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Bed lighting for $20 (warning, lots of pictures + detail)

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by capturecolorado, Aug 10, 2014.

  1. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:11 PM
    #1
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    We all know how annoying it is to try and find something in the back of your truck at night with a flashlight. Trying to unload a large, heavy object in the dark? Have fun.

    wm-LQ-3240_2a2678df82d02bcd2f91fba39cf3c23f125fcd0c.jpg

    I had been through several iterations of this plan in regards to what lights I wanted to use that would put out the most even, and low-shadow light for navigating the groves of crap that often finds its way into the back of my truck on camping trips. I was going to use little LED license plate lights, maybe some small pod lights, etc. But the project cost was looking to get too great, at $10 per light, fabricating the mounts, I wanted 4-6 lights... too pricy for this mod.

    Enter Amazon. Give them $8-$10, and get either waterproof or non-waterproof LED light strips...Prime, too, so free shipping if you've got that.

    wm-LQ-3242_e6de4ab8c150129e2f9fbacb839081c00026e012.jpg

    Supplies:
    1 - roll of LED lights (5m long should be plenty depending on your plans)
    1 - roll of 18 gauge speaker wire
    1 - light switch of your preferred variety
    - lots of wire connectors (one of those handy connector kits at the auto parts store is perfect)
    1 - inline fuse holder
    - enough wire to run power from your battery, along the frame rail, to the driver side (on 1st gen) tail light
    132 - zip ties. Mostly 4", some 8" for larger grabs, and a few 24" for attaching the main power wire to the frame rail. You can also attach the power to one of the cable looms running to the back, but I'm lazy.
    1 - 3-5a fuse
    - heat shrink tube (whatever size works well for your wire choice)

    Tools needed:
    - Wire cutter
    - Wire stripper
    - Crimping tool
    - soldering iron + solder
    - Drill
    - drill bits
    - beer
    - (optional) Park Tool BT-2 cable puller (works wonders for pulling zip ties tight)
    - (optional, but recommended) if you're going to be doing much of this, find a way to test your solder connections before running all the wires. I had this for an undercabinet lighting project that I hadn't yet completed, so I had that plugged in on my bench while I was soldering so I could make sure I would save myself some headache.

    [​IMG]

    I used a toggle switch w/ safety cover from RadioShaq
    [​IMG]

    And here's the optional tool that I highly recommend buying if you fiddle with small zip ties often. It's a bicycle tool, completely useless in its designed purpose, so I just call it the ZTT-1, zip tie tool....
    [​IMG]

    Step 1:
    Open beer.

    Step 1.1:
    Figure out how you want your lights laid out. These lights are adhesive backed with 3M, but I don't recommend relying on that, which is why I suggest using zip ties.

    Step 1.2:
    Cut lights to length in accordance with your desired layout. The lights have a designated trim point every 3 emitters, and you'll see a line with a diagram of scissors indicating where it's safe to cut.

    Note: on either side of this line, you'll see two contact points to solder to, if you have the waterproof tape, be sure to trim away enough of the waterproof stuff to give you clear access to these. And be sure (ask me how I know) to clean off ALL of the waterproofing material prior to trying to solder. Otherwise the solder will not take and you'll be frustrated.

    Step 2:
    Move to your bench/work space, heat up your solder gun and prepare to do tiny, electrical welding.

    Step 2.1:
    Prepare light strips, figure out which end you wish to attach your power leads to, and prepare accordingly (if you've got non-waterproof lights, you do nothing. if you have waterproof lights, strip back approximately 5-8mm of waterproofing and clean contacts).

    wm-LQ-3272_5ae0413233c06f389ffad98172fc1f1b11eecafc.jpg

    Cut approximate, and generous, lengths of your speaker wire, split the ends and strip the wire cover just enough for the solder joint (3-5mm, shorter the better).

    wm-LQ-3275_dc6cfd76f169ed21996242516a350f5db50eb0cc.jpg

    Step 3:
    Do tiny, electrical welds.

    Attach the end of your speaker wire to the ends of the light strips, allow to FULLY COOL before moving. Try not to linger too long with the heat, if you need to reposition, allow the solder to cool and reposition quickly to avoid melting the wire housing. Also try to avoid heating the wire itself up too much, the housing melts incredibly fast.

    Note: DO NOT OVERHEAT TAPE. See below for my story on why.

    wm-LQ-3276_2bd61acdb659d78d8f3d16da293900dd16156733.jpg

    Step 3.1:
    Test each solder connection before moving on to the next to ensure conductivity. Again, you don't want to go through all the trouble of wiring this shit up, to realize it doesn't work. I put too much heat into the end of one of my strips and it was shorting, so it would work if I bent it in a certain way, but not in any other. This came from a combination of overheating the tape, and cutting a little too deep when I sliced through the waterproof layer and slightly severed the copper tape. Bad combo. Don't do that.

    Step 4:
    Once all strips are cut, have generous length leads attached to them, and have cooled; cut short lengths of heat shrink tubing and slide over your leads to cover the solder joint. Place over the solder joint to cover as desired, and apply heat with your fancy shrinky-dink machine. Or heat gun.

    Note: A lighter will also work, but be sure to move it rapidly and not linger too long, as you will char/burn/light shit on fire.

    Step 5:
    Figure out where you want your switch located. On my first gen, I chose the rearmost corner of the bedrail, right by the tailgate. It's a fairly protected place that won't really see anything bashing into it. This location required about a 6" wire lead from the switch to a quick connect for my power in/power out/ground cables. Grounding the switch is only necessary if you want the LED in the switch to turn on when the lights are on (assuming you have an illuminated switch, if you don't, there's no option to ground it). If you don't wish the switch to light up, then no need to ground it, but you're going to be grounding connections here anyway, so might as well.

    For my switch, the hole I needed to drill is simply a 1/2" hole, I needed to provide enough vertical clearance in the sheetmetal for the cover plate to sit against, but beyond that, placement can be wherever. I also put the switch as high as I did, in part because I wanted it there, but also because of the Bedrug, if you want it lower, go right ahead, there cowboy.

    So, with that said, figure out where you want your switch, grab a pilot bit (I used 3/16") and poke a hole in your bed. Then make that hole 1/2" or the appropriate size for your chosen switch.

    Follow up with a deburring tool, and maybe throw some paint on the exposed metal if you care to do so.

    wm-LQ-3288_9735d8c6aa66ff98463d2aefa41585233bf53391.jpg

    Use a female blade connector of the appropriate size for your wire to connect to the back of the switch. I cut my three leads so that they would end up about the same length when hung from the switch vertically - in other words, the power in cable was 6" long, the power out was 6.5" long, and the ground was 7". Not necessary, but it'll come in handy. Your exact length of lead may vary depending on location of your switch.

    wm-LQ-3283_f141aaad7ae4f6925b50cae30eaba85710ca682d.jpg

    wm-LQ-3285_38098e5030889b91b1f47279939c2fe3d677afd3.jpg

    Step 6: (installing the light strips)
    First gen w/o spray-on bedliner:
    Clean surface with denatured alcohol. Allow to dry. Once dry, begin installing the light strip from the SOLDERED SIDE (assuming you're running wires like I did, from the back of the truck) on. Peel away 6-12" of the cover material on the 3M tape, stretch, align and stick, making sure that it's adhering properly before continuing to the next 6-12" section. Continue until you've reached the end of the strip. Move on to the next bed rail or section of light and repeat the process.

    Once all the strips are on, grab your drill and drill bit that will be large enough for a small zip tie to pass through the hole. Drill your first hole immediately above the solder connection and then go on from there. I chose to drill a hole roughly every 12 LED emitters, at the cut mark. In other words, I put a hole in the bed rail every third trim point. Place the holes as close to the top of the tape as you can without damaging the tape.

    Once you've turned your bed rails into swiss cheese, thread a small zip tie into each hole and pull the slack out of the zip tie. Then trim the tail. I left all the trimming until the end because it's kind of fun. I recommend picking up a pair of "nippers" at the hardware store or radioshack, they trim the tails of zip ties totally flush with the head, avoiding the annoying sharp edge that side-cutters often leave behind as a result of the cutting edge being recessed.

    1st gen w/ spray-on bedliner:
    Repeat most of the steps outlined above, but because I doubt the adhesive will do you a damn bit of good, I would recommend putting a zip tie in every 3-emitters to be safe. The actual interval which you do this is entirely up to you, but I'd rather not have the lights saggin' ass.

    2nd gen:
    I honestly have no idea what your fancy plastic beds are like, so you might just have to improvise here. If someone comes up with an option here that works well for them I'll gladly add it.

    Additional lights/topper lighting, etc.:
    You'll have to get your innovation on with your specific setup, on my softopper I was able to stick the lights to the aluminum tubing, and then zip tie the wires to the side tubes and run that to the bed rail where they have a quick connection, but if you've got a hard shell top with carpet on the inside, your creativity level will have to increase. :)

    Step 7:
    Route wires in whatever disguised and hidden manner you so choose. :spy:

    I didn't want wires hanging below the bed rail, so I drilled a 1/4" hole at the back of each strip for the wire to pass through. If you wish, adding a rubber grommet here wouldn't be a bad idea to prevent wear on the wire leads. Be sure to secure loose wire when you can to prevent it from getting snagged on anything.

    This picture works for this step as well.
    wm-LQ-3288_9735d8c6aa66ff98463d2aefa41585233bf53391.jpg

    For the passenger side, I ran the wire down behind the tail light, and below the bed, attaching it to the wire loom that runs between the tail lights, and then up to the switch behind the driver side tail light. Do whatever makes the most sense for your truck. Just remember.... ZIP TIES ARE YOUR FWIEND.

    Step 8:
    You're getting there...

    Connect, in whatever manner you so choose, your positive wires for all strips together, and the ground wires for all strips together. I have three leads, so I stripped the ends of the three, and then twisted them together, inserted them into a crimp-on end and then called it a day. Your preferred method may be different. Do this to both the ground and positive wires.

    Then, connect all the ground wires together in the same manner. Remember to also connect them to the short ground lead that connects to your switch if applicable. I ran all of these ends into a single waterproof crimp connector, so I could disconnect them as needed.

    From left to right: power in, power out, ground. I have three leads to light strips, so I have three wires tied into the power out, and 4 grounded.
    wm-LQ-3289_d31507fefe8116db80dea691c7c8c1aec4b21c9d.jpg

    Step 9:
    :spy: Discretely run your fused power line from the engine bay to the bed. Or from whatever power source you so choose (bed-mounted deep cycle solar charging system?) to the location of the switch. Add the mate to your power in and ground connections, hook up and flip the switch!

    If you didn't do it right, well I can't help you*. But if you did, you should be able to see in your bed at night! Good job.

    * If it's not working, make sure you maintained polarity on all of your wiring. Ensure that you didn't melt the copper tape, or do something to cause a short. Testing your solder joints prior to install is a good way to avoid that situation.


    wm-LQ-3294_8b1ec10b0706060f9af0d0648a13a3d5f14e8b36.jpg

    I wasn't kidding when I said 132 zip ties.
    wm-LQ-3253_9d7374770becc7508dd9e18f45f548554128540c.jpg

    wm-LQ-3254_80871072557f014126d7e9fbcd92c2afc85e0cca.jpg

    wm-LQ-3255_a713503a904c74e499fe559e4127de9e985b72be.jpg

    Still have full use of the softopper's ability to fold away.
    wm-LQ-3302_b50eaf1815fb0b801c7cb4f75ef33dd069daba16.jpg

    And remove completely with a couple of blade connectors.
    wm-LQ-3303_204c095b9683c253ca26d613a99333a6a6b335e8.jpg

    If I didn't mention it, I had a cold when I wrote this out, so I was "resting". And bored.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
  2. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:21 PM
    #2
    medic2230

    medic2230 @Koditten Pirate Radio member #002

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    Nice write up! Pics of ZTT-1 in action?
     
  3. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:26 PM
    #3
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    I don't have any, but here's a couple that I found from the interweb. If you want one of it on a zip tie I can grab a shot tomorrow for ya.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:29 PM
    #4
    medic2230

    medic2230 @Koditten Pirate Radio member #002

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    That's the BT-2.

    I was interested in the ZTT-1. :D
    I broke my bike, no need for one of those.
     
  5. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:31 PM
    #5
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    I've got a label maker in my bench, I can relabel it for you :p
     
  6. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:32 PM
    #6
    Colt562

    Colt562 Well-Known Member

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    instead of using that many zip ties for the lights in the bed you could always add some double sided tape.
     
  7. Aug 10, 2014 at 8:41 PM
    #7
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    I've had double sided tape fail before, didn't want to have to deal with that later on.
     
  8. May 1, 2015 at 5:24 PM
    #8
    jjsul

    jjsul Well-Known Member

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    I'm about to wire up something real similar to this and haven't done much, if any, electrical work. I'm hoping you can clarify/confirm some questions. :)

    To run a hot wire from the battery I can attach one end to the battery terminal and run it all the way down the truck to directly connect to my led strip and switch. I'll also put an in line fuse near the battery.

    It looks like you've got both + and - coming into the brake light housing from the battery. Your essentially running a ground from the engine compartment to the rear brake light housing as well?

    Thank you for the write up!

    Cheers
    James

    Edit:
    I found this image and think this is what my wiring is lookin like in my head

    ImageUploadedByTapatalk1430527185.353368.jpg

    Isn't this what you've done?
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2015
  9. May 2, 2015 at 6:14 AM
    #9
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    Yep! You've got it. That's basically how I had this set up - I found that speaker wire worked for leading between the pieces of light strip, it's not too heavy and can easily be threaded through small spaces, and it solders easily.
     
  10. May 22, 2015 at 6:08 AM
    #10
    armyofsquirrels

    armyofsquirrels Embrace the Suck!

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    That is ridiculously sick! I'm stealing this and going with red lighting.
     
  11. May 22, 2015 at 6:13 AM
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    Rattletrap66

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  12. May 22, 2015 at 6:14 AM
    #12
    Rippin101

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    As did I. Great write up though. Matt just makes the kit too easy :D
     
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  13. Jul 1, 2015 at 7:06 PM
    #13
    Mobtown Offroad

    Mobtown Offroad Boss Vendor

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  14. May 3, 2016 at 8:41 AM
    #14
    alee891

    alee891 Tacomaless

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    @capturecolorado What's the time frame on this project? I'd love to have my softtopper lit up before Rock therapy.
     
  15. May 4, 2016 at 7:29 AM
    #15
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    Once I had all the parts, I was able to get it done in an hour or two--easy enough to do in an evening after work!

    I actually really need to do this to my hard shell topper soon, gotta figure out how to make that work soon.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2016
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  16. May 4, 2016 at 7:45 AM
    #16
    Jrobertson

    Jrobertson Well-Known Member

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    Im thinking of doing something similar. but I want to use a contact switch so when i lower my tail gate it triggers on and turns the lights on. and when closed the lights go off. I am going to find a constant hot source in the rear of the truck to tap into for power and use an inline fuse. that way i don't have to run all the way back too the battery. At 2amps for the entire strand i don't think it will cause much of a problem if i ran it to the 7 pin for my trailer connection (i never tow anyways). To make it super simple i may just put them on one side of the bad. i think that would light up the back nicely.
     
  17. May 4, 2016 at 7:50 AM
    #17
    capturecolorado

    capturecolorado [OP] Well-Known Member

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    I thought about doing similar for my current setup, but for me I know there are times that I want light without the tailgate down. Just something to consider :thumbsup:
     
  18. May 4, 2016 at 7:57 AM
    #18
    Jrobertson

    Jrobertson Well-Known Member

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    yeah been toying a bit with that thought too. I could technically put two toggles in place. one that i can manually trip, and one that does it with the tail gate. could be fun just from a project stand point. but still playing with the idea.
     
  19. May 4, 2016 at 8:02 AM
    #19
    alee891

    alee891 Tacomaless

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    My bed needs lighting in a bad way. Digging through my toolbox at night is miserable!
     
  20. May 4, 2016 at 8:09 AM
    #20
    Rosewood

    Rosewood Well-Known Member

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    Great write-up! Thanks for the inspiration and experienced tips.
     

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