Wednesday, 2 December 2015

New phase in lighting, technicalities explained

I have received several questions from my miniature groups about how exactly LED strips work and how we did the lighting. I can again refer to my very first attempt with LED strips, but I can also try to explain the technical bit of it in a non-technical language, just as my son-in-law explained it to me as we were working together.

To reiterate: I had been looking for easier ways of lighting than the traditional wiring, and my youngest son, who is a filmmaker and knows everything about light, suggested LEDs. Actually, he first suggested smart-touch spots, which I used in a roombox. But you cannot easily hide rather large kitchen spots in a dollhouse so it wasn't a universal solution. His next idea was LED strips, and that's when I bought the 5 meter long strip with transformer that you can find in many varieties on ebay. You can also find instructions on how to fix them on Youtube, and as all instruction videos on Youtube it looks very simple until you try. LED strips are primarily used to install under kitchen wall units, which is so straightforward that I believe even I could do it. To make the desirable length, you cut the strip in indicated places and insert into a snap connector provided with the transformer. (Am I sufficiently non-technical?)

It becomes slightly more complicated if you need to divide a strip between two or more units, because then you need to cut it and use a bit of wire to lead from one strip to the next. To do so, you need double snap connectors that look like this:


The idea is that when you have cut your strip you insert it into a connector and snap it. It took me a few ebay purchases before I got it right. They aren't expensive. I had everything prepared for P's visit, including a dimmer on remote control that didn't work, but it's another story. But P is a perfectionist, so rather than using the snaps he decided to solder the wires directly onto the strips. He used the wires from snap connectors.

So: first he cut the LED strip to fit the breadth of a room. You see very clearly where you can cut, and there are also clear marks of + and -. The wire is bi-coloured so you also know where + and - are. I remember it all vaguely from school physics.

Next he did some magic with the soldering iron that I cannot describe with words, but that you can see in the picture.

I know it's not very helpful, but if you, like me, aren't too confident with soldering you can use the snap connectors. We used two before P decided that it wasn't neat enough for him, but I was perfectly satisfied. The trick is to hide the lights behind something, for instance, a beam or moulding, and then you can just as well hide the snaps. P used a number of snaps of a different format, that he had brought with him, to make connection between floors. This was for several reasons. First, he argued, if I ever wanted to change something it would be easier to disconnect one snap than dismount the whole system. I am sure I will never want to change anything, but he might, because he has already tons of ideas for future development. Second, when we led the wires on the outside we needed to pull them through drinking straws disguised as drain pipes (see previous blog post), and this could only be done if the wires can be disconnected at every floor. Between floors, where the original wires were not long enough, P used bell wire. He told me to specify in this post that bell wire is the right wire to use for this kind of work. However, it wasn't bi-coloured so P had to check it all the time for + and - with a little gadget he had on him, and this is beyond my comprehension.

To sum up: there are seventeen rooms in the house, so there are seventeen strips of various length, all cut from the original 5 meters and connected with soldered wires. The whole strip-wire assembly uses one single transformer, which means that all lights are switched on and off together. A dimmer will be inserted later, if necessary. It is technically possible - and that's P's next project - to make every strip work independently with remote control or even from a computer through wi-fi. Since he has helped me, I feel I will have to allow him to play as much as he wants with my dollhouse, although I am absolutely happy the way it is.

As I have also described before, in my rear corridors I have used short LED strips that are battery-powered.  I have six of these, and at the moment I can only switch them on manually and individually, but P is determined to connect them too and put on remote. He also has ideas about single LED lights for chandeliers and table lamps, as well as light-sensitive LEDs that will switch on automatically when it gets dark. It's not magic - he has all this stuff in his 1:1 house. I promise to share when we get there.

Here is one of the pictures that P took when he saw that the light was good.

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