OttLite LED Conversion

Although Mary liked the illumination from her OttLite (an old 13 W fluorescent Folding Task Lamp), neither of us liked its tiny base and tippy nature. It recently fell / was dropped / jumped to its doom, smashing the CFL tube and wreaking havoc on the tiny plastic studs holding its large cast-iron weight and steel base in position. Given that the CFL ballast had started humming a while ago, I took it apart to see whether I could salvage anything from the rubble.


  • Four screws under the fuzzy felt feet
  • One screw under the label on the back
  • A final screw that becomes visible only after disemboweling the hinge assembly by unscrewing the obvious endcaps:
OttLite LED Conversion - hinge screw
OttLite LED Conversion – hinge screw

Pull the hinge end of the white inside panel away from the outer stand at enough of an angle to disengage all three latches holding it to the base, then remove it just enough to let you start cutting wires around the ballast…

I rebuilt the thing with a pair of 24 V 150 mA warm-white LED panels (good industrial surplus, not the usual cheap eBay crap) powered by a 19 V laptop adapter (from IBM, no less) through a (cheap eBay) boost converter sticky-foam-taped where the fluorescent ballast used to live:

OttLite LED Conversion - boost supply wiring
OttLite LED Conversion – boost supply wiring

The power supply had only two conductors, the central wire surrounded by twisted shielding, and didn’t require a fussy interface. Hooray for simple bulk power supplies; I lopped off the connector and soldered the wires directly to the boost converter.

The original lamp wiring has a 120 VAC switch inside the hinge that turned the lamp on as you raise the arm holding the CFL tube: exactly what I need for its new use. That eliminated figuring out how to crack the arm apart to rewire it.

I harvested the base from a(nother) defunct CFL bulb:

OttLite LED Conversion - harvested CFL base
OttLite LED Conversion – harvested CFL base

By soldering wires directly into the pins, I could reuse the existing CFL socket in the lamp arm, the existing wiring, and the switch.

The LED panels dissipate 3-ish W each:

OttLite LED Conversion - LED panel layout
OttLite LED Conversion – LED panel layout

They’re mounted on a 0.1 inch aluminum sheet from the heap that required exactly one saw cut to fit into the space available, so I defined it to be perfect. The 4-40 screws holding the panels in place continue through the plate and 3/8 inch aluminum standoffs into a quartet of knurled inserts epoxied into eyeballometrically match-drilled holes in the lamp arm:

OttLite LED Conversion - epoxied threaded inserts
OttLite LED Conversion – epoxied threaded inserts

The faint yellowish discoloration from the CFL tube’s heat and UV is much more visible in real life, but nobody will ever see it again. The scrawled blue (+) and (-) marks give the socket polarity; it’s not mechanically polarized and a bit of care is in order. The black rectangle is actually a shiny metal sheet intended to reflect heat from the CFL tube’s base away from the plastic arm.

I set the boost converter to 23.5 V, at which point the LED panels draw about 100 mA each and get just over uncomfortably warm after an hour or two:

OttLite LED Conversion - in action
OttLite LED Conversion – in action

The panels run 120 °F = 50 °C and the SMD LEDs probably exceed 150 °F = 65 °C. The scant surplus doc touted “No heatsink required” and the single-sided FR4 PCB insulates the LEDs from the aluminum sheet, but I still smeared some heatsink compound behind the panels in the hopes of spreading the heat out a bit.

I glued the shattered base studs back in place with IPS #3, surrounded them with generous epoxy fillets, plunked the cast iron weight in place atop some waxed paper to mold the epoxy to fit (and let me remove it again, if needs be), screwed everything together, and stuck a foam sheet over the steel base plate. It’s as tippy as before, but at least the LEDs won’t shatter if when it falls. It really needs a larger base; a polycarbonate plate might work, if only I could figure out how to attach it.

All in all, the lamp looks good and the warm-white LEDs with DC drive don’t produce that horrible fluorescent flicker.

The lamp now sports a label identifying it as a NisLite; because P-Touch labeler.