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NKR – Chapter 4

March 24, 2013
by

Light: our New Kodak Room had just one:

one lonely light bulb

one lonely light bulb

During demolition I removed all of the other light parts and pieces and temporarily rigged a porcelain socket to the one remaining junction box operated by the wall switch. Everything else I capped off and disconnected.

In one of the first posts about the New Kodak Room, I wrote that I planned to reuse the old light fixtures. As luck would have it, a contractor friend sent me a picture of some high-end commercial fixtures that were the wrong order and couldn’t be returned, and I offered to try to use them. She also offered me some old 2×4 lay-in ceiling fixtures they were about to toss. “Sure – bring ’em all over…”

Turns out I couldn’t really use the high-end stuff – not enough light output and not enough fixtures. (Saved for another project!) But the true treasure trove turned out to be the pile of old office light fixtures:

pile-o-lights

pile-o-lights

These are the kind of light fixtures you see everywhere; well, you probably DON’T “see” them everywhere because they’re so ubiquitous you don’t even pay attention to them. My challenge will be to figure out how to “hang” them from the ceiling – they are designed to rest in a suspended ceiling grid.  But I was confident I could figure something out.

Before committing to using them, I needed to make sure the circuit could handle the load. I knew exactly which fuse protected that switch, it was 15 amps. Then I looked on the ballast for load information, and if I used three 32-watt lamps (which is what I had) then the load would be .75 amps. Multiple ten fixtures, that’s 7.5 amps – no problem for my 15 amp circuit!

First step was to test them and confirm they worked. These units were designed to connect together easily in a kind of “daisy chain”; each fixture had a “whip” power cable coming out of it with connectors on each end, that on a job site, meant fewer electrical lines installed and faster installation with those modular connectors.

the power "whip" and end connector

the power “whip” and end connector

While I would still connect them all together like that electrically, the whips were not as useful to me for the final install, but perhaps they could be useful for the testing phase. If I could rig a standard plug to a proper end connector, I could make my own custom power cord to test each light.

I found my bin of “Spare Power Cords Cut From Broken Tools” and after a few minutes with a circuit multi-tester to figure out which terminals were ground, neutral and hot, I had a “test plug” ready to go.

quickie test plug

quickie test plug

All I had to do was set up each fixture on the sawhorses; make sure lamps were set (there were three fluorescent tubes with each fixture) and make the connection…

an easy connection...

an easy connection…

and success!

shed some light!

shed some light!

Before I moved on to the next fixture, I had to flip this one over and permanently remove that whip – it was of no use any more.

cut the wires

cut the wires

The wires remaining inside the guts are what I’d use to connect power.

But even though the wires are cut, the fixed end of the whip was still connected to the metal frame with a kind of clip that expanded on the inside of the fixture. I just had to use some channel-lock pliers, squeeze the clip and then push it out the backside.

02-RemoveWhip-2

Squeeze the clip

clip going through hole

clip going through hole

Once I got the process down – it took just 10 minutes to grab a light, check lamps, test ballast & tubes, cut the wires and remove the whip. While I had them on sawhorses, I also cleaned them all up with some 409 spray.

Best news – all of the lights worked perfectly!

~~~

I took a light fixture into the freshly painted Kodak Room and plugged it in to see how well it lighted the room. I also lifted it high onto the scaffold to get a more accurate distribution. What I didn’t like was how all of the light was thrown down. I wanted some light onto the ceiling. What I needed were some holes in the fixture body over the fluorescent tubes. With modern commercial lights designed to hang from ceilings, they are often fabricated with “uplight” for a more even light distribution – I was just going to have to make my own hillbilly version.

I’ve drilled holes in thin steel with regular twist drill bits – easy with small diameters, harder as you go larger as the drill often binds and gets stuck. The largest twist drill I had was 1/2″ diameter – I’d need larger holes than that. Maybe a normal drill wouldn’t work. Maybe I could cut square holes with a cut-off wheel in my Dremel tool? And then there are those “knock out hole punch” tools that electricians use to make holes in sheet metal – but you have to drill a smaller hole first and then assembled the knock out parts… anyway it’s time consuming.

Some internet research indicated I could use the same kind of hole cutting saw as you’d use for wood. That didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t even want to try it. Seemed like a noisy screechy process.

A couple days later I was in an electrical supply store looking for some bulk extension cords and cable ties for work, and I ran across THIS little gem:

carbide tipped hole cutter?

carbide tipped hole cutter?

It would supposedly cut a hole with one pass. No pre-drilling. I was a skeptic but it was worth a try.

I guess-timated that I’d need about 30 or so holes per fixture; ten fixtures… equals about 300 holes. So hopefully this little gadget can really speed up the hole-making process.

I marked out a stick of wood with tick marks so that I didn’t have to keep measuring the hole layout. That probably saved me 90 seconds per fixture.

There were three distinct phases to the hole cutting.

First – I aligned the guide bit on the tick mark; it drilled a small pilot hole and had a significant “punch” when it popped through.

drilling pilot hole

drilling pilot hole

carbide teeth engaging

carbide teeth engaging

Then I could feel the carbide teeth grabbing the steel. This step surprised me the most. Instead of jamming like I’d expect a “regular” drill bit to do, it just kept CHEWING the steel and spitting out little bits of metal… It almost had a feeling of scratching your fingernails on a chalkboard…

chewing and spewing metal

chewing and spewing metal

It felt a lot the way a good sharp file cuts shards away from steel; very clean and smooth but with a firm cutting edge. I was impressed with the vigor that it bit through the sheet metal.

And then thirdly, with a loud “POP” the drill punched through the other side. There is a wider collar on the bit that stopped the whole thing from pushing through the hole.

a quick clean hole in sheet metal

a quick clean hole in sheet metal

What’s cool about this bit design is that there’s a spring surrounding the guide bit – this forces the waste “disc” of metal off the drill as soon as it’s fully cut away from the sheet. This saves an extra step of having to manually pull the disc off of the bit. They just pop right to the floor!

kick-ass hole cutter!

kick-ass hole cutter!

That first hole took a minute or so – only because I was wary and not sure how it worked. I stopped a couple times to make sure it was going well. Then the second hole took maybe 30 seconds, and by the third hole I was pretty confident, and in no time I was punching holes at only 5 seconds each. It was loud because of the reverberation through the sheet metal, but no damage from it.

I got the process of making tick marks and drilling holes down to 5 minutes per fixture.

I love this bit!

I love this bit!

So then just a little cleanup – vacuuming all of the shards and a little last minute wipe down.

I tested the uplighting by putting a fixture down on the floor of the Kodak Room and checking how much light emitted from only the new holes. I was happy with it and could move on to the next step.

27 uplight holes per fixture

changed to 21 uplight holes per fixture

I still wasn’t sure how these were going to “hang” from the ceiling. An obvious method seemed like I could use lightweight chains to suspend them – with two points at the ceiling (one at each end of fixture) and then chains going to each corner of the fixture. But I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to make adjustments with chains.

A couple days pass and I was talking with an electrical contractor I knew. He suggested I use a special “Gripple” Y-connector that’s designed to hang just this sort of thing. It was a cable that hung from a single point, with a special sliding adjustment nut (the “Gripple”) with a “Y” that split to two cables, one for each corner at each end. He even had some extras in his truck that he gave me!

I monkeyed around with the ten free Gripples that ‘Big Deal’ gave me (contractor’s nickname) and figured out that if I drilled a 1/4″ hole in the fixture housing at each corner, the anchor end could slip in and hold the fixture.

I think the next few pictures best explain the process:

Mark hole location

Mark hole location

Drill the holes

Drill the holes

The toggle end...

The toggle end…

Push the anchor through

Push the anchor through

Flatten the toggle bar

Flatten the toggle bar

Push through the hole...

Push through the hole…

and the anchor is ready

and the anchor is ready!

With the hanging problem resolved, the next step: layout the fixtures in plan to determine where ceiling anchors need to be installed. I did some quick sketching and dimension calculations – I’d lay them out in two lengths down the Kodak Room – where “aisles” would end up between shelves.

If you’ve every tried to layout dimensions on a ceiling – it’s quite difficult. The easiest way to get marks to the ceiling is to lay them out on the floor and then transfer the points to the ceiling.

Fortunately there’s technology to help with that.

First I laid out a straight line on the floor. I couldn’t find a chalk line – I’m sure I have one somewhere, but some old twine tied to the old attic fan at one end and a concrete block at the other was a fine substitute.

Twine for straight line

Twine for straight line

Since the old linoleum was still on the floor, I could just mark the points with a magic marker.

Now for the technology: a laser level that projects plumb points, which I borrowed from my buddy Eric. All I had to do was align the laser dot over the mark on the floor…

lasers are always fun

lasers are always fun

and then it would project another laser dot on the ceiling above, giving me the exact location from the floor up to the ceiling.

the mark on the floor is now projected to ceiling

the mark on the floor is now projected to ceiling

Then I just had to climb the scaffolding, use the hammer drill to make a hole. I had to put a piece of tape at the laser dot first and then mark it with a sharpie; because the big hammer drill blocked the laser and the dot was gone.

My new favorite anchors are straight-shank hammer-in anchors that end in a big eye. If I happened to be drilling all in in concrete, this anchor was quick and easy:

the easy hammer-in anchor

the easy hammer-in anchor

But the ceiling also had areas that were filled in with hollow clay tiles. While they are extremely strong, the hole made by the drill bit wasn’t as clean & tight compared to concrete. I tried every hole first with the hammer-in anchor; I could tell the “looser” ones by the sound and feel as I was hammering. For the locations that were loose, my backup plan was to use a standard sleeve anchor, with a regular screw, and then just attach a little clip angle that already had holes in them:

second easiest screw anchor

second easiest screw anchor

They weren’t nearly as elegant as the hammer-in anchor, but when I looked up from down on the floor, they were not very noticeable. It would be pretty difficult for the average person to notice them.

Finally it was time to hang a light fixture!

Since I already tested the toggle anchors in the shop area, it was a piece of cake getting them cabled up from the top of the scaffold.

A toggle in each corner

A toggle in each corner

After the two toggle ends were in, then I stuck the support end of the cable into one side of the Gripple…

the support end of cable in one side of the Gripple

the support end of cable in one side of the Gripple

Then up through the hole in the anchor…

cable out of gripple and then through anchor hole

cable out of gripple and then through anchor hole

And then back through the other side of the Gripple. Now it is easy to adjust (in one direction only) by just pulling on the end of the cable and sliding the Gripple up. It locks in place immediately and won’t pull out; if I adjust it too far, then I have to stick a little pin into a hole on the end of the Gripple and it releases the cables for loosening (lowering) and it goes back to tightening when the pin is removed.

completing the loop and locking it into Gripple

completing the loop and locking it into Gripple

Since I had 20 of these to adjust to the correct height, I made a simple jig from a stick of wood and attached another short piece at 90-degree angle, at the exact distance from the end of the stick to match how far I wanted the lights to hang from the ceiling. Then for other lights, I just had to install the Gripple cable, hook the short piece of wood on the edge or lip of the light, and pull on the free end of the cable, raising the light until the end of the stick hit the ceiling. Piece of cake!

suspended lights!

suspended lights!

In about an hour I had all ten lights hung at exactly the same height!

It felt great to see them all hovering in space like ships in the air.

all ten lights hung!

all ten lights hung!

Now to see if I can get the first light to work with the circuit and switch in the room; no sense wiring them up before testing that!

After hooking up the portable lights, I removed the porcelain socket that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I was connected with two old wires; I had to be careful to not bend them too much or the old rubber insulation could crack off.

old original wires

old original wires

One of those “whips” I cut off the fixtures would make a perfect flexible connection from the ceiling down to the first light fixture. I dug around in my spare electrical parts and found a round cover plate and a clamp.

New conduit on old socket

New (sortof) conduit on old socket

I fed the other end of the conduit through the top of the fixture – using the same hole in the body where the whips were originally connected. Then a flip of the switch…

07-Circuit-3

Circuit works! Woo-hoo…

Then to connect all of the remaining fixture wires to the first one. Since I didn’t want to keep revisiting each fixture on the scaffold, I’d wire, install the lamps and the covers at the same time, basically finishing up each one 100% before moving on to the next.

There was one remaining dirty job to finish though – cleaning of the lamps. I don’t know where these fixtures came from, but I’m certain that they were never cleaned. The lamps were even dirtier than the fixture bodies.

pile of dirty light bulbs

pile of dirty light bulbs

08-WiredUp-02

cleaned up with a little Windex

So back to wiring them together…

It might not be everyone’s first choice, but I decided to connect the wiring between lights with metal conduit, or EMT (Electrical Metallic Tubing), because I wanted the rigidity and solid connection between all of the fixtures. I thought it would be easier too.

So each fixture had knockouts in the ends for various connections; I punched out the steel from the knockouts that aligned with the ballasts, and installed connectors that would accept the EMT with set screws.

Then when the lights were still, I could measure the distance between the connectors and cut the EMT to length.

Cut EMT to length

Cut EMT to length

Then I’d approximate how much wire I needed from the connector to the insides of the fixtures, and cut the right length off the spool of wire I bought. After stripping insulation off the ends (easier to do before installation), the wire went inside the EMT, then I fed the wire into the connector on the fixture.

08-WiredUp-04

Feed wire through connector

I had to push the second fixture away a little bit to be able to fit the other end of the wires and EMT. Once the EMT was fully seated into each connector, I could tighten the screws in the connectors.

Two lights connected

Two lights connected

Connecting wires was pretty easy – white to white and black to black, and a few wire nuts…

Connecting wires

Connecting wires

The wires get all folded up, and then they and the ballast get “hidden” by a white sheet metal cover.

Wires hidden by metal cover

Wires hidden by metal cover

The cover is held in place by tabs that fit into raised slots on the fixture body. It takes some wrangling and a strong grip to SQUEEZE the cover at just the right time without having any wires sticking out from under the cover. A third hand would’ve been helpful.

Cover now properly in place...

Cover now properly in place…

Next step is to install the lamps (light bulbs)…

Three lamps per fixture

Three lamps per fixture

And then finally the “18 cell parabolic louver” which is the fancy though accurate name for the aluminum “grid” that hooks in the frame. The purpose of the louver is to properly reflect the light and minimize glare. Generally more useful in an office situation and not really necessary in our storage room, but I had ’em so why not put ’em on.

They have hooks on one side and latches on the other. The hooks go in first; if you’ve ever been in an office and you see a maintenance guy changing lamps, he’s usually got the louver hanging open by these hooks while switching light bulbs. It’s a good design idea that makes changing lamps easier.

Hooks go in first...

Hooks go in first…

The other side has spring latches that hook into little slots. So all you have to do is swing the louver into position and press on the flat side of the latches until you hear a little “snap”.

Louver closed up and all louvery.

Louver closed up and all louvery.

So yeah I’d be all anxious to just see all the damn lights on, but I wanted to replace the switch. It seemed to be the original switch, though not the button type we have in older parts of the building. It had been giving me trouble for a while – while the rocker part would move into the “off” position, the light would stay on. I could tell that the mechanics inside weren’t flipping. If I pushed really hard in the off position, it would “click” and then go off, but if I just casually “flipped the switch” like most of us do when leaving a room, it wouldn’t go off.

Fortunately I had more spare electrical parts, including a white modern switch and a white cover plate.

09-NewSwitch-01

old crappy switch

09-NewSwitch-02

Prettier and working!

So hooray! Everything was going swimmingly – new (old) switch and new (old) lights all worked great!

Enough light for storage, eh? Yeah.

Enough light for storage, eh? Yeah.

If you look at the ceiling over the fixtures, you’ll see a little glow of light, coming from the holes that I drilled in the fixtures.

10-LightsDone-02

View from the scaffold.

And with all BAB projects involving the scaffold, it is time for celebration when we get to dismantle the tall red beast and get it out of the space.

10-LightsDone-03

Lights: Done!

Time for a beer!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Maurine Pruchnicki permalink
    March 25, 2013 8:18 am

    Like I said, Tom, you could write a teacher’s guide for a text book. Maurine

  2. Susan permalink
    March 25, 2013 7:27 am

    Very bright…& creative!

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