How to Wire Shop Lights

The workshop is one place not to skimp on lighting. You need plenty of bright, white light to see your work, and appropriate lighting makes all the difference. Place lights strategically over your workbench and table saw, grinder, drill press and other tools that you generally don't move. You can wire them together to operate off a single switch, or keep each one separate to be turned on only when it is needed. Once you hang the fixtures, all that is left is the wiring.

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Install the switch box on the wall with two nails. The best location is along side a stud, with the front of the box flush with the outer surface of the stud.

Turn off power to the circuit you are tapping into and verify it is off with a neon voltage tester. Insert the tester leads into the receptacle socket. The light should stay off. Remove the screws holding the receptacle in the box and pull the outlet out.

Run cable from the switch box to a receptacle. Run cable from the switch box to the light fixture. Add more cable between other fixtures that are to be operated on the same switch. Secure the cable with cable straps every 4 feet and within 12 inches of the switch box, light fixture and outlet or junction box.

Remove a knockout from each fixture or box and install a cable clamp in the hole. Knockouts are small, easily-removed discs. Hold a screwdriver against one and give the screwdriver a firm thump to open the knockout. Grasp it with a pliers and twist it off.

Strip 6 inches of sheathing from each end of cable. Insert the wires and cable into the box through the clamps until about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of sheathing is inside the box. Tighten the cable clamps to hold the cable securely.


Strip 3/4 inch of insulation from the black and white wires at each location except the switch and receptacle. Strip 1 inch of insulation from the black wires at the switch and both wires at the receptacle. Strip 3/4 inches of insulation from the white wire at the switch.

Connect the ground wires together at the light fixtures, outlet and switch by twisting the bare wires together and connecting them to the green wire or green grounding screw. Bend a piece of ground around the green grounding screw and tighten the screw.

Connect the white wires together at the fixtures and the switch. Twist solid wires together with the pliers and use a wire nut to connect stranded fixture wires to the twisted wires or single solid wire. Cap all the connections with a wire nut.

Connect the black wires together at the fixtures. Twist solid wires together with the pliers and use a wire nut to connect stranded fixture wires to the twisted wires or single solid wire. Cap all connections with wire nuts.

Twist the two black wire ends into a U shape at the switch. Put one wire on each terminal and tighten the screw. It does not matter which wire goes on either terminal.

Twist the white and black wire ends into a U shape at the receptacle. Note that the receptacle has silver and brass terminals. The silver terminals are on the side of the receptacle with the wide slot, and the brass are on the side with the narrow slot. Connect the white wire to the silver/wide slot terminal. Connect the black wire to the brass/narrow slot terminal. Tighten the terminal screws firmly.

Connect the bare ground wire to the other bare ground wires in the receptacle box or to the green terminal screw on the receptacle. Secure the switch and the outlet in their boxes with the screws. Install the cover plates and turn on the power. Test the new lights by turning them on.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are wiring your entire workshop for receptacles, power tools and lights, consider adding separate circuits for lights, outlets and large power tools such as table saws and drill presses. You can wire all the lights together (within reason), or put each one on a separate switch to be used only when needed. Some fluorescent fixtures come with cords and plugs attached. Open the fixture, note how the wires are connected and remove the cord and plug.
  • Working on your home's electrical wiring exposes you to potentially dangerous and deadly electrical currents. If you are not comfortable working with electricity or wiring, hire a professional or get the help of someone who understands what they are doing. Always check to be sure the correct circuit breaker is turned off. Notify family members you will be working on the wiring and ask them to avoid turning any circuit breakers back on. Test the circuit with a no-contact voltage tester or neon voltage tester to be sure the power is off before beginning work.


  • Basic Wiring; Time Life Books; 1994
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