Question: Workshop lighting

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Forum topic by toddbg posted 01-20-2014 04:23 AM 2338 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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27 posts in 2065 days

01-20-2014 04:23 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hi – I’m getting ready to replace a single two cfl fixture in my garage and would like some input as to what to get.

I’ve been reading a ton and of course have gotten confused with all the options for bulbs and how they might hold up in a cold garage.

My “workshop” is a 2 car garage with a single wide door (20w x 21d (400sf)) that stays about 40F+ during the winter (outside temp is mid to low 40s).
For example – outside temp is currently 42F and 85% humidity while in the garage it is 47.8F and 82% humidity.
I can heat it up but most days when I have gone out I have not gotten it up to 60F.

my workbench, soldering station is along the back wall with the majority of detail tasks (lathe and mill to the left along the side wall) being done in that space (~12’ x 10’ (120sf)).

I’ll be moving the cars out and setting up a workbench in the middle/front of the garage (opening the door when the weather is nice) when I am routing or using the tablesaw.

I only have the one light fixture that is outlet controlled and planned on teeing off (replacing) of and hooking all the other fixtures to that circuit.

Can you guys give me some ideas about bulbs, fixtures and layout?

Thanks very much!

-- -- Todd, Washington

16 replies so far

View exelectrician's profile


2339 posts in 2876 days

#1 posted 01-20-2014 07:25 AM

Think to the future – which is LED’s, the prices are falling quickly now, so plan in that direction. At least that is what I am doing.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View MalcolmLaurel's profile


300 posts in 2072 days

#2 posted 01-20-2014 12:23 PM

Think task lighting. For the lathe, mill, and workbench it’s hard to beat overhead lights supplemented with small spotlights on flexible arms. Traditionally the latter were halogen but LED is now the way to go. For the overheads, you would traditionally use high wattage incandescent (I have a couple of 200W incandascents in my shop) or flourescent (got those as well, over the workbenches). Some fluorescents have trouble starting in cold weather unless you use a cold weather ballast in them. I just replaced one of my 200W incandescents with a compact fluorescent and it works great, except it takes several minutes to come up to full brightness.

Today, I would go with LED for the overheads as well… you can buy ready made fixtures or if you want to spend less but put in a little more work wiring, you can by a 15’ strip of LED lights dirt cheap on ebay (you will need a 12VDC power supply). For sake of comparison, 4’ of LED lights (the 5050 strip with lights every 3/4”) puts out roughly the same light as a 75W incandescent bulb.

-- Malcolm Laurel -

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2818 days

#3 posted 01-20-2014 12:51 PM

I work in our garage, and I have 4 of these as my main lighting :

With a cooler/white light. My shop gets down to about 45 in the winter, and when at its coldest, I notice the bulbs may take a minute or two to get up to their brightest, but by the time I’m ready to start, they already are. I think it helps a lot to pick a fixture with a very reflective underside to help get the most out of your light bulb. I have them positioned such that I get very little to no shadows on the workpiece no matter where I stand at my workbench or main power tools (table saw, jointer, etc.). Some tools, like the drill press and bandsaw, have task lights on them.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3844 days

#4 posted 01-20-2014 01:06 PM

The future is LEDs, at least in the foreseeable future.
Incandescents are power wasters.
Straight tube fluorescents are a dying breed. I have gutted the fixtures to accept 4 CFLs. 30% lower power draw with better and brighter light output.
CFLs are presently acceptable, but the right ones must be selected.
Don’t go with the cheapies. They put out poor quality of light and fail prematurely.
Use/build fixtures that maximize output. I build fixtures with mirrors to reflect all the light normally wasted in traditional fixtures.
LEDs, when they become acceptably priced will be the way to go. In the meantime, I’m sticking with full spectrum CFLs.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View Bogeyguy's profile


548 posts in 2517 days

#5 posted 01-20-2014 01:27 PM

Todd, the current issue (Feb/Mar 2014) of Woodcraft magazine has a great article about shop lighting. 6 pages of charts, graphs and diagrams on how to light your shop. Bulb types, outputs etc. etc. etc. If your not a subscriber you should buy a copy.

-- Art, Pittsburgh.

View JayT's profile


6237 posts in 2660 days

#6 posted 01-20-2014 01:55 PM

For overall area lighting, I would use some good quality 4’ T8 fluorescent fixtures. These are easy to find, bulbs are available everywhere and are inexpensive. They also put out good light, with your choice of color temperature—daylight (6500K) give the best color but can be harsh on the eyes, while cool white (4100K) is what most offices use because of quality of light vs. eye strain, but will affect how colors appear. That can be a concern for finishing.

Don’t skimp and buy the entry level/promo fixtures at the big box—the ballasts are just not up to the task. Going with better quality fixtures will have ballasts that start and run at lower temperatures, are more efficient and last much longer.

LED is good for task lighting, but I don’t yet consider it the best option for area lighting. Many people are affected by the phase of the LED’s, where they appear to pulse. It doesn’t bother others. This is improving and the quality is increasing as prices come down. If you installed the 4’ T8 fluorescents, then as LED continues to evolve, you could eventually replace the fluorescent bulbs with LED tubes designed for the same fixtures.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View bonesbr549's profile


1583 posts in 3516 days

#7 posted 01-20-2014 03:47 PM

If you have an area that gets cold be very careful! I had my shop done years ago with tube lights and did not specify electronic balast’s and when the shop was cold they hummed to the point of insanity. Those CFL’s if like the ones I put in my garage at the current house, suck Again when cold you need a flashlight to get around. LED’s I wonder how much $$ you need to properly light. When applying finishes, good natural light is critical. My wife has a few stand lights with special spectrum light she uses and I borrow from time to time to check my finishes as they are applied. Works wonders. Good luck.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View jmartel's profile


8515 posts in 2599 days

#8 posted 01-20-2014 03:54 PM

For the price, you can’t really beat the 2 bank Fluorescent fixtures. I got a pair of them for $20 each and they work great. I’ll probably add another bank in the future as well as some smaller task lights.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View darthford's profile


612 posts in 2373 days

#9 posted 01-20-2014 03:56 PM

You can’t have too much light in a workshop, I have 5 of these below in my 3 car garage, 2 right over my bench. Its like the sun in my garage, at night my garage looks like that big space ship in close encounters of the 3rd kind.

This 6 bulb fixture –

This daylight bulb

View oldnovice's profile


7496 posts in 3816 days

#10 posted 01-20-2014 06:25 PM

LEDs are the best! I am in the process of switching AL my workshop lighting to LED because the safer, cheaper to operate, last longer, do not put out any heat, and have no warm up time.

I am also replacing the table and standing light fixtures in the living area so the grandchildren can be safer.

  1. CFLs as all flourescents contain mercury and a broken lamp can be a real health issue particularly where other dust may also become contaminated.
  2. LED lamps use even less power than ANY other lights.
  3. Typical LED lamps last 20+ years.
  4. LEDs are cool to the touch so a lot of them in one place do not increase ambient temperature as others.
  5. LEDs are at full brightness at power on and do not suffer the dimmer output in cold temperatures.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3844 days

#11 posted 01-20-2014 08:33 PM

I agree that LEDs are the best presently available. I only wish they were cheaper.
But please allow me to straighten out one detail. The hype on mercury in CFLs is all wrong. The amount of mercury in one CFL is only a tenth of the mercury in a single four foot fluorescent tube.
The warning on the packaging is new because of gov’t regulation, not because of an increase in mercury content.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile (online now)


18635 posts in 4124 days

#12 posted 01-20-2014 09:19 PM

Temp in Western WA normally shouldn’t be a problem. May notice starting problems when temps drop below freezing, but that doesn’t happen very often.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View DrDirt's profile


4588 posts in 4191 days

#13 posted 01-20-2014 09:35 PM

LED has a bit of hype to it (like every new product)

One needs to look at LUMEN OUTPUT – - and efficiency Lumens /Watt.

The Federal minimum for Fluroescent lamps is now 89 Lumens/watt.

THere are direct replacement LED lamps that look like a fluorescent T8.

However if you go to the link – they consume 16.5 Watts and deliver 1500 lumens

The Fluorescent T8 has longer life – and uses 32 Watts – but delivers 2950 lumens.
So sure LED saves electricity when you are willing to only get 1/2 the light output! You could just turn half your lamps off too – so long as you feel it is bright enough!

Note for LED you get at most a 4 year guarantee

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View gtbuzz's profile


427 posts in 2890 days

#14 posted 01-20-2014 10:11 PM

Have you considered a T5HO light? I’ve been looking into those and they seem to be significantly brighter than T8’s.

View toddbg's profile


27 posts in 2065 days

#15 posted 01-21-2014 01:28 AM

@darthford – I looked at those today – lots of light. My only concern is that they recommend hanging rather than surface mount.

@gtbuzz – I have, cost per bulb is what is killing me on those. fixtures seem to be about the same between the T8 and T5 so it goes to bulb cost. (I’ve also heard that the T5 drops dramatically when the weather is cold – but don’t know enough to say that that is truly a concern).

@bogeyguy – Thanks for the info – I picked up a copy of that today and will be looking at it this evening.

@DrDirt – Wow. great information!

Thanks everyone – lots of decisions to make…

-- -- Todd, Washington

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