Buying or building a good light table for stained glass
May 2, 2019 10:20 PM   Subscribe

I could use a light table, aka light box, aka flat rectangle with light coming out the top, for use in stained glass work I'm doing lately. I'd like to buy one or build one. I'm finding Amazon listings worse than usual for sussing out alternatives and quality, and not having much luck with general googling either. Point me to good reviews and/or good DIY instructions?

What I'd like is a reasonably large light table, at least 18 inches on a side or so, that I can use for color testing and layout when working on a stained glass project and ideally for photography on finished pieces as well. Neutral to slightly warm light, evenly distributed, and reasonably bright.

There's lots of cheap, small LED light tables available in the $25 range. I may or may not buy one of those as a backup and don't care about that angle beyond that.

Larger tables along the lines of what I'm after seem to range from $150-300, and I have no clear sense of which are worth the money or worth the higher end of that. A reliable set or reviews or comparisons, or practical expert craftperson opinions, would be really helpful here.

I'm also totally willing to build one myself, and realize that may be the cheaper option for a larger table; if there's good guidance anywhere for constructing a good quality light table with consistent, even, temperature-balanced light diffusion (vs. a sheet of something glass-ish with a string of LED christmas lights under it, shrug emoji shrug emoji shrug emoji), that'd be very helpful as well.
posted by cortex to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have never done stained glass so I can't speak to that use case; I do watercolors/comics/ink. The one light pad I have experience of is a Huion LED light pad, A2 size [Amazon], which runs around $130. It's quite bright and the light is extremely even; I can't discern any unevenness in it at all. It's perfect for my use case (11"x17" is pretty much the largest I ever need to deal with). But maybe A2 is too small for you; it's 16.5" x 23.4", so too short in one dimension, and I'm not aware of an A1 or otherwise larger Huion option.
posted by yhlee at 10:41 PM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

IKEA sells under cabinet LED lighting in a full panel design that might be a reasonable way to do this. For example, this 18x15 panel. They also have cheaper LED strips you could build off of.
posted by putzface_dickman at 2:24 AM on May 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Check school supply websites. Preschools often use tabletop light boxes.
posted by Biblio at 6:04 AM on May 3, 2019

Discarded 32" flat panel TVs and computer monitors are a thing. You could mount one in a simple horizontal wooden frame and get a light table you could cause to shine in any colour you liked.
posted by flabdablet at 6:27 AM on May 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

For my own stained-glass projects, I went out and bought a glass table top with a white coating underneath from Ikea for about $80. The top is about 42" x 60" which is amazing when you're trying to lay out all your glass at once. The top is about 1/4" thick and is plenty sturdy, but also very heavy. You may want to spring for a large sheet of plexiglass instead.

For the box, I used a 4x8 sheet of 3/4" birch plywood which was enough to make a box under the glass that's about 4" deep. Inside, I painted it white to reflect any stray light.

For lights, I used 5050 LEDs attached to tape in daylight and warm white colors. The tape is about 16 feet long, so you get about 3 4'8" strips out of a roll, so I used two rolls of each color. I attached the strips of lights, alternating the colors, directly to the bottom of the box after the paint was thoroughly dry. The sticking wasn't perfect, so I ended up stapling the tape down to the bottom of the box. The LED tape has regular solder points on it, or you can buy connectors with wires sticking out of them to attach to the end of the LED tape strips. Key thing when wiring: have a central wire pair in a junction box that distributes to each tape strip. DON'T wire the tape in series. There's too much resistance in the tape such that the end of the series will be very dim. Wiring in parallel makes everything evenly bright.

To switch everything on, I used a on/off/on rocker switch which lets me switch on either the daylight lights or the warm white lights. This is really helpful if you're doing both windows and lampshades, since glass looks radically different depending on the light source.

To power everything, I'm using a 150w laptop-style power adapter with a barrel connector paired with an appropriate barrel socket attached to the box's frame. It looks like the power adapter I bought from Amazon isn't available anymore. Do be careful when buying a power adapter. I didn't take that into account the first time around, and the table would light up for a few minutes before the first adapter I bought would overheat and shut down. Make sure whatever you buy can handle the full draw of two rolls of LEDs.

Overall, the table works great, but I'm intrigued by this setup found at which lets you simulate a lamp bulb as it would be positioned behind the glass in a lamp. I'll probably get the clear version of the same glass table top and install some movable LED light bulbs underneath.
posted by circleofconfusion at 7:39 AM on May 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Figure out your space and see if a useful used rectangular table will fit in there with maybe a rack underneath for holding glass on it's side. The light table can also function as other useful space. Go big on the size of the light top, say 24" x 36". Draw the rectangle you intend to cut out. Drill holes just inside the four corners. Use a skillsaw or jigsaw to cut out the rectangle. Fix the corners. Get titebond blue glue, waterproof. Buy some molding you can glue and either nail or screw around the edge of your opening. At the top of the opening leave the exact thickness of the opaque, at least 1/4 inch glass you want to be the light surface. If you are worried about the strength of the glass, put a middle cross piece for support. You can put about any daylight fixture under this, taking up little space to leave storage space under it. Make it a very comfortable height for youself and pattern of use. The standard size of the opening makes it easy to get a common cut of glass or plexi. It is nice if the gla$ is exactly flush with the top. There are old used kitchen prep tables or even art tables that fit this bill. The under shelving for glass is nice. Then the matching and so forth is in the same space.
posted by Oyéah at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2019

Alec Longstreth draws comics, but this locked Patreon post talks about the drawing desk he built that includes a center for a light to shine through for lining up panels. (Unlockable for $1)
posted by jillithd at 8:30 AM on May 3, 2019

I have that Huion referenced above, and I love it, but I use it for art with paper. I like how portable it is, and the light is really consistent. I think building one of the others referenced would be more useful for stained glass though, and put it on locking casters if you need to make it portable. (I’ve also used a pinball machine! But there are better options.)
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 8:48 AM on May 3, 2019

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