Let There Be Light: Part I

A few months ago, my good friend Aristotle Dreher starter Arisitotle Photo. In order to assist with his fancy studio shots, he asked me to make him a light ring. He’s a good friend, who’s done all my shirt and blog design work, so how could I say no (it also seemed like an interesting project)?

The raw materials.

The light ring consists of 12 light sockets arranged in a circle. The middle of the circle is open and the camera is placed there and the photo taken through the ring. This provides balanced light on all sides of the image (or at least this woodworker thinks it does).

Determining the ring layout.

I began the light ring project by buying 12 cheap plastic light sockets. I asembled them in a circle, and used that to determine the size of the ring. I also used the width of their bases to determing the width of the ring. I left about ½” of space between the sockets and on the inside and outside edges.

The ring itself is constructed from two (2) pieces of Baltic Birch plywood. The front piece is ¾” thick. This was the first piece I made. Because all of the circles are referenced off the center, I worked from the outside to the inside so that I didn’t cut out the middle and then realize I still had to reference it.
After determining the outside diameter of the ring, I marked it out and cut close to the line with my jig saw. Then I built a trammel out of scrap Baltic Birch and routed exactly to the line with a fixed base router and ¾” diameter straight bit.
The outside is milled.
Once the outside circle shape was finished, it was time to route the wire trough. This trough is centered on the width of the light ring. I made it using the same ¾” straight bit. I used a small piece of wire to determine the proper depth using relative dimensioning.
When routing with a trammel, plunge routers are more versatile.
That’s when I realized my mistake. You can’t use a fixed base router to plunge a trough into the center of a ring. I switched the trammel setup to a plunge router (this required running out for longer mounting screws), reset the circle diameter and depth and went to town.
The center trough is milled.
I routed the center trough in three (3), roughly equal depth passes. The feed rate was nice and slow and I thoroughly vacuumed between passes. It still resulted in a bit of burn on the wood and on the router bit. Since it’s a functional (rather than aesthetic) piece, I’m not sweating any burn.
Just about done with the front ring.
Once the Center trough was done, I re-set the trammel again and hit the inside of the ring. I paused briefly and considered switching to a narrower bit for the inside (as I only needed to cut through, not create a trough wide enough to house wire), but since the trammel was already set up for the ¾” bit in the router I just went ahead and routed. I again made it though in 3 passes and had about the same level of burning as I did for the trough.
The connecting trough.
I finished the center piece by routing one (1) more trough connecting the center trough to the outside edge at the bottom. This trough will allow access for the power cable. I first made this trough with a pattern bit to keep it straight, but when it proved too shallow, I deepened it with router freehand.

Next, on to the back . . .