Saturday, January 11, 2014

Building a light box.

It's tough out there for artists. We're quirky, weird, and flat broke about 90% of the time. The money that we do acquire is usually used immediately on paint brushes with bristles of unicorn hair or that new shade of blue mixed with the honey of Africanized bees.

I've been on the market for a light box for months. Guys. I absolutely could not ever justify dropping $150 on a 9 x 12 plastic box with a lamp inside it.
No. Fucking. Way.
So, I did what I do best. I put on my big girl panties and decided to build one.

First, shopping list:

-First, you're going to need a base. I chose a 1/4 inch 2' x 4' birch  panel for about $11. You could use Masonite or some other type of plywood if you like, but I wanted to use the excess cut pieces to paint on later, and birch has a very pretty grain.

-Next, you'll need lumber for the box frame. I used 1" x 6" white wood pine for $6. Pro tip: Nominal measurements and actual measurements in lumber...yeah, not the same thing. After milling, that 1" x 6" is going to measure 3/4" x 5-1/2" so cut accordingly.

-I bought some 11/16" x 11/16" outside corner moulding at $0.79 per linear foot to hold my plexiglass in place.

-Literally the most expensive item on my list was the acrylic sheet. I bought an 18" x 24" sheet at .220" thickness at just under $20

-Last but not least, you'll need a light source. I used an 18" cascading fluorescent under the counter light for around $11, but you can get nice, bright LED strips if you don't mind spending a bit extra. If you go for the fluorescent, be sure it has an electronic ballast or your light box will be a hot, buzzing, flickering mess.

Now for the fun part, putting that sucker together. My birch panel base was cut in store to 19" x 25" in store. I also had them go cut the pine boards...two of them at 19" and two at 23 1//2 ". First, I put the box together. This part is pretty simple. I just built my frame then nailed my base to the frame.  I already had some finishing nails at home and was able to do this bit with a pneumatic nail gun. Feel free to knock them in by hand if power tools intimidate you though. If it looks like a kitchen drawer, you're on the right track.
The 19" pieces will cap the 23 1/5" pieces

The corner moulding will act as a shelf for the acrylic sheet to rest on, once attached. The measurements don't have to be perfectly exact. I used a handsaw and cut two pieces at 16" and two at 22" then nailed them to the inside of my box. Be mindful of how thick your plastic is. You don't want the shelves so deep inside the box that it is uncomfortable to use.
Just enough space for the plexiglass to rest on top.

Now, you'll need to measure the INSIDE of the box to figure out what size your acrylic needs to be cut to. Guys, I don't know what I did to anger the gods of acrylic sheeting and building materials at this point, but this took me 3 tries. You can cut this stuff with a fine blade coping saw, but if you acrylic is as thick as mine, you're going to be sawing for an hour. I took my back to the store after sawing 30 minutes and only making a 6 inch dent. I ask an associate to cut my panel, and the machine immediately breaks. It straight up yanked the blade out, and as deemed unfixable at the moment. Determined, I drove 5 towns over to another store and finally had my plexiglass cut. Once you cut it, for god's sake, sand the edges a bit or you will get cut and bleed on me.

Under cabinet lights typically come with an adhesive strip or some way to attach them. I placed my light along the bottom piece of pine.You'll need to drill a hole in the frame large enough for your electrical plug to pass through. 

Once your light is secure, all you need to do is check the fit of your acrylic sheet, and it is ready for use.
That, little ones, is how you build a light box for around $50. Some tears were shed. A little blood was (literally) spilt, but I did it.
Finished Product!
I added a stainless steel handle, some glass clips, and some felt pads to mine, but those are all optional.
    Pretty neat, huh?

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