Recycled, Affordable, Portable Light Table




Posted in WorkshopCardboard

Introduction: Recycled, Affordable, Portable Light Table

As an art major I wanted a portable light/drafting table and couldn't find one that would be cost effective so I made this:


-2 1/4" Outer Diameter Cardboard tubes: Ask local print shops if they have extras from their paper rolls.
(Most places just throw these things out, theres really no secondary use for them other than holding drawing, and to buy them costs a ton of money so just check with a local print shop or in their recyclables dumpster.)

-1/2" Gatorboard: Again ask at local print shops, or just compress lots of cardboard with glue.
-Hot Glue
-Light Source
: I used an Under cabinet LED from OSH hardware 8.5 inches long
-Acrylic/Styrene and/or Plexiglass
-Time upwards of 3 hours depending in if you want to paint it or not

-Hot Glue gun
-Matte Knife
-Jigsaw or Lasercutter
-Sanding Blocks
-Tape Measure

Step 1: Creating the Body

To create the body, I used the cardboard tubes. You will need to cut them to 4.75 inches long( 8 of them) and 24 inches long (2 of them) [See picture]. I used a chop saw to do this , though it can be done by hand if you have a steady hand with a standard saw.

Next you need to glue the pieces  together. Make sure that they are completely flush on one side. Placing them against a metal block works or if you have some planed wood that would work too.(See picture) For the best stability I suggest placing hot glue on both sides of the joint.

Make two rows of 4 small parts (see picture).

Then connect the two rows to the larger parts. (See picture). Also make sure that the sides are flush.

Step 2: Making the Top and Putting It in Place.

For the top I used Gatorboard because I personally think its much stronger than cardboard that is compressed and glued. also it has a flat top that doesn't dent easily like cardboard does.

See the plan view image to get the dimensions for the cut hole. I used a long tear bar(heavy straightedge) and a matte knife to cut it out.

Once you have the top cut, glue it to the high points of the cardboard tubes. ( see picture).
Reinforce the surrounding edges with hot glue at your own discretion; steps like this are what add significant weight to this project, so use the glue in the smartest way possible.

Step 3: Making the Inside Housing

I took some scrap gator board and I lined the inside. Because the cardboard tubes are 2 1/4 inches in diameter the pieces need to be 1 1/2 inches wide. This will leave space to put the 3/4 thick backing on. (See Picture).

 After lining the whole interior I realized that my light source would not fit properly and to solve the issue I had to carve out two notches to hold my light. (See Images). 

The notches are an optional move based on the light source you choose to use. Originally I planned to use a battery powered string of LED's that you can find pretty easily during Halloween or Christmas, but  seeing at it is February I ended up using an under counter light that I picked up at a home improvement store for about 14 dollars.

Light source was 8.5 inches long incase you try to find the same one

Step 4: The Back

For the back, again just use gator board to cut a rectangle that fits, your size will vary based on your light source. Mine was 13.25" x 9" (See Picture).

Follow the next instructions in order to save yourself a time and frustraition:

1) Line the inside of the box with tinfoil. (See Images).
2) Cover the Back with tinfoil on the face that will be inside the box.

3) Apply Velcro to inner section of the box and on the perimeter of the back panel you just covered with tinfoil.

The reason you need to do this in that order is because the Velcro has a weak bond to the edge of the gator board. Its not so weak the back will fall off, but I've noticed that when I try to remove the back panel the Velcro male to female bond is stronger than the Velcro backing adhesive bond to gator board. This means when you remove the back you may end up having all your Velcro attached to the back panel when it is removed. Now this is a minor inconnivance but not so bad because the only reason you would remove the back is to replace the batteries in your light source.

Step 5: Cutting the Top

To cut the top I used a piece of Styrene(White) 1/16th inch.
And a piece of Acrylic Plex (clear). 1/8th inch.

Size does matter on this, do not use the same thickness, you wont have a place to glue them together if you do. Also it won't sit on the top of your table correctly if you do. Make sure your clear surface is thicker than the other.

Follow the image below to see the dimensions. NOTE: Image provided is not to scale, do NOT print it out and use it as a template.

While I used a laser cutter to do mine, this is completely doable with a bandsaw, or even a jigsaw and enough time. 

Once you cut them out and dry fit them, glue them together by placing a beed of hot glue on the "inside" (non-flush surface). Make sure you keep both pieces weighted down as much as possible, if you don't, you may flip the whole thing over and find uneven ridges that your pencil will catch on while drawing.

NOTE: If you do not want the top of your table to be white or whatever color your plex is, paint it before you glue in the clear surface.

Step 6: Completed Table

Now you should be able to lay your top piece down into the whole that is in the top of your light table. Because you used a thicker piece of plex in the middle it should actually sit down in the hole and not slide side to side.

To turn it on, simply lift off the top and turn on your power source, place your top back on and start drawing.

The whole thing weighs about : 5 pounds which is much better than those big metal, industrial ones that weight upwards of 15 and you are confined to a wall socket.

AFTER THOUGHTS: At some point I do want to glue down the top piece and make a button to turn it on somehow, but for now I don't have the time. Also if you put end caps on the tubes you can carry paper and pencils ect. inside the actual table. Also if you want to defuse that light a little so you're not staring at LED's; place a piece of tracing paper between the top of the table and the underside of your acrylic/styrene.

Hope you guys found this helpful, if you have any questions leave them in the comments and I'll try to respond.



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    I'm trying to digitize some 35 mm slides. This is a perfect inexpensive light table I can use for this project. Thank you! Hope to show you some updates. I also really like how the table itself can also function as storage. Very smart.

    This rocks as the basic light table. I am going to tweak it for 3-5 yr olds so they can expand there creative lil minds as much as they dare. Awesome.

    Thanks for sharing this it looks very nice! Have a splendorous day!