D-I-Y Dome Light

Added 5/10/2009

For a long time I've had installing a white dome light as a "To Do" item on my list of projects.  What's really held me up is getting the exact concept of what I wanted to do down.  I built my overhead console...one that I like, despite the fact it was pretty roughly thrown together at the time as I really was hating fiberglass, but didn't install dome lights.  I didn't do ANY lights until I found exactly what I wanted for lighting.  What I wanted was something either flush, or fairly flush, and it had to be LED's.  There are some ok looking overhead fixtures for autos that I could have used, but I don't have the time to scour junkyards finding the exact make and model and color I want.  Scott Schmidt has an AWESOME Whelen dome light in his plane, and I really liked that one, but my hangup is that Whelen really likes them too....way too much.  They cost over $130 for the cheapest version, and in the $180's for the next model up in brightness.  That was just way too much for me to cough up...and besides that, I'm a big fan of the Do-it-Yourself lifestyle...I mean, I built the plane, so a dome light can't kick my butt, right?

So finally, recently I got some motivation to do tinkering again.  Spring is here, and I wanted to finish some of these long-term tasks.  I set out looking for dome lights and couldn't find ANY that I particularly thought were perfect.  The closest I came was Scott's.  I really wanted flush or semi-flush too.  Then I got an idea...what if I used a light switch wall plate.  Initially I thought I'd buy a metal plate, paint it grey or black, and cut out the switch hole to a larger size...forgetting completely that they actually MAKE large rectangular switches.  I decided to browse the home store one day after work and sure enough, it didn't take but a couple minutes to find what I was looking for.  I bought both grey and black, plastic wall plates.  At home, I had a small square of 1/4" plexiglass, so I chopped out a hunk of it.  I traced the opening onto the plexi, with the plexi covered with tape.  Then, I got out my old table saw and set the blade to only go 1/2 way through the plexi. I cut along the 4 sides, and then used the blade to cut away the additonal area of plexi, so that the lens would drop through the wall plate just perfectly.  Notice from the top 4 pictures that the lens fits right in.

Time to shop for LED's!
  Well, of course, the first places I looked were http://www.superbrightleds.com/ and Ebay, but I didn't really find the exact form factor I wanted.  Sure, a couple of squares would work, but I was hoping for a rectangle close to the size of the hole.  After a bit of surfing around, I ran across a site over and over.... http://www.putco.com   There they had a few universal LED dome lights that looked to be just like what I wanted.  They make a few various models...the model 980115 is what I bought, thinking it would be perfect. In the end, a 980116 would have cost a little more but would have looked even better.  Mine was 1 row of LED's shorter, basically.  But, it cost me under $25, shipped, from Summitracing.com.  You can find it cheaper on some sites, but I live so far from either coast and I didn't want to wait or to pay too much for shipping, so I got it as efficiently as I could.  To install it, I laid it on the plexi, added 4 rows of E6000 glue to hold it in place, and then surrounded the rest of the plexi with black RTV silicone to just black it out.  On the inside, I glued the more fragile wire leads down, and extended them with regular milspec wire, so it is now more durable.  As you can see from the pictures that console isn't anything too pretty on the inside.  Did I tell you I hate fiberglass?  I J.B. Welded a couple of nuts in place inside the cover, because at this point I wasn't going to rip out or cut the vinyl to install nutplates.  In retrospect it would have also been not a bad idea to epoxy in aluminum plated with nutplates attached, but what is there will work and hold just fine.  In the end I used the black cover, and you can see the results from the photos below.  They operate with my dimmer, and I use a 3 position switch to provide off / red / white functionality to my cabin lights.

The center console covers some antenna wires and things, so it's nice to have.  If I were building again, I would probably glass in a full overhead console with ventilation and room for lights, but I sure ain't gonna do that anymore now that I'm done!


Scott's Whelen Dome Light
Nice stuff!

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