How To Make A Cool Light Table With The Hot New Ryobi 18V ONE+ Hybrid Soldering Station

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Ryobi 18V ONE+ Hybrid Soldering Station Light Table Build

What's This?This post is sponsored by The Home Depot. Light tables are a staple in many artists’ studios. They’re great for compositing, iterative drawing, animation, shadow puppets, tattoo artists and showing your friends that gnarly X-ray of the screws in your femur. For a woodworker like myself, it can be a useful tool to create scroll saw and other woodworking patterns. So when we received the model P3100 Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station to try out, I took the opportunity to make one for myself. Trace our steps to find out how you can make a professional quality light table of your own!

DIY Light Tracing Table And The Ryobi P3100

This light table (also called a “light box” or “tracing table”) is a great exercise in transferring and cutting angles on the table saw. And since it involves a little electrical work, it’s also a good chance to hone your soldering skills. Plus, we got to use the Ryobi 18V soldering station. It did not disappoint! I’ve spent over 20 years of my life soldering and de-soldering electronic components; I have a little experience with soldering irons.

I’ve tried a handful of cordless irons over the years and none of them have impressed me in the least. That is, until now! Ryobi has given me a whole new perspective of what’s possible with portable, gas-less soldering tools. I’ve done so many service calls and worked in so many vehicles where this thing would have been tremendously helpful. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Before any soldering occurs, we’ve got a light table to build. So let’s get to it!

Pick Your Plastic – DIY Light Table

Diffuser sheets
If you ever dismantle an LCD TV or computer monitor, you’ll find one or more translucent plastic diffusers (plus a thin polarizer sheet) between the actual glass LCD display and the backlamps. I’m using two of those diffusers as my tracing surface.

The actual tracing surface (the “top”) is arguably the most important part of this project. Now is a good time to obtain a suitably large sheet of acrylic.

The material you use should:

* be translucent white
* have at least one smooth side (sometimes one or both sides will be textured, or “frosted”)
* be thick enough not to sag
* be hard enough not to dent under the point of a pen or pencil.

Acrylic sheeting works great as a tracing table top. For mine, I used a stack of two plastic diffusers harvested from television LCD panels (total thickness of about 3/16”). Mainly because I already have a huge pile of them. My tracing surface will be about 16” x 14-1/2” and all dimensions given will be based on this size.

Cutting Up Some Wood – Bored Of Cedar?

Cedar panels
I began with a 6′ cedar 1×8 (actual dimensions are a bit smaller). The sides, front and rear panels are all cut a bit over-sized at first, then trimmed to length after “jointing“ a reference edge.

Rough cut two 15” pieces for the sides and two 18” pieces for the front and rear. Then create one straight edge on each piece before cutting them to their final length.

Joint one edge.
Use a table saw or jointer to make one clean, straight edge on each piece. This fresh edge will now be the “bottom”.

Place the jointed, bottom edge against the fence of your crosscut sled (or miter gauge) and trim to the final length. The sides are 14-1/4” long and the front and rear are 17-1/4”. Verify that both ends are square to the bottom edge.

Cutting to length
For speed and consistency, I used a stop block (clamped to the far side of the fence) and stack cut the pieces in pairs.

Angled For Comfort – Lighted Tracing Table

Align the mitered cut
Set up a tapering jig and position your rip fence so that the blade falls just to the waste side of both ends of your cut line. During setup (and while cutting) hold the bottom edge of the workpiece against the jig with the trailing end seated in the jig’s rear stop.

This unit is designed to sit on a desk or work table, so let’s give it a bit of a forward tilt. First, we’ll taper the sides. Mark the front edge 3-3/4” from the bottom and the rear edge 5-3/8” from the bottom. Then draw a line connecting the two points. Use a table saw and tapering jig to cut along the line.

Tapering the side panels.
Hold the workpiece firmly against the rear stop (and side) of the jig – and hold the jig firmly against the rip fence – during the entire cut.

The board I’m using has one “show side” and one not-so-showy side. I made sure to cut the tapers so that the best side will face outward on the finished project. If you too have a preferred “outside” face, orient the tapers properly by cutting the right side panel face-up and the left side panel face-down.

Set the bevel angle.
Set a bevel gauge to match the angle at the front of your side panels. It should be approx. 98°.

For the rest of the project, leave both the tapering jig and the bevel gauge set exactly as they are! You’ll need them again. Also, save those tapered off-cuts; you’ll be using those too.

Bevel The Front And Rear Panels – Making Your Own Light Table

Setting the bevel angle.
Tilt the table saw blade away from the fence using the bevel gauge to set the angle.

Now that the sides are tapered, we need to carry that same angle through to the front and rear panels. That’s where the bevel gauge comes into play. Unplug your table saw and raise the blade all the way up. Tilt the blade to match the bevel gauge. Rest the gauge against the plate of the blade, not against the teeth.

Transferring the slope angle.
Stand the front piece (bottom down) against the right-side panel and use a straight edge to follow the angle through.

Lower the blade so it’s a little higher than the thickness of the wood and position your rip fence for the next cut.

Aligning the cut.
Place the front panel FACE DOWN with the bottom against the fence. Position the fence to cut on the waste side of the line.

Use the right-side panel again to transfer the bevel angle to the rear panel. The rear panel should be cut with the show face UP (the front panel was cut face down), also with the bottom against the fence.

Beveling the front panel.
Now bevel cut the top edge of the front panel.
Test fitting the light table frame.
If you did everything correctly, the front, sides and rear panels should all form one continuous sloping line.

Groovy, Dude – Cut A Groove To Hold The Top Panel

Grooving the rear panel.
The rear panel is positioned FACE UP in the same orientation it was when we cut the bevel.

Next, all four pieces need a 3/8” deep groove to hold the tracing panel. The groove begins 1/4” down from the top inside edge on all four pieces. Since the blade is still tilted, we’ll start with the front and rear (specifically, the rear). Set the blade height 3/8” above the table.

When you cut the groove, orient the workpiece with the bottom against the fence and the bevel leaning the same direction as the blade. After the first pass, bump the fence a tiny bit closer to the blade and make another pass. Continue until the groove is wide enough to accept the thickness of your acrylic sheet.

The Other Side Of The Fence – Keeping You On Your Toes

Fence moved to the other side of the blade.
For the next cut, the rip fence is moved to the other side of the blade.

Until now, all cuts were made the “regular way” – with the fence to the right of the blade. (Note that this blade tilts to the left, like most (but not all) table saws in North America. It’s all reversed on saws having a right tilting arbor. But this is getting confusing enough, so we’ll let you puzzle that one out on your own).

Grooving the front panel.
Grooving the front panel. Even though we’re now on the other side of the blade, don’t get confused. The bottom still goes against the fence and the beveled top edge should still lean the same direction as the blade. If it doesn’t, get your bearings before proceeding.

This cut, however, will be done with the rip fence moved to the left side of the blade. Leave the blade positioned exactly as it is; just move the fence over. Now we can groove the front panel.

Again, start the groove 1/4” from the top corner and move the fence in a little after each cut until the width of the groove matches the one in the rear panel.

Matching grooves.
Yeah, I got a little rambunctious with my first groove cut on the rear panel. But I backed the blade down to 3/8” and all was well.

Reset A Few Things – Grooving The Right Side Panel

It’s amazing how a simple project can become so involved. But stick with me; we’re making good progress. Before long we’ll get to use the Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station as we tackle the guts of this light table.

If it makes you feel any better, we’re all done with the bevel cuts. So go ahead and move the fence back to the right of the blade, restore the blade angle to 90° and reset depth of cut to 3/8”.

Grooving the right side.
You did leave the tapering jig set up, right? I told you we’d being using it again.

First, groove the right side panel. Leave the tapering jig set as it was; don’t adjust it!

And Now, Groove The Left Side Panel – Panel Hokey Pokey

Grooving the left panel is another of those trick moves where you have to turn yourself around. Well, you have to turn the tapering jig around. And use it backwards. To do this, move the jig’s rear workpiece stop to the other arm. It will now be a “front” workpiece stop.

Where the rear stop was.
As a reminder, the workpiece stop was on this side (the side without the black handle), behind the workpiece.
Tapering jig in reverse.
Here, I’ve moved the stop to the other side (the side with the black handle), in front of the workpiece.

Rabbet For The Light Table’s Bottom Panel

1/2" dado stack.
Set up your table saw with a 1/2” dado stack.

The bottom panel will be cut from 1/4” plywood and screwed into a rabbeted recess. The easiest way to cut rabbets on the table saw is with a dado blade set. Set the depth of cut to match the thickness of your bottom panel material. Cut a 7/16” wide rabbet on the inside bottom edge of each piece.

Rabbeting the bottom edges.
The sides, front and rear panels are all rabbeted the same way; with the bottom edge down and the show face against the fence.
Four light table case pieces.
The front, two sides and a rear. All cut, grooved and rabbeted.
Cut a bottom panel to fit.
Dry fit the frame then cut a 1/4″ bottom panel to fit the rabbeted recess.
Setting boundaries.
Trace the inside edge all the way around to give you clearly defined boundaries as you build the inside workings.

Partial Assembly – Bracing For Success

Partial assembly of the light table.
At this point, you can go ahead and glue the front and side panels together. The piece you see spanning the back is there temporarily to keep the sides parallel and square to the front.

The front and sides can now be glued together. While the glue is drying, cut a triangular strip to reinforce the inside corners.

Cutting corners.
Tilt the blade to 45° and cut the corner off of a 3/4” board.
Corner reinforcement block.
You only need about 12-13” inches or so to do all four corners.
Remove the point.
Lay the triangular strip with the freshly cut edge down and sand the point off of the top corner.
Corner reinforcement.
Cut two 2” pieces and glue them into the inside corners. The point you knocked down goes into the corner.

Glue corner braces at both ends of the front panel. Avoid casting a shadow on the tracing surface, by leaving a space between the top of the brace and the groove.

OK, let’s shift gears for a bit. We’ll come back to this in a little while.

A Blessing In Disguise – LED Strip Lighting

Dual LED light strip fixture.
This LED light fixture will be easy to adapt to our light table needs.

I ordered some bright LED modules months ago. But it wasn’t until I was about to start building that I actually tested them, and discovered that they run way too hot for use in a light table. An active cooling system would complicate things to the point of absurdity, so I went to The Home Depot and found a dual LED strip light that will actually work a lot better than what I planned to use (even if they didn’t run hot). But, it will have to be modified first.

You Light Up My Life – DIY Light Table Build

Test the fixture before going any further.
Tampering with the light fixture will definitely void the warranty. So verify that it works before going any further.

This light fixture has two 24” LED strips that will have to be cut down to four 12” strips. That means we’re about to void the warranty. It also means we will be messing with electrical circuitry. So please, be careful!


Electricity is dangerous. It can cause afros, serious injury or death and may pose a fire hazard. Never work on live circuitry. Make sure all connections and components are wired properly and safely secured before applying power. If you aren’t comfortable wiring an electrical circuit or soldering, get help from someone who is. And while we’re at it, the same goes for table saws and other power tools; except for the afro part.

Mod That Mother! – But Make Sure She’s Not Too Hot

Releasing the wires.
A springy pawl holds the wires in these connectors. Use a small jeweler’s to release its grip.

I first wanted to see how hot the ballast (it’s technically a power supply, not a ballast) and LED strips get before I commit to using them. They all ran pretty cool while attached to the metal enclosure, so I removed the parts from the housing, wired them back together and let them run for a good half hour. The ballast got a little warm, but definitely not hot. And the LEDs barely got warm. So I know these components will be safe to use for this project.

Ballast and LED strips.
Ballast and LED strips.

Disconnect the power then carefully pull the ballast and LED strips out of the housing.

Disassemble the LED strips.
Carefully remove the plastic diffuser from each LED strip then squeeze the tabs on these plastic rivets to separate them from the metal backer. Be gentle; the strips are thin and flexible. It wouldn’t take much to break them.

The LED strips are attached to metal backers with nylon rivets. Make note of which holes have rivets before pulling them out. Put the rivets somewhere safe; you’ll need them again later.

LED light strips - exploded view.
From top to bottom: both plastic diffusers, one LED strip still attached to its backer, the second metal backer, and the second LED strip.

Red Lining It – Mark Which Side Is Which

Red side identification.
These are the middles of the LED strips, where the wires attach. You don’t want to forget which wire goes where, so identify the red side with a marker.

All of the wires in the fixture are color coded. But we need to pull the wires from the LED strips. Color the board so you know which wires go where.

Red side identification.
I used red paint (nail polish, actually) to identify which side the red wire(s) connect to. The circuit board will be cut here, so make a long enough mark.

Ryobi 18V ONE+ Hybrid Soldering Station – Soldering On The Go

Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station.
This soldering station will run for a long time on a 6Ah battery. Way longer than I expected.

With all this babbling about a light table project, you may think we’ve forgotten our guest of honor. We have not. The Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station is a star. And stars like to make a grand entrance. So, ahem… ALL RISE! Ryobi P3100 has entered the building! The cheering. The fanfare. The entourage. It’s enough to make this lime green hottie blush with pride.

AC power
It can also be powered by an extension cord, but that’s not nearly as impressive.

I hinted earlier that I’ve always been underwhelmed by cordless soldering irons. So I was genuinely impressed (and surprised) with how well the Ryobi 18V soldering station actually works. It’s a “hybrid” in that it can be powered by either an extension cord or a Ryobi 18V ONE+ battery pack.

Some Quick Specs On Ryobi’s P3100 18V ONE+ Hybrid Soldering Station

Ryobi 18V soldering station.
Wow, a battery powered soldering station that actually works well. Very well!

As a corded soldering station, the P3100 works as well as a good soldering iron should. But as a cordLESS soldering station, it works, well, just as well! There seems to be no performance anxiety when operating on battery power. It heats up quickly and the tip stays plenty hot while soldering, even on fairly heavy joints.

I also used the iron on a few soldering tasks that had nothing to do with the light table and never needed the maximum temperature setting. And runtime on a 6Ah battery blew me away.

Feels nice in the hand.
The handpiece is shaped and sized for excellent control and comfortable long-term use. But it’d be nice if the cord was a little longer. The tip cleaning sponge is also on the small side (almost too small).

This 45W soldering iron has a variable temperature dial for heat up to 900°F. It goes from cold to melting solder in under 30 seconds. Included are two tips (fine point and chisel tip) and a few feet of solder (enough to build this particular project, but that’s not much).

The Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station enters energy saving mode after 10 minutes and auto shut off at 20, both of which can be thwarted by jiggling the control dial. These aren’t features I’d necessarily want on a dedicated bench model. But for a battery powered field unit, they conserve battery life to keep you working for hours. Press down on the dial to power the unit on or off with a satisfying tactile click.

Separation Anxiety – Cut The LED Strips In Half

Enough showboating! This light table isn’t going to build itself! We have the tool; let’s use it.

Remove the connector.
Heat both sides of the terminal and gently push the connector through the board.

Start by desoldering the surface mounted wire connectors. Heat will transfer more efficiently if you first apply a little extra solder. Gently rock the connector as you heat both ends of the terminal. It should push through the board with very little effort. If you force it, you’re likely to damage circuit traces. Once removed, the wires and connectors can be discarded.

Sawing in half.
After you pull the connectors, carefully cut the board in half.

I wired the LED strip halves with soft braided wire that easily flexes without putting strain on the solder pads. The double wires were just to ensure I had plenty of conductor thickness (because I wanted to use some really flexible, appropriately-colored wire I already had on hand). Standard 22 AWG is plenty thick. I twisted the wires together only for wire management and cosmetic purposes.

Wires soldered to the LED light strip.
Solder about 12” of flexible braided wire to all four LED “half strips”. To avoid confusion, use the same color scheme as the original wiring. Solder to the same pads the connectors were attached to and take care that the right color goes to the right terminal.

Now that you have four 12” light strips, carefully cut the plastic diffusers and metal backers in half.

Metal backers.
The metal backer on top was just cut. On the lower one, you can see how I snipped off the protrusions to keep them away from where the wires solder to the LED strips.

Ramping It Up – Back To The Table Saw

Cutting the tapered ramps.
Two of my ramps were made from the scraps left over when I cut the side panels. The other two were cut from a fresh piece using the tapering jig.

Now we need four wedged pieces to mount the LED strips to. These ramps are the same slope as the sides of the cabinet in order to position both ends of the lights the same distance from the tracing surface.

LED support group.
Space the ramps evenly and glue them to the bottom panel.
Cleared for lighting.
Remember the nylon rivets that hold the LED boards to their metal backers? I drilled shallow clearance holes for them so the strips can sit flush atop the ramps.
The four light strips sitting in place.
The four light strips sitting in place.

Tie Me Light Strip Down, Sport

Drilling some pass-throughs.
Here’s where a little foresight would have been nice. But I was winging it at this point.

A long drill bit came in handy a few times later in the light table build. I drilled holes to pass wires and – in this case – tie string through the wooden ramps. The LED strips are tied to the ramps with thin, strong braided cord. And the plastic rivets prevent them from sliding around.

This is "knot" going to come undone.
Each LED strip is tied at three points. I used analog radio tuner dial cord. It’s incredibly strong and I happen to have a good mile of it left over from the old days. Any decent, thin string should work. (Thin so it won’t cast shadows.) After tying the string, I put a drop of super glue on the knots so they will never come undone.
Lights secured in place.
Lights secured in place.

Wiring With The Ryobi 18V ONE+ Hybrid Soldering Station

Ballast in place.
I raised the ballast up 1/4” with hard rubber standoffs to allow air space underneath. The wood below the ballast gives me more meat to screw into.

Wiring the LED strips to the ballast is as simple as matching colors. All of the red go to the red ballast wire. And blue to blue. Before soldering the wires, slip on a couple pieces of heat shrink tubing.

Connecting the wires.
Hook the wires, interlock the hooks and twist everything tightly together.

Carefully strip the wires so you don’t knick any strands. Twist all of the red wires from the light strips together then twist that bunch together with the ballast wire. Finally, solder the connection.

Soldering with the Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid solering station.
Saturate the wire strands with solder.
Best practices.
Double insulate with 2 pieces of heat shrink tubing. Shrink the first one with a lighter or heat gun then position and shrink the second. The inner layer of tubing extends beyond both ends of the solder connection and the outer layer, even farther.
Testing the lighting circuit.
Testing with a temporary power cord to make sure everything is hooked up correctly.

I wired the light strips to the ballast then gave it a test run. Next I mounted a rigid solder post to interface the main power cord with the ballast input. For this, I bolted a modified Bakelite fuse holder to the LED support ramp.

AC power solder post.
I’m soldering the ballast line voltage wires. The power cord will attach here as well.
An overview of the circuit wiring.
An overview of the circuit wiring.

Coming Up From The Rear – Make Your Own Light Table

Rear panel.
Rear panel access holes were drilled with Forstner bits. The large one in the middle will have an aluminum vent to allow a little passive cooling. I really doubt it’s necessary, but I’ve had the thing for 20 years and finally found somewhere to use it. So, yeah. I’m using it. The double hole was squared off to make clearance for the power switch.

We’re coming around to the back of this project. But we’re not done quite yet. The next step is to drill the rear panel to pass the power cord through. I’m not a fan of running a straight AC cord, so I’m adding a power switch as well.

Switch plate.
I drilled a blank 1-gang wall plate and mounted a toggle switch. The power cord feeds through another hole in the plate and is secured with a plastic power cord grommet.

Mind The Gaps, Richard – Keeping Up Appearances

Mind the gaps.
Some people may not mind the gaps. I prefer to fill them in.

I’m filling the gaps at the ends of the grooves and rabbets with contrasting wood. Use the same wood if you’d rather disguise the gaps. If you choose not to worry about them at all, you can cut and insert your tracing surface and attach the rear panel now, but expect light to bleed through.

Filler up.
Why Hide When You Can Showcase? Remember that the plastic panel has to go into the grooves and the bottom panel sits in the rabbets. So keep your filler plugs relatively shallow.
Accent pieces.
I glued in pieces of mahogany for contrast.

Cut And Install The Tracing Panel – Just Me And Ryobi, Making A Light Table

Cutting acrylic sheeting on the table saw.
Acrylic and many other plastics can be cut with a table saw. Use a 40 or higher tooth count and raise the blade about 1/8” above the material. And wear eye protection!

Before installing the top and rear of the light table, mask off the glue surfaces (where you’ll put glue when attaching the rear panel), sand and put a finish on all of the wood that will be visible after assembly. I went with polyurethane; you may prefer a different product, such as paint.

Alternatively, you can insert the plastic sheet and glue the rear panel in place now (then mask off the tracing panel to apply a finish afterwards). But I felt it was easier to finish first, then assemble.

Assembling the light table.
Glue and clamp the rear panel in place then reinforce the inside corners with triangular reinforcement braces, as before.

Brighter Times Ahead – Final Assembly Of The DIY Light Table

Power switch wired in circuit.
The narrower pin on the power plug is the “hot” line (the wider pin is neutral). Use a multi-meter or continuity tester to determine which wire is hot, cut that wire and install the power switch in line. Of course, none of this is done while the cord is actually plugged in.

All that’s left to do now is wire the power switch, mount the switch plate, solder the power cord and attach the bottom panel and feet.

Power cord wired in.
Switch plate mounted and power cord soldered to the terminal block.
All wired and ready to shine!
All wired and ready to shine!
Final assembly of the light table.
Finally, screw the bottom in place and add some rubber feet.

Light Table At The End Of The Tunnel

DIY light table made with the Ryobi 18V soldering station.
I don’t think a store bought tracing table could be much better. Unless it has a cup holder. And maybe variable brightness.

The light table works exactly as I hoped it would. It’s works great in a well lit room. Yet it’s not blindingly bright in a darkened room. In other words: absolutely perfect! I don’t think the discreet LED modules I originally purchased would have produced such even, consistent light across the entire panel.

Cutting through the thickness.
If you’re wondering how well it will work with thick art paper, this is shining through a total of 6 sheets of copy paper (counting the printed paper on the bottom) in a lit room.

Ryobi 18V ONE+ Hybrid Soldering Station – A Truly Bright Idea

Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station.
The Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station model P3100 gets a solid recommendation from me!

While our light table may shine brightly in a literal sense, the Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station deserves a lot of credit for also performing brilliantly. I love that it can be used miles away from the power grid without compromising performance. And that’s something I never thought I’d say about a battery powered, portable soldering iron.

DIY Light Table
It’s working beautifully! And I’m really happy with the angled design.

Yes, the tip cleaning sponge is laughably tiny and the handset cable is a bit short. But when you need a truly portable soldering solution, the P3100 is going to make you “ONE+” very happy camper. Even if you’re literally camping.

Get the Ryobi 18V ONE+ hybrid soldering station for just under $80:

Buy Now - via The Home Depot

You can get the dual 2′ Lithonia Lighting 25W 2,200 lumen 4000K cool white LED strip light used in this article for around $35:

Buy Now - via The Home Depot

I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with Home Fixated in sponsored content. As a part of the sponsorship, Home Fixated is receiving compensation for the purpose of promoting The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are our own words. This post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

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About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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