This article was first published in 2006.
If you like collecting the stuff that others throw
out, here’s a near zero cost way of putting together a high tech cold cathode
florescent light ideal for lighting the inside of boots, under the bonnet or
even under the doors.
What You Need
Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lights (CCFL) are used in
the instrument panels of some cars like Lexus, but there’s a much easier and
cheaper way of getting them. Pretty well all flatbed scanners have them – it’s
the light that travels along with the carriage when you’re scanning something.
And even in scanners that have been thrown away, the CCFL most often still
The tube – about 2.5mm in diameter and the width
of an A4 page (funny ‘bout that!) - is powered by a specific high voltage (HV)
power supply unit. But this is usually very easy to locate – it’s the separate
printed circuit board with just a handful of components on it that’s connected
straight to the CCFL tube. Two wires lead to the HV power supply – a red wire
(positive) and a black wire (negative). The CCFL usually lights at voltages
above about 5V.
Note: The HV power supply develops hundreds of
volts at very high frequency. The high frequency means that it is easy to get
skin burns from the supply if you come in contact with it. Be careful!
The CCFL can be run straight off 12V but the tube
gets warm and power supply will probably also get hot. Better is to drop the
voltage to a more friendly 5 or so volts. This can be done with a high power
resistor but a much more elegant way is to use the guts of a cigarette lighter
phone adaptor. Many of these produce an output voltage of about 5V and can
supply enough current. (Check the markings on the phone adaptor for the actual
It’s a dead easy device to build. Open-up the old
scanner and carefully remove the CCFL lamp and its HV power supply. The CCFL
lamp will break if bent, so it’s best to keep part of the original housing to
hold it securely. If you have a variable voltage power supply, connect up the
positive and negative HV power wires and slowly turn up the voltage, checking
that the CCFL lights. Bright, isn’t it?
Then open-up the cigarette lighter phone adaptor,
paying attention to which wires are the input (ie nominally 12V in) and which
wires are the output (nominally ~5V out). Connect the output wires to the CCFL
power supply’s input, maintaining the correct polarity. Solder a pair of wires
to the phone adaptor’s input, remembering that the centre pin of the plug is
Check the system works by applying 12V.
It’s best to mount the HV supply and the phone
adaptor in a small plastic box – remember, you don’t want to come in contact
with the HV power supply! In our case, the two boards were held in place with
Installation is just a case of placing the CCFL in
the boot (or wherever you need the light), locating it so that it can’t be knocked. The power supply
box can be mounted nearby. Feed power to the system from the original boot light
(you can retain that light if you wish, or alternatively replace it entirely
with the CCFL) and then wait for darkness so you can admire your handiwork. Wow,
a florescent lamp in the boot!
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