LEDs

Picture of De-solder the LEDs
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The three LEDs forming the small light have long leads.  Just de-solder them and wriggle them out by the leads.

Removing the remaining 24 LEDs is also straightforward.  For each LED, apply your soldering iron to both leads simultaneously.  Wriggle the LED out by pulling on the bulb--you might need to use needle-nose pliers for this.  It helps to have the circuit board held securely by a third hand tool or a vise.

Step 3: Extend the leads on the short-lead LEDs

Picture of Extend the leads on the short-lead LEDs
The 24 LEDs you extracted from the short part of the board have very short, stubby leads.  They're not easy to connect to other things.  And they won't necessarily fit in through-holes on other circuit boards where you may want to use them.

We can extend them pretty easily though.

Step 4: Make the new leads

Picture of Make the new leads
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Find some solid wire.  I used bits of 24AWG speaker wire that I stripped the insulation off of.  You could even use resistor leads clipped from previous projects.

Using the tip of needle-nose pliers, form the end of each into a small loop or shepherd's crook shape.

Step 5: Add the new leads to the LEDs

Picture of Add the new leads to the LEDs
Slide the loops you have just formed over the stubby leads on the bulb.  Smash each existing lead flat using a flat-bladed screwdriver so that it holds the loop in place.

Then solder the bits of wire you have just made to the existing leads on the bulb.

Step 6: Determine polarity and clip the negative lead

Picture of Determine polarity and clip the negative lead
Bend the new leads straight, giving the appearance of a new LED bulb you'd buy at RadioShack.

Use a multimeter to determine the polarity of the LED.  To indicate polarity, convention holds that the negative lead is shorter than the positive one.  Clip the negative lead so that this is the case.

Step 7: Use the LED bulbs in your own projects!

Picture of Use the LED bulbs in your own projects!
The LED bulbs have a forward voltage of 3 volts and a forward current of 50 mA.  Enter these specs, the number of bulbs you plan to use, and your supply voltage at http://ledcalc.com in order to determine which ballast resistor your application needs.

I used 4 of the bulbs to upgrade my car radio after the incandescent bulbs started burning out.  LEDs do not burn out, so I shouldn't have to change another radio bulb for the life of the car (and I fully intend to keep the car for twenty years or more). I plan to use the LEDs to replace the other dashboard and interior bulbs as they burn out.

(DO NOT connect these LED bulbs directly to car voltage--they will overheat and die very quickly.  You have to use a ballast resistor.)

Maybe you have a more exciting use for your LED bulbs.  Tell me about your projects!
pearlheartgtr3 months ago

Why buy them when you can get them for free? Harbor freight always as coupons for free flashlights. Print a few up and go there with some friends. Most of the time, you don't have to buy anything.

photony1 year ago

OK geniusssss(genieii?) I am looking to COMBINE 4 or so of these TOGETHER...WHOLE to make photography lighting...where do I start? How much voltage, etc...

They are currently free. (one per customer per day) LINK (2014-02-15, expire 2014-02-28)

etcmn1 year ago

Thanks for the tips. I bought a full case of these at Harbor Freight with the same idea. I got them for less than $3ea which is definitely a lot less than 2 dozen LEDs would cost me anywhere else.

Also big thanks for the link to the LED calculator. I'm a fair hand at household electrics (110/220V) but quite lost when talking about low voltage parts.

georion1 year ago
Radio shack prices DO suck $16 plus tax for 4 foot cable rthat everyone else sells for $4!
pfred21 year ago
I tried doing this with their aluminum flashlights but the ones I took apart had bad LEDs in them. I took them apart because about half the LEDs died in a couple of those flashlights I have. The rest died quickly using them too. So they were just defective I suppose.

I have a 27 LED flashlight and so far it is OK. I should pick up another just to pull the LEDs out of it. Like you say, it is cheaper than buying them at Radio Shack. I imagine the flashlight body itself might make a nice project box too.

Really when I use my flashlight I only like when the nose lights, not the panel. So I guess I could just take the panel LEDs off and still have a flashlight. I'll have to get one and investigate.
The only trick will be cutting the switch leads for the 24 led panel and rewiring it to the 3 led panel. That willturn it into a "regular" on off switch.

If you don't, then it will take up to 3 clicks to get light coming out. :'(
As it is now I have to click a couple of times in order to get the front to light.
Sjoerd X1 year ago
Instead of taking them apart for the LED's, $2.50 will get you 100 LED's from eBay:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lot-of-100pcs-5mm-Round-LED-Super-Bright-Bulb-Electronics-20000-MCD-White-Trendy-/390693244759?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5af721cf57

(or search for other colors, they are often cheaper then white)
I haven't used Fleabay in years. By the time shipping is calculated there goes your good deal!
Have you tried these ones from ebay - are they good? That's a great deal
Not those specific, but got good experiences with cheap stuff from china. Chinese vendors will refund or resend you when there is a problem with the product; they really like their positive ebay feedback.