Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.
Note: This light table is designed to hold salt or sand in the top layer. For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table
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After seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.
I had a few rules: No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this.
- Acrylic box frame or storage container— Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
- Large Plastic Storage Container like this one. This Rubbermaid Storage Box is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
- String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
- Clear Packing Tape
- Wax paper
- Two 26 oz. containers of salt
- Toys and gadgets to create textures
How to build your DIY light table
1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container
My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this.
Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.
Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?
2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container
2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.
3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.
4. Pour salt into the top container.
Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.
My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.
If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.
Play with your DIY Light Table!
We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.
Pressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.
Kid-tested DIY Light Table
As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.
So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.
And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.
Light Table Success
Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:
- We made a similar DIY LIght Table for transparent materials such as magna tiles and acrylic shapes.
- We filled our top container with water and water beads for this cool water bead sensory experience.
One more DIY Light Table
For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table