We are entering what some refer to as the age of do it yourself. More and more people are doing projects at home that are gradually increasing in complexity. Whether it is some basic lighting for a cabinet or you want to add a little something to your next cosplay costume knowledge about low voltage wiring can do wonders for you in all your future projects.

Safety First

When first getting into wiring it is best to start with low voltage projects. Electricity is no laughing matter and if you receive a shock while working with low voltage you are less likely to receive a lethal shock. When using electricity always disconnect the wires you are working on from any power source.

AC vs. DC

Voltage is classified into two types of current, Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC). There is some interesting history involving Thomas Edison and his fervent belief in the superiority of Direct current and I encourage you to look it up.

Alternating current is a set up in which the current within the wire periodically reverses direction. This is the type of current used to power homes and businesses. Alternating current that uses voltage at less than 50 V is known as extra low voltage. This is one of safest forms of electricity and is less likely to cause life threatening injury.

Direct Current is when the electricity runs directly from the power source to the item being powered. This is commonly used with batteries and the set will include positive and negative terminals. This can be the most lethal when using higher voltages. Extra low current for Direct Current is 120 V.


In smaller wiring projects using DC power is the easiest to set up and usually the go to method. The problem with Direct Current is that the further you go away from the power source the greater the drop in energy.

The most common projects that utilize alternating current is swapping out doorbells, outlets, light switches. These projects are fairly easy. Most come with simple and easy to follow diagrams that allow you to connect the wires and grounds to the appropriate terminals. Outlets are typically the standard 120 voltage (V) that is run to your house from the power company; on the other hand doorbells are low voltage items that will require a bit more knowledge and care.


Fuses and transformers (that consist of primary coils and secondary coils) are necessary to connect high voltage to low voltage. Guy Brown offers an entire Basic Electrical 101 course through YouTube. And if you wish to do more work that connects high power voltage in your house to something like low voltage LEDs I recommend you go through the entire course. Just remember to shut off power to any circuit you plan on working with. Low voltage won’t kill you, but the 120 V voltages that flows to a house can.

Beginner Projects

One of the best projects for the beginner is installing LEDs with direct current in hard to see places or around items you want to highlight on shelves. This type of installation is also the most common project and dozens of videos can be found on YouTube.

One of my favorites is:


The narrator goes through his calculations, and comes off very much as a beginner. He explains why he does what he does and the risks involved (fear of blowing out another transformer if he doesn’t calculate his amperage correctly).

The narrator also uses a slightly inelegant design and allows for bare wires. The low voltage decreases the likelihood of electrocution but I always encourage safety. A little electrical tape could prevent any problems from developing in the future.

This project will require some knowledge and tools you may not have at hand, the very least of which is soldering. Soldering is the joining of two items using a filler substance (solder) and heat from a soldering iron.

Inexpensive soldering irons can be purchased on Amazon and quality used ones can be found on EBay and Craig’s List.

Start Simple

I encourage you to start simple, even if you go with lighting a small book shelf or closet. A lighting project can be done for less the $100.00 for a first timer and you will still have enough material for plenty of mistakes. And you will make mistakes.

One more tip. This tip seems straight forward but you would be surprised how often it happens. In addition to never working on a live wire, be aware of the hot end of a soldering iron and do not touch it with your bare hands.


Makezine (http://makezine.com/) and Tested (www.tested.com) are excellent resources for learning more skills, and how to avoid issues that beginners have.