Everyone loves LEDs, right? I'm going to show you how easy it can be to add some nice DIY accent lightning using simple LED light strips. There are so many places that can be benefited with some extra lighting: underneath kitchen cabinets, around crown molding trim in your theater or study, or even on the front of the reception desk below.
CAUTION: This do-it-yourself guide assumes that you have knowledge and experience in dealing with high voltage (120v) power connections. If you are uncomfortable working with those voltages, feel free to read the article, but you probably should refrain from doing this project. We are NOT, in any way, responsible for any injury, fire, or burnt electronics due to your lack of experience. Please be careful!
Please note: We have moved away from these rigid LED strips and now offer self adhesive flexible LED strips.
See Also: Great Deals on USB powered LED Bias Lighting
What You'll Need:
- LED light strips
- Power Adapter
- 3 Prong AC Power Cable (to be harvested and rewired)
- Wire Stripper
- Soldering Iron and Solder
- Heat Shrink Wire Tubing
- Lighter or heat gun
- SPST Toggle Switch
- 2-Pin Strip Connecting Wires
- Scissors or knife for cutting the power cable
- Optional: Basic multi-meter for determining correct wiring on AC power cable
The Power Supply: The power supply that we are using is manufactured by the company that makes the LED strips we're using and is designed specifically for the strips we are using. As you can see in this picture it is a 12V 18W supply with a 3 wire input. Those three wires are the standard AC power connections you find in most homes (at least in the U.S.). Those lines are ground, live (or hot), and neutral. It then has a standard 2 wire 12V DC output on the other side.
Soldering Iron: In this guide I just used your run of the mill single temperature Weller Soldering Iron. Since we're not doing anything real technical, any soldering iron should do.
Power Cable: What we need for this set up is a 3 Prong AC power cable that you don't need for something else. I used the standard AC power cable that is commonly used with computers and monitors. We will be cutting the end of the cable off and soldering it to our power adapter, so make sure you won't need this cable for anything else.
Step 1: Prepping the power cable - In order to use this power cable we need access to the wires. Simply cut off the end of the cable, leaving as much usable cable as possible on the end that plugs into the wall.
Step 2: Expose wires - Using the wire stripper, cut through the outer molding of the wire. You will want to give yourself enough length of wire that it is easy to work with, but not too much as you'll need to be able to cover it back up. In this example I cut off about 2 1/2 inches of the casing.
Step 3: Remove casing - Pull on the outer casing of the cable and slide it off the wires inside. As you do this, be careful not to pull too hard as you could put a short in the cable.
Step 4: Separate wires - The wires will generally be twisted around each other. Simply, untwist the wires and separate them so that you have easy access to them.
Step 5: Identify wires - It's possible that the color coding on the wire you're cutting apart won't match the color coding on the power supply. It is very important that you know which wire goes to each part of the plug. For this particular cable the white wire is neutral, the balck is live (or hot), and green is ground. This is a very common way of color coding the wires, but is not always followed.
Step 6: Strip individual wires - Use the wire stripper to cut a half inch or so of the casing off each wire.
Step 7: Prep Shrink Tubing - You'll need to use the shrink tubing to act as insulator in between each wire and to cover the entire set of wires. I used half of a small tube on both the live and neutral lines. Then I used a medium one on the cable coming from the power adapter and a large one on the full AC cable.
Step 8: Place Large Tubing - Slide the large tubing over all the wires and a bit down the cable to get it out of the way. It must be placed on the wire BEFORE we solder the wires together.
Step 9: Place Small Tubing - Slide the shorter small pieces of tubing over the live and neutral wires.
Step 10: Place Medium Tubing - Just like with the other pieces, slide the medium tubing over the wires and down the cable until it is out of the way.
Step 11: Soldering - Solder each of the 3 pairs of wires together. Make sure that the solder job is as clean as possible to prevent any extra resistance in the wire. This will help ensure the safety of using that cable.
Step 12: Shrink Small Tubing - Slide the small tubing pieces over the solder joints. Use the lighter to shrink the tubing to the smallest it will go. Make sure that the wires that are covered do not have any exposed wire that could result in a short.
Step 13: Shrink Medium Tubing - Slide the medium piece of tubing until it covers the exposed wires coming from the power supply cable. This should cover at the very least from the outer casing of that cable to the small shrink tubing we placed before. This medium tubing will be the first layer of insulation around the ground wire, since we did not put a separate piece of small tubing over that. Again, use the lighter to shrink the tubing as much as possible.
Step 14: Shrink Large Tubing - Slide the large piece of tubing so that it covers both the casing on our AC cable and the medium tubing we just placed. This should finish a full cover across all of the wires we've been working with. As before, make sure none of the wires are exposed and use the lighter to shrink the tubing.
Step 15: Prep DC Connection - We will now take care of the wires for the DC output of our power adapter. We will need to use our switch and a cable designed to plug into the LED strips. We will want to use a low-voltage SPST switch for this system. SPST stands for Single-Pole, Single-Throw. This is your basic on-off single switch.
Step 16: Strip LED Light Wires - Since we're going to wire our switch directly to this plug for our LED lights we're going to cut one end off of the 2 pin wires. Then we'll strip the casing off so that it is ready to be soldered.
Step 17: Prep Tubing - We're going to want to use another piece of small tubing to protect our circuit from shorting out. Cut a piece of the small tubing and slide it over the wire that will be soldered to the ground connection on the power adapter.
Step 18: Solder Ground Wire - We will wire the switch to the positive DC wire, so we need the ground to be soldered together. Solder the ground wires from the power adapter and the LED light strip plug. Make certain that the wire you solder on the LED light strip side is the side of the connection that will correctly connect to the negative connection on the LED strip.
Step 19: One Last Bit of Shrink Tubing - Slide the shrink tubing over the solder joint and once again use the lighter to shrink it into place.
Step 20: Solder Switch - Take the positive wire from the power supply and the positive wire that will go to our LED strips and solder them to the contacts on the back of the switch. Once that is done your switch should be fully functional.
Step 21: Attach LED Strip - Plug the connector that is now attached to our switch into the power plug on the LED light strip.
Step 22: Connect LED Strips - Using the short jumper wires, connect the LED strips together in a chain. In these pictures I only connected two strips, but later I decided I wanted 3 to cover the whole desk, so you'll see that in the later pictures.
Step 23: Test LEDs - Plug the AC cable into the wall outlet. Then turn your DC switch to ON and check if your lights are coming on. If they are not coming on, you've got something wired wrong, or you've got a bad part. Check to make sure you have the positive and negative polarities connected properly on your LED strips and power supply.
Step 24: Choosing The Location - I have chosen to use the accent lighting for a reception desk we have here at Sewell Direct. Our goal is to add a Sewell Logo to the front of the desk and to use the lights as a nice lighting for it.
Step 25: Mounting The Power Adapter - We're going to use our double-sided mounting tape to mount the power adapter under the desk to keep it off the ground.
Step 26: Placing Tape - Simply put two strips of this mounting tape down the underside of the adapter. If you're using a wider size tape you may only need one.
Step 26: Placing The Power Adapter - You need to then remove the protective strips from the tape and firmly press the adapter against the bottom of the desk.
Step 27: Mounting the Switch - Our reception desk has a cable channel through the front of it so I fed the switch out to the front so it would be easy to get to, but still hidden. Using more of that wonderful mounting tape you can mount that switch wherever you want.
Step 27: Mount LED Light Strips - Using more of that tape, mount your LED light strips wherever you are putting them. For me, it was on the bottom of the lip on this desk.
Conclusion: Our LED light strips added a very subtle, but elegant light to the desk. It offers a much more inviting feeling to someone needing to approach our reception desk when they enter our office building.
Wherever you decide to install your LED light strips, you'll see a great improvement in the atmosphere of the space. As you can see, these things are pretty easy to install and this is a great do-it-yourself project to improve your house or office.