Intro: DIY Studio Light Panel
This self-contained "studio light" is a simple portable light made from an $11.00 bathroom vanity fixture. These can be assembled with a few dollars of hardware if you're able to use scrap or pallet wood for this project. See the video for a breakdown on costs and a side-by-side comparison between this light and cheap a CFL "Studio Lighting". I've also included some additional build videos in a few of the steps.
- Vanity Wall Light*
- Combination Clamp
- 1/4-20 T-Nut
- LED Bulbs
- Wire Nuts
- 1/8" Plywood
- Paint, Stain or Dye (optional)
*The light I used in my project was purchased at Home Depot and called Thomas Lighting's 3-Light Chrome Vanity Wall light.
- Hand saw or chop saw
- Wire strippers
- Screw drivers
- Drill bits
- Table saw
- Brad nailer
A simple wood frame is made from some strips of wood, and a piece of plywood is use for a backer plate. The fixture is wired up inside the enclosure using wire nuts, and circular clips on the vanity fixture hold the backer plate into place. Check out the video for a brief overview of the build as well as a cost breakdown of the materials.
Step 1: Cut Your Wood
Rip Cuts (Optional)
For this project, I used 1" poplar boards (3/4" actual). For the vanity light I selected, a thickness of 1 3/8" was a good size to keep the profile thin yet still all the wires in. If you do not have a table saw, 1" x 2" boards will work fine, your end result will be a little thicker.
Cut to Length
I avoid performing calculations and taking measurements when possible. For this project, I used the fixture itself to mark off my cuts. First I marked off the end pieces by using a straight edge and the short end of the fixture. Then I fit those in and use them to mark where the cuts needed to go on the long pieces.
Step 2: Assemble the Frame
This project calls for utility grade construction, so I glued the frame together and then used a few 18 gague nails to hold everything in place.
I created an assembly jig the top of the table by clamping two pieces of wood at a 90 degree angle.
Step 3: Time to Dye
I filled the nail holes with some wood putty, and then used some Fiebing's black leather dye. Applying the dye took practically no time to apply, dried quickly and produced a very even finish. I really like the way this finish turned out and so far (6 months in) it is holding up well.
Step 4: Cut Your Back Panel
I again used the same layout approach to get my dimensions. First I ripped down a strip of plywood to the appropriate width on the table saw, then I cut it to length with a hand saw.
Before cutting on the table saw or miter saw, I apply a layer or two of masking tape. This helps prevent tear out and produces a cleaner cut.
Step 5: Install Stops for the Front Panel
With the fixture retaining clips removed set your frame face down on a flat table. Now put the fixture face down inside the frame. We will now install the stops.
I created the stops from L brackets that I cut apart with an angle grinder, however another material would work here too. The purpose of the stop is to prevent the front panel from falling inside the enclosure,
Once the first stop was in, I re-installed the retaining clips and screwed in the other stops.
Step 6: Build the Back Panel
Now it's time to build the back panel. You will need to cut some small chunks of plywood. I used 15/32" plywood from my scrap pile. The chunks are cut to the width of the back panel. A large piece is installed in the middle, and then two end pieces are added to each end.
The exact width of the pieces is not critical, but for the end pieces somewhere between 1/2" and 1" is probably good. Smaller is better since you will need to route wires in an upcoming step. The pieces will ultimately be nailed into the rails so it should be thick enough to give the nails something to attach to.
Width again is not critical here. We will be needing to drill a 3/4 hole for the combination clamp that holds the cord into place, so it needs to be wide enough for that. My center piece is around 2" in width.
My plywood was too thick and interfered with the front panel. This was solved by chiseling a small groove on each side where a stop came into contact with a rail. Taking off one layer of plywood was sufficient for me.
Glue it Up
Use some wood glue to glue the stops into place, clamp it up and let it dry.
Step 7: Install Combination Clamp
Now that the back panel is completed, you can do your first test fit. Install the front panel and attach the mounting clips if desired.
Once you're satisfied that everything is lined up, flip the assembly over and mark the hole for the power cord and wire clamp.
Combination Clamp Hole
From the back side, I drilled a pilot hole with a thin drill bit. Once that hole was drilled, I added a piece of tape and finished drilling the hole from the exposed side of the back panel. This was done to prevent any tear out.
The size combination clamp you'll use is going to depend on the size cord you've selected. I used 3/8" combination clamps because that what I had on hand. If you used a smaller gauge cord like a cheap extension cord, you may consider using a grommet-style clamp instead.
Now install your clamp. The initial hole I drilled was a little too small, so I filed it out with file. Once the threads on the clamp could bite into the would, I simply threaded it in. It holds into the wood on it's own so installing the nut was not needed in this case.
Step 9: Install T-Nut
1/4-20 T-Nut Hole
I marked a hole in the center of the back panel and drilled from the exposed side with a 1/4" drill bit.
Tap 'er In!
I used a bit of wood glue around the outside of the hole and then tapped it in with a hammer. If you get any glue on the treas of the t-nut then you'll want to wipe them off with a rag.
Step 10: Complete Wiring
We're ready to complete the wiring of the project. This fixture comes with wire nuts, however I found them to be of low quality so I used my preferred wire nut.
- Trim your power cord to length, leaving 6"-8" of length LONGER than you want coming out from the back of the light.
- Feed your cord through the combination clamp and hole of the vanity light's backing plate.
- When you have your cord where you want it, strip the jacket from the cord and tighten the clamps
Wire it Up!
This part is easy, you simply connect the white wire with the cord to the white wire on the lamp. Connect the black wire with the black wire and the green wire with the green wire. For each wire, strip off about 1/2" of insulation. Pre-twist the two wires together clock-wise, then screw on the wire nut.
Install Back Panel
Now carefully stuff everything back into the enclosure taking care not to pinch any wires in the process. We're going to test to see if everything works. Screw in a bulb and plug it in, if everything is wired up correctly you should have light. If not, unplug the light and check to your connections.
Step 11: Complete & Enjoy
Now that you've got the lamp wired up, you can set the back panel into place with some nails. Don't worry! If you ever need to get into the light again, you can remove the retaining clips on the front panel and remove the front panel from there.
Tack in a couple of nails where the back stops are located. You should only need one or two nails for each stop on the sides and ends of the frame.
Congratulations! Your lights are ready to use.