Introduction: Low Profile, Portable Light Box

What is a light box?

Light Boxes are flat boxes with internal lights and a translucent top material. Light should be evenly distributed through its top material to provide illumination items placed upon its surface. Light boxes are used for a variety of purposes including developmental education activities

This light box was designed for use by children with developmental disabilities. We wanted a lightweight and portable device so it could be used in a variety of locations by educators, therapists and parents. The box was sized to be small but still allow for reaching and upper extremity range of motion as a part of therapy or intervention. LED rope lights were used for their long life and compatibility with a low-profile form factor

Step 1: Construction Overview

Estimated Time:

Total without drying time: 3-4 hours

Drying time: 4-6 hours


● 1/8” Birch plywood

● 1”x4” Birch (will need a total of 8ft in length)

● 1/8” white acrylic sheet (translucent)

● 1/8” colored acrylic (for letters and numerals)

● wood screws (#8 x 1 ½”)

● wood glue

● reflective tape

● LED rope light (12-16 ft)

● eyelet hooks- ¾”

● rope

● polyurethane wood sealer

Tools used

● hand held drill

● table saw

● miter saw

● drill press

● sandpaper

● staple gun

● paint brush


To avoid eye damage, wear safety glasses while cutting wood, plywood, and acrylic. Practice caution and precision while using the wood glue and polyurethane sealant

Step 2: Trim the Wood for the Sides of the Box

Using a table saw, trim the 1" x 4" Birch Wood to a width of 3"

*If using a size other than 1" x 4", the final dimensions should be 1" x 3" *

We used 1" x 4" x 96" birch wood, thus our final size was 1" x 3" x 96"

Step 3: Cut the Boards Into Four Pieces for the 18” X 24” Frame

The end of each side should be a 45 degree angle as shown in the picture. You will end up with:

  • 2 boards 18" in length
  • 2 boards 24" in length

Taking the 1" x 3" birch wood that you just sized, cut two boards to the length of 24" and two to the length of 18" (longest side of the wood). Make sure that when you are cutting the 45 degree angle that each piece has the 45 degree angles going opposite ways as shown in the graphic above.

Step 4: Cut Grooves Into Frame Boards

Grab your 1/8" Hardwood and your 1/8" white acrylic sheet and measure the thickness. It should be 1/8" for both, but in the case that it is bigger or smaller, use the measurement that you find

Using the table saw, set the blade depth to 1/4" and the length of the support from the blade to 1/4". Use a blade that is as close to the thickness that you found above or slightly larger. The fit should be snug but moveable

Cut 2 grooves into all 4 frame boards as shown above

Step 5: Drill Holes for Handle and Light

Grab one of the 24" frame boards. Mark the center of the board. Then, measuring from the center mark, make two marks 4" to each side. The center mark is for the LED rope and the outer marks are for the handle.

Grab the LED rope and measure the diameter of the connector to ensure that you will drill a hole big enough for it to pass through. Next, grab a forstner bit that is either the size or slightly larger than the diameter and drill a hole through the center mark. (Can use a drill press or hand held drill)

Do the same thing for the rope holes. Measure the diameter and then use a drill bit of equal or larger size to create the holes for each end of the rope.

Step 6: Cut Plywood and Acrylic to Size

Grab the 1/8" hardwood or birch plywood and 1/8" sheet of white acrylic. Using the table saw, trim the size of the boards down to 17" x 23" and then sand the edges

Step 7: Reflective Backing

Taking the birch plywood, measure and mark a 1/8" inner border around the inner face. (When choosing which side is in and which is out, the outer should be the smoother side as it will be the side that you come in contact with the most)

Measure the length of the inner border. Then cut strips of the reflective tape to that length and adhere them to the inner face of the board, covering the entire surface within the border. Be sure to have no tape crossing over.

Using the same process, repeat this for each frame board, putting the tape on the shorter. Be careful not to have any tape overhang into the grooves that you cut.

Step 8: Drill Holes for Hooks

Grab the 2 frame boards that are 18" long. Make 5 evenly spaced marks starting 3" from the shortest side and 1" up from the bottom as shown in the diagram above on both boards (the groves are not pictured in the diagram)

Using either a hand held drill or the drill press and a 3/4" drill bit, drill holes into the frame boards using the marks as a guide. Only drill about 1/2 way through the board.

Next, grab the eyelet hooks and screw them into the holes. Have the hooks facing towards the longer side. (The hook opening should be facing opposite the 1" line in the diagram)

Step 9: Assembly

Set aside the 24" frame board that you cut the holes into. You will only need the other three sides for this step

Add wood glue to both ends of the 24" frame board and one end of both the 18" boards. Align the corners and press together, making sure that they are flush. If you have corner clamps, use them to help align the boards and secure the corners as shown above. If you do not, tape will work

Now insert the birch plywood into the groves closest to the hooks (the 1" side on the diagram from the last step) making sure to push it all the way into each corner. Double check to make sure that the side with the reflective tape is facing inwards and the hook openings are facing away from it

Using a staple gun, staple the corners together being careful not to staple through the grooves or the birch plywood. If you do not have a staple gun, screws will work as well. We suggest countersinking the screws so that they are not sticking on the sides

Wipe away any excess glue and let dry overnight

Step 10: Sand

Once completely dry, sand all the edges of the box using sand paper to ensure no sharp corners

Step 11: Stain

Once sanding is complete, remove all sawdust. Using polyurethane stain, seal each outer side of the box, including the top. When sealing, make sure that no stain drips into the inner grooves. Let dry for 4 hours

Step 12: Insert Handle on Top Side

After the stain has dried, grab the 24" frame board that you drilled the holes and the plain rope

Cut the rope to a length of 16" and insert both ends into the smaller holes on the frame board. Knot each end of the rope so that it is secure. The knots should be on the smaller side of the frame board

Step 13: Attach Lights and Secure

Pull the lighting through the top frame board hole, and line the interior in zig-zag form, pulling it through the hooks. Make sure that the light is evenly distributed and then secure areas down with aluminum tape, covering over the resistors and not the actual lighting.

Step 14: Insert Acrylic Sheet and Secure Final Side of Frame

Insert the acrylic sheet into the open grooves, making sure the acrylic slides completely into the bottom two corners. Next, attach the top frame board to the rest of the frame by aligning the groves to the plywood and acrylic sheets and then aligning the corners on either side

It is recommended that you use a clamp to keep the corners flush and secure while doing this next step

Once secured, using the wood screws, drill from the top frame board down into the sides so that the head of the screw is on the top frame board. You should only need one screw for each side. After the corners are secured, you can remove the clamps

Step 15: Laser Cut Letters Template

Attached is a pdf template and Adobe Illustrator file of the letters, numbers, shapes, and math operators for use with the light box. If you don't have access to a laser cutter or cnc locally, you may order online using this file through a service company like Ponoko

The size of the file is 12" x 24" and the line is .001pt and RGB black