If you’re considering building your own LED grow light but don’t own a lot of tools, don’t let this stop you! There are only a handful of essentials that you’ll need, and these are tools that many people tend to own, so you can probably borrow whatever you don’t have if you can’t afford to buy it. The following is a list of the most important tools you’ll need to build your light:
#1 – Cordless Drill
Unless you order your heat sinks with pre-drilled holes (come on, where’s the fun in that?), you’re going to need a good cordless drill. Now – If you have access to a drill press, I would definitely recommend using it over a cordless drill, but if you’re like most people and would rather work on this stuff in your own home or don’t know anyone with a drill press, a cordless drill will definitely do the trick!
While there’s a ton of variety out there for cordless drills when it comes to brand, battery, and power, you won’t really need the best of the best for the the type of work you’ll be doing. The main task you’ll need this drill for is drilling out holes in your heat sinks to mount your cobs. You can also use a drill to tap these holes once they’re drilled, but unless you have a lot of experience, you’re probably better off doing that by hand.
The drill I use most often on my LED projects is a fairly cheap 18 volt Dewalt unit, though I also own a 20 volt Dewalt drill that I have for work, which is much nicer (it has a little LED that lights up when you pull the trigger, which really helps illuminate whatever you’re drilling when you’re working in low light). When you buy yours, ultimately, it’ll come down to what you can afford and how much you’re willing to spend.
The cheaper Dewalt drill I use is this older 18V model. I’ve had it for several years and the batteries don’t last very long anymore, but it still easily does what I need it to do:
The 20V unit I have for work is a little pricier, but has some nice features like a metal chuck, lithium-ion batteries (rather than nickel cadmium) and the built-in LED:
The other brand I’d recommend based on what I see most on construction sites is Milwaukee – something like this kit would work nicely:
#2 – Digital Multimeter
A good multimeter is essential for working with electronics like power supplies, drivers, COBs, and accessories. The meter I use is a Fluke 111, though you can find meters that’ll do the job that are considerably less expensive. You’ll need a meter that can measure resistance, DC voltage, and DC current (check to see how much current the meter is capable of handling – 10 Amps will be fine for the kind of circuits we’re measuring). Some features that are nice to have if you’re willing to spend a little extra are auto-ranging (no need to manually select the range of whatever it is you’re measuring – the meter sets it for you), and a backlit display (mine doesn’t have this and I wish I had paid the little extra for it).
In my opinion, if you’re looking for a quality meter that you’ll use on other projects and you know will last, get a Fluke. However, if this is ALL you’re going to use your meter for, you can get a different brand for much cheaper.
Here’s a good option from Fluke:
Here’s the best seller on Amazon that would also work for a fraction of the cost:
#3 – Wire Strippers
I use a set of wire strippers every single day for my day job, and if you’re going to buy one, I can’t stress the importance of getting a nice pair. You’ll want to make sure you get a pair of strippers that is capable of stripping very small wire, as many 12V fans and accessories have teeny-tiny little wire beneath the insulating jacket. I swear by this Klein 16-26 AWG Stranded Wire Stripper , as I’ve found they are well-built and stay sharp for a long time. My back-up pair has been in my tool bag for 7 years and still works great for me when I’ve misplaced my main pair.
#4 – Measuring Tape
This one’s a no-brainer that everyone should have. You’ll need a good measuring tape for centering your COBs on the heat sink, measuring the distance from your lights to your plants, setting the heights for your shelves, cutting out your reflective material, and a myriad of other tasks. There are ton of options, so be sure to get a nice tape!
#5 – Micro Shear Flush Cutters
You won’t know what you’ve been missing until you get yourself a pair of these things. For the price, they are the handiest tool in my entire kit – I use them for everything! Some examples include:
- Cutting cable ties. I absolutely hate it when people cut their cable ties with normal side cutters because they leave a jagged plastic edge that sticks out and slices your skin every time you brush against it. Since you’ll likely use cable ties for securing a ton of stuff in your build, if you use flush cutters to cut the excess off, you’ll get a clean, flush cut every time, and save your arms!
- Cutting cable. Save the blade on your wire strippers and use these instead.
- Stripping cable. If you don’t have a set of strippers handy, you can strip cable with these little guys.
- Clean up solder globs – you can trim off excess solder very easily with these if you’re too lazy to heat the iron up again.
Seriously, grab a pair of these and you’ll find you use them for everything.
What are your go-to tools for DIY LED COB work? Leave a comment below!