Workshop: Studio lighting rig

Workshop equipment bar
(I’ve installed four light bars on the ceiling, from which I can mount my Fiilex P360 photo/video lights using a KUPO Max Arm and KUPO Convi Clamp, as shown here. I have three of these so I can do proper “key, fill, and back lighting”, although I’ve only mounted one for the purpose of illustrating this post. With lights up out of the way, the workshop doubles as a studio for photography and video work. And yes: I have a plan to eliminate the dangling cord…)

Good lighting is essential to good work. It’s equally important for shooting images and video. So from the start, I planned that my workshop would also be suitable as a photo studio and as a set for shooting “how-to” video segments. (In particular, I’d like to expand what I can do for Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV.)

That would require light – lots of it. As well, I wanted to eliminate cords and light stands from the work space as much as possible, because they’re a) tripping hazards, b) always in the way, and c) ugly.

The solution was to add a lighting rig suspended from the ceiling. My workshop already has a bulkhead running up the middle of it, containing ductwork, so I was able to tuck my rig into the shadow of this bulkhead so it wouldn’t also become a scalp-gouging system. (I think of this as turning a short-coming of the space into an advantage…)

Barry suggested using pipe hangers, brackets, and 3/8″ threaded rod. This was a great idea, as they were easy to install and I could use a hack saw to easily cut the rod to the ideal length for my application (in this case, 5.25 inches).

Rather than use pipe for the rig, which would be heavy and hard to cut, I investigated whether I could use dowels. My local DIY store stocked 1.25″ (o.d.) hardwood dowels in 48″ lengths (otherwise known as the “inch an’ a quatah quatah-staff”). These fit quite nicely into split-ring brackets designed for 1″ (i.d.) pipe. I decided to use four rods in my lighting rig – two on each side of the bulkhead:

Workshop equipment bar
(The lighting rig on the front (south) side of the workshop)

Workshop equipment bar
(The lighting rig on the back (north) side of the workshop. The rig was hung to easily clear the 24-outlet power strip mounted on the bulkhead.)

The one issue I had to solve was how to keep the dowels from spinning inside the pipe brackets. The dowels are a loose fit, but if they spun in the brackets I would not be able to hang lights properly on the rig. I decided I could use the threaded rod to keep the dowels from spinning. I would install the pipe brackets so that about 0.75″ of the threaded rod protruded through the inside of the ring that holds the dowel, and would drill pocket in each dowel to accept this.

For this to work, I needed to locate two holes in line with each other, one at each end of the dowel, and they needed to run straight through the centre of the dowel. Some Google-Fu turned up instructions for doing this.

I started by clamping a dowel to my work surface, such that both ends were on the surface. (Only one end is shown in the image below.) I then placed a scrap board against the dowel and drew a line where the board and dowel met. Then, without disturbing the dowel, I moved the board to the other end and marked it as well.

Workshop equipment bar

Since the two lines are exactly the same distance off the work surface, they’re also in line with each other. I then measured in five inches from each end and marked my lines to indicate where I needed to drill my rod pockets.

Before drilling, I had to make sure the lines I’d marked were at the very top of the dowel, so that the hole would go straight to the centre of the dowel. So, I used a centre-finding head on my combination square and a striking knife (more accurate than a pencil) to mark each end of the dowel. I then highlighted the mark with a pencil:

Workshop equipement bar

These marks would help when setting up the drill press:

Workshop equipment bar

I lined up the first hole by eye, using a block of wood that I knew to be square against the end of the dowel, to check that the line I struck was vertical. When I was happy with the position of the dowel, I clamped a scrap of board to the table as a fence. It’s tight against the dowel (to the left of the bit in the above image). I then used a hold-down clamp on the dowel itself (to the right of the bit). I held the dowel securely against the alignment board and set the depth stop so I would only penetrate the dowel by 0.75″. Once the fence was set up, drilling the eight holes required went very quickly.

Since I was using 3/8″ threaded rod, I drilled with a 7/16″ bit for a loose fit.

With this done, I could turn to hanging the rig. Since I was going into a drywall ceiling, I decided to use butterfly bolts in the ceiling hangers:

Workshop equipment bar

I marked and installed all the ceiling hangers, then threaded the rods into them with a smear of breakable Loktite on the threads. I then spun the top half of the split ring bracket onto each threaded rod and introduced the dowel. The projecting rod inside the ring keeps the dowel from spinning, as planned. At this point, I used a small level and spun the split rings up and down the rod until the dowel was level. Finally, I installed the bottom half of the split ring bracket.

Workshop equipment bar

Short articulated arms with clamp heads make mounting lights quick, easy and secure. For extra protection, I can add chains to the lights, locked to the rig. I’ll have to add a bracket near each rig, against the bulkhead, to hold the power brick for each of my Fiilex lights and come up with a cable management system to allow me to plug everything into the power strip.

The good news is that in addition to holding my studio lighting, I can also use a carabiner to hang my Flex-Shaft motor tool on the rig when using it at the bench. I’m sure I’ll come up with many other uses for this rig as I start using the workshop.

(Thanks, Barry, for helping me design this rig!)

12 thoughts on “Workshop: Studio lighting rig

  1. As your new workshop was taking shape I couldn’t help but think what a great set it would make for Train Masters TV videos!

  2. Trevor,
    Very interesting post! One thing you might try when drilling large dowels is to clamp them in one or two vee blocks. For large, closet rod sized ones, I made up a couple of vee blocks by running a chunk of 2×4 through the table saw to remove the vee and then cut a few pieces to length. The block makes it easy to securely clamp the rod quickly.

  3. Trevor,
    Creative way to mark the dowel centerline. For shorter dowels, or cylinders I’ve successfully used a similar method. Taking the cylinder you want to mark a centerline or straight line on, and find your closest piece of trim around a door. Line the cylinder up, use your pencil to draw a straight line using the piece of trim as a brace for pencil guide. Similar to your method, the trim taking the place of your scrap piece of wood.

    Craig

  4. Your multiple electrical outlets solution has inspired me to at last solve my own electrical plug deficiency. And Amazon.ca is answering this shopping quest!
    Thankyou for the inspiration! A Stanley 31610 Surge Max 9 outlet is on t’s way!

    • Hi Seth:
      The spots are Fiilex P360 LED photo lights. There’s a link in the post. They have a standard Y-shaped mount for putting them on light stands.
      The articulated arms are available from several photo equipment companies. Mine are Manfrotto. Any photo/video store that sells to pro photographers would stick something suitable.
      Cheers!

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