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Shop Lighting Done Right!


BACFL 01 smallHi, my name is John DeArmond and I’m a flashahaulic. Or lightahaulic. Or something like that because I’m attracted like a moth to things that give off light, especially lots of light.

Recently I decided to solve a problem that has been getting worse with diabetes and age – the ability to resolve fine detail. The eye doc hasn’t been much help but light and lots of it has. Just like with a camera, if you stop down the iris, your depth-of-field deepens. It takes a lot of light to stop down the human eye which has evolved to handle bright daylight. So I decided to create bright daylight in my shop using BACFLs (big-assed Compact Fluorescent Lamps)

Here’s the result.

A marvelous thing happened. I can now see!!!

I need to mention BuyLighting. They’re my go-to source for oddball stuff such as these BACFLs. I recently placed an order for the lamps for this project. One came in damaged. A crack in the glass let the air in. Its filaments flared for a moment and then poof! No light.

I dropped customer service a note about the problem. The nice lady on the other end promptly sent me a replacement and didn’t ask for the old one back. THAT is customer service. Keeping the old lamp is going to let me do a future article dissecting one of these large lamps to show how it works.



Posted by neonjohn on January 27th, 2013 under Flashahaulism

9 Responses to “Shop Lighting Done Right!”

  1. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Wow!! That’s great. I am not alone. I have been suffering from old age eye syndrome lately. I work on airplanes as part of my aviation addiction. Good eyesight is essential. I have been fooling with various lighting schemes – t-8’s, t-5’s, cfl’s, led’s etc. My hangar came with 250 watt and 400 watt MH mid-bay lights. Over the past year I have re-wired & re-lamped my hangar. I used 42watt ‘daylight’ cfl’s for the cfl grid. Next I put up another, overlapping grid of HO T-5’s with reflectors. Now I can switch from MH to T-5’s to CFL’s for direct comparison. I know, a little bit of an over the top solution, but sometimes I obsess about true comparisons. On the other hand, when I need really bright light to examine something, I just flip on more switches. The airport consensus is that CFL’s seem to give the most bang for the buck. So far I have re-wired/re-lamped seven hangars with CFL’s at the owner’s request. When you figure that 10 CFL’s can replace one 400 watt MH, and can be positioned to eleminate shadows with no increase in power usage, it’s a steal. I can usually use 10-15 (20 max) lamps to handle a 60′ x 100′ hangar with walls painted white. Cheap bright light with low energy use – what could be better?

  2. neonjohn Says:

    Hey Tre,

    Envious of your aviation hobby :-) Never had the eyes for it.

    I’ve tried the different technologies in the same location but in serial fashion. Over my workbench, first were the 100 watt T12 standard output lamps. OK when I was young. Then came 3 400 watt mercury vapor street lights. OK but the color rendering was bad enough that when they became affordable, I modified the ballasts and went to metal-halide.

    I liked that a lot. The light spectrum made the edges of metal and layout marks on metal really pop. But that was 1200 watts of power which added up and heated the shop in the summer.

    Being a neon maker, I made some 14mm tubes with rare earth phosphors set up to operate off a high output electronic ballast. That worked well but not as good as the MH. I could have added more tubes and ballasts and been ahead, way ahead on the power budget but I decided to try these newfangled CFLs.

    A friend lived in an area where the utility subsidised the price of CFLs so I got a bunch of 100 watt equivalent lamps for $1 ea. I built a string using clamp on sockets just like in the above article but I put the sockets about 6″ apart.

    Bingo. Lots and lots of light with a very miserly amount of power consumption. They’d been in use about 3 years without any failures when my shop was stolen while I was away. Right down to the walls.

    I bought my first BACFL about 6 years ago. The organ tube one, 2nd from the right in the photo above. I made the floor lamp setup that I documented on my web page. That lamp has been running ever since with no signs of dimming or other problems.

    These large CFLs do produce some heat and they get pretty warm operated base-up. I’m going to log some temperatures as soon as I get a round tuit. It will be interesting to see how long they last. Eiko (the manufacturer) has been around for a long time so I expect these to do just fine.


  3. Tre LaDormin Says:

    The other cfl thing we tried at the airport was using cfls to replace the incandescent lighting for the runway lamps. Because of the issue of voltage drop over long runs we had used 240vac to feed the runway with 240vac bulbs for the first third (1000′) then 130 vac bulbs for the next third, and 100vac for the final third, all incandescent. Not a very good way to do things and at 40-25 watts per each the electric bill was a bit much (not to mention the cost of the bulbs). We then switched to 120vac to feed the circuit, used 13watt cfls that were price supported by Com Ed (box of 6 for $1.49) but later we ultimately used 4watt cfls at $2/ea (on sale). We have 30 lamps a side, spread over 3000′, end fed (not by choice, but that’s where the wires were buried) and the voltage at the far end dropped to about 55-59 vac. That’s just enough to light most of the lamps we use (Ecobulbs from Menards). At 3500’agl you can see the runway from 50+ miles away perfectly. Makes it easy to find your way home at night. Keep up the good work!

  4. Bruce Bowen Says:

    My age eye problem is presbyopia, i.e. my eye lenses are now fixed focus like a cheap camera and I currently use progressive eye glasses. The real problem comes when I’m doing some work in a tight area, such as under the dash of my car, where I don’t have the option of turning my head or changing it’s distance to the work. It’s a real irritation. I tend to like low power MH. I found a table lamp at Lowes that had a voluminous enough base that I was able to stuff in an electronic ballast. I replaced the lamp socket with a pulse rated one and stuck in a 50W MH bulb. I now have a 300 “Watt” desk lamp!

  5. Bruce Bowen Says:

    Re: Diabetes. Hey John, don’t know what type you have but did you see this article on curing type 1 diabetes?

  6. neonjohn Says:

    Hey Bruce.

    Interesting article but it won’t help me, as I’m a type II diabetic. About 20 years ago I let myself get real fat. That was the start of the problem. I knocked off 100 lbs but the insulin resistance doesn’t go away once started. Diabetes isn’t a big deal for me. My last A1C was 5.2 which is right in the middle of normal non-diabetic range. I have great control. Just the hassle of keeping the drugs on hand and remembering to take them. The shots are nothing. The little 31 gauge needles they have now causes no sensation. Just something else I have to do after meals and at bedtime. kinda like brushing your teeth.

    Good to hear from you again,

  7. neonjohn Says:

    Great minds think alike. I made the world’s brightest trouble light. I put a ballast in a small metal box with a 6 ft power cord. 30 ft of cord runs to the trouble light fixture. In it goes a 175 watt MH lamp. Given the long cord and its associated capacitance, I couldn’t use pulse start but probe start works just fine.

    I got some infrared reflecting film from Edmund Scientific and lined the front of the lamp cage with it. Now only light comes out and no heat. The heat goes into the housing which gets quite warm but that’s OK.

    I was considering stringing a row of 175 watt MH lamps in my shop when I remembered the CFLs. About the same light for a lot less power consumption. I’ve found that I have to dim them a bit when I work on the computer in the lab. Washes out the screen otherwise. These lamps are rated non-dimmable but they dim at least a little bit just fine using a Variac.


  8. Bruce Bowen Says:

    Speaking of dimming, have you guys tried the dimmable ballasts for MH? They suck. And the problem is generic. When you reduce power to the arc they DO dim, but some of the halides precipitate out of the arc and it basically becomes a dimmed mercury vapor lamp with its hideous CRI.

  9. lynn bell Says:

    whats up big john HaHa thats one big light you got their how would I get one of them from you (:

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