I built a DIY LED light with my kids years ago. I even wrote down the steps that were required and they were able to present these projects to their teachers for a class project that gained them extra credit. The project my kids and I did was soldered, but while soldering does make for a much better and longer lasting electrical connection, it isn’t required.
What You’re Going to Need for This DIY LED Light Project
You can build a pretty bright LED light at home for about twenty bucks, give or take. Exactly how much you spend will depend on how fancy you want to get. I get all my parts for these kits at my local electronic supply store-Radio Shack. Here’s a basic list of parts to get you started:
Exactly what type of each of the components will depend on how you want your DIY LED light to function. The project instructions I put together for my kids’ school used either a push button switch or a tilt switch. For the battery holder, you want to supply the LEDs with three volts, so to keep it simple you will either want a single button-style battery holder, or one that holds two AA or AAA batteries. You will also need electrical tape, wire cutters, and a hair dryer, plus a little silicon sealant or hot glue for insulation.
If you’re comfortable doing so, you can solder all your connections to be sure they are more solid. If you decide to solder your connections, make sure you do so in an area that is well-ventilated.
A Word about LED Lamps
LEDs are sensitive to two things: polarity and voltage. Polarity is most easily defined as the side of the battery that is connected-positive or negative. Hook it up backward and it won’t work. Voltage is also important because if you use too much, you can burn out the LED.
Making an LED Desk Lamp Using a Mason Jar and a Tilt Switch
For this project, on top of the parts listed above, you’ll need a mason jar and lid. I use a CR2032 button battery for these because they are smaller and less easily seen. Cut three (3) two to three inch lengths of wire and strip both sides and twist the wires tight. Next, wrap the one end of each wire around the connector post on the battery holder, leaving a small tail of wire extending off the bottom of the post. Use the silicon or hot glue to secure the wire to the holder. Next, cut a small piece of heat shrink tubing for each connector, slide it over the connection, and apply a little heat from the hair dryer.
Slide a piece of heat shrink tubing over another piece of wire. Connect the wire coming off the positive (+) side of the battery holder to one leg or side of the switch. This can usually be accomplished by threading the end of the wire through the hole on the connector on the switch and twist the wire tight around the connector. Cover it with the heat shrink. Repeat the process with another piece of wire on the other side of the switch.
Cut a longer piece of heat shrink and slide it over the wire coming from the negative (-) side of the battery holder. Connect this wire to the battery holder that same way you did on the positive side.
Now it’s time to connect the actual LED. Carefully bend the leads on the LED at a 90 degree angle. The shorter lead is the positive side, while the longer lead is the negative. Cut two pieces of heat shrink and slide them over the loose wire ends coming from the switch and battery negative. Leaving about one inch of lead, connect the wire coming from the battery negative to the longer lead. Twist them together tightly and cover with heat shrink. Repeat the process on the positive side. Insert the battery and test your work.
Assemble Your DIY LED Light in the Jar
Place a good-sized “glop” of either silicone or hot glue on the underside of the Mason jar lid. Lightly place the battery holder into the middle of this “glop” and let it dry. For push button or rocker switches, drill a small hole in the lid and secure the switch to the lid using the nut that came with the switch. For something like a tilt switch, glue it to the side of the jar in the proper orientation to keep it turned off when the jar is set right-side-up.
Some Added Features and Flares
With a CR2032 button battery, you’ll get about a month’s worth of light from this setup. If you go with AA or AAA batteries, you can go with rechargeable batteries and save a little money in the long run.
Make an Under Cabinet DIY LED Light
If you need lighting under your cabinets (or inside them) you can modify this project a little to make your own unobtrusive under cabinet lights. Instead of using a Mason jar, glue a couple pieces of mirror about 12 inches by three inches together at a 45 degree angle. Mark a 16 inch piece of solid insulated wire two inches from either end and bend the ends at a 90 degree angle. One inch from the end of both short ends, make another 90 degree inward bend. Hot glue the short ends to the groove created in the joint of the mirror pieces. Next, hot glue the LED to the middle of the wire and glue the assembly into the corner between the wall and the underside of the counter. You will need to use longer pieces of wire to make this work and a push button switch works easiest. Everything else is the same.
Photo Credit: Lights and Decor for All Occasions