Layout Lighting

Good lighting is a key to enjoying our hobby. We create scenes, add details, and expect crew members to read car numbers. Without decent lighting our efforts suffer. The El Paso layout room had a ceiling fan with five light fixtures as a central light source. This was augmented with a couple of clamp-type shop lamps on temporary poles for operating. The light was just above average. The new Tennessee hobby room has poor lighting in comparison. I’ve set out to improve the situation in this rental home. Click on any image here to review a larger size.

As this is a rental home, installing permanent fixtures is not possible. I have a number of clamp-type shop lamps and decided to try an old idea from years ago. Using dimensional wood, lighting poles were created with a cantilevered arm near the 8-foot ceiling to move the light source just beyond the layout edge.

Here’s the first implementation of the light standard. The pole is a 2×2 and the arm is a 1×2 with a quarter-inch plywood gusset. The pole is anchored to a layout leg using a couple of lumber scraps and screws.

The arm extends 30-inches from the pole with the clamp hanging near the end. A screw was added near the end of the arm as a safety. The lamp cord is wrapped around the arm to follow the pole to a light duty extension cord. This set up seemed to provide a large pool of light for the team yard.

We are never satisfied with a first result, right? The next light standard followed a similar construction. Another screw was added where the arm meets the pole to direct the lamp cord. Plastic cable ties were used to keep the cord along the arm piece, rather than wrapping it around. Another cable tie was added on the pole to keep the cord tight and out of the way. In this version, the lamp was clamped to the end of the arm and over the safety screw.

As each light pole was put into service, some freight models were positioned to set the light angle. The first few light standards were working well but the next one would be complicated by a 45 degree angled roof line over a portion of the layout.

There comes a time when we need to revisit our high school geometry class from years ago. Adding a couple of light poles required a bit more effort to fit the angled ceiling. I was lucky as the angle is very close to 45 degrees and a dormer accommodated one of the regular light fixtures.

I cut the 2×2 at a 45 degree angle and used a pair of gussets to secure the two pieces. The 1×2 arm had a 45 degree angle cut on one end and it was secured to the angled pole with a similar gusset. I was elated when this light pole fit perfectly into place. The yard needs two of these to provide adequate light.

LED lamps were used in these fixtures. Osram is the manufacturer and these are marketed under the Sylvania Ultra LED brand. They are rated at 5000 Kelvin with an 800 lumen output, which is a 60 watt equivalent, and a color rating index (CRI) of 83.

These aren’t a perfect lighting solution, but the Wheeling Freight Terminal is in a short term rental home and the improved lighting has already inspired me to get some things done. The next layout will have lighting issues tackled earlier for a permanent space.

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7 thoughts on “Layout Lighting”

  1. Another option I came across a couple of weeks ago are LED floor lamps that project upwards from the top of the lamp. This works best with a white ceiling but they provide a LOT of light. Much more than you would think from the size. And, of course, the lamps themselves are not hot to the touch. Not wildly expensive either. The model I saw was about $80 for one lamp (I know, way more than the fixtures you are using) but lit a (dark) office about 12 x 12 really well. Of course, floor space always being at a premium, this is not always the “right” solution.

    1. Those lights sound interesting, Joe. My floorspace is at a premium but these might be good for a future application. – Eric

  2. Looks like a good solution.

    i picked up 4′ long LED lights 4600K very light weight and can be daisy chained – work well for shelf layout lighting.

    1. Bill, I had nearly all of the shop lights and LED lamps on hand so the lumber was the expense. I do like how the LED strip and tube lighting is developing and this will get serious attention with the next layout project. Thanks! – Eric

  3. I found metal clips that allow you to attach track lighting rail directly to drop ceiling t-bar railing. With a live-end power feed the lighting can be plugged into a 110 outlet. Just make sure your ceiling is supported by heavy wire. The basic track lighting kits sold by Lowes allow you to adjust the angle for each light. LED bulbs are a must, especially if you’re putting the lights in the aisle space behind your head!

  4. Eric,

    Looks terrific! I am fortunate that our landlord lets us make holes in the walls and ceiling as needed, so the lighting solution I chose was to hang 4′ fluorescent shop lights from the ceiling. If it is alright, here’s the blog post where I described it a few weeks ago:

    Not the most attractive feature for a living room, but it works and makes a huge difference. As you point out, good lighting can be highly motivating.


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