Poor Man's Track Lighting




Introduction: Poor Man's Track Lighting

About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author ...

What do you get when you cross a dimmer switch, a curtain rod, an extension cord and 5 clamp lights? Cheap, practical and adjustable track lighting! Here is a simple and quick way to make highly adjustable ceiling lighting for under $50. This took me a morning to see through from beginning to end and was definitely a good investment all around. It amazed me how dark my studio was before I made this and has me wondering why I didn't do this sooner. It's fantastic to be able to take pictures at night without worrying about there being enough light for the camera. It's also great to generally be able to see what I am doing. Not to mention, it's able to be fully dimmed for a wide range of lighting applications.

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Step 1: Go Get Stuff

You will need:

A on/off wall mountable dimmer switch
A single fixture junction box
5 Clamp lights
A power strip
A curtain rod
2 mesh-type fly swatters
A 25' extension cord
Misc wires nuts
A hot glue gun
Zip ties
A screwdriver

Step 2: Pop the Ends

Pop out the two end circles from the junction box.

Step 3: Insert the Mesh

Cut two pieces of mesh that fit snug on each of the junction box. Make holes in both of these pieces of these mesh large enough for wires to pass through. Hot glue these pieces onto the inside of the junction box.

Step 4: Prepare With Wire

Cut the extension cord in half. Strip back about 2" -3" of insulation to reveal three insulated wires (typically black, white and green). Strip an inch of covering off each of these wires.

Pass each end of the stripped wire through one of the holes in the mesh that you just made. Once passed through, bend it back upon itself and fasten this loop with a zip tie.

Step 5: Wire It Up

Twist both green wires from the extension cord and the green wire from the dimmer switch together and then twist them into a wire nut until they are securely held in place.

Take one of the black wires from the extension cord and twist it together with one of the black wires from the switch. Twist a wire nut onto these wires to insulate them and lock them together. Repeat this process with the other set of black wires.

Twist the two wires from the extension cord together and twist a wire nut onto them.

Zip tie the two main extension cord wires together. in a few spots so they are held tightly in place.

Step 6: Case Closed

Cut the other fly swatter mesh to a size that will cover the open end of the junction box. Cut a hole in the center of this mesh, large enough to accommodate for the dial of the dimmer switch.

(Before you close the case, you may want to consider popping out the steel cutout on the bottom of the box)

Place the plastic mesh atop the dimmer switch and then fasten the case shut with the screws. You can place zip ties around the case to make it a little more secure.

Step 7: Curtain Rod Time

If you are like me, then you already have a curtain rod installed and with a curtain half on it. Take the curtain and curtain rings off the rod.

Adjust the length of the curtain rod to suit you.

If you don't have one, then you probably should install one.

Step 8: Attach Clamp Lights

Put light bulbs in the clamp light.

Attach clamp lights to the curtain rod such that they are evenly spaced.

Step 9: Power Strip

Tie together the wire from the extension cord and the wire from the power strip such that they can't pull apart (just look at the picture).

Pass the loop formed by this knot onto the curtain rod.

Zip tie the power strip to the middle of the curtain rod and fasten the knot in place with zip ties as well.

Step 10: Plug It All In

Plug in all the clamp lights and clean up the wires with zip ties so that they don't dangle.

Don't zip tie the lamp wires to the curtain rod in case you want to move them around (as it will make this easier).

Make sure all the clamp lights and the power strip are in the 'on'-position.

I spun the power strip so that its on the top-side of the curtain ride. When it is on the bottom side, gravity is pulling down on the plugs and it seems like they might fall out over time.

Step 11: Let There Be Light

Plug the whole thing into the wall and adjust to your liking.

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    15 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is how we used to light our studios in grad school 20 years ago....Yours looks tidier....Can't use real high voltage bulbs though.....


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    voltage has very little to to with light bulbs bulbs are rated in watts.
    Volts Times Amps Equal Watts V*A=W, most power strips and extension cords are rated at 15Amps at 110 Volts so thats 1650 Watts. So if you are really afraid of the dark and want to get a tan you could use 5 300watt bulbs and still be under the limit of the the cords but the dimmer and the lamp housing may not handle all that power the heat wold damage the clamp lights and the dimmer can only handle 600watts so to keep it all within the limit of the switch and cost 5 100 watt bulbs would do the trick and damage nothing


    Reply 2 years ago

    You are partially correct. While the main rating you see on bulbs is their wattage, that wattage only occurs at the specified voltage. If you try plugging a 25 Watt at 12 volt bulb into a 120 volt circuit, even if the circuit normally powers only a 25 Watt at 120 volt bulb, you'll get a blown bulb really quickly!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've had a similar need for a while now, and your info helmed realize how easy of a fix it will be. No need to put it off now. Thanks!

    Also, i really like your instructable style: Clear, concise text and lots of sensible photos to detail each individual step.


    10 years ago on Step 6

    I like the idea. Just a couple suggestions. You could buy the regular cover for the dimmer switch. It's designed to cover the junction box perfectly ( well with a little overlap actually). The cost should be the same, or less, than that of the flyswatter, but you would have a cleaner look. You could also cut off all the plugs from the lights and the extension cord and bind them together in series. You wouldn't need the power bar, and you'd have a cleaner finish, but the lights would not be usable for anything else.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Might be better to bind them in parallel in case if one bulb goes out otherwise all will go out.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    My college roommate and I set up something like this 20 years ago using aluminum conduit pipe. We had red and blue bulbs which gave a sort of disco look to the room. We also wrapped the pipe with white holiday tree lights which gave a more comforting light than the industrial type ceiling lights. We had the fun room that year.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    It would be nice to have a mixture of normal lights and daylight bulbs, being able to adjust dimming accordingly.


    10 years ago on Step 11

    I bet he lives in San Francisco! That is the only place where you can have views like that.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Cool! I used to have one of these for filmmaking...been kinda wondering about lighting for whenever I move into my next place. This is a cool simple idea...gonna have to cite it as inspiration whenever I move and make something.