Pallet Wood Art/Shelf With a Hidden Dimmable LED Light

When I first had the idea to do pallet wood walls in the living room, I wanted to create some type of art piece for the wall opposite the TV. I stumbled across this shelf on Etsy when searching for pallet wood art.

After getting rid of my old recliner and lamp (as part of the living room updates) I quickly realized a light was needed for the new loveseat. I thought it would be cool to integrate a light in to my shelf and as a bonus it would be hidden. It would be a fun challenge to work on. Here are the last models I had mocked up in SketchUp before starting on the build.

Some of the inspiration for the light came after watching someone create a reading lamp by using quad row LED strips. I ordered a roll of the LEDs (quite expensive), a power supply, and a board to use as a dimmer. After doing some testing and reading more of the specs, I ended up getting a much beefier board to handle 10 Amps. I was also melting some of the insulation on cheap electronics wires, so I also grabbed a spool of 18 gauge wire.

This initial testing was done using a very simple limit switch, but those are only rated for very low currents and would quickly burn up with the requirements of the LEDs. It took some searching, but I finally found a limit switch that said it could handle 10 Amps of DC. The big controller board for the dimmer and this much bigger limit switch introduced some new challenges to my build.

We picked through the wood leftover from the walls to find an assortment of pieces to use for the backer.

I played around with the arrangement, shortened the length of some boards, and ran everything through the planer to get an even thickness. Then I stained five of the boards and glued the pieces together in several steps.

To make the pull-out part of the shelf I started with a piece of plywood. I cut up scrap sheet metal I’d saved from the drop ceiling light fixtures I removed from my shop several years ago. This would be used behind the LEDs so any excessive heat they produced wouldn’t burn in to the plywood or create a fire hazard. I screwed the metal to the plywood and used some white spray paint on it.

I cut scraps of wood for sides and a divider. Then I cut some slots through them, using the table saw, where the light covers would slide in. I also made a face for this piece, leaving it oversized for now. I attached the sides and front face with glue and pocket hole screws from what will be the top side.

I bought two 10-inch full extension drawer slides and attached them to the top. I filled the pocket holes with plugs and wood filler. Sanding would be done later.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking step of the project was cutting and positioning a scrap piece of 2×4 to the backer boards. This will hold everything together and allow me to attach the surrounding pieces of the shelf. Thankfully I remembered to cut one end short before glueing and screwing (from both sides) it in place. This is where the dimmer knob and board went. I cut a scrap piece of wood (later replaced with thinner plywood) to prop it up a bit so the knob would be easier to handle.

I put a straight bit in my trim router and cut a channel down the back of the longest backer board. This will be where the power cable runs down and behind the loveseat. It’ll never be seen, so I wasn’t concerned with how it looks.

Next I milled up some boards and glued them to make the top and bottom of the shelf. I tinted clear epoxy with black paint and filled in some holes. I also milled and cut a couple of pieces for the sides of the shelf.

I trimmed all of those to the sizes I’d need. Then I cut rabbets in the sides so the edges of the top and bottom wouldn’t be seen and there would be more support. To fit properly around the dimmer switch I had to notch out some areas and drill a hole for the knob shaft.

I was able to do a dry fit and then had to make a bunch of adjustments to make everything fit better. After a shitload of sanding I stained one coat of Red Mahogany.

The next morning I was able to glue and pin nail the bottom and left side to the backer. The top and right will be screwed in place in case I need to take things apart to troubleshoot or replace the electronics.

After giving the stain several days I masked off the dimmer board and used my paint sprayer to apply four coats of water-based poly.

The next day I put in the LEDs and switch, wiring everything up. I had to make one more piece of wood that would trigger the switch when the “drawer” was pulled out.

I painted the wires white. A bit of hot glue was used to keep them in place and provide strain relief. I also used hot glue down the back side to hold the wire in the groove.

The final step was to figure out where to cut in keyhole slots.

This turned out to be a bad idea. The shelf was just too heavy. So I drilled all the way through the cross beam and drove two long lag screws through and in to the studs.

We picked up some cool pieces at the Freeland Antique Mall for decor.

Here’s a night comparison which shows how bright the LEDs can be.

This video shows everything in action.

This project ended up being a lot more work than I expected. I’m really happy with the results though and we now have a one-of-a-kind piece in our living room.

We got a blackout top down bottom up shade made from SelectBlinds for the window, which came in over the weekend. They’re really easy to install. Now the living room is complete and I can focus on the kitchen remodel.

We bought an old milk can at an antique mall for the corner of the room too.

Tesla Wall Connector

Two weeks ago, I forgot my mobile charger on a trip up to Rogers City, where I charge with the same type of plug I have in my own garage. After 50 minutes on the road I turned, drove home to pick up the charger, and then had to stop in Bay City to supercharge because I’d already used over 100 miles of range. As I thought about it later that day, since the weather isn’t freezing anymore, I could have made it to my parents’ place with enough range to take a different route home, and supercharge in Gaylord.

Oh well, it was better to be safe than sorry. That night I told myself I wouldn’t let it happen again though, so I ordered a unit I could install in my garage. Then I could keep the mobile charger in the trunk where it belongs.

I also bought a new circuit breaker and wire in order to supply more current (amps) to the unit.

  • Tesla Wall Connector – $530
  • 25′ of 6/2 Romex Wire – $46
  • 60 Amp 2-pole Breaker – $19
  • Labor – $0

My total cost was just under $600 since I did the install myself. I’ve read on various Internet forums of people paying anywhere from $300 to over $2,000 for an electrician!

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I found a good spot in my garage to mount the plate and ran the wire from there down to the electrical panel.

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Installing a breaker and wiring it up can be scary and extremely dangerous, so a lot of people are smart to pay a professional. If you take your time and understand how the system works, it’s quite easy to do though. I turned off the main line and confirmed with a multimeter. The 30 amp 2-pole breaker in the lower right had been used for a hot tub several years ago and wasn’t even wired to anything anymore. I swapped it with the new 60 amp breaker. I closed everything up, turned on the main, flipped the breaker, and voila!

I love when everything works on the first try. Of course, I installed everything to code. 😉

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My Model 3 was already charged to 90%, which is as high as you want to charge the car for normal daily driving. I bumped the limit for a quick test and plugged in the car. With a 60 amp breaker, the maximum output of the charging unit is 48 amps, so I was in business. According to Tesla’s documentation, this should charge at a rate up to 44 mi/hr of range. It showed 36 here, but in my experience it takes a few minutes to ramp up and the chargers tend to slow down as they approach the charging limit, so I’ll have to check again after a day of driving. With the mobile charger and a 240 volt 20 amp outlet, my previous charge rate was 14 mi/hr of range, so it’ll be nice to have this boost.

The entire installation took a little over 2 hours since I was working alone and went slow to avoid mistakes.

Charging Upgrade

I drove up to Rogers City for the weekend to work on the charging situation before it gets too cold outside. Last night I plugged into a standard outlet (NEMA 5-15), which should only be able to charge at a speed of 3-4 miles of range per hour, according to Tesla’s home charging documentation. Somehow I was getting 5, which is still really slow.

I brought wire and a new NEMA 6-20 outlet with me, which is the same thing I have in my garage. So this morning we ran a line and installed the outlet. The box in my parents’ garage already had a free 240 volt 20 amp breaker, which made installation a breeze. It took 20-30 minutes for the charge speed to ramp up, which could be due to the colder weather, but I’m getting the same 14 miles/hour I get at home. Much better!

Upgrade an Old Extension Cord

My Dad had this old extension cord. When I looked in the female end I could see a lot of corrosion though. It’s a really long cord and from the feel of it, the wiring is high quality, so I didn’t want to trash it.

Easy upgrade. I cut the ends off and replaced them with new ones, which were about $4 each.

Rewired MacBook Pro Charger

One end of the cable on this cheap charger had worn out to the point where it would only work if held in the exact right position. Or so I thought. After a little rewiring and heat-shrink tubing I found out that it’s actually something on the inside portion of the connector. I’ll have to see if I can open up the case.

12 Volt Light Bulb Tester

I wired a 9V in series with two AA batteries (1.5V each) to test out the truck‘s dash panel bulbs.

Turns out the bulb holder I tested first was faulty and 9V would have been enough. In fact, three of the nine bulb holders were corroded and unable to provide juice to the light bulbs. That explains why it was so hard to see the gauges at night!

To get by until new parts arrive, I was able to finesse some small pieces of wire in between the bulbs and the holders to get an electrical connection.

Replace Fluorescent Tubes in a Light with LED Bulbs

A few months ago I helped my brother rewire some lights for his shop to use LED bulbs instead of flourescent tubes. I decided to do the same thing for my kitchen light, which had been flickering and didn’t always light up every tube.

Years ago, a friend rhetorically asked me, “Are you an electrician?” after I screwed up some wiring, which left us without heat on the coldest night of the winter. I’d say I’m the perfect man for this job. 😉

Jokes aside, it is an extremely easy wiring task. Electrical stuff can be scary for a lot of people, so I figured I’d document my process. Fair warning… I am not a professional and I’m not telling you how to do this. This is just an explanation of what I did. I’m also not a lawyer.

I did this at night, guided by some battery-powered LED lights, so the lighting in the photos isn’t very good.

First I TURN OFF THE BREAKER connected to my light. Absolutely no shortcuts here. Then I took the tubes out and removed the fixture covers.

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Those black boxes are the ballasts, which limit the current in a circuit. To use LED bulbs those need to be bypassed. I cut all of the wires and removed them.

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Then I stripped the ends of every wire I had cut.

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In these particular fixtures, one side used 2 blue and 2 red wires and the other side used 2 yellow wires. The yellow side did use some short white wires to connect one tube to the other, but those white wires were not directly connected to the ballast.

This is the key step. All of the wires on one side of the fixture needed to be connected and then connected to either the black (hot) or white (neutral). It doesn’t matter which side goes to white and which goes to black, but it’s very important that everything on one side of the fixture goes together.

As you can see here I grouped by dark (blue and red to black) and light (yellow to white) colors. I screwed a wire nut on each bundle of wires. When I have 3 or more wires connected like this I gently pull on each wire to make sure nothing will come loose.

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Before I closed everything up, I flipped the breaker and made sure the light switch was on. Then I took one LED bulb and tested it in each spot to make sure everything worked. There’s nothing worse than having to take something apart after it’s been closed up. Everything worked great, so I wrapped each wire nut with electrical tape.

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For the final step I put the covers back on over the wiring and slipped in the LEDs.

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It made a huge difference in my kitchen. Here are some unedited before and after shots.

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The camera really shows how green the light was from the flourescent tubes.

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You can see how much more natural the wood looks.

What happened with that wiring mistake I made years ago? We got drunk and survived a cold night. I woke up early the next morning determined to figure out what I had done wrong. I fixed the mistake and learned not to assume that speaker wire running through a basement ceiling was useless. I’m probably lucky the wires I cut were only used for thermostats instead of something with a higher voltage.

I didn’t let my friend’s joke discourage me from trying. To this day I continue to learn.

3-way Switch Wiring

I get confused every time I work on a 3-way switch. After I remember to make a diagram to lay out all of the wires I have it makes sense. This was for a Wi-Fi connected switch and “remote” pairing I installed yesterday.

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