Light Party Box

Introduction: Light Party Box

This is my submission for the Nostalgia Electronics Party Contest. I like playing with lights, lots of lights, so that's where I got my idea for this Instructable. What is a party without lighting? In this Instructable I will be making a party lighting control box capable of controlling as many lights as you can fit on your ceiling (I don't recommend trying that).
The one I will be making will control three colored incandescent pond lights, two black lights, two blue CFL bulbs, and two strobe lights. Also along the way, I will explain different options that you can use for your own custom box, as well as ideas I couldn't fit in!
Let's get started!




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Step 1: What You Will Need

The parts for my box may be different than yours, but a few essential parts and tools are needed:

1. Various Switches - I will be using rocker and slide switches to select different lighting options.
2. Relays - Solid State or Electromechanical relays may be used, it doesn't really matter as long as they can handle the power drawn by the various lights.
3. A Box or Panel - You can use plastic, metal, wood, or whatever you have lying around. This is what your switches will be mounted on.
4. Wire - You will need 12, 14, or 16 gauge wire (depending on your power requirements) to power the lights, as well as a thinner gauge wire (such as 22 gauge like I will be using) for the relays and switches.
5. Extension Cord – optional to 12, 14, or 16 gauge wire.
6. Lights - Strobe lights, black lights, colored lights, LED lights, Neon Lights, etc. This is where the party happens!
7. Mounting - You will also need something to mount the lights on. I happened to have a light rail from the remodeling of our house. Anything works that can hold the weight.

1. Audio Devices - Headphone jacks, microphone jacks, mixing boards, etc.
2. Potentiometers - If you want to dim the lights, or adjust volume, you need these.
3. Back lit Switches or Indicator Lights - If you need a different way to see if things are working. I will be using a few LED’s.
4. Labels - To tell which switch does what.

1. Soldering Iron
2. Solder
3. Wire Strippers
4. Electrical Meter
5. Drill - to drill the holes for switches and other parts on the outside of the box as well as mounting the transformers and some other components.
6. Jigsaw - If you want circular holes, you will need circular switches, otherwise you need to cut the holes into squares. Your panel may also need to be cut out of wood like mine.
7. Writing/ Marking tool
8. Glue (Hot Glue, Gorilla Glue, Wood Glue, Etc.)
9. Sandpaper  

Step 2: Your Specifications

What will your Light Party Box do? What do you want it to control and how will it control it? This is different in my design then it will probably be in yours, but mine will be controlling:
(3) 20 Watt Colored Incandescent Pond Lights (Spot lights) 
(2) 14 Watt Blue CFL Bulbs
(2) 20 Watt Black Lights
(2) 23 Watt Custom Strobe Lights

I do not have anything for dimming the lights (only the pond lights would be dimmable anyway), but you could just use dimmers from Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, or any other hardware store.

All lights, except the 12v lights will be running on standard 120 volts AC. The combined wattage for my system will be a little over 170 watts and 1.5 Amps. This is good to know because it will help determine the cable size you need if you will be using a cable vs. extension cord. You can see what size you need by checking this table under maximum amps for power transmission. If you want a more permanent light rail, use the existing ceiling wiring, otherwise, use an extension cord. (Make sure the extension cord can handle the power by either looking on the sheathing of the cord, the package you bought it in, or by stripping a part of it off and looking on the wires themselves)

Step 3: The Control Panel - Mounting Components

First thing you will need to do is make the layout of the control panel. I recommend planning the layout on the computer or on a sheet of paper before you mark the box, but it is up to you. Plan where you want the switches, LED indicators, headphone jacks, or other outside components. Place the components on the panel in their approximate location and check to see of that is where you want them.

Now, you can mark where you will be putting everything on the box (you will most likely want to do this in pencil lightly so you can erase leftover marks later).  

Now, select a drill bit that is slightly larger than the jigsaw blade but smaller than the soon to be hole. Drill on the outside edge of the soon to be hole. Repeat for all switch locations, LED locations, etc. 

Next, take the jigsaw, and starting on the outside edge of the hole, cut on top of the lines you drew. You will have to maneuver the blade around for the first part to get everything complete. 

TIP: If you use melamine or other laminated wood, use a metal blade to cut to reduce surface chipping. Cut slowly and carefully. The chips that do appear can be lightly filled in with matching paint. 

Once you have cut out all of the component locations, check to make sure the components fit into their spot and glue them into place.

TIP: If you cut the hole too big for any of the components, just fill in the extra space with hot glue and paint over it later. 

Once all components are glue into place and fit properly, you can begin wiring.

Step 4: The Control Panel - Wiring Components

If you plan on having indicator lights, make sure you have switches with two poles (two separated sets of terminals :|: so one flip of the switch will control two functions) so your LED's don't get fried by 12v or 24v Relay power. If you have back lit switches, follow the wiring diagram on the package or back of switch. 
First, wire the led circuits on one side of the switch. 
Now, for the fun part:
You will need at least seven wires (controls six different relays and the 7th is the common wire) for a length of 20 feet at least. I recommend using an eight wire network cable, that way you don't have to deal with tangled wires and all the other things that go with 6 individual strands. I did not have a network cable so I just used two strand 22 AWG wire twisted into four strands (One wire extra). Now, take one end of your cable and strip about half an inch off each wire. Solder each wire to one terminal on every switch and leave one wire extra (two for me). Using more 22 AWG wire, cut the same number of wires as your number of switches into six inch pieces. Take one end of each wire and twist them together. This should leave six (or the number of switches) ends open in the shape of a branch. Take the separate ends of the wire branch and solder them onto each separate terminal of the switches. You should now have 2 wires open for the Relays and 2 wires open for LEDs. (see picture 2)

Step 5: Lights - Strobe Light (How to Make)

This is my favorite part of this whole project. A little background that you can skip: I stumbled across this organization called The Geek Group and after doing some searching, I found this video about relays. A thought then came to me, if both sides of the relay are constantly switching from NO to NC, then you strobe a light. After a little experimenting, I found that it probably couldn't go anywhere because it would only dim light bulbs, LEDs, and other light emitting devices. Finally, I found the answer when we bought some non-Dimmable CFL light bulbs. It worked. The only thing I will say is:
Reasons to not want to use relays
Relays are noisy when cycling on and off and on, so there will be a continuous click click click whenever partying. (If the music is loud enough you won't though!) Also, CFL's take time to warm up, so the first minute or so of strobing will be slightly dim unless you let the bulbs warm up before you strobe them. Lastly the relay pulses, your wall current alternates between + and - hence Alternating current. The sine wave will have high and lows and the RMS (Root Mean Square) is the middle. The relay will sometimes open below the RMS (120v) and sometime above making some flashes brighter and some flashes darker than others. There isn't any way to fix this without actually buying a strobe unfortunately. The reason I have two bulbs going simultaneously, is because the more bulbs there are, the harder it is to notice. CFL's probably don't like flashing either That said, let's continue:   

Here's the original and number 2 prototypes.

How to Build a Relay Strobe Light

Relay with 2 sets of normally closed contacts (make sure it is rated for 120VAC and at least 1 AMP) 
Jumper Wire
Capacitor - Depends on the size and power of your relay. You'll see what I mean later. 

Step 1: Connect the jumper wire from one of the NC pins to one of the coil pins
Step 2: Add the capacitor across the two coil terminals (bigger the capacitor the slower the strobe)
Step 3: Add one DC in wire to the opposite coil terminal of the jumper, and the other wire to the other NC pin. (See Picture 6)
Step 4: That's it! All you have to do now is try different capacitance values and connect the other NC wires to a light.

Here's it built and working:
First clip is with no capacitor
Second is with high capacitance (slow strobe)
Third is with low capacitance (fast strobe)
Fourth is dimming an LED

Step 6: Lights - Strobe Light (How to Mount)

Now that the strobe light circuit works, you will need to mount your designated strobe light sockets. 
The Parts:
2 spot lights or other lamp sockets
2 Non-Dimmable 100 Watt equivalent CFL light bulbs
2 clamps that connect the socket to the spring clamp

Step 1: Disassemble the lamp sockets so there is no reflector and no large spring clamp
Step 2: Attach the bracket from the socket to your light rail or other mounting surface
Step 3: Cut off the plugs about a foot from the end of each cord and keep the plugs for future projects
Step 4: Wire the Lamps in parallel with the ends meeting at one end of the rail.
Step 5: Continue on (we can't finish it until the rail is all put together)

Step 7: Lights - Black Lights (How to Modify)

This step is easy. but somewhat annoying in the long run. The light rail crowds up very fast and the extra 6" of nothing on the black lights wasn't helping anything. I decided to mount the electronics of the black lights on the end of the rail with the relays. All I can say now is DON'T. It creates much larger of a mess than is fun to deal with. I could have had one 2-wire cable coming from the end, but I ended up with 8. Don't do it, if you're tight on space, add on to your rail with self-tapping screws and a piece of wood. Anyway, here's how anyway:
Step 1: Break open the cases - (one more reason to regret because now they're useless if I take them off the rail) The cases aren't meant to come apart, so I had to break them open.
Step 2: Take out the guts
Step 3: Mark and Cut wires
Step 4: Mount Electronics to Alternate surface including black light "holders"
Step 5: Connect Wires the right way (don't try to wire the outputs in parallel, it will only light up one black light.
Step 6: Learn from your failure
Step 7: Continue on

Step 8: Lights - Colored CFL

This one is very easy. 
What you will need:
2 or more light bulb sockets

Step 1: cut off the plugs from the ends of the cords
Step 2: Connect the cords together in parallel (Make sure you keep the polarity right: HOT will usually have the writing on the casing of the wire)
Step 3: Continue Wire from lights to end of rail. 
Step 4: Glue sockets on rail (make sure they are secure)
Step 5: Continue on later

Step 9: Lights - Spot Lights

The last one to add to the rail is the spot lights. Since these are pond lights, I couldn't cut any of the wire because we are planning on keeping them for when we need them. The wire ended up having to be coiled up neatly and it did have to be cut in one location, but only one wire. It will be an easy fix later. 
What you need
Some sort of spot light

Step 1: For me, nothing had to be done, but normally you would wire the inputs in parallel.
Step 2: Glue the lights onto the rail. This is important if you want to aim the lights: The lights only pivot forward or back, so the one in the middle should be perpendicular to the rail. The two other lights should be at an angle perpendicular to the rail. See picture 2. 
Step 3: Continue the wire to the end of the rail
Step 4: Continue on later

Step 10: Wire Everything Up!

This is the most difficult step and so close attention must be paid:
Tools Needed:
Hot Glue Gun
Soldering Iron
Electrical Tapes
Wire Strippers

Step 1: If not already done so, mount your relays you will be using on the rail, or a board. Hot Glue works great. If you want, mark the two coil pins and the Normally Open pins with a sharpie so you don't forget.
Step 2: Take the other end of that 20+ foot cable and Strip of one half an inch off of every wire.
Step 3: Using the "Continuity Function" (makes a beep when things make a connection) on your multimeter find which wire corresponds to what. Start at the control panel end and using dashes, mark everything how you want it. For me: Strobe is 2 dashes, CFL is 4 dashes, Black is 1 dash, spot is 3 dashes , master power is 5 dashes. Make these dashes on the wire with continuity with a fine point sharpie. 
Step 4: Now, solder one wire to one pin per relay and the common pin (-) to all the relays.
Step 5: Now, connect the neutral wire of all the lights to one pin of the normally open side of the relay. 
Step 6: Attach a power cord to the whole mix by taking the HOT wire and attaching it to the HOT of all the lights. Then, take the Neutral wire of the power cord, and attach it to one pin of the master power relay. Lastly, take some wire and link together all the neutral pins of the relays with the neutral pin of the master power relay. 

Everything is now connected, all you need now is a power supply to test everything out. 

Step 11: Test Electronics

Not much to this one, just hook up your power supplies to the switches
It works! 

Step 12: That Control Panel

Remember the Chips from Earlier, how about the holes for the LED's?
All you'll need for this:
Hot Glue
White Paint
Paint Brush
Plastic bar to cover LED holes
Razor Blade

Step 1: Start by painting into the holes with white paint. The Chips in the wood can then also be painted. 
Step 2: Now, attach the light bar to cover the LED holes. Use hot glue and make sure it's sturdy. 
Step 3: Use a Razor Blade to clean up any glue residue along the edges.

Sure it's not much to look at, but it works. If I had the time, I would total pain the whole front, and clean up all the glue. I would also finish the LED's that aren't very good at working more than one at a time. For a later addition!

Step 13: Put It on the Ceiling and Get Partying!

Here's the video from it working . Did not have time to plan a party : ( Oh well! I will have it for when I do though! Thanks for looking at my Instructable on how to make your own party light system! Please vote for me in the Party Contest!

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    6 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 5

    would a variable resistor work instead of a capacitor to vary the speed of the strobe?


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 5

    Nope. The capacitor stores enough energy to trigger the contactor, so the larger the capacitor, the longer it takes, and smaller the less time it takes. A resistor wouldn't do anything.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 5

    thanks for clearing that up i might still give it a try!