DIY Longarm Light Bar
It is difficult to get enough lighting on your longarm. One thing that you can buy is a light bar, like the Grace Luminess Light Bar or the Nolting Overhead Light Bar. The problem with these solutions is that they can easily cost $800 or more depending on how large your frame is.
I figured out how to build it for less than $200!
Light bars are a fairly simple thing, so I figured that I would take a shot at building one myself. The result is a light bar that is not as polished as the ones that you can purchase, but one that works well and costs a fraction of the price. I even connected it to our smart home products so that we can turn the lights on and off with our Amazon Echo Dot. I will go into more detail on this in a future post.
NOTE: If you decide to get fancy with the smart home stuff, that will increase your price by $30 to $80 or so.
I purchased pretty much all of the parts for this build from Home Depot and Lowe's. Here are the major components that you need:
1-5/8 in x 10 ft Superstrut ($68)- I used about 4 pieces to make a bar large enough for Simone's 12-foot frame. Get the gauge that you feel most comfortable with. Heavier gauge will have less flex. You'll want to draw this out ahead of time to get a rough idea of how much you need based on the width and height of the light bar. Mine is 12' 6" long and 6' 6" tall. I was limited on height by the ducting that runs down the center of our basement, which you can see in the photo at the top.
2 corner braces ($5.40)- Get the largest that fits inside the Superstrut, this link may not be the exact one I used.
1 flat brace ($2.50)- Again, get the largest that fits in the Superstrut. This might not be the exact one I used. This is also only needed if your bar is longer than 10 feet
Bolts, nuts, and washers - I dragged my Superstrut over to the bolt aisle and tried different sizes until I found the largest diameter ones that would fit. Then I got large washers to make sure that the bolts would hold in the large Superstrut openings.
2 Shop Lights ($80)- I have 4 of these in my wood shop and they are great. They link together, which simplifies the wiring, and have holes on the top which let me use zip ties to mount them to the Superstrut. I decided to use 2 of these for now and I might be able to squeeze in a third in the future if Simone decides that she needs more light.
Zip ties - No need to get fancier here. These make connecting the lights to the frame super easy, and you can take it apart if needed.
Extension cord - The power cord for the shop lights isn't long enough, so make sure to have an extension cord ready to go to plug them in.
Wemo Mini Smart Plug (Amazon Affiliate Link) - (Optional) This lets you turn the lights on and off with either a click of the button on the plug, control the lights from your phone, or use the Amazon Echo to turn it on and off. I zip tied this to the frame as well so that the power button is at a comfortable height.
Amazon Echo Dot (Amazon Affiliate Link) - (Optional) I use the Echo Dot to turn all of the lights in Simone's sewing studio on or off with a voice command. This is definitely not necessary for this project, but I enjoy playing with these toys.
As far as tools, I used a reciprocating saw and wrenches to tighten the bolts. You'll probably want to use some coarse grit sandpaper (80 or 120 grit) or a rasp to file down the edges of the cut Superstrut so that it isn't sharp.
The process for building this thing is super simple. I was able to do this in an hour or two once I had all of my supplies.
1. Determine the dimensions of your light bar.
My goal for this project was to avoid bolting anything onto the longarm frame. The last thing that I wanted to do was scratch it! So I measured how long the bar would need to be to allow the light bar to stand freely on the outsides of the frame without interfering with anything. I went with 12' 6" for the length.
As far as height goes, I was limited to 6' 6". We have some ducting that runs down the length of our basement, and the longarm sits below that. I might not have gone higher anyway, but I had a hard limitation. Going taller than 6' 6" might end up placing the lights too far above the machine, so if I doing this again without the restriction, I'd probably go with the same height.
2. Cut the pieces of Superstrut to the right sizes.
This part is easy. I used the vise on my workbench to clamp the Superstrut in place, marked the cut location with a sharpie, and then used my reciprocating saw to make the cut. You want a blade with more teeth per inch to cut metal. Probably something in the 14-24 TPI range. Take a look at this handy guide that Home Depot put together to help you find the right blade.
These cuts don't have to be super precise. The way this thing is built, you have some wiggle room if you are off a bit. Try to avoid making a cut through one of the holes in the Superstrut if you can. This will just give you more sharp edges.
Speaking of sharp edges, don't forget to clean those up! After you make the cut, use coarse grit (80 or 120 grit) sandpaper, or a metal file, to dull the edges so you don't get cut.
I left one full 10' piece, and cut an additional 2' 6" section for the top. The two side pieces are cut to 6' 6". The only other pieces are the leg bottom pieces. Those are 30", 22", and 18" and you need one of each for each side.
3. Assemble the frame
I assembled the whole thing while it was laying on its side. This part is very straight forward. The only thing to watch out for is making sure your washers are large enough that the bolts won't just fall right through the large openings in the Superstrut. Assemble the legs first.
Use the straight brace if you need to join 2 pieces together to make the frame long enough, like I did. I don't have a good photo of it because it is covered by a light, but this is what the joint looks like. Note that my straight brace was large enough to use 4 bolts to hold it together. I also made sure that the bolts didn't stick out far enough to interfere with the light.
Join the top bar to the legs using the corner braces. Again, make sure you use big washers on the outsides. I used smaller ones on the inside.
4. Attach the lights
Using zip ties to attach the lights makes it super easy to disassemble this whole thing. And since these lights don't require you to do the wiring yourself, this step is very simple.
While the light bar is still on its side, position the lights where you want. Make sure they are close enough together for the link cable to reach between the lights.
These lights are meant to hang from chains, but I removed them and used the holes for the chain to thread the zip ties through, then threaded that through the holes in the Superstrut. If the holes in the top of the lights aren't quite large enough to fit your zip ties, use a drill to make the holes slightly larger.
5. Plug it in!
You're basically done at this point!
Have someone help you set the whole thing upright. Move it into its position over the longarm.
The last thing to do is to plug the lights in. Run the power cord along the frame and down the side. The cord isn't long enough to reach the wall outlet, so an extension cord will be needed.
This is where I decided to use the Wemo Mini Smart Plug (Amazon Affiliate Link) so that I had an easy to reach power button. I didn't want Simone to have to reach up and pull the cords to power it on every time, so she can just press the button on the side of the light bar to turn on the lights.
And that is it! The frame is definitely sturdy enough to do its job. The top does have a bit of flex to it, which you can see in the photos, but it isn't a problem. And for the amount of money we saved by building this ourselves, Simone was perfectly fine with it looking like a DIY project.
If you have any questions about this build, please don't hesitate to leave a comment. I hope this helps you build your own custom lighting solution!
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links (each one is marked in the post), and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I recommend products because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them.