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Cheap and easy Streetlights

I'd previously bulk purchased a large amount of LEDs from LED-Switch with the intent to light up my entire model railway. I'd already bought a few of the MAX7219 ICs, which control up to 64 LEDs each, and knew how to control these via the Arduino. My article on the IC and using it was here.

Anyway, streetlights were high on the agenda, as they exist in every town in Japan and, based on a very simple idea, weren't going to be too hard to make. Following are the steps involved with creating the street lights that have been visible in my prior articles.


  • 0.25mm Copper winding wire (or as thin as possible.)
  • 1.6mm LEDs White/Yellow (as available here)
  • Metal tubing for the main pole. (I used '3/64 x .006' brass tubing)
  • Soldering iron
  • Paint

Model Railway Model Railway Model Railway


Firstly, cut the pole to your desired length. I have to admit here that I never once measured any of the poles and just prototyped one against a reference (in this case it was a standard Greenmax building) and then made them all the same size.

Model Railway Model Railway Model Railway

Make sure you take in to account where you will bend the pole and how much extra length will be required. Use a file to smoothen out the ends so that you don't damage the winding wire when fed through.

Model Railway Model Railway Model Railway

Once you have the poles made, simply cut the leads of the LED right down and solder one end to the pole itself. Finally, if you haven't already, feed the wire through the pole and tin one end (melt it with a little bit of solder to strip away the insulation.) Once done, trim away any excess tinned lead and then solder it to the other lead of the LED.

Model Railway Model Railway Model Railway

Note that the final version there was the best I'd made. I'd trimmed the LEDs right down after folding one leg over the top and used a very small amount of solder.

Finished Product

Better night shots of the taller version in action...

Testing of streetlights

More testing

The only thing these really require now is some form of cover/compartment/housing for the bulb to live in. Currently, with a big enough blob of paint, I can get the ends to look round-ish enough to look acceptable and I'm happy with this. But any comments/suggestions for an off-the-shelf product that might have the right shape to cover the ends are welcome!

I'd also bought red, yellow and green LEDs and found that they had fit into the Greenmax Signals. I haven't gotten around to finishing them, but I will post another article once done.

Meanwhile, in my previous post, I also added both a red and blue LED to a Bachmann N-Scale Signal. I actually cut it off its usual pole/base and mounted them as shunting signals. See the pictures. I'll post a more detailed explanation along with the other signals once finished.

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hi, nice done. U could save the time and buy them for 69cent:
    But i know its not about the time =)

    • Heh, yes I could have… but that does take all the fun out of it.
      Also, that seems to be the bulk Chinese seller… I’ve bought trees from them before and the quality was very ‘mass-production’ low.

  2. Hehe, ive also bought the lamps in my link, its ok for the price, but could be alot better.
    How long do you need per lamp?

    • Building in bulk saved a lot of time… I think I built the final 8 large streetlights in around 30minutes after knowing the exact plan… the prototyping is always the longest part.

  3. Have you considered making a shade from aluminum foil ?

    • jh,
      Not a bad idea at all. I’d only be concerned of strength, but you could actually wrap something in foil too. Using foil on the inside curve would be great for distributing the light also.
      Will try this next time!

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