The Possibilities of Portable Lighting

February 26, 2010 10:24 AM

In many farm shops, the only option for portable lighting is a good olé' trouble light. Trouble lights feature a metal reflector/shield guaranteed to sear bare skin and an incandescent bulb that pops and shatters at even the slightest contact with the floor or machinery. Add the limitations inherent to a 115-volt cord that is invariably a couple feet short of allowing it to reach the exact spot you need it, and trouble lights are sometimes as much of a nuisance as a convenience.

Fortunately, there are other options—lights on movable, extendable stands; lights that burn cool; lights that don't need power cords—when it's time to crawl inside a combine or make repairs in a dark corner of a machine shed. Here are a few portable lighting options on the market, along with their advantages, disadvantages and price ranges:

115-volt halogen work lights. Usually in square housings and often mounted on extendable stands, halogen work lights range from 250 watts to 500 watts. They provide an intense yellowish light. Somewhat bulky and susceptible to impact or vibration damage, they also produce a significant amount of heat.

Halogen lights are nice to work near in the winter but are uncom-fortable in tight quarters during warm weather. Price varies with wattage, but a small clamp-on 250-watt halogen light will cost around $15, while larger units that feature two 500-watt halogen fixtures on an extendable stand sell for $50 to $70.

Fluorescent work lights. Essentially, a fluorescent work light is a 115-volt trouble light with a fluorescent fixture at the end of the power cord, instead of an incandescent bulb.

Fluorescent work lights offer moderate shock and impact resistance. The odd whitish lighting of fluorescent bulbs gives a pale light that is less penetrating than conventional incandescent or halogen lights. A magnetic clip common on the housings of most fluorescent work lights makes them easy to position for maximum illumination. Most fluorescent work lights come with 25' or 50' cords.

The 13-watt, single-bulb fluorescent work lights are priced from $40 to $70, depending on cord length. A set of 26-watt fluorescent work lights (two 13-watt fluorescent tubes in one unit) range from $50 for units with 25' cords to $80 for lights with 50' cords.

Cordless work lights. Rechargeable, battery-powered work lights come in a variety of designs, capabilities and prices. Some are essentially rechargeable flashlights or lanterns designed to be propped up with their beam shining on the work area. They provide a reasonable yellowish light and don't get uncomfortably hot, but they are a challenge to prop in place and keep precisely aimed.

Battery-powered LED work lights. An array of small LED lights creates bright white light without significant heat. Light from LED work lights is somewhat directional—it doesn't diffuse and spread out like the light from conventional lightbulbs. Run time for LED lights depends on the type of battery and the sophistication of miniaturized circuitry in the unit but ranges from four to eight hours. Illumination may decrease as batteries deplete. Magnetic bases or clips, combined with the cordless nature of battery-powered LED lights, make them ideal for repairs underneath dashboards, deep inside combines or for nighttime repairs in the field.

Economy-grade LED work lights with a built-in battery and a simple battery charger range from $40 to $50. Professional-grade LED units with two detachable batteries and a "smart” charger are in the $150 range.

Incandescent trouble lights. Install a "rough-duty” lightbulb in a conventional metal-shielded trouble light and you've got a reliable, fairly impact-resistant work light on a 50' cord for around $15 to $30.

A work light at hand will help shed light on machinery repairs. Just don't forget to pick up batteries.


Cool Tool

Battery-powered LED work lights are the next big thing for nighttime field repairs. Lightweight, cool to the touch, rechargeable and relatively resistant to impact and vibration damage, they are a great tool to keep in the pickup, tractor or combine.


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