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I recently posted about my garage workshop lighting project, which is tricky because it involves converting hard-wire ceiling lights to plug-in lights.
I’d like to do things properly and asked for feedback.
A couple of people provided some much-appreciated suggestions, and I analyzed other areas of improvement.
First Suggestion: Upgrade to a Matching-Sized Power Cord
One reader suggested I move from 16 AWG cord to 12 AWG, to match the in-ceiling wiring. If I were to daisy-chain any of the light fixtures together, I would need 12 AWG THHN wires in conduit.
I’m not convinced this was necessary, but it wouldn’t have cost that much more than going with 14 AWG. I can find other uses for the cords I initially purchased for this project.
The reader (thank you Joe!) seems well-versed in code regulations and guidelines, and I couldn’t see any downsides aside from dealing with thicker conductors during installation.
I ordered 60 feet of SJEOOW cord, which I could cut to size to reduce waste.
Second Suggestion: Right Angle Plugs
Several readers suggested that I go with cords with molded right angle plugs, or right angle adapters, and Jim Felt (thank you!) sent me some links to attachable cord ends. Basically with right angle plugs you can build your own cord the way you want them.
I initially couldn’t find suited cords to use, but there are a number of screw-on cord ends available.
I didn’t need hospital-grade, but the price was right. The hospital-grade should also provide for a more confident ceiling connection.
While my other installed lights aren’t trimmed to their final size yet, it’s going to make a world of difference. ANY straight plug is still going to project a couple of inches off the ceiling. The right angle plug is going to allow for much shorter cords and neater appearances.
The first one here was my test install, which is why the cord is so long, and the one at the back of the photo was going to be routed neatly alongside the light.
One of the benefits of these right angle plugs is that its angle can be adjusted during assembly so that you can approach an outlet from any direction.
There are two disadvantages of these plugs. First, they’re a bit harder to use. You cannot cross the wires, which required careful positioning of things, and everything is a bit stiff despite the stranded wire.
Second, the transparent housing triggers my perfectionism. I trimmed the jacket to exact length, I stripped the wires to exact length, and I trimmed the wires depending on how far away they are 1from the opening. The insulation perfectly reached the conductor slot when tightening things down, but when bending the cable they created a small gap. I know I did things properly, but that little gap nags at me. If my other plugs turn out better I might redo this one.
I used a torque screwdriver to achieve the 12 in-lbs or 1.4 Nm torque as indicated by the instructions. (I already had this tool available.) What surprised me is that this required a little more tightening than I would have expected.
As an aside, I had checked my 220V outlet with the breaker turned off, to see what kind of wiring was used, as part of a separate project, and found that the ground and one of the hot screws were loose. That was a professional installation, I wonder what happened.
Problems and Solutions
I’ll be wiring the remaining lights with the 12 AWG cord and right angle plugs and will then re-do the 3 I did with 16 AWG cords.
There are some problems and new frustrations.
Suspending the Cords
I’m using Southwire SJEOOW cord purchased from an industrial supplier. One of the things they mention in the datasheet is that it can be suspended but shouldn’t be installed in walls, in ceilings, or attached to building surfaces.
Hmm. Does that mean my screw-down cable clamps are a bad call? Is that considered an attachment?
Not all of my light fixtures will conveniently have a straight path from cable gland to outlet, and so I will need some way to secure things.
I’m now thinking of going with screw-in hooks, self-adhesive non-locking cable clamps, or maybe even a small cable clamp which I can use with 550 cord (paracord) or elastic shock cord with cord locks to create a tidy and easily removable solution.
I also have an idea for a tidy screw-together cable clamp made of wood that can be attached the ceiling.
The goal would be the same, to keep the cord close to the ceiling and to suspend it in a tool-free manner.
Working with Thicker Conductors
Due to the strand count, I still cannot use the lighting connectors that come pre-installed. I’m still using the Wago Lever-Nuts, which can handle up to 12 AWG conductors.
Here’s the ground screw with 16 AWG wire. I thought that stranded 16 AWG wire was tough to work into this type of connection, but 12 AWG is considerably harder to work with in this manner. Stripping the wire to length without damaging the strands is also tricky. I have a new stripper coming in that should make it easier for this and future projects.
If it proves to be too difficult, I could potentially use 12 AWG solid THHN wire, the same type that would be used if these lights were connected to each other via conduit. With that, I could essentially create a small pigtail-like connection, connecting the power cord to THHN via a Wago connector and the THHN to ground.
I don’t think this is necessary, but it’s a potential workaround if need-be.
Stripping Cable Jacketing
I bought this Jokari tool for stripping cable jackets, and it works a lot better than a utility knife.
I also bought a larger size and alternate style for working with thicker cables, going with the different styles to fulfill a reader’s review request.
This stripper was ~$22 via Amazon. You can buy similar tools rebranded by Knipex, but the Jokari are less expensive.
This cable jacket cutting tool allows for controllable depth to help prevent damage to the inner wire insulation.
There are little things I need to figure out, such as the cable length to avoid too many dangling wires, and how much of the cable jacketing to strip back inside the light fixtures themselves. This is really just nitpicking though.
It would be much easier to work with romex/NM wire, or in the case of conduit, solid or stranded THHN wire that has thicker and fewer strands than the cable I’m working with here. At this point I don’t think conduit is necessary or even desirable.
I’m used to working with stranded wire, but not of this size. This is also why I overthink projects like this – finding a controlled approach here will benefit my future projects and tasks that involve thicker fine-stranded wire.
Four Lights Down, Four to Go
The lights I installed so far are oriented parallel to the ceiling joists, and the remaining ones will be perpendicular. Not only that, there are more obstructions that will affect placement. It’s not a big deal, it will just require more planning and careful measurements. My approach will be to ensure I hit a stud on one end and use a clamping toggle-style anchor on the other.