The Nerd-Cave Reconfiguration: Let There Be Light

Well with the backdrops done it was time to get these mother's lit up like Xmas! As you may recall I did quite a bit of research on shelving, and the likes, before starting this whole project. I'd seen some very creative lighting options, but had been the most impressed with AgentCastle's lighting. Since his overall setup most closely resembled what I had already had in mind it was only natural that his lighting had spoke to me the loudest; it practically screamed, "I INSPIRE YOU!" (LOL).

So with my inspiration set I had to figure out exactly how I was going to achieve this look. I know that IKEA sells a nice LED lighting kit for the Detolfs (which is what AgentCastle had used), but given IMG-20131009-00885how many of these cabinets I was going to be setting up at once, I needed to find a cheaper alternative. So I took my time researching different LED options, and finally settled on the DIY route. There are a plethora of sellers on eBay with those "rolls" of LED lights, but they were so intimidating when I first seen them that I hadn't really properly considered them; now I had to "learn" how to properly wire them so I could DI-it myself.

There are quite a few options available for LED's, but when I LEDssearched eBay there were several that are more popular than others. First off I knew I was going to need quite a few of these things, so I narrowed it down to the 16' (5 meter) rolls because they could be cut to a specific length, and still be wired together. This was great because I could custom cut them to fit my shelves, and be able to have them all wired to one switch.

The next thing I had to do was to decide on what kind of LED I wanted for my application. This may seem a bit overwhelming, but it was actually pretty simple once I took the time to do the research. There are typically two types of "bulbs" available on these rolls; 5050, and 3528. This may seem a bit confusing, but the crux of it is this; the 5050's burn brighter but will not necessarily put off IMG_00000103more light than the 3528's. While the individual diodes on the 5050's are brighter, the amount of light produced heavily depends on the number of LED's per meter/foot. The 5 meter rolls typically come with a total of 150, 300, or 600 LED's per roll. Having not done anything like this before, I took an educated guess, and settled on Cool White 5 meter rolls of the 3528's, with 600 LED's per roll (I opted for the non-waterproof rolls since I didn't plan on submerging my cabinets under water... and they were cheaper). While the 5050's burn brighter, I figured that opting for more LED's per roll would make up for the difference, and provide for more even light distribution because they were closer together; it worked out well.

Now I had to find a way to get power to these little buggers. This too seemed a bit daunting, but after I took a bit of time to read up LED Power Supplyon it, it turned out to be really simple. The LED's run on a 12v power supply, but you need to pay attention to the required amperage; if you don't have enough amperage the LED's may not illuminate to their full potential. Essentially what it broke down to was that each roll requires at least a 2amp power supply; e.g. if you run two rolls of LED's off of one power supply you would need at least 4 amps to power them, 6 amps for three rolls, 8 amps for four, and so on. I wanted to power each cabinet separately so I settled on six 2 amp power supplies.

I also wanted to add a bit of "bling" to my setup so I decided to add these wireless remotes to the setup. The remotes would allow me to turn the lights on and off, as well as adjust the brightness. This turned out to be a better idea on "paper" than in practice (more Dimmerdue to me not fully understanding how they worked, than anything to do with the actual product). My thinking was that I could order six of them, hook one up to each cabinet, and be able to control all of them with one remote. The problem was that each of the remotes worked on a different frequency, so what I ended up with were six remotes to control six cabinets. Also some of the remotes worked on similar frequencies, so they would randomly interfere with each other; I'd try to turn one cabinet off, and another one would turn on, and I'd end up juggleing them back and forth until I was able to turn them all off. This would be an awesome feature if a person only had one cabinet, or I could figure out how to adjust the frequency, but for now it's just a pain in the bum.

With all the technical stuff out-of-the-way, lets take a look at the installation process. This was something that also seemed to be a bit complicated at first, but once I "got my feet wet" turned out to be really simple.

The LED strips are made to but cut every three diodes. On the 600 count rolls this worked out to be every inch, but this will vary depending IMG_00000178on how many lights per roll you have. I had decided to place them up one side, across the front, and down the other side (making a rudimentary "U" shape under each shelf). I measured the length, and width, of each shelf to figure out how long to cut each strip. It turned out that I needed two 10" strips for the sides, and two 13" strips for the fronts (I opted for a small break in the front to accommodate for the wire framing, and small gap between the shelves).

With everything measured, and cut, I started the process of soldering all the leads together. Every "cut line" has a set of copper "pads" IMG_00000170on each side so that they can be wired together after cutting. They also make small solder-less connectors for this, but since I was going the DIY route I decided I would go all the way, and do the soldering myself. My soldering skills aren't the best, but I was able to muddle my way through it. Once I got over the initial intimidation factor the actual process turned IMG_00000471out to be rather easy; I simply used small pieces of wire (less than an inch) to connect the positive(+) to positive(+), and negative(-) to negative(-), on the provided copper pads. With all four strips wired together I had to attach a longer lead to one end of the assembly (careful to use the same end on the lights for each shelf) to allow me to provide power to each shelf. I attached two wires to the the positive(+) lead, and did the same with the negative(-). To do this I took about 6-7 inches of wire each, stripped a bit of wire off of the ends, twisted the ends together, and soldered them to their respective terminals/pads. Having two postives(+), and two negatives(-) would be required to wire everything together once all the lights were in place.

liquidtapeOnce I had all the strips wired together for each shelf I took the added precaution of covering each of them with a bit of liquid electrical tape to make sure everything was properly insulated (and for peace of mind).

After waiting for the liquid tape to dry it was time to actually "hang" the lights. I left the shelves in place, removed the paper from the adhesive tape from the back, and proceeded to place the LED strips on the top side of the shelves roughly an inch from the edge of the glass. Placing the lights on the top-side of the glass may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it allowed "look through" the IMG_00000205glass, and judge where the wire framing of the Detolf may interfere with any light placement. Once all the lights were in place I removed the shelves, flipped them over, and placed them back in the cabinet with the lights now on the underside of the shelves: rinse and repeat until all the shelves are done. The only set that differed from this process were the lights that went on the underside of the wooden tops. Since these were already attached, and wouldn't come off without disassembling the cabinet, I had to attach them with the tops in place.

Now that all the lights were in place it was time to wire them together, and get some power to these puppies! I mounted the remote IMG_00000204receiver to the back of my cabinet with a couple of screws I had left over from my Detolf mod. Placement isn't really that important, but I chose to put mine on the backside of one of the Expedits, in the corner as close to the rest of the wiring as possible. With that in place I drilled a small hole in the back corner of the cabinet near the base of the wire IMG_00000199framing (on the same side as all the wire leads), and fed enough wire through to reach from the received to the first set of wire leads. I took one of the positive(+) leads and soldered it to the positive(+) wire coming in from the receiver, and did the same with one of the negative(-) leads. (You could also use small butt-connectors for this if you wanted to, but I was worried about them coming loose.) I then took the leftover positive(+), and negative(-) leads from the first shelf, and connected IMG_00000176them to the leads on the above shelf (always positive(+) to positive(+), and negative(-) to negative(-)). Doing the rest of the shelves was just a simple matter of repeating this process until all the positives(+) were connected together, and all the negatives(-) were connected to each other. With all the soldering done it was time to break out the liquid tape again (man this stuff smells bad) to cover the exposed wire, and solder points.

adp2While the liquid tape was drying I focused my attention on the backside of the the cabinets. I stripped a bit of insulation from the pos(+)/neg(-) wires, and placed them in their respective ports on the remote receiver. I then measured how much wire was going to be needed to reach from my cabinet to the end of my 12v power supply, cut the 600170012010required length, connected it to the receiver, attached the included adaptor to the other end, and plugged it into the power cord. The time of truth was at hand, I plugged the 12v power supply into the wall, hit the power button on the remote... AND THERE WAS LIGHT! (Mrs. Th0r didn't appreciate me screaming this in the middle of the night either, LOL.)

Now it was time to hide all that hideous wiring inside the cabinet. IMG_00000201For this I used a strip of cord channeling made by Mono-Systems; available in 5' spans from Lowe's for only $5.00. I measured the distance between each of the shelves, but the tubing to length, and spray panted it gray to match the color of the wire framing of the Detolf. Once the paint was dry, I carefully tucked the wiring inside the conduit, and then slid it around the wire framing of the cabinet; this only left a bit of wire exposed at the top, and bottom, of each shelf reaching from the back corner to the actual LED's.

Boom! There it was, my Detolf build was complete! The next thing on Nerd-Cave Reconfiguration would be to spruce up the rest of the room, sit back, and nerd-out.

That's my guide to Detolf lighting. I hope it was helpful, and if you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments section; I'll do my best to answer them for you. In the mean time, here are some more pictures, in various stages of completion, to give you a better idea of what the finished product looks like.

IMG_00000037 IMG_00000090 IMG_00000118
IMG_00000140 IMG_00000193 IMG_00000216
IMG_00000218 IMG_00000212 IMG_00000357

9 thoughts on “The Nerd-Cave Reconfiguration: Let There Be Light”

  1. Hey there
    Just read your tutorials for LEDs in detolfs .. Good job
    A quick questions I’m thinking of doing a same setup of u shaped LEDs per shelf , I have 3 detolfs how much reels did u purchase ? would a single 5 LEDs reel be enough ?

  2. That’s a really good question, and I can’t believe I forgot to include that in my tutorial. For the duel-door modded Detolfs it took one whole roll per cabinet (I think I had like 2-3 inches left over on each). I don’t have any un-modded Detolfs, but if I did the math right you should need 2.25 rolls to do 3 Detolfs (3 rolls with about 12 extra feet left over).

    The leftover would give you enough length to do all four sides of each shelf (front, both sides, and the back), to make a full circle; something I wish I would have done in retrospect.

    Hope this helps

  3. Hey Th0r4z1n3, I saw your posts a while back on TFW and really digged your setup. I modded two last year and just finished another two last week. I made a few tweeks here and there but overall they’re awesome! Thanks again man.

  4. Hi! I’ve got a question about the actual detolfs. It looks like you have two sets of two of them pushed together. Did you construct them without the center glass piece, so larger items could be displayed straddling both detolfs? Have you had any problems over time with the display? I just purchased some detolfs, but the person at ikea told me not to construct them this way. Considering my options. Thanks!

  5. Very nice tutorial indeed. I was hesitant to use bulk lights, but this article was so informative that I think I will give it a try. Question… why on the bottom of the shelfs, and not the top? Or indeed top and bottom?

    1. I just did the bottom of each shelf so that the light was shining down on the figures. I didn’t want to do the top of the shelf and have the lights get in the way of where I could stand the figures.


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