This question might be stretching the scope of this SE, but it's woodworking-related so I'll go with it.

I'll be purchasing a home sometime soon and will finally have a garage space all to myself for woodworking (cue celebratory dancing).

Previous shops (owned by my father) used some combination of incandescent or fluorescent bulbs for lighting, along with natural light coming from the windows. As far as I could tell, the color rendition was fine, or at least acceptable with these options, and they gave enough light to work.

Some of the LED options I've seen include more lightbulb-size lights, light tubes along the lines of fluorescents, and wall strips. Color warmths vary. I've only used LEDs for smaller lighting fixtures in the home (60 watt equivalent fixtures).

How do LED lights compare to incandescent and fluorescent lights in the home workshop? Assume the workshop isn't heated, if that makes a difference. Also, there will only be a couple windows (assume I'll keep the garage door closed).

  • 1
    I am not sure that a comparison of LED lights vs incandescent lights is different for a home workshop vs anywhere else. In any case "LED lights" is too broad. As with incandescent lights and CFLs, there is an enormous range of intensity, temperature, and coverage angle options available. Picking an LED light is the same process you go through when picking an incandescent light or a CFL. Choose the intensity, temperature, and coverage that pleases you the most.
    – Jason C
    Mar 18, 2016 at 18:25
  • 2
    I don't think this is stretching the scope of this SE at all as accurately seeing the colour of wood, finish etc. is critical to good work. All good guides speak of the importance of proper lighting for a pleasant, and safe, working environment... which leads to a factor of critical importance regarding LEDs, they have a very significant safety consideration not covered in either of the existing responses: strobing. I don't feel up to composing an Answer on it now but strongly recommend you look it up before dropping the hammer.
    – Graphus
    Mar 19, 2016 at 7:52
  • 1
    @Graphus my understanding is that LED bulbs strobe extremely fast if the output isn't constant. Strobing is more of an issue with CFLs though even many of them are high frequency. Fluorescent tubes on magnetic ballasts strive at twice mains frequency.
    – Chris H
    Mar 19, 2016 at 8:55
  • @Graphus Typical PWM frequencies for LEDs is > 200 Hz, only dimmable fixtures would do that. But re: topic, that's true of any space being lit. "How do I reformat the hard drive on the laptop in my wood shop?" isn't a woodworking question.
    – Jason C
    Mar 19, 2016 at 14:12
  • 1
    @JasonC, no this isn't an exact equivalent to asking how lighting compares in any other context, because in normal living spaces we don't have to consider safety issues ;-) Also, colour-rendering is generally only a minor concern to most people in their homes (and the bulk of people who claim it's important to them aren't actually filling their light fittings with 95+ CRI lights! So they're only paying lip-service to the idea in reality.) But colour-rendering can/should be critical in a ww context where we need to see if stain A or B or C matches the wood, or if two pieces match closely.
    – Graphus
    Mar 21, 2016 at 9:55

3 Answers 3


Specs are on line: you can do your own comparisons. Factors to consider:

Brightness. A fair comparison would be between lamps delivering about the same number of lumens.

Color temperature. Lower is, paradoxically, what we call "warmer color" -- more red, less blue, similar to incandescent, and higher color temp is "cooler" coloring with a shift toward blue. Which is "better" depends on where your work will be viewed, plus personal preference; the same issue exists between warm and cool white fluorescents.

Color accuracy score. Fluorescents tend to have strong light at specific color ranges, and can mislead you about how colors will balance when you leave the shop and get more varied/natural lighting. I believe both LEDs and incandescent generally score better here.

Efficiency. LEDs win hands down for lumens per watt, commonly about twice as efficient as modern fluorescents and six times as efficient as incandescent.

Maintainability. LEDs last longest without attention, and unlike fluorescents the don't lose some of their life every time you turn them off and on. LEDs can last so long, in fact, that some fixtures are designed to be discarded and replaced after many years of service rather than being re-lamped. That offends my sense of waste, but it can be cheaper to buy one of these than to buy the corresponding number of LED retrofit tubes and plug them into a traditional shop light. I'm currently struggling with exactly that decision.

  • One important point about leds is that they hate getting warm. So a fitting which can spread the individual leds out is much better for them than one which packs them all into the space of a traditional bulb (and it saves all the material in the socket and connector). Mar 17, 2016 at 19:35
  • @MartinBonner, I did not know that about LEDs. Thanks for the info.
    – grfrazee
    Mar 17, 2016 at 20:56
  • @MartinBonner The variable worth considering is the ambient temperature. It's not worth shopping for bulbs by LED spacing, certainly not worth sacrificing a bulb that meets your other requirements (brightness, color, spot) based on fixture layout. The long term cost savings of an LED bulb that lasts even twice as long as another LED bulb, in a small home use quantity, is negligible. So don't worry about minor details like heat vs. output / longevity. I'd question how much of an effect fixture spacing has anyways, given that it's all pretty small and in the same airtight space.
    – Jason C
    Mar 18, 2016 at 19:35
  • On the other hand if your workshop has largely been heated by the waste energy of incandescent bulbs... :-P
    – keshlam
    Mar 18, 2016 at 20:03
  • 1
    @jasonc: I know. My (mostly joking) point was that if you go from 600W of incandescent to 100W, your shop heating know needs to supply another 500w to make up the difference -- presuming that you are heating the shop. On the other hand, that's 500W of heat you don't have çooking the shop in midsummer, and electric heating is usually the most expensive choice even it it is "parasitic" heat. Purely a pedantic point.
    – keshlam
    Mar 18, 2016 at 22:56

For the many decades when incandescent was primary option for interior lighting, there was really only one color option - incandescent. Generally that fell into the Soft White color range around 2700K.

CFL and LED lights introduced color temperature to the masses, and now you can find temperature ranges from 2700K - 6500K. Those range from the traditional Soft White incandescent interior lighting (2700K) to bright daylight at the 6500K range. There's a quick write-up at BatteriesPlus (of all places) with some pictures to help show the difference. Another good indication of the differences is visible on the road at night. The traditional sealed-beam headlight used exclusively in the US prior to the mid-80s is very warm. The halogen bulb (now the base lighting used) was very blue by comparison. The HID or Xenon bulbs now becoming common are even more blue (generally 5-6000K) and are actually more daylight colored, and make halogen bulbs look yellow by comparison. (The pink/purple color you see in some lights is due to ratings above 6000K. I've seen aftermarket HID bulbs in the 8000-12000K range.)

The color rendition you saw in your dad's shop would be somewhere in between based on the amount of natural v artificial light that was hitting the particular area you were working in. For doing photography of your finished works, the color temperature would be important. For general wood working, I doubt it would matter much so long as you have enough light to see by (see my beef at the end). If you're doing finishing work, it could matter based on the color temp of the final resting place of your project.

Now that the CFL & LED bulbs are coming down in price quite nicely, you can buy a few in different temperatures and put them in different areas of your shop to see which you like best, then replace everything with that temperature. In regards to my note above about finishing, you could, if you wanted to get super fancy, install more than one set of fixtures and have different color temp bulbs in each set - then, when you're doing your finishing, you could flip on the lights appropriate to the expected final destination of the piece to ensure the color came out as expected. Some may consider that overkill.

As a side note, my biggest beef with the CFLs is the amount of light (lumens) they put out. The packaging claims that a (random) 4w CFL is the equivalent of a 60w incandescent, but if you check the lumen rating for the CFL v claimed incandescent equivalent you'll see there are significant differences. The LED bulbs seem to have a more similar lumen rating for the incandescent equivalent they claim.

  • I'd considered the mixed-color-temps idea... And, yeah, check the lumen rating, not the supposed equivalencies.
    – keshlam
    Mar 18, 2016 at 17:23
  • All that and no mention of CRI :-)
    – Graphus
    Mar 19, 2016 at 7:50
  • @Graphus /Googles CRI Um, no. ;)
    – FreeMan
    Mar 19, 2016 at 17:17

I think what your main question on this is what would be the difference be between fluorescent/incandescent and LED lights. If I were you I would go with LED lighting. My workshop is outside and using fluorescent takes a while to warm up, along with it as I am working they are picky. One flickers when I use the table saw and vacuum at the same time. When using the LEDs I had no problem because of their low power usage.

The LED type I would get is a good old light bulb type. They provide plenty of light. Sometimes it can be too bright depending on the ones you get. Incandescent I have never really used so I have nothing on that.

Overall, get the LED. I can almost guarantee that you will not regret as long as you get the ones that fit your expectation like brightness or warm light vs. natural light.

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