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Funky Light Switch Jazz

Light is good. Dark is dangerous, in the workshop at least. As I have been working out on/in the ‘shop ’til quite late many evenings over the Winter, getting some proper lighting going on will be quite blissful. It is surprising how tiresome working in poor light conditions can be.

Being a rather large space, compared to your average room in a house, the workshop needed a number of lights and a lot of versatility. As we got a haul of nice light fittings to use, and some new LED bulbs to put in them, we need a ‘grid switch’ to control the lighting of the room. A ‘grid switch’ (also called a ‘switchbank’) is basically a ‘light switch board’ with a bunch of switches that centrally control the function of many lights. Ideally this gives a lot of flexibility to the way you light a room. ie. certain parts that you are working in can be very well lit while lights in unused corners can remain off. So yeah, with a grid switch we can play with certain combinations of slightly overlapping lights which results in many different light levels – we are going for controllability here. In my mind this system will be almost as controllable as having light dimmers, but does not require special bulbs or fittings, is much cheaper, simpler and more reliable.

Each additional switched light doubles the number of lighting levels/combinations in the room. A 3 gang switch would give you 7 levels of light to choose from. We have 14 switches so I work that out to be 2,304,00 possible lighting levels! Selecting them will be complexified a bit because we are experimenting with various different bulbs and fittings, some high frequency CFL’s and some LEDs with different colour temperatures and light intensities. Light is fun :-D

Having a centralised control box like this does mean using rather more copper cable than you would do on a normal ‘loop-in’ lighting system, but it is well worth it for the possible energy savings made from having light at the level you want it, where you want it, and not where you don’t.

Along with all the usual safety provisos, I should say before going any further, electricity is dangerous, don’t even consider doing anything like this yourself unless you are confident and experienced in dealing with mains voltage, or you are willing to ask for help from someone that is.

Each switch is rated at 15A for 240Vac, so more than sufficient, and the supply for lighting is going to be coming from 2 separate RCD protected 6A MCB’s, so a trip on one will have less chance of plunging the workshop into complete darkness which could be bad. In fact we also have two emergency light fittings that automatically come on when the power fails.

The grid switch frame is made from some reclaimed teak, with some little contrasting holly inserts  at the mitre joints to keep it strong (we cut and seasoned this ourselves). Here it is before planing flush and tidying up:

A fantastically figured piece of reclaimed oak forms the switch mounting panel. This was a draw-front salvaged from a chest of draws on a bonfire – you could barely tell it was oak, or indeed what it looked like at all because it was so heavily stained to match the rest of the ply construction. It was ripped in half on the bandsaw to about 15mm thick, drilled to accept the switches, tidied up with the plane and sander, then cut to final size – Now it’s visible, I really like its squiggly oak rays.

We will position the grid switch near the main big sliding door (check out the pics on our facebook page – give us a ‘like’ while you’re at it!), but because the workshop has two other entryways, we want to have a switch next to each of them too. These will be two-way switches, so you can control the light by the respective door with a switch near that door or on the main gridswitch. Anyway, lets take a look at one of these switches – as yet we only have one ;)  It started off like this:


One old scrap disk brake – it was quite rusty. So mainly this was an excuse to test out the mighty new metal lathe we have going on in the FE workshop, but the first step was to wizz the majority of the rust off with a flapdisk and angle grinder before we get started – otherwise I feared it would contaminate everything on the lathe with horrible rustyness.

Once chucked up and centred I took some cuts on the outside as a test/practice – all seems to work as it should. When I was happy with that side, it was flipped over and so we could have a go at the faces that will actually be visible. Here it is some time later.

We will have to do a full review of the lathe here at some point, but some initial observations: lathe works well. The automatic/screw feed gives much better results than trying to control the traverse by hand. Cutting fluid sprays everywhere (!) with larger diameter work pieces like this. The so called chuck guard that came as standard doesn’t do much to help, we definitely need to make some kind of adjustable polycarb/acrylic enclosure in the future to contain the mess. For the time being I used an off-cut of some fibreglass sheeting and curved it round the lathe bed (you can see it in the back of the photo).

I cut and squared up some bits I found in the scrap bucket to form a cross that would cover over the large hole in the middle of the disk brake and form the mount for the switch. This was welded into shape…

I had already cleaned up the reverse side with the grinder and after the welding it had some kinda cool looking heat discolouration. In retrospect it might have been nice to just leave this as the finished outward face, but I ground and welded that side too.

I then made a 12mm hole in the centre for the switch to bolt to, and a hole on either side for some brass  ‘stand off’ bolts. So getting an idea of what it might be like…

Now making a recess for it with the jigsaw. It will be conveniently close to the entrance/exit, but not stick out and risk damage by the long bits of wood I am imagining might be fed in and out of that door.

All that’s left is to drill and tap some holes in the sides of the disk for set screws which will secure the fitting to the wall…

And to put a backing plate on to make sure that no curious fingers can possibly go near the switch terminals. The whole mounting is earthed for extra safety.

Here it is: disk brake switch mount in its new home.

Looking at it, I could have taken some heavier cuts on the brake surface to remove all the little blemishes, but still… It has a nice solid feel to it, looks kinda cool and does the job :)

So  yeah, we are well on the way to having some light, which is great! Spring is finally arriving which means one of the next tasks will be to render the  straw bale walls, which has been put off till now because the lime render would not like the freezing weather. Am still wanting to benefit from the warmth of the wood burner, so there is that to do too…

Responses to Switching to upcycled

  1. Serene

    Switcharoo genius! I must say, a light switch is not the first thing I associate with a scrap disk brake… and just look where that sort of in-the-box thinking would get me – no awesome, original and highly practical light switch for me! Luckily the flowering elbow minds are well and truely outside the box to provide inspiration :-) Nice work! And I must also say (excuse the punns!) that despite thinking outside the box, you certainly made a very nice box from that wood – what a bonza bonfire rescue!

  2. Bongo

    Thanks Serene :-D
    One more switch to go, any ideas?

  3. Serene

    Hmmm, well metal and wood have been done… so maybe something with glass, plastic or even… stone? I was gifted a plastic fererro roche box today (to rescue it from the bin) that would make an amazing light switch! But it might tae a while to reach you by post! I don’t know, I’m sure you guys will come up with something awesome anyway!

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