Telescoping Ceiling Light Test Stand

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Project by Ron Stewart posted 02-21-2020 12:24 AM 692 views 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I built two of these telescoping stands to test various ceiling light options in preparation for an upcoming kitchen remodel. Our kitchen is lit by two large four-tube fluorescent light boxes. I’ve hated those things for years, and we’d like to replace them with something more modern, but deciding how to replace them has been a struggle.

Each stand has an overhead arm, to which I can attach a light, on a height-adjustable post that lets me move the arm up to the ceiling. It’s not as good as actually installing the light, but it’s pretty close. Having two stands lets us experiment with positioning and spacing.

The stands are very simple, and this is one of the few projects I’ve worked on where I just winged it—with no real planning or SketchUp modeling. I built both stands from four 2” x 2” furring strip boards and plywood scraps. For the wiring, I used an old three-wire extension cord, electrical plugs, and cable staples.

The base of each stand is an X formed by two 24” cross-lapped boards. I also cut a shallow recess on the top of one strip to create a pocket for the bottom of the fixed post. Four angled braces connect the post to the base.

The fixed part of the post is 6’ tall. The movable part is 4’ tall. I created a sleeve on the movable part from three 12” long plywood strips. The sleeve fits loosely around the fixed post and lets me raise the stand to reach our 9’ ceilings. To maintain the adjusted height, I use a spring clamp under the sleeve.

The top arm is 16” long and is screwed onto the top of the movable post, with a shallow rabbet for alignment and an angle brace for support.

For wiring, I stapled a length of extension cable up the movable post over the arm, with some excess at the arm end and a male plug on the post end.

The first lights we tested were 6” retrofit LED wafer lights. To hold the lights, I cut holes in 12” by 12” plywood scraps (painted white to simulate the ceiling) and attached them to the arms with spacer blocks to allow room for the fixtures.

From that test we learned that these wafer lights are very bright but spray light everywhere. The light on the countertops was dim, and the wide beam spread created considerable glare. So these lights were out. (I’ll use them in an above-workbench light I plan to build later.)

Next, we simulated recessed cans by attaching bulb bases to the stands and using narrow-flood PAR30 bulbs. These bulbs concentrate bright light on the countertops and will be great for task lighting. But, unless we cover the ceiling with them, they won’t provide adequate ambient lighting for the room.

That observation led to our final test (at least for now). Our current thinking is that we’ll need strategically placed (aligned with the countertop edges) PAR30 cans for task lighting and two centrally positioned traditional flush-mount lights for ambient lighting.

To try this test, I attached pancake electrical boxes to the stand arms. In the last of the six main project photos at the top of this posting we’re testing a 20” diameter dome light with four 15 watt LED bulbs (each roughly equivalent to a 100 watt incandescent bulb) positioned as high as possible under one of our existing fluorescent fixtures. (By the way, this light weighs 10 pounds, and that’s as heavy as I would risk with these stands. The stand is on the verge of tipping over.) It produces a lot of usable light, and we now think our plan will work. We even think three-bulb fixtures will suffice.

These tests will give us more confidence when we discuss lighting with our contractor and his electrician because we’ll come in from a much more informed perspective.

This project will eventually be a throwaway for me. But, if I worked for a lighting or electrical shop, I’d build a bunch of fancier versions of them for testing and demonstrations. They’d have folding bases, interchangeable light arms for various light types, and integrated height locks (threaded rods with star handles in the movable posts riding in long slots in the fixed posts, etc.).

I’m straying off the topic of woodworking, but I decided to post this project in case it helps anyone else struggling with lighting design. To that end, I’d also like to provide the following links, which provide the most useful lighting information I found on the web. Instead of the general “space your recessed lights in a grid” advice most articles contain, these go into detail about bulb types and discuss actual measurements and specific design principles.

Thanks for reading!

-- Ron Stewart

4 comments so far

View LesB's profile


2505 posts in 4172 days

#1 posted 02-21-2020 05:48 PM

Interesting way to work out the lighting situation

I replaced a 4 tube fluorescent light fixture in 12’x12’ kitchen with a 2’x2’x1” flat LED fixture with great results. The LED is dimmable but at full output is is almost too much light.It uses less power than one of the tubes in the fluorescent fixture and looks much better. It happenes to be in a rental house so besides providing more light with less power I’m not getting regular service calls about the light burning out or flickering.

-- Les B, Oregon

View swirt's profile


5094 posts in 3701 days

#2 posted 02-21-2020 08:20 PM

Clever testing method. Nothing worse than planning lighting and finding out after the fact that is sucks. Well done.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Ron Stewart's profile

Ron Stewart

173 posts in 3233 days

#3 posted 02-21-2020 08:21 PM

Thanks for commenting, Les.

I wish things were that easy for us. Some of those integrated LED lights are really impressive—bright, compact, and efficient. The wafer lights we tested are so thin you can actually install them under a joist.

My wife does a lot of cooking and baking—the kitchen is her workshop—so we probably have more stringent requirements than most. She also hasn’t settled on which light temperature she wants, so we want to go with interchangeable bulbs for flexibility.

-- Ron Stewart

View Ron Stewart's profile

Ron Stewart

173 posts in 3233 days

#4 posted 02-21-2020 09:28 PM

Clever testing method. Nothing worse than planning lighting and finding out after the fact that is sucks. Well done.

- swirt

Thanks, swirt. Exactly. That’s my worst fear—a beautiful new kitchen that isn’t functional due to poor lighting. At least we have a fighting chance of getting it right now.

-- Ron Stewart

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