DIY Spiderlight Strobe!

It's been a while since I wanted to buy myself a Westcott Spiderlite TD5. As you may know, its pretty darn expensive... about 365$ for the fixture itself without the bulbs. The bulbs will make it an additionnal 100$. That's roughly 465$.
So since I am pretty good at building things (i am a self-employed woodworker) I decided to build my own version of a Spiderlight:

The total cost, for all the materials AND the bulbs is about 120$. That's about 350$ savings! Not bad.

So here's how I did it:

I started with some pieces of half inch MDF I had lying around. I glued 3 layers together to get about 1-1/2" of total thickness. The dimensions are 6-1/2" x 6-1/2". I then I took my 1-1/2" Forstner bit and drilled 5 holes. One in the center and 4 at the corners.

I bought 5 of these rubber bulb sockets. They're fairly inexpensive, running at $2.50 each.

The 1-1/2" holes makes for a perfect, snug fit for these rubber sockets.

The next step is to add some aluminum foil to the bulb side. To get a more diffused effect I wrinkled the foil and then flattened it with an iron. I used spray adhesive to glue the foil to the MDF. I then removed any excess foil around the perimeter.

Here's what it looks like with all 5 sockets installed.

Viewed from the back.

A generous amount of construction adhesive to hold everything in place.

Now the fun part: electrical wiring! I bought this simple little wire switch to turn the whole thing on or off. Don't ask me what gauge the wire is, I just picked up the one that seemed the right choice. It has 3 wires inside. White, black, and green for grounding.

I bought a 4x4 metal box (normally used for laundry dryers) along with the cover plate. I also bought a 2 position "toggle switch" (seen here attached to the cover plate) that will allow me to turn off 2 of the 5 lights to get a little less illumination should the need presents itself. I drilled holes in the inside corners of the metal box to get the socket wires through. Then I screwed the box to the MDF. For liability issues I will not tell you how to wire this. Please note that I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITIES IF PROBLEMS/FIRES/INJURIES RESULT FROM THE USE OF THIS TUTORIAL.

Here you can see the cover plate attached and the toggle switch in place.

The finished product! Seen here with the wire, switch and wall plug.
The fluorescent bulbs are Phillips Marathon, 27Watt. The color temperature is 5000K, which is the closest to the full-spectrum sunlight I could find at the hardware store (I bought these in a Home Depot in canada). They came in pack of two for around 13$.
***** UPDATE May 1st 2008 *****
If you think that those 5 27W bulbs might not be powerful enough for you, you can replace the 27w's with 4 85W, 5000K General Brand bulbs (available at B&H). That would throw some SERIOUS light!

Taken with the exact same camera settings (except F3.2 instead of 2.7.. .go figure) as the previous shot. All 5 bulbs turned on. Yep, its bright.

Taken at 1/1600 sec. at F3.5.

Same settings, with two of the bulbs turned off using the toggle switch on the back.

Final Product.

Well I can say I am pretty happy with the results. The whole thing weights about two and a half pounds, making it light enought to put on any lightstand.

Come back later this week, as I will post another how-to article on building my 3'x4' softbox to go with the fixture. That one shouldn't cost more than 25$ if everything goes as planned.

The other thing i'll need to do is add some soft of attachment to fit on a lightstand swivel bracket. I might buy the one from Westcott. I will also buy my first lightstand later on.

Hope you liked the tutorial!

Next chapter: Building the Softbox !


tpanfil said...

Very nice and well done. May I suggest a dimmer switch instead of the toggle switch to turn off the 2 bulbs. A dimmer would allow you to vary the intensity of the light output.

Alex Campagna said...

You have to have special bulbs for dimmer switches. Unfortunately, the bulbs I bought are compatible with a dimmer....

Alex Campagna said...

typo... I mean the bulbs I bought ARE NOT compatible with a dimmer...

kws said...

Nice. You could easily make it more variable with a couple more switches on the back. With one wired to the center light, one to two corner lights and one to the other two corner lights you could turn on 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 lights.

Alex Campagna said...

Yes I am considering that too. But with those 27W, I think one bulb only would be useless. They just aren't enough powerful. If I have some more money i will buy 4 of these 85W 5000K General Brand bulbs at B&H... (since they are bigger only 4 would fit on the fixture... one at each corner). A couple more switches on the back and I could control 1, 2 ,3 or 4 lights....

Ed said...

Great job Alex. Thanks for sharing your hard work.

Sean "Madman" Sullivan said...

Great job..another summer project for me. :) BTW, I would have wired it slight different. Instead of having center and two on on side light up, I would have done it diag and had center and opposite corners light up to keep the light spread centered in the box.

Terry Smith Images said...

Great job! I'm going to make one or two of these myself now. I almost bought a couple of the "real" Spiderlights a few weeks ago, and now I'm glad I didn't!

By the way, you should very tightly wrap the the electrical connectors and wires with black electrician's tape. This is very important so that they don't fall off and zap the metal wiring box or YOU when you touch it!

Anonymous said...

Instead of adding more switches to control which lights are activated, why not just slightly unscrew a particular bulb if you do not want it to be lit? A very easy method that will allow you to have any combination of lights without the need to add bulk and complicate the wiring.

Alexandre Campagna said...

I agree, but if you have a diffuser panel in front, that means opening the panel, unscrewing the bulb and closing the diffuser panel.
Even if those are CFL's, they do get a little hot to touch bare-hand.
For the price of the toggle switch (about 6$) and a couple of minutes of wiring, I don't see why I wouldn't do it again this way...

Think about it, the time you would spend for wiring, you will save it later when you use the toggle switch....

Marksbrides said...

Just FYI - Whenever you use a dimmer switch you alter the color temperature of the light. That could get you in a real pickle if you are using multiple light sources. That's the reason wescott uses switches to turn off individual blubs.

Alexandre Campagna said...

It is not a dimmer switch, it is a toggle (on/off) switch. It turns off two of the 5 bulbs. Same principle as Westcott.


Nosh said...

Sounds like an excellent project! Thanks for sharing your ideas

Eugene Williams said...

I just built two of these myself. I added an extra switch so I could select between one, three, or five on at a time. Fantastic write up! Thank you for putting this up here, you inspired me. I'm not a pro wood-worker but it wasn't too bad to build. There is a bunch I want to change and maybe I'll make a Ver. 2 with the improvements to these. Click the URLs for some pics. Now it's off to build some boxes for them!


Eugene said...

Sorry about the messed up links! Sometimes I'm not great with that.

Pestbarn said...

That's an awesome project, I will surely try this one out. But while I'm at it, I'm thinking about attaching some switches with a wireless connection, so that one can turn of two of the bulbs with a remote control. That would be cool.

jalani said...

I am wondering since these are not strobes how would I set the apertures for these? if it's continuous light?

I am very new to lighting so please take it easy on me :)

rob said...

I just made this over the weekend and it's awesome. Thank you so much for the instructions. I'm not usually very handy with wood, so my only problem was deciding where the place the holes for the sockets. I also made a few modifications. I added the power switch to the junction box so all the control is in one place. I also ended up using an old extension cord for power. It was free and I could make it as long as i wanted.


Chris Verges said...

We just built four of these; great step-by-step plans! To help with the drilling of the socket holes, we created a template that I wanted to share. The outside dimensions are 6.5" x 6.5".


Anonymous said...

Here is my version of the spider light. I now have 4 - 200w bulbs in it, for a total of 800 watts.
The holes on the side are for rods from a softbox to attach.
Here it is set up.

Timothy Hughes said...

Cool project but... Why call it a "DIY Spiderlight Strobe!" when it's not a stobe at all it's a constant light?

Alexandre Campagna said...

Well, I just thought "strobe" sounded cool. Don't you think it sounds cool? :)

Josh said...

Very slick! How do we a attach it to a lightstand?

Alexandre Campagna said...

Josh, simply follow the "Next chapter:" links at the end of the articles for complete instructions...


Evren Demirkutlu said...

Can someone please tell me how can i connect wires:( Alex thats really great job...I want to start to it but i dont have an idea how can i connect wires...I can understand why you dont want to tell about them..actually i think you are right but i need help and i dont know what can i do..thanks for answers..

Anonymous said...

This is a great project!! I saw some 3-way (50/75/150 watts) CFLs daylight balanced bulbs at Lowes & wonder if anyone has considered these types of bulbs?

Anonymous said...

A couple of notes from an "electrically inclined guy". 5 of the 27 watt bulbs at 110 volts means a load of 135 watts. Residential wiring requires 14 gauge wiring for a 15 amp circuit. This is what most residential outlets are wired for (kitchens and garages are usually 20 amp). We are working with 110 volts here, so that means that we can safely handle 1100 watts from an electrical load perspective if all parts are rated for a 10 amp load. Make sure your switchs, sockets, and wiring are rated for a 10 amp load at 110 volts. Wiring should be 14 gauge (lower number gauge can support bigger load). When running wires through a metal electrical box, make sure to use grommets, so the wiring doesn't chafe and short out. Also ensure that the ground wire is screwed to the metal box in case of a short. Pick up a 3 wire cord with plug that includes a ground. They do make dimmers for flourescent bulbs, but they are expensive and may cause flickering.

Anonymous said...

there are lots of stronger bulb options, much more than that 85w one you posted.

i bought some high powered cfls in the past and some of them are really quite large

a quick search brought this up, 150w 5000k

Anonymous said...

I did a little more digging, and here's a 105w CFL 5k, 3.15", about the same price as b&h, i think if you go to higher watts they're too expensive and too wide.


Aamer said...

I started building this but had to abandon it in the middle.

I am selling the already built lightbox with wires and plug attached, along with the corrugated plastic.

All you need to do so is shape the plastic and put it on.

See my craigslist listing

Anonymous said...

My research shows that Coroplast is available in 2,3,4 and 6 mm thicknesses. Would using a thinner-dimension material better facilitate bending it to the proper form? The most common dimension appears to be about 1/4" thick, but it is also available in 1/8 and 3/16" thicknesses. An "uncut" (no added slits) piece of thinner Coroplast might bend easier plus retain sufficient strength at a lesser weight. What thickness of Coroplast did you use?

Alexandre Campagna said...

I used 1/8" thick black corrugaded coroplast...
I'm sure a thickness of 2mm would bend easily!

Bruce said...

Nice job. I wanted to post to let you know that you inspired me to build my own light project. You can see it here if you are interested. http://brucegarner.com/?p=25 Thanks again for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

I made my light, but when I turned it on the lights have diminished power. My wiring setup is just putting all of the lights in series. Would placing them in parallel help to distribute power more evenly?

Bruce said...

yes, they much be parallel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the inspiration. I've done a similar one with two warm white CFLs and three white CFLs.




Anonymous said...

Thanks for the inspiration. I think I will use a screw-in pull chain switch on each socket to vary the brightness.

Yucel said...

Hi Alex,

You still using this get up?

And, how you know how many watts your rig can handle?


Lauren Smith said...

With all due respect to this great write-up, I don't understand how you made this cost $120. The light sockets are about $2 at Home Depot, you already had the wood and I am assuming you already had the adhesives... throw in $10 for wire nuts and misc., $6 for the metal box, and $10 for an extension cord (that you probably had lying around anyway) and we're still under $40. What am I missing? Can you provide a cost breakdown?

I am planning on building something similar within a few days for some home-studio portrait work. I really appreciate the inspiration and am looking forward to building something functional and cheap.