The American Craftsman WorkShop #9: New Shop Lighting

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Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 09-17-2009 05:30 PM 18578 reads 3 times favorited 29 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Sneak Preview of New Video from the American Craftsman Workshop Part 9 of The American Craftsman WorkShop series Part 10: Reorganizing the Shop - Again! »

Bright Light! Bright Light!

Over the last couple of days I added lights to brighten the shop.


Shop Light Envy

After seeing the lights in Les Hasting's shop I was motivated to install more lights in my own. There is nothing like shop envy to motivate a guy.

The Original Lighting

The original lighting situation in my shop was poor and inadequate. I had three 4’x4’ units with 6 bulbs over the assembly and finish area. There was only one of these 4’x4’ lights over the tablesaw, planer, and sanding machine. This is the milling area.

In this picture it looks like there is ample lighting and there was – but only in the daytime. As you can see, I have large 5’w x 4’h windows that let in plenty of outside light and ventilation.

Old Arrangement of Shop Lights

The light was spread thin over the shop. The inadequate lighting left dark spots in the shop. There was always a shadow cast on the sides of a project and it was necessary to pull a project into a bright spot for critical viewing.

It all started by removing the diffuser panels from the 4’x4’ lights. I was originally cleaning them but I was thinking how much brighter they were without the diffusers. At this point I removed all of them and decided that this would work better.

You may wonder why use the diffusers to begin with? The diffusers more evenly distribute the light, and with an inadequate number of lights on the ceiling, this is a bit more important but also a trade-off. You cast the light out further by the prisms of the diffuser panel, but it is also reduced. It almost seems to have a veil over the light.

Over time the panels also tend to turn yellow which further reduces the light. The first thing that struck me by removing the panels, was how much whiter the light appeared.

This Just Ain’t Enough

I decided that this was still leaving me with a woefully inadequate lighting situation. I used to do maintenance on commercial buildings and had 6 strip lights in storage left over from this work. I decided it was time to divert from my projects and install the lights.

I started by removing the single 4’ x 4’ surface mount light from above the milling area.

Removing Light


Layout followed and this can be difficult when you are working alone. I use a paint pole to help me do layout because I can hold it over a long span against the ceiling and walls. I simply transfer my measurements to the pole and then transfer them to the ceiling.

Set Measurement On A Painting Pole

Layout Using The Painting Pole

The area was basically broken into thirds. I consider the work area to start at the shelving, not at the wall. That means I consider the shelving to be the wall or perimeter and the work area is inside of that.

Updating The Lights

The lights were new in the box but they were actually several years old. Being old light fixtures meant that they had the old magnetic starter ballasts. I had electronic ballasts for replacement on hand so I changed them out. The magnetic ballasts would have worked, especially because my shop is heated, but I prefer the quick-start of the electronic units.

The city has a collection point for things like the old magnetic ballast because they contain chemical compounds like PCB’s. I will take them to that collection point for responsible disposal.

Ballasts Need To Be Replaced

The Lights Go Up

I installed backers in the ceiling between the trusses because the light were falling only on the sheetrock with no good backers.

After that I put the lights up and it was easy by myself. The 4’x4’ units are not that easy when working alone.

I also did a quick calculation and determined that I would use a new breaker so I dropped in a new circuit for this bank of lights. These lights are also switched separately from the other units so I wired in a couple of 3 way switches. They worked properly on the first try.


Rearranging the 4’x4’ Lights

The 4’x4’ lights needed to be completely repositioned to add in the fourth light. They would stay on the same center line but I would move the end units out about 1 1/2’ on each end. Then I would divide the space between them, move the third light over and raise the fourth light into position.

These lights are very heavy and unwieldy when working alone. To make things manageable, simple, and safe I fabricated brackets with moving tracks to hold and slide the lights by myself. These brackets butt against the side of the light fixtures and screw to the ceiling trusses.


These brackets allowed me to remove the screws in the light fixtures and allow it would drop about 1/4” onto the bracket. I was able to slide the light over into it’s new position and then reattach it to the ceiling. After the light was securely in position I removed the brackets from the ceiling.

In this picture you will notice the parabola reflector lights under the stereo speakers. I needed to use these because I was having trouble seeing in the poor lighting. I joyfully packed them away as soon as the install was complete.


Final Install

I was pretty excited to fire up all of the lights and see how they lit up the shop. I couldn’t wait until it got dark to see the real difference.

WOW! I can’t believe the difference, it is sooo bright in my shop now. It is now a wonderfully lighted shop and it is just in time for the longer hours of darkness that are starting to come upon us as fall and winter are rapidly approaching.


I am kicking myself for not doing this sooner. I have been struggling with poor lighting all this time and to think that I had everything that I needed to do this in my storage or on the shelves. The total cost for this project was $11.00 because I needed to buy a few bulbs.

The Specs

The total power consumption of this lighting setup is 1224 watts.

The light bulbs are 4’ long T12’s. I use the low energy 34w bulbs instead of the 40w bulbs. T8 bulbs burn 32w. So really, if you are using T12’s you can further save energy by installing the 34w bulbs instead 40w’s. There is a slight loss of lumens rating when going to 34w bulbs but it is not bad.

Total wattage if using 40w bulbs would be 1440w. I am saving 216w over 36 bulbs.

I hope that you were able to glean ideas and information from my experience.

Providing Nutrition for Woodworkers

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

29 comments so far

View DSnyder's profile


25 posts in 4584 days

#1 posted 09-17-2009 05:45 PM

Nice work Todd! It’s amazing how much of a difference good lighting can make! Just curious, about how many square feet are you lighting with those 1,440w?

-- “I am a soul. I have a body.” Lloyd C. Douglas

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5015 days

#2 posted 09-17-2009 05:48 PM

DSnyder – About 914 sf.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View gbear's profile


534 posts in 5015 days

#3 posted 09-17-2009 05:54 PM

Okay…can you come and do mine?

-- gbear, Carmichael, CA

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1614 posts in 4480 days

#4 posted 09-17-2009 05:55 PM

Nice upgrade, it really brightened things up. Something I need to do also.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View Kirk's profile


116 posts in 4969 days

#5 posted 09-17-2009 06:18 PM


I lost the pictures of the lighting in my shop.

I installed 12 4’ two bulb around the perimeter. The wall and ceiling are washed with light.

Yes, I need some lights over the table saw and workbench, both in the middle of the shop, but everything is quite well lit.

I only have one window, I wish I didn’t have it, but it’s the law.

W. Kirk Crawford
Tularosa, New Mexico

-- W. Kirk Crawford - Tularosa, New Mexico

View Karson's profile


35229 posts in 5316 days

#6 posted 09-17-2009 07:26 PM

Todd You could help your cause along if you painted the ceiling white.

But, I guess that was not the review you were expecting.

A great enhancement to the shop.

I’ve got 4 double bulb 8’ bulbs along the wall and I could use more light. The walls and ceilings are plywood and don’t reflect at all.

Nice job.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Greg Wurst's profile

Greg Wurst

797 posts in 4748 days

#7 posted 09-17-2009 07:32 PM

I added a ton of lighting to my garage shop and never regretted it. Too-much light is barely enough. :)

-- You're a unique and special person, just like everyone else.

View MedicKen's profile


1615 posts in 4378 days

#8 posted 09-17-2009 08:27 PM

Todd….nice job. I did the same thing about a year ago. I changed from a couple of twin 4’ fixtures to 4-4 tube 4’ fixtures and it made a world of difference. I installed the T-8 bulbs as well but I didnt like the cool white bulbs, too much of a blue cast. I went with the C50 tubes which have a color output closer to natural sunlight. I have noticed that I still need some task lighting as the eyes are not getting any younger.

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their [email protected]

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4790 days

#9 posted 09-17-2009 08:32 PM

Bright idea…

-- Happy woodworking!

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5015 days

#10 posted 09-17-2009 08:46 PM

Karson – I already have painting on the to-do list. I still have to do some patches on the ceiling and then painting. I remember how much brighter the shop got when I sheetrocked and painted the walls.

But for now, I have to get back to work on my projects. I have customers waiting on me.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 4147 days

#11 posted 09-17-2009 08:59 PM

Very nice re do of your lighting! While I don’t have that much light scheduled for my upgrade… I don’t have that much space to fill with light either…

What bulbs are you using?

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5015 days

#12 posted 09-17-2009 09:36 PM

dbhost – Feit Electric 34w cool white

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3559 posts in 4353 days

#13 posted 09-17-2009 09:52 PM

I’ve got a lot of lighting in my shop too. With my aging eyes I feel that I have enough light when i can read the little numbers on my incra rule.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Les Hastings's profile

Les Hastings

1306 posts in 4689 days

#14 posted 09-17-2009 11:33 PM

Bright make over Todd,,,,,,,,,,,,,Glad I could help! ;o)

-- Les, Wichita, Ks. (I'd rather be covered in saw dust!)

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5015 days

#15 posted 09-18-2009 12:03 AM

Les – Pro’s like yourself are just benchmarks for me to follow.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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