DIY Light Table

About: DIY and Making-Wood, Glass and More!

For the longest time I have wanted a light table. It's hard to work at night when all you have is one tiny incandescent bulb in the garage. I like to make things out of Stained Glass and needed a surface to trace designs and patterns. It needed to be a large work surface, and allow me to see the true color of the glass when back-lit. After looking at commercial light tables, I was shocked at the price. A light box the size of a sheet of paper is already too expensive, so a light table is out of the question.

BUT- For the price of a light box you can make your own light table. Once you have one, you'll never go back. They have a thousand + 1 uses.

This can be built as simply or as complex as you are comfortable. All you really need is a light source, a box, and a transparent top.

Supplies:

Box- buy one or build one. I used Oak for my box.

Tempered glass top: I purchased mine from IKEA- it was meant to be a kitchen table top.

Light fixtures. I used 2- 4 foot-T8 Fluorescent lights.

Depending on how fancy you want to get: additional electrical hardware (I installed an outlet and switch)

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Step 1: Build a Box to House the Lights/Glass Top

I sized the box so that my piece of glass would fit flush with the sides and leave enough room for the fixtures. After some research, 12-14 inches deep is ideal to diffuse and spread out the light.

I chose to miter the ends and use biscuits for reinforcement. The bottom of the box sits in a dado that adds rigidity.

Step 2: Create Ventilation Holes to Provide Air Circulation.

Depending on the type of light you choose, you may need a significant amount of ventilation. This air circulation will allow the box to stay cool while you work.

I was going to drill holes for this, but decided to cut a pattern into the sides of the light table. This looks amazing, but I have to say- I'll never do that again! There were hundreds of tiny leaves to cut out!

Step 3: Install the Electrical Components

At this point you can install your light fixtures and plug them in. I decided to add a few custom features to my table. Because I work in stained glass, it's handy to have a power source to grind the glass and solder it right on the light table. I decided to wire the table so it has a switch and an outlet.

I cut 2 openings in the front and installed electrical boxes. One box housed the outlet, and the other the ON/OFF switch. I used an appliance cord and wired the lights to the switch. When the lights in the table are turned ON, the outlet has power.

While cutting an opening for the appliance cord, some of the leaves broke out the side. Luckily, they were able to be glued back in place with no problems.

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT attempt any electrical rewiring unless you have the knowledge and skills to do so.

Step 4: Install Hardware to Customize Your Table.

In building this light table, I needed to use what I had on hand. I was trying to think of a way to use the table without taking up too much space. I thought it would be convenient if it could fold flat against the wall when not in use.

To achieve this, I installed a long screw at the back of each side of the light table. I then took shelf hardware and cut off the long section, drilled a hole and cut a notch into the hardware. This way, the light table can be installed on an existing shelf system I had and fold flat for storage.

Because the table folds flat for storage, I needed a way to ensure the glass top didn't fall out. What I ended up doing was installing "T" nuts on the inside of the box on the 4 corners. I then glued rubber onto L brackets and installed them on the 4 corners. These brackets prevent the glass top from falling out when the table is folded flat against the wall.

Step 5: Enjoy Having a Light Table!

The light table attaches to shelf brackets mounted on the wall and folds flat for storage. I found that if I mount the table just above the height of a shop cart, the shop cart can act as a base for the table. I originally used scrap wood as front legs, but found the shop cart system works a lot better.

The more I have used this table, the more uses I have found for it:

  • Tracing patterns and creating designs.
  • It's HUGE! But it takes up almost NO space flat against the wall.
  • Able to set glass on top of the pattern and cut directly on the light table, no need to cut pieces of paper and glue it to the glass.
  • Soldering on the light table is very safe, the light table does not absorb any heat from the soldering iron, and any solder that falls immediately solidifies on contact with the glass.
  • Cutting anything with a X-Acto knife is very quick and does not damage the glass.
  • Write measurements directly onto the glass, draw, make lists, use white board markers for quick brainstorming or sharpies for more permanent marks.
  • Easy clean-up: sweep the top and wipe it with some Windex.
  • Using a projector you can adjust the sizes of your design instantly- no math, no trips to the Print shop, no cutting printer paper and taping it together.
  • Assembly/glue up table- glue scrapes up cleanly and oh so satisfyingly!
  • Convenient outlet- no need to run extension cords all over the place, just use the one on the table.
  • Extra light fixture that fills the garage with light
  • I could go on all day.....just go build one for yourself!

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    10 Discussions

    None
    WORMSS

    20 days ago

    Just wondering. Would some of those cheap LED Panels be better for this? For heat and coverage reasons? Or sticking with florescent is best?

    1 reply
    None
    susankg

    20 days ago on Step 5

    Years ago my nephew made a table for me to draw on and we used the glass that is used in the plate glass windows in stores, my only problem is it is completely clear like a store window. The bottom is open and the glass is clear, did you use glass that was frosted or did you put something on it so the light won't glare in your face?

    1 reply
    None
    Distracted Makersusankg

    Reply 17 days ago

    The glass I used was already treated on the back with a white paint/enamel.

    None
    xstfoc

    Question 20 days ago on Step 5

    What did you use to make the light box top a "diffuse white" instead of clear glass? I'm also a stained glass worker, and this size table would be great, along with the fold-up feature. Great tutorial!! Thanks.

    1 answer
    None
    Distracted Makerxstfoc

    Answer 17 days ago

    It's a kitchen table top from IKEA, it is white back painted and works great.

    None
    seamster

    22 days ago

    This is a great, yet simple approach. I like it, thank you!

    1 reply