Rechargeable LED Work/Camp Light




Here's my first Instructable, A waterproof rechargeable led Light suitable for work or great for camping. It's pretty simple to make with a few materials and parts, most of which i purchased off Ebay. Any kid who picks this up and turns it on instantly becomes Darth vader waving it around like a idiot :)

The Light is made of a Piece of PVC pipe with 5 metres of strip LED's wound around it, inside it contains 11 'mini" C Size rechargeable batteries, a pipe cap seals one end, while at the other the cap contains a waterproof on/off switch, recharging is done by 2 points on the body ..... more will be explained ..... so read on.

Step 1: Gathering the Parts

First off lets look at materials required:

Length of 30mm nominal bore PVC pipe 470mm long is finished length, but buy a metre anyway
A 5metre roll of cool white waterproof LED's - do a ebay search - about $18AU
2 x 30mm PVC end caps
1 x Waterproof switch
11 x 1.2v mini C size rechargeable batteries with TABS - again on ebay - 12pack for around $25AU
about 400mm of clear plastic hose that will fit neat in PVC, i think it's 25mm bore size

plus a few bits of wire, joiners, a couple of 5mm PEEL type pop rivets

beside this you will need some way of recharging the batteries. I use the NiCad charger from my model helicopter.

Step 2: Winding the LED's

okay .... drill a small hole just big enough for the wires on the end of your roll of LED's at least 150mm from one end, it will be trimmed off later to finished size. Give the PVC a light sand to clean it up, and try not to touch the area where the LED's will stick.

Insert the wires into the small hole and start winding the LED's around the PVC working away from the end you just drilled, the full 5m roll should end up about 300mm long on the PVC. Once you get one loop around the PVC it's easy to keep it butted up against the previous loop, try not too touch the adhesive backing on the LED's after you peel the paper off as this reduces it's stickability :)
Apply a bit of sealant around the hole to make it waterproof, tape it down while the sealant cures makes it sit flater
Trim the PVC at the Other end but leave about 30mm to allow end cap to go on

I actually taped the ends down and left it for a day while i completed another part of the build.

You should end up with something like my photos show

Step 3: Making the Battery Pack

On my first attempt i just soldered all the battery tabs together, this worked ok, but was very flimsy to handle and broke the connections a few times.

So a better way is to trim off the tab and just leave enough to solder a short U shaped piece of wire to it

I did this to every positive connection, except one ... onto this i soldered a longer length (about 300mm originally) for the connection. then i soldered a negative onto these short wires until i ended up with a long snake of batteries, another long wire was soldered to the last negative end, this wire has to be able to reach past all the others and out the end of the PVC so make it about 500mm. I joined each battery to the next with a bit of electrical tape just to stop things moving around

Tested the batteries with a multimeter to make sure there were no broken connections and gave it a charge as well

Next i took the clear water hose and split it length ways and tucked the batteries into the hose with the long negative wire sitting in the split part of the tube, pushed the batteries as close together as possible and they stay in place in the hose

Step 4: Inserting Battery Pack

This step is pretty easy and you can see the project starting to take shape ..

First off trim the battery pack hose to just longer than the batteries and measure that length for future reference.

Now just make sure the negative wire is sitting in the cut in the hose and push the batteries into the PVC from the end furthest from the LED wires, the wires should go in first! if your tube and batteries are the same size as mine it should slide in firmly

when it's right in you should have 4 wires hanging out the end ..... 2 from the LED and 2 from the battery pack

As a quick test you can join the wires to test the light  ..... negative to negative, positive to positive and be surprised with the amount of light it puts out!

The EndCap can now go on the non wire end, i didn't glue them, just applied a bit of vasaline to form a seal and pushed it on hard incase i ever need to get it apart, you could use a bit of sealant if you like as you could break that seal if need be, but PVC glue would stick it forever!

Step 5: Installing the Charging Points

I used the heads of pop rivets to attach alligator clips from my charger as they are not sharp and pretty easy to do. but if you can think of a better method than go for it!

First .... take that measurement you measured in the last step add about 10mm and measure down from the end without the wires and mark the pvc

Next drill 2 5mm holes for the rivets, i made mine 90 degrees apart but you can go 180 if you like, just make sure there is room between them that the rivets can't touch inside.

NOTE: i used 5mm peel rivets cause i had them handy and they are a good fit over the wire terminals, but you could use whatever you had at hand.

next crimp a terminal onto both negatives so they are joined together and crimp a terminal onto the BATTERY positive and another length of wire to reach out the tube.

Now the fun part .... because the pop rivet holes are about 150mm up inside the tube it's difficult to line them up and push a pop rivet thru, so i came up with this method ...

using something stiff like a knitting needle use a small piece of tape to fasten this to the terminal NOT THE WIRES use the knitting needle to guide the terminal up the tube to the hole and pop rivet it in place give the needle a pull and it should come out leaving the tape attached to the terminal. complete for the other wire, but take a bit of care as you could short out on the on the first pop rivet

you should now be left with just 2 wires hanging out the end, one goes to the LED's the other to the battery by way of a pop rivet point.

I also scratched a + and - near the pop rivets to make it easy for charging

Once the pop rivets are in they should prevent the battery pack from sliding down the tube

Step 6: Finishing Off

Nearly there now!

Last step is to fit the switch and end cap

Drill a hole in the center of the end cap to suit your switch, i actually took the end cap to jaycar and picked a switch to suit, make sure the switch you choose is waterproof if you intend using it outside

Fasten the switch in the end cap, attach the 2 wires (one from positive LED's the other from positive Battery via the pop rivet)

Push the endcap on and Voila your Done!

Hope you've enjoyed this Instructable and enjoy the light if you make one, if you have any questions about getting parts etc. i can point you to the same or similar items i purchased off ebay, but a simple search should find the items, mine were purchased from sellers in china with no problems.

The only thing i feel i need to do with mine is to add some type of hook for hanging it up and a sheild to protect the push button because if you prop it up it can switch off, but otherwise very happy with how it worked out for me

Cheers Dave

Step 7: Adding a Shield

Ok, had a few people asking about a handle and a reflector, so had a bit of a go at them today, my reflector isn't a true reflector as such, but just a shield to direct the light. As with the rest of the instructable i'm trying to keep it simple ..... so here goes.

The shield is made from a larger piece of PVC that is slit to just clip over the light. First off i measured around the light and made 2 marks about 190 to 200 degrees apart, just enough to go past centre. 

Transferred these marks to the larger PVC and slit it up the guts with my oscillating saw using a piece of angle as a guide to keep it straight.

gave the cut faces a bit of a cleanup with sandpaper and the jobs done!! it just pushes over the leds with minimal force. REMEMBER this ain't a reflector just a shield

Step 8: Adding a Handle

To make a versatile handle i went for a press stud on the cap end and 2 pieces of self adhesive velcro stuck back to back.

screwed the male half of the press stud to the end cap.

Stuck the velcro back to back

Found the center of the length and peened a press stud thru a hole

Done! .... works a treat, i like the idea of been able to wrap it around a pole or branch and it's very secure

Last photo shows the light inside a very dark caravan, just to give a idea of how much light it throws out, Flash was turned off for the photo. with the shield in place you can get a better idea of the light output without it shining at the camera.



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    29 Discussions


    10 months ago on Step 8

    Hi There,
    I was wondering if you have a rough idea how long the light will last.
    Thanks, and have a great day!!!

    great idea and if you extend the pvs on one end and fill the extra in with a resin you can have a walking stick with a rechargeable lantern on it. props this is great


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I go camping a lot and I love this idea! I've seen the strips of LED's like the type you use in action and can vouch that your torch must be brilliant. I'd love to take it to a campsite, might even add a spike to the bottom of mine so it can be stuck in the ground...

    I don’t have a caravan unfortunately but I'd love to be able to make this thing and still be able to charge it whilst I’m out and about in the wilderness. What sort of thing would you use to charge it from a car? I'm an idiot when it comes to anything like this... If you could link me to an eBay item I’d be grateful!


    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hi GHammy,I like go camping with friends as well on weekends.I just find a LED light rechargeable with USB cable charging .and want to share you with this.surely,I use it,touch it and like it very much.only 3.5h it can be recharged fully.5-level of lighting in action,high,mid,low.SOS.strobe

    even more it uses for most of environment,climbing mountain,repairing car,home use,emergency can tell me if you still look for rechargeable light item.

    MAL light.jpg

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, as usb only put out 5v it wouldn't be a feasible option in my opinion, not saying it's not possible, but if your out in the car/caravan you have 12v already as a supply and if your home then a mains charger would be available anyway. mind you it would be easy to add a usb port to charge phones etc from it :)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    great project, I really love the idea and consider making two of them for our festivalcamps next year...

    but some open ideas/questions about the whole thing:
    My problem is, that we are twice a year for 6 days each on festivals without a possibility to charge the batteries, so I would need a batterypack that can be charged easily and can be taken apart into the single batteries.
    I'd like to use the normal "household" baby c rechargeables, so I can use them in other idea would be, that I use 2 pipes...the outer pipe (with a larger bore diameter as told here) for the led-stripe, and the inner pipe as holder for the batteries, with a solid lid at the bottom and a removable lid on the other side so I am able to change the batteries inside...
    biggest problem with that would maybe be to ensure that all batteries are always tight together to have the contact between them...

    I think of using rgb-stripes to have the possibility to change colour, dim them or maybe have a bit of a "WOW-moment" when enabling colour-change...
    would there be a big difference between them (incl controller) and the stripes in this instructable?

    I think about installing a removable reflector or shield to have the possibility to change from full light to indirect light (when tucked into the roof-section of the gazebo)

    any further ideas/comments/help about these points?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    First off .. i'd like to say thanks to all for the comments, now lets look at your questions.

    1.  I was originally thinking of removing the batteries to charge them, but then went with the recharging in place method, just to keep it simple. but i was going to go for just remove the end cap and spill out the batteries like a torch. first you would need to decrease the inside diameter of the tube with smaller pvc or cardboard tubes or something like that while still enabling one wire to reach past. for power supply
    To make a fixed contact on each end use 2 large washers that just fit inside the pipe, one with a tapped thread for a small screw the other a clearance hole, place a short (about 30mm) piece of the clear hose the same as what  i use to hold the batteries between the washers, as you tighten the screw the hose will expand and lock into place in the pvc connect the wires to the screws or washers to complete the circuit, maybe use a wingnut under the end cap one to remove it easy. I probably don't explain things clear in writing, so i'll see if i can take some pictures.

    2. RGB stripes could be used i guess, if you can gut the controller out of it's case and get it to fit, and the ones i've seen are remote so you could do away with the switch on the end and maybe have the remote receiver out that end, but like i said the main problem is getting the controller inside the tube.

    3. I made a removable shield at the end of this instructable, but if you wanted a reflector how about a couple of those spring type broom holders that you just push the broom into to hold it on a wall, mount 2 of them on a bit of the reflector off the back of a old fluro tube holder or something similar and just clip the light into that.

    At the moment i'm trying to think of an elegant but simple way of putting a PWM unit inside the light, i've got the unit and it will fit without it's case but it has to be adjustable with a knob on the outside while still trying to keep it waterproof, when i sort it out i'll add it to the instructable.

    cheers Dave


    6 years ago on Introduction

    First, I would like to say THIS IS AN AWESOME IDEA and the simple implementation is fantastic. To answer some questions in the thread, in one gigantic answer post:

    1. Recharging with solar would be an option, but only for the 'dumb' cells you have here because if you use LiPo's you have to be very careful how they are charged. See next answer for more details.

    2. Lipo's are sensitive to charging, and require each cell to be charged individually and very carefully. You would have to have three batteries in series, each with a tap on each battery, and then several of those series batteries in parallel to get a 3s2p or 3s3p so you could get reasonable run time out of it. The more packs in parallel the longer the run time. But the charging would be way more complicated...

    3. Run time of the light could be extended if you got a LED controller and put it in the circuit. LED's want a constant current, and they work best when driven with PWM to control brightness. Look for "LED PWM" on FleaBay and you can find several of them listed most of the time. For this application, there are several that you could use but there are ones on there that have solar charging and PWM built in so you might want to look at that one first. This would make your light last longer because you could dim it down and it would also send a constant current to the LED's so they don't burn off the excess voltage as heat in the resistors.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    you seem to know a lot more about driving the led's than me. I did a ebay search and the only one i could find that "may" fit is this one 390346300608 if i take it out of the case, do you think it will be suitable ? i've noticed that 1 or 2 of the leds on the strip are yellow instead of white, this pwm might be a way of preventing led failure


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I was thinking more along the lines of 281018904818 which would take care of the charging of the batteries (non-lipo) as well as the PWM of the LED's. It's also without a case, so it should fit without too many issues.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty sweet project. have you considered making a reflector that could clip on to make it a directional light?

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    This was my main reason for making it this way, you can buy heaps of rechargeable lights that are directional, but i wanted something to hang up in the camp site to throw a light everywhere

    riff raffricoda

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    A removable 180 degree shield would make it truly a "work/camp light." Full 360 degree coverage for camp, and then shielded so you don't blind yourself when working on something.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    yeah i've been thinking about a hook, and my plan is to just use a large press stud on the non switch end with a nylon strap, simple to do and it will allow it to swivel and be removed easy


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Cool,I like this. I'm wondering how bright is it compared to an incandescent light bulb?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    i would have to say that this is the best light we have used on the campsite, far outshines a single globe, probably because it's such a pure white light, hanging above the camp table on a rope it lights up a area about 5 metres round and casts enough light to see where your walking from lots further away.