Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I look at products like Westcott's Spiderlite TD5 head and there looks to be less than $50 in parts (not including the light bulbs) in a product like this... I'm a 'handy guy' with a garage full of power tools so I've been thinking about simply building an equivalent and only buying the bulbs, effectively saving myself $200+.

Am I not taking into account some feature or function with this lighting head that might justify paying the extra $200+ to buy it instead of simply building something myself?

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Feature wise, I agree, anybody handy with the necessary materials should be able to do it but (and I fall into this trap often, handy as I am) is the 5+ hours of your time its going to take worth $200? If you enjoy the effort though thats different. Not to mention the fire hazard it will be if done wrong :) –  Shizam Feb 13 '11 at 20:06
    
As they say, time is money -- and it is quite possible to have an abundance of the one and a paucity of the other. I'm (or, rather, I was) capable, but lazy -- I never built anything I could afford to buy. And yet, somehow, I built an awful lot of what was in my old studio... –  user2719 Feb 13 '11 at 20:47
    
@Shizam: "If you enjoy the effort though thats different." I think you've hit the nail on the head about me. I do enjoy the effort. I'll try not to burn down my studio, though. ;-) –  Jay Lance Photography Feb 13 '11 at 20:54

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Not a darned thing. It's just five Edison sockets mounted on a base. The only catch is that you can't make a homemade version for photoflood or halogen use unless you're handy with a welder -- any wood product will turn into kindling over time when exposed to enough heat, and the kind of sheet metal that can easily be finessed with what the average handyman has in his toolkit won't be up to the task of supporting large fluorescents.

If you are using fluorescents (27s, 40s, 65s or 80s), then heat isn't a major issue. Ceramic sockets with a wiring pigtail run about $5 each (and will epoxy neatly into a 1-3/8" hole -- assuming the standard North American base. E-27 European sockets are a little larger). To avoid electrical dangers, use code-approved metal circuit boxes for the connections (and use proper wire nuts/Marr connectors or, if you can find one, a bus bar), and make sure you use a three-pronged arrangement with the ground wire hooked to the boxen. I'd also use heavy-duty light switches (the soft-touch switches glitch too frequently) in separate, but ganged boxes (you'll need three doubles or five singles). A couple of thicknesses of 3/4" MDF will be adequate for the socket substrate. You can box in the electricals to avoid that homemade look if you want to take it out for a fancy dinner somewhere (or have paying clients anywhere near it).

Just do it like you were wiring a circuit in your home and were waiting for the electrical inspector. It's not rocket science, but due care and diligence are always a good idea.

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+1 - Here's a good tutorial on it too: diyphotography.net/… –  John Cavan Feb 13 '11 at 23:49

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