131: Decorative LED Wall Lights

I’m not sure what to properly call these…they are like a shadow box, but not. Decorative wall hanging sounds too stuff, or like a macrame project. Wall box is the best I’ve got so far.

Back in 2009, before we actually even owned our own laser and used Ponoko for our laser cutting, I was asked to create and 8×8 inch piece of art for a fundraiser.  I created a decorative wall box – well, two.  I had enough material to make one for the fundraiser and one for myself.  I loved the look, but logistical and technical difficulties made it not go into production and got set on the back burner.

I’ve been making home goods lately – lamps and candle holders mostly.  Between the lamps and back-burner wall boxes,  I got the crazy idea to try and light up the wall boxes.

A show of my booth set up from Show of Hands, Holiday 2017.

One good thing about the intervening 9 years, we’ve learned a few things about box construction.  The original was held together with butt joints.   Butt joints are made by butting the end of one piece against the side of another piece and gluing it in place.  The original version relied heavily on glue, corner clamps and anxious drying time.  When gluing, my pieces have a tendency to slip, and stick themselves in non-aligned ways. Too many points of failure for production pieces.  So we went back to the drawing board and reviewed prior box making and joint trials – Project 14: Box JointsProject 73: Bevel or Miter Guide and Project 75: Hanging Lamps.  Ryan has become the master of well fitting joints, I’m so impressed – Ryan executed the design so well, we didn’t need glue for assembly!

New Wall hanging boxes cutting away!

No glue needed for assembly.

I knew I didn’t want a visible bulb in the box, so LED strips around the outside were the way to go.  The laser stuff we are old hands at, but electrical soldering not so much, so I looked for outside help.  Our friend Ryan (yes, another Ryan.  Too many Ryans) has all the tools and experience in building LED light panels and other fun projects that require some soldering skills.  And he was game to waste an afternoon soldering with me.  It also doesn’t hurt that he makes a mean celebratory gin gimlet and had the right materials on hand after I purchased the wrong ones.

Our work space. Drinks optional.

All the LED tape lights have the same basic qualities – little LED wired into a strip, that can be trimmed to the length you need along indicated break points.  Every individual section of the tape can be soldered to a power source.

What you need for a successful soldering project:

  • Wire cutters
  • Strip light
  • Wire you are going to attach
  • A soldering iron
  • Solder

Because the internet is a wonderful place, someone else has already done a great video in the basics of soldering LED strips:

Little things I’d like to add:

  • make sure the plastic sheeting is stripped from the ends of the wires your are going to be soldering – no need to deal with a melted plastic mess
  • the red wire is *generally* the positive wire that needs to be soldered to the “+” pad.  This isn’t always the case, though, so your mileage may vary.
  • If you want your solder job to look more finished, you can either wrap the joints you just soldered in electrical tape, or if you are feeling really fancy, cover it with heat shrink tubing.

    The heat shrink tubing is in the lower right corner – thread your wire through it before your solder.  You can also see the red is attached to the “+” here.

    Put the tubing in place to cover the solder joints, apply heat!

Not knowing any better, I picked up a trimmable strip of 12V yellow LEDs  that came with a power connector that plugged into the wall.  I’m a light novice – I had the right idea, wrong mechanics.  Here’s what went wrong:

Wax paper diffuser in place!

  • 12 V was way to bright for the little space.  The project required an additional diffuser.
  • Yellow??  It was really yellow, not like a nice incandescent yellow which is what my brain thought it was.
  • The bulbs got surprisingly hot
  • The AC adapter is too expensive for production, and weighted more than the piece itself creating difficulty balance and mounting.
  • The self stick back is rubbish, especially on porous wood.

The self adhesive did not adhere.

Ryan had in his supplies a nice strip of white 5V LEDs that can be powered by a USB cord, which are cheap and plentiful in this day of USB powers everything.  The lighter and less powerful strips fixed most of the issues – the adhesive back is still rubbish, so I’ll have to hot glue it.

Here’s a shot of the 5V strip – still a little yellow, but there is no diffuser on this one – it’s a great even light.  I’m holding it up against a white fridge.  Ignore that I need to pound in the left side a little more so there isn’t  a light gap.

It really was an easy and satisfying project, and one that I can see going into production.  Perhaps I’ll have a few of these for Show of Hands Holiday 2018?  Time will tell!

I realize there isn’t a good spot for action shots in the post since I linked to a great video, so I’ll stick them in at the end.  This photos is me, tinning wires.

Soldering the wires in place. It really was quick and easy.

Proudly holding my too-yellow box.


2 thoughts on “131: Decorative LED Wall Lights

  1. alainb1 says:

    Another generous and super nice project. You can also use the panels to create your own carousel lamps…if you’re interested I’d be happy to share an .svg I worked up for the spinner. It’s not that complicated but I had a hard time sorting out the geometry til I deconstructed one.


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