One of the least expensive lights that I regularly use on set is a covered wagon light that is essentially a batten strip light with mesh wire and your choice of diffusion material covering it. Its a quick and easy way to create a beautiful soft light that is relatively easy to place anywhere. I also often used covered wagon lights to complement firelight with the addition of a dimmer or flicker box.
Typically though, the electricians/juicers will build multiple covered wagon lights as cheaply and as quickly as possible by using 1×6 pine lumber and by the end of a shoot, they have been used and abused to the point they get thrown out during wrap.
Since we have been expanding Cine’ Foundry’s Grip and Electric inventory the past few months, I decided I wanted to build a covered wagon light that was more durable and suitable as a permanent fixture on our G&E truck. I spent the past few months experimenting and came up with a design that I’m pretty happy with and I decided that I would share the construction plans and a tutorial on how tho build a solid, long life covered wagon light.
I’ve designed these plans to require the least amount of construction knowledge/experience and utilizing as few tools as possible. Most of the lumber used is off the shelf cuts from the specialty wood section of Lowe’s Home Improvement stores but I’m sure similar cuts are pretty standard at any home improvement store. The total cost for assembling this design is around $70 but there is excess materials that can be used for multiple covered wagon lights that would reduce the overall cost per light. You can construct this using less expensive wood and components that will also substantially reduce the cost but remember, this design is for a light that I would just as quickly pull out in front of a client and feel confident that it wouldn’t appear cheap and DIY.
Lumber (Measurements are in inches)
* I prefer Oak for durability but you can save on cost by using Pine or other
- 2 – 1/2X6X24
- 1 – 1/2X2X24
- 3 – 1X2X24
- 2 – 1/4X3X24
- 1 – 1/4X4X24
- 1 – Roll of poultry netting (chicken wire)
- 3 – Porcelain Medium Base Light Sockets (rated 150 Watts or more) with mounting bracket
- 1 – 5 ft Roll 14 Gauge Wire
- Assortment of Wire Connectors or Wire Nuts
- 1 – Toggle Switch (Rated 10A, 125V)
- 1 – Bottle Liquid Electric Tape
- 1 Box (40 Count) – #8 Stainless 1″ phillip screws
- 2 Boxes (16 Count) – #8 Stainless Finish Washers
- 6ft cut of 12/3 wire
- 1 – minimum 15A 3 prong plug
- 48 inches of 1″ wide velcro
- Polyurethane (optional)
- 1 – Chest Handle (optional)
- 1 – 5/8 baby spud (filmtools.com has the best price)
- Diffusion material (Tracing Paper, Muslin, Lee Diffusion Gel, etc.)
- Wire cutters
- Electric Drill
- Drill Bits
- Adjustable Wrench
- Screw Driver
- Wire Stripper
- Sander (For a more polished look)
*REMEMBER to always pre-drill the screw holes to prevent cracking 1. Begin with the 1/2X2X24 lumber by measuring and cutting it into a 20 inch long piece. Depending on the size of wood you purchased or the specific dimensions you are going for, you might want to use a table saw, although jigsaws would also do the job. Attach this to one of the 1/2X6X24 pieces of lumber being sure to pre-drill the screws with 2 screws and washers. This becomes the back of the light and attachment section for the sockets.
2. On the new 20 inch long piece, measure from one end every 5 inches marking 3 positions for the light sockets positions.
3. Attach the 2 – 1/4X3X24 pieces of lumber on either side of the back with 3 screws and washers each. This creates the sides where the chicken wire will later be attached.
4. Cut a 6 inch section off of the remaining 1/2X6X24 piece of lumber. Also, using 1 of the 1X2X24 pieces, cut 2 pieces exactly the width of the inside between the 2 side pieces. (should be 5 1/2 inches but measure to confirm due to shrinkage etc) Place and secure with 2 screws and washers one of these pieces to the 6 inch cut as pictured. Attach and then set it in-between the sides flush against the 1/2X2X20 piece attached to the back as pictured. Secure with with 2 screws and washers through the sides into the 1X2X5 1/2 piece.
5. Attach with 2 screws and washers the second 1x2x5 1/2 piece to the end of the back panel. This creates a box to place the switch and wiring in later.
6. Using the 1/4X4X24 piece, cut a 5 1/2 inch for the switch panel/cover (again, measure the opening as pictured to confirm length)
7. Confirm the proper diameter of the the toggle switch. (on the Servalight brand I used, it was a 3/8 hole) Drill the hole slightly off center through the switch panel/cover you just cut. Secure the toggle switch to the panel using an adjustable wrench.
8. Cut another 5 1/2 inch piece from the remaining 1X2X24. Attach this piece with 2 screws and washers to the opposite end of the unit from the switch end between the sides as pictured.
9. At this point, if you desire to sand and polyurethane the fixture, you should disassemble it and add 2 coats of polyurethane on all sides of the wood.
10. Wire the sockets by attaching the 14 gauge wire to the furthest socket from the switch box then attaching it to the other three sockets being sure to allow at least 8 inches of wire between each socket and at least 10 inches of wire that will attach to the toggle switch. Once you have wired the sockets you can coat the bare wire with liquid electrical tape for safety and presentation. WIRING BASICS: When wiring the porcelain sockets, keep note that you attach one run of wire to the “Hot/Black” terminal which will be the brass colored screw on the socket. The other run of wire should attach to the silver screw with indicates the “Neutral/White” terminal. If you have questions about wiring basics please do your research or ask someone. Note: This design and these directions are intended to wire a parallel circuit so that you may remove one bulb and the other 2 will still work.
11. Re-assemble the fixture leaving one side panel off to provide access to reattach the sockets once you have completely wired the fixture. Once you have attached the sockets, re attach the side panel.
12. Drill two 3/8 holes into the fixture as pictured. This allows you to pass the wire into the switch box and to attach the cable for the edison 15 amp plug later.
13. Wire the Toggle Switch into the circuit being sure to place the toggle switch into the Black/Hot leg using wire connectors. On cable that has a ground wire, attach to the back of the fixture using a screw as pictured. Be sure to crimp, solder or secure your wire with wire nuts sufficiently.
14. Once you have completely wired the switch, assemble the switch plate with 3 screws and washers as pictured being sure not to crimp the wires or cut into them when screwing in the screws.
15. Attach velcro to both side panels as pictured.
16. Cut the remaining 2 – 1X2X24 to fit into the fixture as pictured. This becomes the “tension boards” that hold the chicken/poultry wire in place. Cut a 24″x24″ section out of the chicken wire and place behind the tension boards then secure each one with 3 screws and washers.
17. Attach the 15A 3 prong plug to the end of the 12/3 cable being sure to wire the Brass/Silver to the Hot/Neutral legs appropriately.
18. Using the diffusion of choice, (I prefer un-bleach Muslin) cut a 24″x24″ square and attach the backing of the velcro to either side of the fabric. This will create an easy to attach diffusion and you can repeat this step for any and all diffusion/gels that you like.
19. If you chose to have a handle for the back of your light, this is the step to attach it along with a 5/8 baby spud. Drill a hole corresponding with the size bolt the 5/8 baby spud accepts attempting to place it as close to center on the back or the fixture and attach the 5/8 baby spud securely.
That’s it. I think this is the best approach to creating a solid, durable and attractive lighting fixture. The quality of light is gorgeous from covered wagon lights and this design is the best that I have personally seen for a DIY approach. Feel free to shoot me any suggestions or questions here.
This is outstanding. I know a lot of work went into this article. Thanks, James!
Thanks Manny, I plan on continuing more post such as these. Any suggestions are always welcome.
General lighting / wiring practice in homes is to put the switch on the hot wire, not the neutral wire, as if the neutral wire is switched, all the circuit needs to do is ground elsewhere and the switch will no longer function to cut the power.
What is the rational behind putting the toggle switch on the neutral?
D, You are correct. Pure oversight on our part in the wiring diagram. Its fixed now but you should wire the toggle into the hot wire, not the neutral. Thanks for pointing it out.
No problem. Just FYI, I did also notice that on the Vegas light article. Anyway, other then that the article was immensely useful. Just finished building 2 x covered wagons using the article as a reference.
Awesome. Send me some photos, if you can. I’d love to see them.
When do you attached the 12/3 cable to the wiring? I see you used the 14 gauge for the sockets, but if I didn’t want to use a toggle switch and just have the lights hot strike, would I attach the 14 gauge to the 12/3 at the end of the line and then have that go into the edison plug?
If you don’t want the toggle switch, I would just strip the 12/3 and use that wire to connect to the sockets. Thats probably the easiest and most streamlined approach.
Thanks. I’ll stick to just the 12/3 and run that through the entire fixture.
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“On cable that has a ground wire, attach to the back of the fixture using a screw as pictured.”
I’m assuming you’re referring to the power cable? I’m at the point where I’m connecting the toggle switch to black on the power cord.
Next I connect the neutral leg thats gone to each silver screw on each socket to white on the power cable.
Then after that, I screw the green wire from the power cord to the back of the fixture? Just didn’t see the picture that you mentioned