you’re interested in electronics and can use a soldering iron and some simple
hand tools, you can easily build yourself an incredibly effective high
performance LED lighting system.
week’s project – a handheld spotlight - is great as a bike headlight or as a
very low power consumption camping spotlight or hand-held torch.
Part 2 of this series we’ll show you how to build what are probably the word’s
most effective flashing LED tail-lights or breakdown beacons, then in Part 3
we'll cover how to flash high-power LEDs, and also install the complete lighting system
on a Human Powered Vehicle.
It’s easy to make light – lots of light.
Car headlights are particularly good at it – they
typically have a power of 50 watts each headlight and produce a broad, even
beam. But 50 watts is a helluva power draw if you have to carry the battery or
generate power from human effort.
Some night racing mountain bikers use miniature
12V halogens, typically with a power of about 20 watts. Again, they make lots of
light – but 20 watts from 12V is a continuous power consumption of 1.7 amps. To
get more than a few hours of light, you’ll need a bloody big battery – even if
it’s a state of the art lithium ion.
So how’d you like a decent light that draws that
has a power of only 5 watts – one-tenth of a car headlight and one-quarter a 20W
halogen? It will be bright enough that if you mount it on a bike, cars coming
the other way on a dark country road will often flash their headlights, thinking
you’re on high beam. I can vouch for the ability to ride downhill at over 60
km/h on a moonless and starless night, road illuminated solely by the 5W
headlight. Used as a handheld spotlight, it will match a typical 50W sealed beam
for penetration (although it will have a narrower spread).
And you want this amazing light? Here’s how to
Luxeon LED headlight on a Greenspeed recumbent pedal trike. The car in the main
beam is 35 metres away. Also note the broad, lower intensity illumination
immediately in front of the trike.
The headlight – and in fact all the lights covered
in this series - use Luxeon LEDs. If you’re used to only normal garden variety
5mm diameter white LEDs, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. The
excitement is because Luxeon LEDs are nothing like those littlies of yesterday.
You can’t look directly at a Luxeon LED – they’re simply too bright. And when
you add a collimator (a special internally reflecting lens) and an external 75mm
glass focusing lens, well, the beam is simply fantastic. And yet the light
weighs little and (it’s worth saying it again!) draws only about 5 watts.
To make the headlight you’ll need:
5W Luxeon LED (Jaycar Electronics ZD-0440)
Narrow beam collimating lens (Jaycar Electronics
Large finned heatsink to suit the LED (Altronics
H0520 or an ex-PC main processor heatsink)
Small nuts and bolts
Stainless steel drinking cup
U-PVC plastic plumbing cap that fits over the open
end of the cup
Glass (not plastic!) magnifying glass of the same
diameter as the open end of the cup
To power the headlight you’ll need:
Note that in most cases, the mouth of the
stainless steel cup will have a diameter of 75mm (3 inches), making it easy to
source a suitable plastic cap and magnifying glass. Single wall stainless steel
drinking cups can now be very hard to find, but Coastal Kitchen and Cutlery on
the Gold Coast, Australia, (phone: 07 5526 9399) has them in stock at AUD$5.50
each. A double wall (ie insulated) cup can also be used but it is heavier and a
more difficult to drill.
So how does it come together? In short, the
plastic plumbing cap has a large diameter hole cut into it and the magnifying
glass is mounted within the resulting flange. The flange/lens combination then
fits over the open end of the stainless steel cup. The 5W LED is fitted with its
internal collimating lens and bolted to a heatsink. A hole is drilled in the
base of the cup for the LED/collimator assembly to project through and the
heatsink is then bolted to the base of the cup. This pic shows the completed
light, although in this case instead of using a plastic PVC cap, I machined off
the bottom of an old aluminium fire extinguisher and used that to form the
The LED driver module efficiently supplies the
right current to the LED. The battery – well, you know what the battery is for.
Both the battery and the driver circuit board should be mounted in a
So the project is not for the fainthearted –
there’s fabrication and electronic kit building and soldering and boxes and
brackets. Total cost also adds up – say near AUD$150. (Of course, this will be
decreased if you have a battery charger available, or the battery, or a suitable
Cut a hole about 65mm in diameter in the centre of
the plastic plumbing cap. Sand the edges of the cut-out smooth and then use
silicone to glue the lens within the cap. This assembly forms the focussing
Drill holes in the heatsink to allow small nuts
and screws to be used to attach the LED to the heatsink. Drill an additional
pair of holes in the heatsink to allow the power supply wiring to the LED to
pass through the heatsink (or alternatively, these wires can pass through a hole
drilled in the stainless steel drinking cup). Use a file to shorten the plastic
legs of the collimating lens so that it sits squarely over the LED, legs resting
against the heatsink and centre of the collimator in firm contact with the LED.
Place some heatsink compound under the LED and
then attach the LED to the heatsink with the small screws and nuts. Ensure the
heads of the screws do not short-circuit the power supply connections to the LED
(you may want to use nylon nuts and bolts). Glue the collimating lens securely
to the LED and heatsink. Pass the wiring through the heatsink and solder it to
the LED. Seal the holes through the heatsink with silicone.
Cut a 35mm hole in the centre bottom of the
stainless steel cup. At this point also drill the cup for any mounting brackets
that will be needed. Position the heatsink on the bottom of the cup so that the
LED and collimator project through the 35mm hole. Mark and then drill
appropriate holes to bolt the heatsink to the cup, sealing this join with
Powering the LED
Note: you cannot power a Luxeon LED by
connecting it straight to a current source eg a 12V battery. If you do so, you
will immediately kill the LED!
As with any LEDs, a resistor can be used in series
with the LED to limit the current flow. This calculator
linear1.org allows you to easily work out the required
For example, to drive the 5W LED from 12V you need
to firstly look at the specs – a forward voltage drop of 6.84V and a current of
700mA. Plug these figures in and the calculator suggests an 8.2 ohm, 4W
resistor. Note that this means that the resistor is dissipating (wasting) about
the same amount of power as is being used to light the LED! To avoid the
resistor getting really hot, it’s wise to double the wattage over the suggested
value – eg use a 10W resistor. Powering the LED via a resistor is the cheapest
and easiest approach to running the LED.
A resistor will work but it is much more efficient
to use a dedicated LED driver module. The Luxeon Star Driver electronic kit
available from Jaycar Electronics is a dedicated DC/DC high power LED driver. It
will waste far less power and so will not get as warm as a resistor;
furthermore, the drain on the battery is lower. If using the Luxeon Star Driver
kit, now is the time to build it – it comes with instructions and needs to be
configured to suit the LED being used (in this case, 5W).
Connect the LED to the power supply (making sure
that the polarity is correct), and the power supply to the battery.
Alternatively, if using a resistor, place the 10W, 8.2 ohm resistor in series
with the LED.
Test the operation of the LED light with the
focussing lens in place. The assembly should throw a very bright spot of
light about 60cm in diameter on a wall 3 metres away. This beam angle is ideal
for a long-range bike headlight or a handheld spotlight.
If all is working satisfactorily, use silicone to
glue the lens assembly in place.
Part 3 of this series we’ll show you how you can switch the light from being
fully on to flashing at a fast rate. Not only does the flashing mode really get
attention, it also saves on power, allowing the battery to last much longer.
The performance of the prototype was – and remains
- outstanding. On a country road lacking any street lights, and tested on a very
dark night with no moonlight or starlight, sufficient illumination was provided
by the headlight to allow the safe pedalling downhill at over 60 km/h. Yep –
sixty kilometres an hour! That’s one bright bike headlight...
Used as a handheld spotlight, you can illuminate
objects an easy 50 metres away – and pick up reflectors at more like 200 metres.
Because the spotlight weighs so little (in this type of application you’d wear
the battery on a belt), it’s also quite wieldy to use.
With the quoted battery and using the Luxeon
driver kit, the light should stay at full brightness for about 7 or so
less power is required, a 3W LED can be used in place of the 5W LED. If the
assembly is always going to have airflow over it, the 3W LED can be bolted to
the inside of the single wall cup and the cup itself used as the heatsink. This
saves having to make the large hole in the bottom of the cup and removes the
need for the separate heatsink. Note that the power supply will need to be
configured to suit the LED being used.
During development of the Luxeon Spotlight a
number of different designs were trialled. All were optimised for a beam angle
of about 15 degrees.
Peak Measured Intensity
(lux at 3 metres)
3W Luxeon, narrow beam collimator
115 lux at edge – good usable beam. Compact and simple.
3W Luxeon, narrow beam collimator, 75mm glass lens
Only 66 lux at edge. Bright in middle of beam and falls off rapidly.
3W Luxeon, wide angle collimator
Broad but feeble beam
5W Luxeon, narrow beam collimator, 75mm glass lens
Super bright middle grading to 130 lux at
Narrow beam collimator – Jaycar ZD-0420
Broad beam collimator – Jaycar ZD-0422
In summary, if you want the best, the 5W design
described above is it! However, if you want a compact but still very effective
spotlight beam, the 3W Luxeon with the Jaycar narrow beam collimator gives
Next week – building two different high
intensity red LED lights.