Work Area Shop Lighting


Shop Lighting

One of the most important considerations in a work area is lighting, poor light will cause eye strain, restrict vision ( and safety ) around power tools, and contribute to headaches both literal and figurative.

Fluorescent lighting is probably the most efficient and practical, a tube will last twenty times that of an incandescent light bulb. One four foot fluorescent tube consuming only 40 watts sheds as much light as two incandescent 100 watt bulbs. Their long length tends to diffuse the brightness and spread the light over a large area. Cool whites are the best choice, warm white and colour improved tubes are available, which light your stains and finishes more realistically, but are not usually worth the extra expense because you will probably take you project to where it will permanently reside to check how it looks in that light.


There are three common types of flourescent fixtures used in workshops
  • Strip Lights
Two bare tubes running side by side.
  • Shop Lights
Two bare tubes with metal reflectors on each side.
  • Wrap Around
Two tubes with a plastic lens wrapped around them.
The wrap around is the best choice of the three, the lens diffuses and spreads the light as well as protecting the tubes from dust and breakage.
Note: There are clear plastic tubes available to protect bare lamps.
Fluorescent lights work best in temperatures above 50 F. and will take a long time to warm up to provide full light in cold weather. It is advisable in unheated shops to install a couple incandescent lights to provide instant light as well as generating a bit of much needed heat.

Halogen Shop Light
Bright as day halogen is flicker free and starts at any temperature. For lighting broader areas, the Halogen Shop Light with 150 watt halogen bulbs and diffused lenses that decrease glare. Includes 7 foot power cord and chains. Shop Light feature tempered glass lenses and chrome plated safety guards and is UL listed.

Halogen Shop Light

Halogen Shop Light

Halogen lighting is replacing flourescent lighting in many shops, it is flicker free and starts up even in cold shops. A common complaint about this type of lighting is the short length of time the bulbs last, in my own experience I have found that certain brands last much longer than others. Generally the least expensive house brands seem to last longer than brand name products such a Phillips.

Ideally the lights should be mounted in parallel rows no more than six feet apart, so the shadows from one row are filled in by the next. This allows you to work anywhere in the shop under good lighting and to move machinery to any location. If this is not feasible then place a light overhead and parallel to your work space and use task lights to fill in.  

If the ceiling space is available mount the rows just over eight feet above the floor so a full sheet of plywood can be flipped on end without hitting them.

Your age and type of work will also determine the amount of illumination needed, the older we get and the finer the work we do the more light we need.

Have banks of lights on separate switches, this way if you are only going into the shop at night to get a tool all the lights don't have to be turned on, also have the lights on their own breaker so that if a tool trips a breaker the lights don't go out.

Glare affects us in two ways it can cause headaches and affect your ability to see properly. Direct glare comes from a light source in your field of vision, usually an uncovered lamp. Reflected glare can bounce of bright walls, paint walls a medium tone colour, choose a shade dark enough to absorb some light yet bright enough to reflect some light to reduce shadows. Windows are a source of glare so as tempting as it will be try to avoid putting your work bench in front of one because your eyes will be frequently adjusting and readjusting to the relatively dim light of the shop and the brighter natural light coming in the window.


Fluorescent lamps will last five years or more depending on use, however they can loose 30% of their light output in the first three years after installation. When the ends go dark it is time to replace them. Dirt and dust can reduce their efficiency another 25% so an old dirty lamp can be only half as bright as a clean new one.