At a minimum, you need a conveniently located switch at the entrance that powers up the main lighting. Most likely, this means overhead lights that illuminate the entire space. Don’t try to get away with less than you really need: Inadequate lighting is unsafe, an open invitation to accidents and injuries.
Localized light is probably necessary, too, perhaps at certain individual machines or over worktables, especially those where close detail work is to be done. Goosenecked, clamp-on lights are practical solutions for some machines, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Overhead Lights. Fluorescent lights are a cost-efficient and effective solution to lighting the shop as a whole. They provide broad areas of light for less electricity than is required for traditional incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent shop fixtures also offer the advantage of being self- contained; their metal housing protects the guts of the device (the transformer, or “ballast,” and the internal wiring). When suspended from light chains, they can be moved up or down (or even to different sites) easily and safely, without exposing the wiring, merely by adjusting the links on the chain. Buy fluorescent fixtures in which the lamps are shielded with a guard, protecting them from being struck by swinging boards and other objects in the shop.
Recessed incandescent fixtures are another option. On the face of it, there are several disadvantages: They are more expensive to install and to run; they take more time, trouble, and skill to install; and, in the end, the light is more localized and there’s less of it. But some people just don’t like fluorescent light and the recessed fixtures do protect the bulbs. If it’s important to you, go with the incandescent fixtures, but be sure you install enough of them.
If your incandescent fixtures are surface-mounted, shield the bulbs. Hardware cloth is one option; another is inexpensive cages (they resemble those on droplights). They snap onto the base, limiting the flow of light only slightly. Again, they serve to protect the bulbs from workpieces inadvertently swung in their direction.
Area Lighting. Localized lighting may be fluorescent or incandescent. The design and configuration of local lamps varies enormously: An old desk lamp may suffice in one application, while a goosenecked lamp may be required in another. Lamps with clamp-on bases are handy in a variety of applications, as are jointed-arm lamps that allow the light to be positioned specifically for individual jobs, especially with specific stationary machines.
The trusty old droplight has more than a few uses, including those ad hoc moments when, on hands and knees, we find ourselves trying to find that damn lock washer that fell beneath the bench.