On Light and Sight

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Blog entry by Dave Owen posted 12-28-2010 03:57 PM 2011 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

As a young Architect about fifty years ago, a seminar speaker surprised me with the statement that ‘within limits, light can substitute for sight’. Although the principle is obvious, I’d never thought about it quite that way, and it influenced my lighting design throughout my career.

Many years later when I laid out the lighting for my shop, I used that principle along with good advice from an article in “Fine Woodworking’ magazine. My rather odd shaped shop with an area of 530 square feet has fifteen 48” industrial fixtures with electronic ballasts and 5,000 Kelvin bulbs (you can get an idea of my lighting layout in “My Workshop”).

During those seven years I lost only two bulbs, but four ballasts had failed, and I put off replacing them until recently because ‘ladder work’ is not that appealing to me. When I removed the bulbs, I was startled to find how coated they were with fine sawdust – especially on the tops. As I replacing the ballasts, I also cleaned those fixtures and installed new bulbs. The restored fixtures made all the others look dingy by comparison, and I considered installing all new bulbs. Before going to that expense, though, I decided to try cleaning both bulbs and fixtures. The result was amazing. After all fixtures and bulbs had been cleaned there was virtually no difference in the light output of the fixtures with seven year old ballasts and bulbs and the restored fixtures.

The point is that if your shop doesn’t seem quite as bright as it once was, do yourself a favor. Disconnect the power and replace any bad ballasts and bulbs, and give the rest a good cleaning. In addition to the bulbs, be sure to clean all reflective surfaces of the fixtures. You may find you can see better than you thought.

If that brightens your shop, but is not good enough, you might want to add additional fixtures and/or repaint your ceilings and walls to a white or other good light-reflective color.

-- Dave O.

3 comments so far

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 4353 days

#1 posted 12-28-2010 04:05 PM

Dave, I can only agree on the improved lighting.

I normally only think about it when a tube blows and I put a new one in.
Then it stands out and I clean all the tubes. Amazing what you find in a bright shop.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View HallTree's profile


5666 posts in 5264 days

#2 posted 12-28-2010 09:35 PM

Thanks Dave. A bright idea to start the new year.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4671 days

#3 posted 12-28-2010 09:48 PM

All excellent points !

I use my compressor, with the “blow gun” attachment, to blow bulbs and fixtures clean, periodically. I also bought (mostly) those “diamond plate” fixtures. Good reflectivity !

Bear in mind: light shrinks pupils, and—though a bit simplistically put—smaller pupils give better vision.

So …. more light = Good Thing !

-- -- Neil

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