Roll with the tech­ni­cal ad­vances in light­ing and brighten up your shop with LEDs. You’ll see bet­ter, save money, and change light­bulbs far less of­ten.


Most of us don’t think about the light­ing in our shops. In­stead, we tend to just ac­cept it for what it was the day we moved into the space. But al­most ev­ery shop can be bet­ter lit. And with to­day’s LED tech­nol­ogy, bet­ter light­ing won’t put a big strain on your wal­let.

Older tech­nolo­gies, such as in­can­des­cent and halo­gen lights, have nearly dis­ap­peared from the mar­ket. And flu­o­res­cent light­ing is fad­ing quickly, es­pe­cially in the home and workshop sec­tors.

Why you should switch to LED

LED stands for light-emit­ting diode, an elec­tronic light that re­quires less elec­tri­cal cur­rent than other light tech­nolo­gies. With LED lights, you’ll en­joy these ben­e­fits:

Lower en­ergy con­sump­tion equals greater cost sav­ings. A 60-watt-equiv­a­lent LED bulb uses only 8–10 watts com­pared with an in­can­des­cent bulb.

Im­me­di­ate full bright­ness when turned on. Be­cause LEDs gen­er­ate lit­tle heat, you can in­stall a brighter bulb in a fix­ture with a wattage lim­i­ta­tion for in­can­des­cent bulbs.

Greater range of light in the color spec­trum. (See the chart on page 64.)

Un­af­fected by ex­ces­sively hot or cold en­vi­ron­ments.

You pay more up front for LEDs, but their longer life­span—typ­i­cally 5–20 times longer than in­can­des­cents, de­pend­ing on the type and brand of LED—saves money over time.

Un­like flu­o­res­cent lights, LEDs con­tain no mercury, a known car­cino­gen.

What to know be­fore you buy

Re­place­ment bulbs and tubes. LEDs come in a va­ri­ety of styles and shapes. Many bulbs fit screw-in fix­tures, so there’s no need to buy new fix­tures. And LED tubes fit into most com­mon flu­o­res­cent-light fix­tures.

Tra­di­tional flu­o­res­cent-tube fix­tures use bal­lasts to reg­u­late elec­tric cur­rent run­ning to the bulbs, and re­place­ment LED tubes of­ten work fine in fix­tures with elec­tronic bal­lasts. How­ever, fix­tures with

older-style mag­netic bal­lasts (top right), will not work with LED tubes. In ei­ther case, when LED tubes won’t work—un­for­tu­nately, dis­cov­ery can be trial and er­ror— hire an elec­tri­cian to re­place or by­pass the bal­last, or sim­ply buy a new LED fix­ture,

above. When you by­pass the bal­last, you must buy LED tubes rated specif­i­cally to work with­out bal­lasts. These typ­i­cally cost 20–40 per­cent more and can be more dif­fi­cult to find.

Lu­mens means light out­put. LED lights are rated not by wattage (as with older tech­nolo­gies), but rather by lu­mens, the true mea­sure of a light’s out­put. A typ­i­cal LED screw-in bulb with a light out­put equiv­a­lent to a 60-watt in­can­des­cent bulb puts out about 800 lu­mens. Find the lu­mens rat­ing on the bulb pack­age, shown be­low.

For a wood­work­ing shop, a good rule of thumb is to have 75 lu­mens per square foot. So, mul­ti­ply your shop’s square footage by 75, and di­vide that fig­ure by the fix­tures you have to de­ter­mine the size bulbs you need. If you don’t like the fi­nal light­ing af­ter con­vert­ing your shop us­ing this for­mula, add fix­tures or re­place some bulbs with those rated higher or lower in lu­mens un­til you’re sat­is­fied.

■ Even white light has color. You might not no­tice it, but ar­ti­fi­cial light ranges in color from the yel­low­ish-orange tones at the warm end of the spec­trum to bluish tones at the cool end (mea­sured in de­grees Kelvin, shown right). Most liv­ing rooms, din­ing rooms, and bed­rooms feel best with warm tones in the sub-3000° range. But this can be less ben­e­fi­cial in a shop set­ting. Light in the 6000°-plus range presents a stark light that can be un­set­tling and dis­tort vis­ual per­cep­tion of wood tones (which tend to be warm). The mid­dle of the spec­trum, from 4000° to 5500°, presents “pure white” light that’s usu­ally best for a shop set­ting. This helps you ac­cu­rately read wood tones while still pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient light­ing for fine-de­tail work.

More tips for bet­ter shop light­ing

■ Lighten the walls. Paint­ing shop walls and the ceil­ing white or an­other light color re­flects more light back to work­sur­faces. By con­trast, dark col­ors ab­sorb light.

■ Watch out for over­head doors. Ceil­ing light fix­tures cov­ered by an open over­head door do you lit­tle good. If the nat­u­ral light com­ing through the open door isn’t enough, add ex­tra light fix­tures to com­pen­sate.

■ LEDs aim light. Flu­o­res­cent tubes project light in all di­rec­tions, so re­flec­tive-hooded fix­tures help di­rect the light down­ward. LED tubes don’t re­quire re­flec­tive hoods be­cause they project light straight down (or out­ward, if wall-mounted).

■ Con­sult a pro. If you’re not sure about how to ap­proach shop light­ing, work with a pro­fes­sional light­ing con­sul­tant to form a plan. And if you’re not com­fort­able do­ing your wiring—or lo­cal codes pro­hibit it—hire an elec­tri­cian to add fix­tures or re­wire ex­ist­ing ones.

■ Check for in­cen­tives. Many en­ergy com­pa­nies of­fer in­cen­tives for switch­ing to power-sav­ing LEDs through­out your house. This might make the up­grade a true bar­gain.

■ Sup­ple­ment light­ing in dark ar­eas. Add small AC- or bat­tery-pow­ered LED fix­tures be­neath wall cabinets (as shown right) or any struc­ture on the wall or ceil­ing that blocks light. Or use por­ta­ble LED lamps— pow­ered by the same bat­tery packs as your cord­less drill, for ex­am­ple, or an LED head­lamp or vi­sor-clip light—to il­lu­mi­nate shad­owy work ar­eas that don’t war­rant per­ma­nent light fix­tures.

To get the best vis­ual per­cep­tion of how a project will look once fin­ished, look at it in the set­ting where it will ul­ti­mately be lo­cated. Look­ing at a night­stand in a bed­room will give you the most ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of its col­ors.

Al­though you won’t have a dim­mer switch in the shop, you might in your house. These fix­tures re­quire LED bulbs specif­i­cally rated for use with dim­mers.

We gave this shop a light­ing makeover, re­plac­ing in­can­des­cent and flu­o­res­cent bulbs with LEDs, and added some new LED fix­tures to re­place older units. The re­sults speak for them­selves.

mounted di­rectly to the fix­ture.

LED bulb pack­ag­ing in­cludes lu­mens and color rat­ing, as well as equiv­a­lency ref­er­ence to other types of bulbs.

Ded­i­cated LED fix­tures do not use re­place­able tubes, but rather a string of diodes

A mag­netic bal­last must be re­placed or by­passed to make this flu­o­res­cent fix­ture work with LED tubes. (The old flu­o­res­cent bulbs dis­play the dark­ened ends com­mon to tubes about to ex­pire.)

A small LED mounted un­der a cabi­net il­lu­mi­nates stor­age bins be­low it as well as a bench­top sander. This light has an easy-on/off touch switch. Pro­duced by Bob Hunter Il­lus­tra­tion: Lorna John­son

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