How To Wire & Install LED Reel Lighting: A Tutorial

9:55 PM Katy 21 Comments

Behold the tutorial for the the rest of us! And I even made a graphic for Pinterest because I love you:
If you can use a glue gun, you can do this. Here are the things you need:
A soldering gun/iron. You can get one like this, and notice how cheap! Every girl should have one.
Solder. (This is the "glue" for your "glue gun")
 18 Guage Speaker Wire, this project required just over 100 feet of it, but you may not need this much. Still - it's pretty cheap. I found this at my local Lowe's in the section with the telephone and other cable.

 I bought 2 reels and a transformer here & here.  The transformer comes with a little tiny plug that you have to cut off and expose the black & red wires. Below shows how to cut the LED reel into pieces and solder each one. (The strips of lights have adhesive on the back to stick to your shelves.) Use the wire strippers to expose the bare wires for soldering.
Here is a Youtube tutorial on how to use a soldering gun, but it works just like a glue gun. Instead of the glue being pushed through the hot nozzle, however, you have to hold the solder against the tip to melt it. CAREFUL HERE: don't get any solder between the positive and negative circles, they have to be kept separate.

 Here is how I ran the speaker wire from each shelf up to the top, where I had installed an outlet:

 I plugged the transformer into the wall, and then I had to bundle all the speaker wires together. You MUST keep track of all the wires so that all the "positives" are bundled together, and the "negatives" are together.
 Here is a close up of the other end of the transformer. Cut off the plug that was there previously to expose the black and red wires, and then twist together with the appropriate bundle. They are held together with a wire nut. (that plastic cap thing)
(wire strippers needed here as well, to expose the end of each wire so you can bundle them together -they all have to make contact with each other.)

this will be covered by the pieces of wood trim on the front edges of all the shelves, so you won't see the wires or holes etc.
NOTE: transformers can go bad, so make sure you've got access if you need to replace it. I'm going to have to cut an access panel in the top of the bookcase, and cover it with a thin piece of wood. I'm going to be building the top of these bookcases up with crown molding, so I need to be able to access the transformer another way.

I should have just plugged this into the outlet down at the bottom of the wall, but at the beginning of this project I thought that I was going to install bookcase "lamps" at the top of each one... this design change made a little more work for me but it's ok. :) Here is the post where I showed the wiring for the new switch and outlet (these LED lights are controlled by a switch I installed in the wall first.)

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  1. Brilliant brilliant brilliant. I can't wait to do this. I'm thinking under the cabinets in the kitchen. Then, later when I blog it, all I have to do is just link back here!

  2. hahahaha Beth - I already decided that I'm replacing all the lights under my kitchen cabinets with this too :)

  3. Oh! vary nice lifting. Thanks

  4. Uh, I will admit I just looked at the pictures. You are my hero.

  5. Yay! It looks great! Thank you for taking the time to make these tutorials ... I hear soldering gun and I picture a big burly man with a blackout mask wielding a huge flame, when it reality it's just a special glue gun! And wire cutters are just fancy little scissors, and a transformer is just a box that you buy! I could do that!

  6. Ok cool, really cool! Great job!
    dee dee

  7. mollysusie: soldering and WELDING are basically the same idea. Once you master the solder, I bet you could get yourself a blowtorch and figure out how to weld something. :)

  8. If you used these lights for kitchen cabinets, where would you stash the transformers (hopefully it wouldn't have to be in the cabinet)?

  9. yes, the cabinet over the microwave, that's where I have to stash all the power cords that go to my current cabinet lighting. I'm just going to replace it with these LEDs :)

  10. How cool are you? Way cool! Love this tutorial and so glad the LED lights won over the funnel lights! Ditto on the hero thing too!

  11. Adding a dimmer switch to these would be fantastic. Since you wired the outlet to a wall switch, try replacing it with a dimmer. It's easy to do and the effect will be most dramatic.


  12. I like the switch that has options of getting it dimmer.

  13. Hi Katy. Looks great! I'm wanting to do something similar with my bookcases. I'm an engineer too, so I analyze the heck out of everything. I see you have the lights wired in parallel instead of series like I was planning. Did you do it this way to avoid having a voltage drop at the end of a series? Have you had any problems with bundling so many wires into one wire nut? Thanks for the tutorial. Karen

  14. Hi Karen, I didn't do any serious analysis of the voltage drop - I'm an ME after all and this is outside my usual bag of tricks. :) I did parallel because it just made more sense to me - I hate lots of things wired in series because it's harder to fix when it goes bad. I didn't have trouble getting all the wires into one wire nut but it was a big one. Sorry that's the limit on my expertise on this :)

  15. Hey! Loving your helpful tutorial. I'm trying to work out how you powered 2 x 5m strips with one 12V transformer?? Could you explain that bit pls? x

    1. Laura,

      I bought one 5m strip myself. For 5m, the power dissipation is 4.8 Watts x 5 = 24 Watts.
      My AC adapter is rated 12V 2A. 12V x 2A = 24 Watts.

    2. Laura,

      I realized that my previous answer wasn't complete.

      Katy, the writer of this blog, was able to power two (2) strips because she bought a 12V 4A AC adapter. Mine to power only one (1) needed only half the power hence the 12V 2A AC adapter.

      I hope that explains it better.

      I made a house number sign but cutting the 5m strip into several smaller ones. The numbers are approximately 12" high and can be seen about 100 feet away. I want the fire department to see my house! :-)

  16. Excellent post! You explained the installation steps very intelligently. Led lighting looks amazing, it can be used for indoor or out door lighting.

  17. Nice job! I know a lot about lighting and larger projects but when it comes down to using power tools my wife warns bystanders to beware! Hope you are enjoying your new (well a few years anyway since your project) LED lighted bookcases!

  18. Any issues since your install? I see it was done 2 years ago. Was considering doing 4 sets of lights for my work station

  19. Hi Gunr,
    nope, no issues at all and it's still looking great -- I'm replacing all my old halogen pot lights in my kitchen with these LEDs as well.


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