Chris Schwarz's Blog

An Even Better Bench Light

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This summer I swallowed hard and praised an inexpensive IKEA light that I used while teaching at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.

When I returned home, I was going to buy one. But then I found that one of my kids had purchased one and had it in her room. So I pinched it. After a few months of using it daily for bench chores, I can report that it is indeed surprisingly durable and cheap. But it does have one weak point: the power cord.

It’s flimsy. But that’s not my major gripe – I have yet to destroy the cord. My major complaint is that the cord exists. No matter what I do, I trip over it, snag tools on it or hook it and throw the lamp to the floor.

This fall, Lee Valley Tools sent me a bench light that the company was introducing in its fall catalog. It’s so superior to the IKEA light that I returned that one to my daughter’s room.

The magnetic-mount bench light is superior to the IKEA light in several ways. First, it has no power cord. It is fueled by three AA batteries. You might find that annoying. I found it liberating. Finally, no power cords snaking across the floor or the benchtop.

The other nice thing about the light is the way the light mounts magnetically. The foot of the work light has a magnet (in a metal cup) that allows you to stick it to a machine or any other ferrous surface. The light also comes with a second side-mount magnetic holder that holds the light by its barrel.

I put the side-mount clip on my band saw. Then I made a metal-topped fixture that would drop into my dog holes in my workbench. Lee Valley offers an inexpensive kit to do this, by my dog holes are 1” – not 3/4”. So I made my own mounting plate from scrap wood and a steel mending plate.

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The result is a cordless light (you get about 5 hours on a set of batteries) that can be moved anywhere on the bench. And it throws so much light that I actually have to back the light off a bit at times. That’s a nice problem to have.

The light is well made – better than the IKEA light. And it is more expensive. But the lack of cord makes it worth it for me – I was able to work at the bench during two evenings of power outages here thanks to the light.

The light is $34.50 from Lee Valley Tools. You can read more about the light by clicking here.

— Christopher Schwarz

17 thoughts on “An Even Better Bench Light

  1. pjpryor02

    I was searhing for light at the bench and read this post of yours Chris and wanted to pass along the light my wife and kids gave me as a gift this Christmas. It is the Kobalt hyper coil cordless work light and like the one you mention in your blog it is cordless, has a magnetic base, a beam focusing bezel, and best of all it has a built lithium ion rechargable battery pack that you just plug into the wall and go. The only downside is the 5-8 charge time but they also took this into consideration with an included handheld base that uses 3-AA batteries as well. I absoulutely love it and the L.E.D. light source is super bright and best of all it was a gift to me. You can however pick one up at Lowe’s or Lowes.com for around $18. Looking forward to really putting this to good use!

    Jim P.

  2. rbill

    I received this light the Friday. I was a bit dismayed that the instructions state that some rechargeable batteries may not fit. Uh oh! Sure enough my Eneloop XXX (black ones) NiMH didn’t fit. Without rechargeable batteries, I would quickly pay for another light–over and over. The base tube is too small by less than the thickness of a heavy shaving.

    Sooo–I voided my warranty. I disassembled the switch. Got out my Dremel tool, a 60 grit sanding drum. An hour later I had a fit. Finished up with some 220 wet/dry. I didn’t measure how much I removed but it couldn’t be more than 1 or 2 thousandths. In fact, while using the Dremel, the aluminum tube became very warm. During test fits the batteries wouldn’t go in very far. If I waited a minute for the tube to cool (and contract a tiny bit), the batteries would go in much further. The small amount I remove did not noticeable weaken the tube wall.

    If the fine folks at Lee Valley made a minor change in machining, more rechargeable batteries could be used. :-) Otherwise, it is a really nice light. Definitely beats dodging a line cord!

    BTW, anyone wanting to try this, take out switch by removing the top retaining ring. Then pop out the rubbery switch cover. I found I didn’t need to take out the bottom retaining. There are also two rubber rings at end of the tubing the threads. Those help the lamp and battery covers from unscrewing too easily. Didn’t notice them until I was cleaning up the tube afterwards and knocked them off. Take off during disassembly.

    Reassemble everything in reverse *except* the rubbery switch cover. That has to be poked in place from the outside. Otherwise, you can’t slide the entire switch assembly back in.

  3. bdormer

    Lowes now has a light similar to the IKEA light – called the HyperCoil light. No cord to trip over – It can use 3 AA batteries – OR the included Lithium Ion rechargeable (the charger is built right in to the battery ). No word on HOW LONG it will burn at high or low power (its got high, low, lantern and blink modes). I haven’t had mine long enough to test the runtime. This sucker is BRIGHT and has a lens that makes the light perfectly even across the beam – which is very, very cool – it may even be a Cree light (or an Asian knockoff) . The beam diameter is adjustable from spot to wide angle. Right now they are less than 20 bucks. Downside? It has magnets all over the place – but oddly, they didn’t put a magnet on the BOTTOM of the battery so you can stand it up on the bench. Solution? Buy some 1 inch rare-earth magnets (from Amazon, where else?) epoxy onto the bottom of the battery compartment and Bob’s your uncle. Full disclosure – I have NO vested interest in Lowes, bought mine a full retail.

  4. docwks

    I started with the Ikea lights and still use them some but, now I make my own. They do have cords. That way I can use 10 and 20 watts LEDs(equal to 150 watt bulb). I put magnets and heat sinks on them and use them to shine light into hollow forms while on the lathe and for my carving. The cords are a pain, but I found if you pay attention while walking and don’t chew gum, accidents are kept to a minimum.

  5. hfrueh

    A few years ago I purchased 2 similar lights, I think by Wood River. I have used them only on my drill press, maybe a total of 10 hours a year. They have both died. I am somewhat knowledgeable about electrical and mechanics and have not been able to repair them.
    When I also received a notice from Lee Valley, I jumped on the offer. I am not disappointed, although I haven’t tripped over a power cord I totally dislike to have to use up a power outlet.
    I like the idea of using rechargeable batteries.

  6. oakripper

    I was going purchase one from IKEA but the closes store to me is 183 miles away, so i was going to order one on line but they want $15.00 for shipping. I might as well by this one.

  7. adrian

    I made something like this myself out of locline and a nice LED light that has multiple output levels. The Lee Valley light is cheaper than what I did, but it only has an 18″ long gooseneck. I like to attach mine to the ceiling, where I mounted a long metal strip, so I don’t have to worry about hitting it with a tool or having it in the way, an the 18″ length is too short for that.

  8. dyanan

    Not to steal LV’s thunder, but i got a grill light from Lowe’s for $20, same principle. Base is bigger, but it can clamp on to surfaces that aren’t magnetic as well. Takes 3 AAA batteries, and honestly, i got a lot more than 5 hours out of it. I use it on my lathe, my band saw, and I screwed a strip of galvanized sheet steel to the back of my workbench so I can use it there as well.

  9. Mark Singleton

    YES!! This is what I have been looking for. Just acquired a mid sixties Powermatic Drill press and need a light. AND, I also have been tripping over the darn power cord to my bench lamp. One lamp will fix both problems. Or maybe I should get two. No that would be greedy.. Santa???

  10. Rob Porcaro

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve also been searching for a long time for an ideal portable light, and I think this is it. I got one as soon as I saw it on the Lee Valley site.

    The angle of incidence is critical for effective lighting, so the flexible neck that stays put is invaluable. I like this light for cutting joints by hand and at the bandsaw. It is also handy to position to create a raking light to evaluate the surface of wood or a finish.

    Rob

  11. Mitch Wilson

    While it was on its introductory sale price (common w/ LV) plus free shipping, I purchased two of these lights. The second a few days after the first, so I had had time to evaluate the first one in my workshop. They are great and the price cannot be beat. My electrician, who actually happens to be an electrical engineer fed up with the corporate and academic lives, was equally impressed. Enough so that he gave up trying to fabricate an LED light (w/power cord) for me. (He’s got a bunch of patents from his days doing R&D.) He confirmed to me that Cree, the manufacture of the LED light bulb that is used, is a very high quality name. And he suggested lithium batteries.

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