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Bluebird Light Box

For some time now, I have wanted to try to make a stained glass panel...........that fits in a wood light box.  The light box would have 110V powered LED lights.  One can mount the box anywhere they want (versus having to mount a stained glass panel in sunlight).

I have searched the Internet for plans for building this type of display light box.  I found one article where a gentleman built large light boxes to display stained glass panels on the walls of churches with no exterior lights in that area of the church.  He made the panel deep enough that he could mount a standard residential light switch on the side of the panel, to turn the lights on and off.

I also searched the Stained Glass Addicts facebook group.  They have several discussions about building light boxes to assist in making stained glass panels, but not for display purposes.

Northern Hardwoods sells light boxes.  I have bought wood frame material, hooks, and chain from their web site before. Below are some photos of their light boxes from their web site:

Since I am a woodworker, I want to make my own stained glass box.

Northern Hardwood, as well as other web sites I have seen, highly suggest you use a diffuser panel in the light box.  This helps to evenly diffuse the light throughout the stained glass. I went to my local Ace Hardware store.  They carry the cheap plastic (that breaks easily and can not be cut to size).........but they also carry a 2nd type that can be cut to size.   I bought 1 polystyrene 2x4 ft panel to experiment with for $10.

LED Lighting

I don't have a lot of experience using LED lighting of the type needed for this project.  LED makes sense in this application, because they make little heat............which is good for a closed wood box application (compared to high levels of heat from incandescent bulbs).

I noticed on Amazon they sell flexible strips, like a ribbon, plus a 110V transformer.  I will experiment with LED lights later in this project.

3/9/2018................I ordered the LED light kit below to try out on this project........

Light Box Design Criteria


-design box sides to be about 4 inches wide. Make sure 110V box with a 2.75" wide cover plate fits. If needed, make side slightly wider.
         -check and make sure electrical transformer will fit.

-for stained glass panel, make groove 5/16" wide and 3/8" deep

-for light diffuser panel, make groove 1/8" wide and 3/8" deep

-use 3/16" thick Luan plywood for back cover. Set in a rabbet. Make it removable.

-make hole in Luan back cover for 110V light cord

-use red oak

-paint inside white to reflect the light

-stain and varnish the outside of box

Stained Glass Pattern

I have been collecting ideas for a while using Pinterest to store the ideas. I found a pattern I can modify and use for my application from this web site.


I imported the bluebird image above into Sketchup.  I played around with different panel sizes, and finally settle on 12x20 inches.

I won't use the bottom bird, just the top one.  I think a 12x20 inch panel will work great in the gift application I have in mind.   

Box Design

My initial design in Sketchup is shown below..........

Stained Glass Panel Design

I used Sketchup to modify the panel design for my application..........

Selecting a Border Material

Since this panel i kind of skinny, 12x20 inches, I want a stronger border material.  I could use lead, but I have some zinc came that my instructor sold me before he retired and closed his shop in Bloomington.  I am going to use this zinc border. The instructor told me that he and his staff used this zinc border on almost all the panels they built for sale.

I measured the zinc I have in stock, then went to's web site, to see if it matches up with what they sell.  It appears to exactly match their model ZB-932 zinc:

I need to know the distance from the edge of the glass, to the outside of the zinc, to adjust the glass I end up with a 12x20 outside dimension.  On this zinc, this distance is B minus D..........or 9/32 - 3/32 = 6/32 = 3/16".  I verified my zinc matches this by marking on a sheet of paper what the dimension of the zinc + scrap glass length minus just the glass length.........and I got 3/16".   Now I need to adjust my panel glass design such that the glass is 12 - 3/16 = 11 - 13/16" in width and 20 - 3/16 = 19 - 13/16 in height.

Once I adjust this in Sketchup, I can print out 2 copies of the panel.   One for cutting the glass pieces, and one for assemblying them.

Got Started on Cutting Glass

Glass Sources

Light Brown, Hobby Lobby.............medium amber, #1355643

Green Border............Hobby Lobby..medium green #135327..cathedral hammered


Green for leaves...........Hobby lobby #523365 light green rolled cathedral

Blue for bluebird..........hobby lobby #526475 dark blue cathedral

white for flowers...........hobby lobby #521724 solid white opal

Clear...........hobby lobby #1355494 clear crystal ice

Fitting the Glass

I do not have the right color of blue glass for the bluebird.  I have some Kokomo white and blue glass, that is too light of blue.   The closest color from Hobby Lobby is too dark of blue.  I tried a couple pieces of the dark blue, and I am not happy with it.  I went ahead and finished cutting and foiling all the rest of the glass for the panel.  I will be making a trip to a stained glass shop to try to find a better blue color.

Wore out my 1st Grinder Bit

I noticed chunks missing about 2 projects ago, so I went ahead and ordered a new bit.  I continued to use the old bit, until I got every last little bit of life out of it.  But today, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and put on a new bit.

Wow, I forgot how much better and new and sharp bit cuts, versus a worn out one.  Next time, I will change it sooner, when it starts to get dull and grinding times go way up.

Found the Right Shade of Blue Glass for Bluebird!

I had a piece of Kokomo glass that was too light, and Hobby Lobby's shade was too dark.  So, I drove 70 miles today to Alpine Glass Shop in Joliet, just off the main road of US Route 30.  Dawn, the owner, helped me find just the right shade of blue glass..............Thanks Dawn!

For the eye, I am going to try to paint a dot of black enamel paint onto the glass.  The eye is too small to make a round piece of glass that small.  Enamel paint should stick well and last many years.

Panel Finished

I did the target size of 12x20 inches almost exactly!!

It was hard to get a smooth, rounded solder bead on the back side of the panel, due to the ice textured glass.  This is the 1st time I used this ice glass.  I chose it versus more clear glass, because when it is in the light box, and the light is not turned on, I don't want the viewer to see the material inside of the box.

I used some of the zinc came my instructor sold me last year. I used the Dremel with the big cut-off wheel to cut the 45 degree angles.  I tried it on the power miter saw, but did not like the sound of it, so switched to the Dremel. It my dull my power miter saw blade if I had used it for all the cuts.

Stained Glass Panel in the Sun-light

Experimentation with LED Light Box

Because I have never used LED lighting like this, nor applied it so illuminating and stained glass panel..............I decided to build a prototype box using cheaper pine wood.  Once I get everything figured out, I will make the box from red oak.

My initial plan was to mount the LED strip in a spiral pattern on the back wall of the box.  But when I got the LED strip light, I quickly found out that will not work.  You can not bend the strip at 90 degrees when the strip is laying flat.  I researched this issue a little bit.  I found some right angle plug in connectors, but all the Amazon users said they were junk and would not make good connections..........with some people giving up and soldering wires between the strips.  They also make a short piece of wire with plug in end connectors.

While I have done a lot of stained glass soldering, my few attempts to solder small electrical components have been a failure in the past, so I did not want to go that route.

So, I switched gears and decided to wrap the LED strip around the inside of the box in several loops (about 3 loops from my 12 foot long strip).  To temporarily hold them in place while experimenting, I used blue masking tape to hold them against the white painted wood.

I went ahead and slipped in the stained glass panel, with no diffuser material.  Photos below with room light on, and room light off.......

To the naked eye, there are no little bright spots from each LED chip.  However, interestingly enough, in the 2 photos above, you can see the little LED chip bright spots.

I cut a piece of 2x4 drop-in fluorescent diffuser panel, and installed it.  To the eye, there was no difference between with and without the diffuser panel.

You can see a short strip of black wire at 45 degrees in the upper right of the panel.  The is a short piece of wired soldered onto the end of the strip.  I think I can just paint it white, and it will not be visible.

Clips for mounting LED strip

My past experience with stick-on tape is that they will come loose in weeks/months.  I want something permanent to secure my LED strips in place.  I Googled it, and found some plastic clips made just for mounting LED strips. I went ahead and ordered several bags of them.  My local Ace hardware does not carry these special clips.

Time to Try out Electrical Switch Box

My initial design concept was to mount a light switch in the lower RH side of the box. This means the blue box will extend into the lighted chamber.  I bought a plastic blue box, and just stuck it in the lighted box, to see how it would look........

Wow, the blue box sticks out like a sore thumb!!  This is not going to work.

I think I will go to Plan B on the design.  I will drill a 1/2" diameter hole in the bottom of the box on the RH side.  I will then stick out the wire connector for the LED strip out from this hole. One can plug this into a dimmer switch and transformer..............and the transformer will be plugged into a wall outlet.

Since the building this light box is going into does not have the walls built yet, it may be possible to have an outlet located very close to the light box.

Red Oak Box

Since I was happy with the prototype box design, I went ahead and made the final red oak box.  I decided to not use a diffuser since the material I had did nothing to diffuse the I did not have to cut that slot.

I decided to use 2 brass screws at each of the 4 corners to hold the box together.  I went ahead and glued the bottom 2 corners, but I did not glue the top 2 corners, so the stained glass panel can be installed or removed if desired. To get the best corner joints possible, I clamped up the box using my Merlin steel band clamp. Once clamped, I pilot drilled the holes for 8x 1-1/4" brass screws.

I learned a trick a long time ago when installing brass screws in oak.  1st I drill the pilot holes.  Then I use a same size steel screw with paraffin wax.  I start the screw in until it gets tight, then remove it and add more wax as a lubricant. It usually takes about 3 times per screw to get to full depth.  Once the steel screw is full depth, then the brass screws can be installed.  If you do this with a brass screw, you will damage the screwdriver slot and they will not look pretty when done. I plan on leaving the steel screws in until the staining process is done, to avoid discoloring the brass screws.

Updated Sketchup Drawings

I updated the drawings to show my final design.......

Hobby Lobby Quilting Batting Material as a Diffuser

On the Stained Glass Addicts Facebook users group, a woman said she uses quilting batting material as a diffuser for LED lit stained glass display boxes.  I had to ask my wife, but quilting batting material is the puffy material you put inside of quilts.

Since I have to wait a few days before I get my LED light strip clips to finish my project, I decided to experiment with the quilting batting material.  The Hobby Lobby material I have is about 3/8" thick in the un-compressed situation.

I cut a 3" wide strip to cover my LED lights. I ended up overlapping the material such that there are 2 layers on the bottom and RH side of the box, and just 1 layer on the top and LH side of the box.  The LED strip and batting material is loose on the top, so I can slide the stained glass panel in and out. Before and after pictures are below....

Although both of these photos show the bright spots where the LED light chips are, these spots are not visible to the naked eye, per myself, and 2 other adults.   So the digital camera is more sensitive with respect to showing the bright spots.

As you can see, particularly in the bottom green glass, the LED chip bright spots are reduced using 2 layers of quilting batting.  On the other 3 sides, it also looks like the bright spots are diffused a little bit.

I went ahead and added some more layers of quilt batting, such that I had 3-4 layers of batting............

So, quilting batting does appear to be an acceptable alternative for acting as a diffusion material for LED lighting.  I have not resolved how to security attach the batting material so it does not fall down inside the box over time.  In my 1st project, since no quilting batting is acceptable to the naked eye......and the desire to keep it simple and long lasting........I will use no quilting material.

In my case, the hammered or textured green glass on the outside border acts as a diffuser that makes the LED light spots acceptable to the human eye (although they are detected by a digital camera).  For future projects, I would like a "bullet-proof" lighting design that works with any stained glass panel design.  At this time, I am not sure what this design would be.  Once can get brighter LED strip lights..........which illuminate the stained glass more...........but make the problem of hiding the bright spots harder to deal with.

Northern Hardwoods Recommendation for Diffuser Material

I emailed their web site and asked what material they would recommend for the diffuser panel. Their reply was:

Hello Dale,

Frosted plexiglass or frosted glass from any glass supplier works great. You can check your local hardware store to see if hey have any "privacy" glass, and they will usually cut it to size for you.

Let me know if you have any more questions.
Thank you,

I guess I will have to see if my local Ace hardware has any "privacy glass."

Received Plastic Clips to Mount LED strips

Final Installation of LED strip and clips

I drilled the following holes in the red oak frame.....

Two 1/4" diameter holes in the top rear for heat vent holes. They may not be required because LED lights put out little heat, but put them in anyway.

One 1/2" diameter hole in the top back, for hanging the wood box.

One 1/2" diameter hole in the bottom, for the LED light pigtail to stick out of.

Then I started the installation of the LED light strips using the special plastic mounting clips with screws.  I had to pre-drill the oak before putting in the little screws.

To retain the pigtail wire, if people pull on the pig-tail on the outside of the box, I used my Dremel to make a standard electrical wiring staple narrower, so it would grasp the pigtail.  I threw the 2 nails away, and used 2 of the screws that came with the special plastic clips.


My plan is:

1. Temporarily assemble the unit together
2. Deliver it to the customers and demonstrate the lighting

3. Take home and remove the stained glass panel, so I won't get stain or varnish on it.

4. Stain it per the customer's requested shade, then apply polyurethane

5. Re-assemble at home

6. Final delivery to customer

When I went to do step #1 above, I saw ah shoot.........I clipped the top LED strips onto the top, and I have to remove it to install the stained glass panel!!

So I get to remove the top clips, unstick the LED strip tape, remove the top, drop down the stained glass, assemble the clips with the back removed. Install back.  Oh well, live and learn!

1 Foot of LED Strip Left Over

After I made 3 loops around, I was kind of out of space to install this last 1 foot, so I cut it using regular scissors.  The tape is marked every so often where you are supposed to cut it at, which I did.

Black Eye of the Blue Jay

My plan is to paint the eye on using black enamel paint.

I was able to paint the bird's eye using a pointed artist's brush, and just dropped a dab of paint down on glass.

Lessons Learned on This Project

I made this table while everything was still fresh in my brain....

Designing and making the Blue Bird stained glass panel was the easy part of this project!!   Learning about LED lighting was quite an adventure.  I am quite a bit smarter now, than before I started the project.  I wish I had found that "magic" economical diffuser panel material.........such that you don't have to worry about what time of glass texture you use on your stained glass panel..........but I have not found it yet.  

Putting textured or hammered glass on the outside border is a good idea, if you are going to mount your LED strips on the sides of the box as I did.  My hammered green glass gave me just enough diffusion such that excessive bright spots from the LED chips is not apparent to the naked eye.

Quilting batting placed over the LED lights does work as a diffuser, but I don't know a good way of retaining it in place that will last for years.  I guess one could try filling the whole cavity with quilting batting, then it should not fall down over time.

March 26, 2018 Update

I stopped at my local Ace Hardware store this morning.  They do not stock frosted or privacy glass.  The only thing they offer is an adhesive frosted film that you stick onto the glass.

I stopped and delivered the surprise Blue Bird lighted box to the 2 customers this morning. They were just "tickled pink" with the project. They selected the lightest finish possible for the red oak box, so I will use Golden Oak stain.....

I dis-assembled the unit and removed the stained glass panel, so I would not get brown stain or polyurethane on it. 

YouTube Video

Sketchup Warehouse

Use this link to download a copy of my model.

March 28, 2018 Update and Finished Project

Below are photos of the frame in my varnish shop, then final assembly of the stained glass panel into the frame.

Closing Thoughts on this Project

This was quite the learning experience about using LED strip lighting !!

I made a Youtube video of this project to help other stained glass artists learn about how to display their stained glass panels in a LED lightbox.  This video has been very popular with over 30,000 views through November of 2021.

The customers love this nightlight, in fact they leave it lighted 24x7 because it serves as a nightlight during the evening hours when they are closed.