Intro: DIY Video Lights From an Old Fluorescent Light
We have been working on updating our home studio and decided to work on the lighting fixtures. We chose to work on the fill lights (help to lessen the shadows from any main lights) and get rid of the fluorescent light fixture installed by the previous owners.
While taking the fluorescent light fixture down, we realized that the general shape would probably work for housing our fill lights with a little tlc. So what we'll show is how to go from old fluorescent light fixture to multiple modern and classy video lights for your own video or photography studio!
What you will need:
- Old fluorescent light fixture
- Scrap pieces of wood
- 1/4" dowel
- Wood screws
- Light bulb fixture
- Power cord with exposed wires on one end
- Long Bolt (4-5")
- Steel bar stock - 1/2" x 3' x 1/8"
- 3 sheets rice paper
Tools you will need:
- Drill Press
- Router / Hole Saw
- SawMax (or something that can cut metal)
- Wood Glue
- 2 part epoxy / strong adhesive
- Spray Adhesive
- Grinder (optional)
- Doweling Jig (optional)
The following steps are the order WE did them in, but you are welcome to do the steps differently! The video shows all of the following steps.
Step 1: Make the Sides of the Light Fixture
We want to "sketch" out the borders of the light fixture. Since you have the back, top, and bottom of the fill light already taken care of by the old fluorescent fixture, you really only need to custom make the sides. Choose a wood plank that is at least 3/4" thick and wide enough that the old light fixture can be fastened on top of it. You want to make sure that when you install the light bulb socket and the light bulb is screwed in, that the bulb doesn't touch the back of the fluorescent fixture.
Cut the board to the proper length (essentially as wide as the fluorescent fixture). Then put the old fluorescent fixture on its side on top of the wood plank you've just cut. Trace the curves of the light fixture against the wood. Cut the outer edge off as you will be fastening the wood sides on the inside of the metal structure. Remember, you want the wood to come out a bit from the back of the fluorescent fixture so the bulb does not hit it!
We wanted rounded corners on the outer facing side so using a roll of duct tape as a template, trace a curve to give yourself a nice rounded corner! Cut these on the bandsaw as well.
Step 2: Cut the Fluorescent Fixture to Size
The light bulb we use are 5600k Kino Flo bulbs which are approximately 4" x 11" in size, relatively large.
We wanted to make sure that the bulb was in the middle between the light bulb fixture and the end of the light chassis so we measured out where we wanted to cut the old fixture and made a line for the Saw Max to follow.
While cutting - PLEASE be careful! There will be sparks!
Once you've finished cutting, there may be metal burrs on the sides which are quite sharp. We tried a number of things, files, sand paper, mouse sander to try to smooth them down. We found using a grinder the most useful!
Step 3: Install the Light Bulb Fixtures
Measure the size of the light bulb fixture and draw the size needed on your wooden sides. One method you could use (which is what I did) was put the light bulb fixture in different tape rolls until I found one that it fit perfectly, and used that as the template to trace.
Drill a hole in the middle of that circle using your largest drill bit. This will be what your router sits up into so that you can actually cut the rest of the hole out. We don't have a hole saw so this was our workaround - you are welcome to improvise!
Use 2 part epoxy, or a strong adhesive, apply it to the side of the light bulb fixture which will be in contact with the wood and put the bulb fixture into place.
Step 4: Start the Frame for the Front Diffusing Panel
The bulb is a very bright 85W bulb so we wanted to put a diffuser panel in front of it. We decided on a rice-paper based diffuser panel in the shape of a cylindrical Asian style lantern. The following may be slightly confusing, so please feel free to ask if you have any questions.
For this step, we used a thin (1/4") poplar board. Using the distance between the center of the bulb (in the fixture) to the back of the metal body, we determined the distance to the front diffusion frame and resultant semicircle. Trace a 1/2" wide semicircle frame of that size and cut that out. You will need 2 of these per light.
- For example, if it is 7" from the center of the bulb to the back of the metal chassis, measure out 7" and mark what portion of that will become the diffusing screen. The ends of this frame will overlap with the curved corners of the wooden sides. That is okay! You may want to use a compass for this portion or pencil and string to draw the circle.
Take the frame you have just cut and put it against a wooden side, holding it out to where you want the eventual diffusion layer to be. Then trace the curve of the wooden side onto the 1/2" frame for its own curve. Cut that curve off.
Before cutting the curve out, you can also trace the curve of the wooden sides onto the board. It may be easier than wielding the delicate 1/2" frame.
Step 5: Put the Wooden Sides on the Metal Chassis
Drill holes into the metal chassis and wooden sides. Be sure to drill some pilot holes before drilling the holes to size to keep the wood from splitting and to keep the metal from ruining your bit!
Fasten the wooden sides in with wood screws! We used 5 screws per side.
Step 6: Make the Fastening Side for the Diffuser Panel
While designing this, we realized that we needed a way for the front cylindrical diffuser to affix to the main light chassis and one that would also strengthen it.
Using cedar (from the same board that the wooden sides came from if possible), cut out 1" bars that are at least as wide as the widest part of the 1/2" semicircle frame. Trace the curve of the wooden side on this bar for the bottom side, and on the top side, trace the curve of the 1/2" frame. You'll want to cut those curves out.
When you've finished cutting the curve out, it should sit comfortably on top of the wooden sides.
If you look at the pictures, you'll see that the 1/2" frame actually sits in cut-out slots on the wooden bar you've just cut. So where it overlaps, you will need to cut out 1/4" deep slots that match the curve of the semicircle frame. You want the semicircle frame to sit flush with the side that faces outwards - so if your semicircle frame is made of thicker material, you may need to cut accordingly.
Step 7: Install the Dowel Connects and Finish the Frame Sides
We wanted to be able to take the diffusion screen on and off so that we could change the light bulb if necessary. We decided to have the screen connect to the main frame via dowels.
Use a dowel jig (or if your hands are very stable, a drill press/normal drill) and drill 2 holes in each 1" bar the size of your dowel. You'll want to drill into the wooden side it will eventually connect to.
The dowels will be glued on the screen side. The way we did it was placed the 1" bar on the wooden side, drilled the holes, put the cut dowels in, put glue on the surface that was going to be in the bar, and then pushed the dowel into the hole.
Once all of the dowels have been pushed through, glue and clamp the 1/2" semicircle frame onto the 1" bar.
Step 8: Create the Vertical Screen Bars
The rice paper will need a place to glue to, and for aesthetic purposes, the vertical bars should be thin. Use 1/4" vertical stock and cut to the length between each semicircle frame. These will be glued to the semicircle frames. If you do not have dowels, you can cut long vertical sticks from a stock board.
It is up to you how many you decide to cut. We cut 7 verticals for each light.
Glue them so that they're flush to the inner circle of the 1/2" semicircle frame. Use epoxy or strong adhesive!
Step 9: Time for the Reflective Material!
Time to use the foil! Crumple a piece of foil that is about as wide as the inside of the metal body. Then open it very carefully so as to not rip any holes into it. Spray adhesive on the less shiny side and adhere it to the inside of the metal body.
Step 10: Cut and Glue in the Decorative Elements
The rice paper we had on hand was not long enough to cover the entire length of the light fixture so we decided to add some "decorative elements" that coincided with the end of the rice paper. This is optional of course but we think it adds a nice look to it.
Between each vertical, we cut out horizontal trapezoids and glued them into place.
Step 11: Glue in the Rice Paper Panels
Spray the inside of the verticals on the screen, and then carefully glue in your rice paper panels. If you need to do it in segments, try to keep the seams limited to the verticals so that when the light bulb is on, it doesn't show a line.
Step 12: Solder the Power Wires to the Light Bulb Fixture
The light bulb fixtures we got from Home Depot come with a white wire and black wire. We soldered the + side of the power cord to the white wire, and the - side of the power cord to the black wire.
You can, if you'd like use some heatshrink around that junction just to protect it/make it look better as well.
Be sure to test to make sure that the polarity is correct. We did this by plugging the cord in and checking to see if the bulb lit up - and it did!
Step 13: Create the Brackets That Will Hang From the Ceiling
Home Depot had some steel bar stock - drill a hole into the center, and near the two ends. Drill some pilot holes first before drilling them to the size of the bolts you will be using to fasten them into the wooden sides.
Using a vice (though if you have a metal break, that's ideal), we bent the bar stock into 3 relatively equal lengths. The middle length should equal the length of the light fixture.
Step 14: Paint the Light Fixtures If You Would Like
The accent wall in our studio is a deep red, so we used the same paint on the back of the metal body. Using a roller seemed to give it a neat powder-coating look to it, so that's what I chose to do.
Step 15: Install the Metal Bracket
Use a drill bit smaller than the metal bolt you will be using to attach the metal bracket to the wooden sides. Fasten the bolt in. Do this for both sides. You may also want to have washers between the bracket and wooden side.
For the middle hole which will be fastened into the studio ceiling, use a longer nut. 2 random squishy washer-like elements were placed such that the metal was not directly against the ceiling.
Screw in the nut into the ceiling where you would like your lights to be installed!
Step 16: Test the Lights!
Once they have been installed, put the bulbs in, and turn them on!
And after much work - voila! Your own studio lights from an old fluorescent fixture!