Saturday, March 20, 2010

Made In America (Via China)!

Yesterday was almost Christmas morning.  Like a child, I ripped open my parcel that I'd ordered nearly three weeks ago.  And, there it was, direct from Hong Kong -- my LED light strip.  At first glance, you'd think it was a home movie, or something.

While not a home movie, it is in fact a 16' long strip of little squares that illumate with only 12 volts.  And the whole reel consumes a whopping 24 watts of electricity. 

Directly across that white line, you can actually cut the tape with a scissors.  The lines appear throughout the strip in uniform increments, giving the option to create a fully custom length.  I'm beside myself with joy. 

I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the shipping label declaring to Customs that my purchase of $78.95 is worth a lowly $15.00.  Bah hum bug!  Where's the love?

Seriously, though.  These lights are the coolest. 

I'll be using the LED strip for a few different applications.  Under the cabinet of my kitchen galley, I'll gang up a couple of rows, creating a nice soft and even task light for cooking.  But, for today, I'm building a very low-profile wall sconce that will throw some great light on my kitchen table while staying out of the way of my pull-out bed extension.  Indeed, less really is more!

I started with this tray that I picked up at The Container Store.  If there's not an outlet in your neck of the woods, you can go on line and check out all the crazy stuff they carry.  Luckily there's a store here in L.A., so I browsed the inventory and stumbled upon this great little gem for my application.

I started by laying out the strip and cutting at the nearest line that gave me a length I needed to fill the box.

The strips are already prepped with a peel and stick backing.  Again, a kid on Christmas morning!

Look at how nicely they laid out inside the box.  And, you can see the little white lines that delineate the cutting points.  The circles on either side of the lines are for dropping a dab of solder to secure your wires. 

And, they've even marked both sides of the clipping point with a + and - sign.  Honestly, it doesn't get any easier than this!

Now, a necessity for doing any work with 12 volt systems is a mini transformer.  I got really tired of hooking stuff up to my car battery with my jumper cables and loosey-goosey wiring wrapped around them.  The connections would come loose, my lights would flicker and flutter and I really didn't want to use battery power for continual loads when there's plenty of power from a household outlet at my disposal. 

Go to your local electronics store like Radio Shack, or something similar, and pick up a 12 volt transformer.  Just be conscious of the amperage rating, as you'll want to get something as large as possible.  I found this one that's good for 2.5 amps.  If you remember the equation from science class, it's Volts x Amps = Watts.  So, 12 volts x 2.5amps equals 30 watts.  My entire spool of LED lights is 24 watts, and I'm clipping only what I need for this project.  So, I'm golden with this power.   

To connect the transformer to whatever you're using, just buy a stereo speaker junction.  It's a super cheap item and a very convenient way to go.   This way you won't have to keep twisting and untwisting wires every time you want to look at your progress.

On the back side, you can just wire the transformer through the holes in the prongs.  I decided to give the connection a couple of beads of solder to hold it firmly in place. 

At this point, all I have to do is just push down on the tabs, insert my wiring and presto -- easy connections for constant hooking up and removing of test circuits.  And, for those of you who have never soldered before -- it's easy beyond your wildest dreams.  If in doubt, just ask the person at the store how to do it, or you can probably find a quick "how to" on Youtube. 

And, the structure is complete!  To quote my girlfriend when she stepped out to check up on me, "Oh my God.  Such boy fun." 

The two weird looking gaps in the middle are for the holes that I drilled 3.5" apart.  That's the distance at which you'll find your screw holes for any store-bought wall sconce.  During the framing stage of my interior construction, I'll build into the wall a universal mounting box that can accomodate any standard light fixture.  I figure there's always a possibility that I'll want to switch this out in the future.  Leave room for change!

Crazy cool.  Not bad for about 15 watts!

Next, I pushed the 1.5" bolts through the back of the box and slid from the front side an oversized piece of plastic that I drilled with mounting holes.  I then screwed on the rounded cap nuts for a little cosmetic charm, but not before adding a piece of vellum paper from the office supply store.  You can also print on vellum with your inkjet.  I'll be experimenting with a lot of cool imagery to add to the paper when I'm finshed with the van.   


It weighs next to nothing...


...and, sits about 1.5" from the wall. 
Easy as that.  My girl's daughter says it looks like a hotel wall light.  I'll take that as a compliment. 

I left the house at 11am this morning, bought everything I needed at three different stores, set up shop, put it all together and took this picture at 6pm...not too bad. 



  1. Great project Rob! My only other thought if you hadn't considered it, I wonder if you could get away with less LEDs if you were to use a reflective panel in the back? Might be able to cut the power usage down even further. That LED tape is pretty cool, sure makes things easy!

    97 Roadtrek 170P "Taj Ma Trek"

  2. Mike,

    You know, I did consider that for a brief period. But given all of my exposure to movie lights, over the years, I'd say that the relectors are most common on a light bulb with 360 degree luminance. Since no light is actually emitted from the rear, I'm wondering if any gain would be noticeable. There are new LED panel lights that are starting to get some fair use, and their design definitely relies solely on the bulbs themselves to cast light, rather than any extra part as a backing. And, I know a lot of research goes into those products. Of course, the way to find out would be to build another one with half the lights and a reflective back, and to then do a light meter reading. May have to be part of the R&D process. Because as we know, any savings is worth it, in a sustainable energy system.

  3. Exactly :) If you do more research on it, I will be watching! After my current huge list of mods, I eventually intend on converting all my interior lighting to LED, even dash illumination. Creative sconces will be part of it as well. I have built many of them over the years for others(incandescent), time to do some for us!

    97 Roadtrek 170P "Taj Ma Trek"

  4. LOve your attitude ! I thin kthe same way. Thanks for all the info ..

  5. Pam,

    Great minds think alike. :)

    Hope you find some of the info useful. Thanks for reading!

  6. Rob, what a project. thx for the helpful pictures showing how you did it. Have you seen color-changing LED strip lights. You'll be beside yourself with joy 10 times over. They are gorgeous. I get so many compliments on them I should get a commission on all the sales I've turned the company onto. I got them online from a company called Eaglelight. The lights are great and I really liked their customer service and was very happy with their service, money back guarantee return policy, and the way they helped me over the phone to figure out what I wanted.
    Light Strips are the best things since canned corn! : )

  7. Anonymous,

    I have seen the color changing strips, but that just screams of "transformer" which drains more energy. Though I may stand corrected, because I really didn't explore them. For such a confined space as the inside of a 12' RV, I think it would be a bit too much on the eyes.

    But, yes, back to the canned corn. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree, because I'm partial to sliced bread. :)