How to light the underside of your train table

There are few things worse than fumbling around in the dark under a train layout. So I mounted a ceiling-mount light socket underneath my train table to create a work light so that I could see when I’m working on my wiring. It’s another one of my 15-minute projects, one that pays dividends by making future 15-minute sessions more productive.

I did most of the work with stuff I had on hand. If you want to duplicate my project, you’ll be able to get everything you need at your nearest hardware or home improvement store, and the materials will cost less than $10. I provided Amazon links for everything, so you can see what these items are. Some people know what a wire nut is before they know how to read, and some people may be well into adulthood before they undertake any kind of electrical project. Yes, this is an electrical project. As long as you check and double-check all your connections and don’t plug it into an outlet until after it’s done, it’s safe. Respect electricity, and you’ll find there’s less reason to be afraid of it.

If you’re still uncomfortable with wiring, you can buy a clamp light and mount it under the layout instead.

Here are the two major pieces you’ll need:

1 box-mount ceiling socket

1-gang bracket-mount PVC box

I repurposed a computer power cable for a power cord, because I have more of those than I have computers. If you don’t have one of those handy, get a prewired lamp cord. You’ll also need a light bulb, but you already knew that.

I cut off the end that plugs into the computer, leaving the end that plugs into the wall alone. Then I stripped back about two inches of the outer black insulation from my cord, exposing the three wires inside. I clipped off the green ground wire, since I wouldn’t be using it. I stripped back about an inch from the inside white and black wires. If you buy a lamp cord, you can skip this step since the cord comes ready to wire.

Then I threaded the bare end of the cord through one of the openings in a standard blue plastic 1-gang electrical box. Then I matched those wires to the white and black wires on the socket. If your lamp cord isn’t color-coded, don’t worry about it, just wrap one wire from the cord to one wire on the socket, then the other. I twisted the two black wires together and twisted an orange wire nut over the pair to secure it. Then I twisted the two white wires together and secured them with a second orange wire nut. Then I wrapped a short length of electrical tape around each wire nut. This step isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s a good safety measure. It ensures the wire nut won’t loosen, and covers any excess bare wire if you stripped the insulation back a little bit too far.

The holes in the ceiling socket match up with the holes in the electrical box. I mounted the socket on the box with a pair of inch-long 6-32 machine screws. The ceiling socket may come with those. If yours didn’t, .75 inches should be sufficient.

The bracket mounts easily to a 2×4 stud, which just happens to be what I used to frame the outside of my train tables. I went under the layout, found someplace near the center where I could mount the light, and attached it to a 2×4 with a pair of wood screws. Then I screwed a bulb into the socket.

Now when I need light to work under the layout, I just plug the light in to my power bar.

 

One thought on “How to light the underside of your train table

  • April 13, 2014 at 4:06 pm
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    One thing that would bug ME is the light is coming from the bottom of the table,
    mount it on a leg ( better mount two on opposite legs. Now your have light on the bottom where you need it. —OR get ( or make in my case) a LED headband.
    I’ve got a couple 30 watt leds coming, to make a bicycle head lamp for once this pelvic ring strees fracture heals. 1 30 watt led should equal about a 100 watt light bulb or TWO auto headlights ( yeah dimming will be included ) And I’m working on how to charge the battery ( lamp’ll take 30 volts at 1 Amp, while riding… { mind from the old days ( Pre Commadore, Dave)
    I have on the bike a 28 volt 1/2amp light system. no idea however to replace it if I have to ( BTW I still type in chinese chuckese, just better at editing ;p )

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