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Shop lighting is an important subject. It can make or break your projects, and it can make the job harder or easier. Because of that, I am including a special section in Setting up a shop.

As always, this section will describe my experiences and opinions (and I've got a few) on the subject. Your needs may vary greatly. If you are happy with a single bulb in your garage, then, hey, the point is to be happy. But realize proper lighting can play an important part in your activities.

With a couple of exceptions, lighting fixtures are relatively inexpensive. And, as you will learn below, there are some unusual places to look for them. Hopefully you have already put in sufficient wiring and outlets to plug in your lights. No extension cords stretched across the floor!



General lighting is the overall lighting in your shop. Most people use fluorescents for this purpose, and I agree, they are the way to go. But, right away, let me complain a bit about the available fixtures.

As seems to be getting more common in a lot of things, there is no middle quality ground in fluorescent fixtures. They are either very cheap, or very expensive. And, let me say this right now, most of the 'cheap' fixtures I have come across are JUNK! Let me explain my latest experience. When I started with my new shop, I did the math, and figured I needed about 18 2 bulb, 4 foot fixtures. Your typical "shop light". Well, the first places I went were electrical suppliers, since I thought quality was important (still do). They wanted outrageous prices (over $100.00) per fixture. So, I hit the home centers, thinking I would get a medium price range fixture. Well, they don't have them! In the end, after much shopping, I settled for some $24.99 fixtures that I thought looked OK. Wrong. So far, in two years, I have had four fail, two of those smoked, and one of those actually caught fire. On top of that, the bulbs are burning out regularly. I had a few older, better lights, and those are hanging on fine, but I am not impressed by the current crop.

So, where does this leave you? I'm not sure. How's that for an 'advice article"? Right now I am getting by with older fixtures here and there. There is not much left of some of them, but they still work. I replace the bulbs when I need to. I am hoping to find some better fixtures at a garage sale, or surplus place, but, until then. Just be aware. There is a lot of low quality junk out there.

Layout of the fixtures is important. You want to have relatively even general lighting throughout your work space. When using the common two bulb 40 watt fixtures, I like to space them with about six feet between them sideways, and four feet end to end. My shop has benches along the walls, and a large workspace with tables in the center. SO, I have six 4' fixtures spaced evenly through the middle of the center, and more 4' fixtures along the edges over benches. See the rough plan to the right which is NOT to scale!!!


Shop Lighting Plan

The above general lighting is on two circuits (Center, and along the walls), with convenient switches. I also have general red lighting (with a few red bulbs) setup on another switch. Since I like to stargaze, experiment with optics & lasers, and just hang out at night. This allows me to have sufficient light in the shop without affecting night vision. I also have a lot of additional task lighting as well.


Outdoor flood tasklight.

Task lighting is lighting that is setup to illuminate a specific area. There are many types of task lights. One of my favorites is the square halogen light fixtures that are meant for outdoor floodlight use and have 4" bulbs. These are inexpensive, and can be mounted to a box attached to the rafters, or wherever convenient. I like to place one or two above my workbenches, aimed down, and controlled by a separate switch. This is handy when you need extra light, and heat! I also have two mounted above my 4x8' assembly table, and one above my 'soon to be' table saw. These lights can also be wired to dimmers, which saves the bulbs, and allows you to adjust the light level from soft, to blazing. You can either hard wire them, or attach power cords to the box, and plug them in. You also have a few choices in the wattage of the bulbs. Be sure you observe the maximum rating of the fixture.


By the way, make sure you get outdoor security lights! I recommend you DO NOT the common 'work lights' that are for sale everywhere. At least not for permanent lighting as above. Although I have a few of these worklights (see right), and they are handy, I have found the work lights, with the small 3" long halogen bulbs, eat those bulbs like crazy, and the bulbs are not cheap. I save the work lights for when I really need a portable light!


Avoid these Portable Worklights.


'Tensor' hi-intensity desklamp.
This one uses a halogen bulb.
Many other styles are available,
and can be found at garage sales!

There are many other suitable task lights. Look around the outdoor lighting section of your favorite home center. And, in the home lighting department, Single bulb fluorescents are useful under cabinets and shelves. I prefer the single tube 4 foot models instead of the chintzy small ones. and, be aware, there are many different bulbs for the smaller fixtures, and you may have trouble finding them later on. Whatever you get, make sure there are replacement bulbs available for them! I would also recommend you stay away from the 'Light stick' style of lights. These often have either oddball bulbs, or, cannot be re-lamped at all. I do find that the stick on "puck" type undercabinet lights can come in handy. Most of those are low voltage halogen, and can put out some decent and directed light. I also have some standard desk lamps (the ones on the movable arms that never seem to stay where you want them). You can often find small Reflector bulbs to put in these for additional light. Just be careful of overheating them. While on that subject. Make sure the lamps you buy have ceramic or porcelain sockets, not the plastic ones. Plastic will get brittle, and fail, and they are NOT suitable for any kind of reflector floodlight bulb. There are also small 'high intensity' desk lamps. We used to call them 'Tensor lamps'. These are very handy for a small spot lighting on the trouble area. This one is on metal arms, but they also come on flex goosenecks. Most use some type of automotive bulb.

I mentioned dimmers earlier. Dimmers are wonderful things, and are relatively inexpensive. They not only allow you to adjust the amount of light, but their use can greatly extend the life of your bulbs. This is true in your home also. One nice type of dimmer has a normal toggle switch, with a dimming slider next to it. This allows you to 'pre-set' the dimming level, and then just flip the light on and off. Find one that you don't accidentally move the dimmer part though. Some of them tend to 're-adjust' every time you use them. A dimmer can be wired in permanently, or, it can be mounted in an electrical utility box, and be made part of the cord. Careful what you try to dim. Do not use a dimmer on fluorescent lights. Special fixtures with a dimmable ballast are available, but they are expensive. Trying this with a standard fluorescent fixture and dimmer will result in a 'science experiment'. Likewise, do NOT connect a dimmer to a standard outlet! No matter your intentions, something WILL get plugged into it that shouldn't be, resulting in another 'experiment'!

Another portable lamp that you absolutely need is a magnifier lamp. This is a lamp with a large magnifying glass in the center, and a circular fluorescent bulb around it. These are normally on one of those 'desk lamp' arms. Make sure you get one that will stay put! You can often find these in garage sales. You may be surprised how often you use it, and how handy it is for those tiny markings on chips and stuff. Another source for these, and many other cool lights, is medical suppliers. Look around your doctors office the next time you are there. Write down the names of anything you are interested in, and google it, or look on Ebay.


LumaPro 4PD46 Magnifier Light, 22 W

Now to the subject of flashlights. Have several, for your shop, and your home. I am a sucker for flashlights, and I often buy ones cause the look cool. Unfortunately, they often are not made very well. I have had incredible luck with Garrity (the ones with the rubber housings), and, of course maglight (the big ones). I suggest you get a couple of the lantern style. These are very handy, and once you have one, you will grab for it first. Most take 4-6 'D' cells. I also like the flashlights with the push button on the back end. Easy to use, and not always getting turned off. Stay away from those battery powered "trouble lights". They don't work very well. Get a small AC Plug in reading lamp with a clip on it, and put in a small reflector type bulb. (Make sure the lamp is metal and socket is porcelain). This is handy for clipping in equipment racks, cabinets, and anywhere you need some direct light.


Clip on 'book lights'. The one on the right is a favorite. Small and metal.

Garrity Flashlights. On the left is a lantern type. Note the rubber housings.

Streamlight 45111 LiteBox Standard System 20-Watt Spot Bulb with 120V AC, 12V DC, Shoulder Strap and Mounting Rack, Orange

Get a good automotive style trouble light. The type with the metal cage. Put a rough service bulb in it immediately! It will be cheaper than all the normal bulbs you will replace. This is about the handiest portable light. You can also get larger trouble lights with spring clips on them, which really work well under the hood. DO NOT Buy a "Portable work light" style as noted above. The bulbs cannot take the shock and stress. They are also very hot, just what you don't need under the hood.

Finally, emergency (power failure) lights. Consider putting one in your shop (A two bulb spotlight model) especially if you use a lot of stationary power tools, and/or tend to make a mess. If the power goes out, you don't want to be left in the dark dodging sharp tools winding down, and stuff on the floor! One very expensive, but very cool light is made by Streamlight (see above). It is called the Litebox. It is battery powered with a rechargeable 6v sealed lead acid battery. It acts as a portable spotlight, and when it is in the wall mounted charging stand it does double duty as an emergency power failure light. These lights are very popular with your Fire and EMS services, and they are virtually indestructible. But they do cost - a lot. Check out Ebay.

That is all I have to say for now. I hope I have given you some ideas on what kind of light you need, and what to get. Good lighting pays off. Don't work in the dark.





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