Building a Light Board from Odds and Ends

I built my wife a lightboard for online teaching purposes for the fall semester because  covid-19 means she’ll be teaching from home. If you’re coming here from Facebook or Twitter, you’ve already seen how this thing works with Laura’s demo video.

If you’re coming in some other way, your first question is probably what’s a lightboard? It’s a way for a teacher to both face their students and be able to draw on a board so that students can see what the teacher is doing. It works like this:

Either way, a couple of people have asked me to write up the process. So, here goes. First, this isn’t a particularly difficult project and it doesn’t require a lot of tools.


Tape measure.

Saw that will cut boards at 90º (I used a power miter saw).

Drill or screwgun.

1 small stepladder

Ear protection (if you’re using a loud saw)

Eye protection (likewise for the saw)


I mostly used scrap I had around the house, but I’ll lay this out as though you were buying fresh.

3 Eight foot 2″ x 4″s

3 Eight foot 1″ x “4s

5 Eight foot pieces of quarter-round or similar trim (or ~36 feet total)

1 Four foot 1″ x 12″

1 Large sheet of glass. (I used 3′ x ‘5 plate, but poly or window glass would work)

20 3-1/2″ screws (I used deck screws, but any power driveable screw will do)

50 1-1/4 inch screws (I used a mix of sheetrock and finish screws)

Optional 8 small steel L-brackets.

1 King size black fleece bedspread

1 pint (or spray can) matte black paint

1 Sixteen foot color variable adhesive LED strip light with remote

1 Cell phone tripod mount and remote

1 Cell phone with video capability

1 Blue tooth earpiece

1 Tripod or other camera base (I used a 2″ x 4” hinge-mounted to the ceiling)

4 clamps (holding the backdrop, and screws or binder clips would work too)

1 Set of Neon/Window glass markers (we used EXPO 1752226 Neon Dry Erase Markers)


I’ll start with a shot of the end product minus the fancy lighting. Not much to look at, right? What you’re seeing here is a camera side view of the lightboard. As you can see, the basic frame to hold the glass is made of two-by-fours with quarter round holding it in place. the piece of chipboard across the top is there to mask the overhead light that lights Laura while she’s using the lightboard. The red line is part of the system for locking the camera mount in place when it’s not folded up against the ceiling. The board you see bottom back is on the far side of the glass and masks the LED strip so that it doesn’t overlight Laura.

Step One: Find a place in the house where you can put the lightboard up as a permanent fixture and not have it be an impediment to anything else. It needs three to four feet behind the glass to fit the teacher and the light-absorbing black backdrop, and another four to five feet in front to give the camera enough space. It also has to be a room that can be made very dark. In our case that meant the basement under our back stairs.

Step Two: Measure the distance between the floor and the ceiling so you can cut the vertical two-by-fours to the right length. In our case, that meant slightly longer than the height between the floor and the overhead joists so that I could screw through the joists to attach the top ends. I used pressure to hold the base in place, because it’s concrete and so is the wall. If I were mounting this in an upstairs room, I’d have hard mounted one of the verticals to a wall stud.

Step Three: Cut the two-by-fours to length. Vertical length was determined by the height of the ceiling as noted above. Horizontal length came from the size of the glass sheet. In our case that was three by five feet, so the horizontal cut was three feet. Materials shots below.

Two-by-fours salvaged from an old platform someone threw out.

Glass sheet (from a long ago project)

Salvaged 2″x 4″ + quarter-round trim salvaged from bathoom gut-out.

Step Four: Assemble the basic two-by-four framework. I did this on our back deck where I could lay things out flat and create an opening of the right size to fit the glass with right angle corners as perfect as I could make them. The glass has basically zero tolerance for any variability in the frame, so I gave myself an extra 1/16th of an inch vertically and horizontally beyond the basic size of the glass to give me a little slop to account for the frame boards not being perfectly straight. I used three heavy screws at each corner to make it tough. I also left the bottom corner on the side away from the wall only partly screwed in because I thought the glass might not slot in perfectly (it didn’t and I had to open it when we put the glass in place and then close it again once we had it set).

Frame in place but without any mounting hardware.

Step Five: Mounting hardware. I chose to put four small L-brackets in place at the corners in order to backstop the glass as I was putting it in. This isn’t necessary, because you can achieve the same effect by simply screwing the quarter-round in place on the camera side of the glass. In either case, the camera side mounts should be placed so that the glass will sit about 3/4 of an inch from the camera side edge of the two-by-four frame because you need  space on the back for the lighting system. I used one inch quarter round lengths trimmed to fit with a simple square join because I had salvage wood and didn’t want to do fancier joins, but you could easily use shorter pieces if you’ve got them. The quarter round serves a dual purpose in that it both holds the glass in place and masks the lights so they don’t dazzle the camera.

Frame with L-brackets top and bottom.

Step Six: Putting the glass in. This is ideally a two person job, especially if you’re using a large piece of plate glass, like I did. In a perfect world you pick up the glass, set the bottom on top of the bottom board, slide it tight against the brackets or quarter round, and then tip the top in and get your second person to hold it in place while you mount the back quarter round. The most important thing to remember here is to not hit the glass with the screws for the quarter-round. Also, this is why I used screws rather than finish nails. I also installed a couple of two-by-four supports on the inside of the verticals under the frame proper because I always over engineer.

Glass in place between quarter-round layers, plus bits for later.

Glass up, and extra supports in place, but nothing else done yet.

Step Seven: Lights. We used these LED Strip Lights with Remote from Amazon for $17.99. It’s a 16.4 foot strip with adhesive backing. I very carefully attached the plug-in end at the top and unrolled it around the inner surface of the glass frame on the backdrop side immediately adjacent to the quarter-round. I also put an extra screwed down anchor at the plug in end to support the weight of the plug and cord to keep it from coming unstuck. When I did that I was very careful to NOT drill through the LED strip.

The LEDs are the strip of white to the left of the black quarter-round.

This is how it looks lit.

Step Eight: Back masking. It turns out the LEDs put out a lot of light that hits the backdrop area and makes it harder to see the lightboard drawings, so I needed to put up extra masking to help keep the light from the LEDs in the plane of the glass. I used one-by-four boards attached to the outside of the two-by-four glass frame as seen below. I cut six footers down to the exact size of the frame, but you could easily use shorter scrap boards.

One-by-four masking boards left over from some previous project.

Lights on, backdrop up, but only partially masked.

Step Nine: Front masking. With the masking that keeps the LEDs in the plane of the glass, they don’t put out quite enough light to show the user properly, so we are using an overhead fixture that was already in place at the beginning of the process for that. However, in order to keep it from dazzling the camera we needed a little extra front masking. I used a piece of chipboard scrap as seen in the picture immediately below. It’s 3′ 3″ long by 11″ wide, and would be replaced by the one-by-twelve listed in the materials list if you were buying new. It’s screwed directly to the camera side of the two-by-four frame.

Front masking.

Step Ten: Backdrop. We used a king-sized fleece bed cover, because the combination of texture and size was perfect for absorbing light and because it was cheap (27.99) at Amazon. Flannel Fleece Plush King. To mount it I just grabbed a couple of pressure clamps from my workroom and clipped them to the joists, but I will use screws with large washers or binder clips screwed into the joists to replace them. If I were doing this in a room with a ceiling, I’d start by putting up the binder clips and then clipping them in place. As you can see from the picture, I’ve got the backdrop mounted so that it creates a box around the user with fleece on three side and the lightboard on the fourth.

Fleece blanket backdrop from Amazon

Step Ten A: Camera mount part one. This is a serious kludge.  I hinge mounted a piece of two-by-four  to an overhead joist because we needed to be able to fold the mount out of the way when not in use. And then I had to add a couple of pieces of board to get the camera to sit at the right focal point since that was between joists. If it didn’t need to move it would have been much simpler. I would have put a board across between the joists, screwed a vertical piece cut to the exact length I needed and been done with it.

Step Ten B: Camera mount part 2. I drilled a hole through the piece of two-by-two and mounted a machine screw that is the size of a standard camera tripod base. With that in place it’s simple enough to screw a cell phone camera mount onto the base. You could also simply use a tripod if you had one around. The cell phone base was another cheap amazon purchase at $13.95. We used this one because it came with a remote.

That’s pretty much it. Laura records the video with her cell phone using a blu tooth earpiece as a microphone, and then flips it before posting.

One final note: This is not a difficult project, though it took a lot of fine tuning one the lighting and masking. I am a handy sort of individual with a good bit of construction experience since, but anyone with a saw, a screwgun, the materials, and a bit of can probably manage it.

School For Sidekicks: Launch Day

My newest book, SCHOOL FOR SIDEKICKS, launches today. Both figuratively and literally…

ETA: The extended rocket launch below the other videos:

More silly launch videos are on the way as soon as we can get them edited, so watch this space. In the meantime, here are a couple of notable reviews for the novel: Kirkus. Publisher’s Weekly, and an excerpt.

If you order before the weekend, you can get a signed and customized copy from Uncle Hugo’s where I will be signing on Saturday, and, of course, the book may be purchased at all the usual venues: Amazon, Barnes And Noble, Indiebound, BAM Powells

Launch Events:

On August 4th at 7pm at the Har Mar Barnes and Noble in Roseville MN, I will be reading and signing.

On August 6th at 3pm EST (2pm CST) I will be doing a reddit Ask Me Anything

On August 8th at 1pm I will be signing books at Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis MN. You can order in advance and have me custom sign things and then they will ship them to you, if you’re so inclined.

Also my short story The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman: Excerpts from an EPIC Autobiography, is up at where you can read it for FREE! 

Hanny and the Voorwerp Comic (reblogging)

So, in addition to the new fantasy series I had started writing for Ace—Fallen Blade—I was working on a project for Galaxy Zoo and the Hubble Space Telescope with my astronomer friend Dr. Pamela Gay and a number of other fantastic folks back summer 2010. The project was a comic illustrating an amazingly nifty discovery in astronomy called Hanny’s Voorwerp. It’s all kinds of cool: scientific, artistic, literary, collaborative, and really worth checking out. For the broad stroke details you can look below but I’ll blog about the experience in some detail in the coming days as we get closer to the official launch.

2015 update: This below is from Pamela’s launch announcement (I’ve swapped in images from later in the project because they’re cooler, though, of course, you can follow the link at the bottom to my original post on the Wyrdsmiths blog where the other images appear): 
“This past Monday, at about 8pm Central (GMT -4), a Voorwerpish webcomic was delivered to Sips Comics for printing. Tuesday morning we got the page proofs, and now, one by one, they are being made into full color reality.
Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 2.06.17 PM
We could say a lot of things right now: We could tell you about playing round robin with the script, digitally passing it from person to person under the guidance of Kelly, sometimes into the wee hours of the night. We could tell you about watching the art come to life; transforming from line drawings to fully rendered pages in the hand of our artists Elea and Chris. We could tell you how many pencil tips were broken, and how many digital files grew so big our computers crawled.

We could talk a lot, but instead, let us invite you to join us for the World Premier and share with you a few images.

You’re Invited to a World Premier


    • Time: 3 September, 10pm Eastern (GMT -5)



    • In Person: At Dragon*Con
      Crystal Ballroom
      Hilton Atlanta
      255 Courtland Street NE
      Atlanta, GA

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 2.07.34 PM
Come meet the artists, hear a brief talk by Bill, and generally revel in the Voorwerp’s awesomeness.

And come dressed as a Voorwerp for a chance to win a prize for best costume!

See you in Atlanta?

Pamela, Hanny, Bill, Kelly, Elea and Chris

Oh, and let me also give a big old thank you to CONvergence for hosting the Hanny and the Voorwerp workshop this past July where much of the initial writing for this project happened.”

2014 edited to add this image from the comic below which depicts many of the people involved in its creation, including yours truly—topish row, left. Also, this link to download a PDF of the comic for free.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 2.08.12 PM

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog August 21 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Long Ago and Far Away

Back when I was a baby writer, I was involved in writing a bunch of science fiction context and short stories for a middle school science project funded by the NSF. The project ultimately went on to be published in a different format and context, orphaning the science fiction. This was a bit sad, but it was work for hire, I got paid for my time and efforts and such things happen. But before the context shift, there was a test version that included an illustrated book of my short stories written for the project. The antecedents are weird, and the stories are all crafted to illustrate specific principles in physical science as supplemental material to go along with the main lessons, but this was the first book I ever had a byline on, and I still have a warm place for it in my heart. It’s recently come to my attention that there aren’t any pictures of the cover up anywhere, so here’s a snapshot of one of my author copies. Time and circumstances allowing, I may add some more images for posterity’s sake.

The Chronicles of the Wandering Star:


Written by Kelly McCullough, with illustrations by Carlos Lopez.


Science and Science Fiction

So, in response to Steph’s ScienceOnline09 post which I linked earlier and with some trepidation, my responses:

Questions for Science Fiction Writers

* Why are you writing science fiction in particular? What does the science add?

I actually write very little science fiction these days. I am much more an author of fantasy. This is despite the fact that I am an occasional science educator married to a physicist…or is it? I truly love science and I work to make sure all the non-supernatural stuff in my books is as accurate to the real world as it can possibly be. I read several science magazines on an ongoing basis and keep a close eye on the world of science. And that in combination with quirks from my own personality, is in large part, why I write mostly fantasy.

The interstices where a non-scientist can write scientifically accurate, broad-scope, science fiction have contracted enormously in the past twenty years.

Many of the areas that I find most interesting in terms of story have reached a point where I don’t find much that is written in them genuinely scientifically plausible. I’m not at all sold on the singularity. I find the idea of faster than light travel ever more implausible. Ditto serious extra-solar system travel. I still like aliens, but I don’t see us interacting with them anytime soon, not physically at least. I’ve never bought time travel as a science trope, though I love magical time travel. Psionics? Nope. Etc.

Now, many writers can and do write perfectly reasonable workarounds for these issues, and I still enjoy reading them, but my ability to suspend disbelief doesn’t extend far enough to actually write them. Certainly not at novel length, which is what I prefer to write. I don’t know that that will hold forever, and if I find a fabulous SF idea that I can really buy into, I might well write an SF novel.

Yet another group of writers have found things in SF that really interest them that are fully scientifically plausible but that don’t really hit my sweet spots in terms of what I want to write, and I must note that the ones who are doing this often have extensive science backgrounds.

I love science. I love science fiction. But for me as a writer they are sadly not two great tastes that taste great together.

On the other hand, I can and do try to make my fantasy as rigorous as possible and I very much approach creating worlds and magic systems from the point of view of someone who wants an internally consistent and theoretically robust system. My studies and work in science and science education have made me a much better writer of fantasy.

* What is your relationship to science? Have you studied or worked in it, or do you just find it cool? Do you have a favorite field?

I married into the family. At this point in time my wife is the chair of a physics department. When we met, she was a senior in high school planning on becoming a physics professor and I was a theater major in college who had always had an interest in science. We are very close and in many ways I shadowed her through grad school, helping to write papers, design research studies, and work on curricula.

My involvement was strong enough that I developed a close friendship and intellectual bond with her adviser that led to my own work in science education, writing and editing various curriculum projects in physical science. I have a broad field interest in science though my work in science education is most deeply rooted in basic physical science.

* How important is it to you that the science be right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy?

For my own science fiction work, paralyzingly so. For what I get out of others, not so much. When I need to check accuracy I tap the rather large academic network of scientists that I’ve developed through my wife and my own work in science education as well as various online resources and an extensive personal science library.

* Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers

I don’t know that I have recommendations. The vast majority of science and science fiction blogs that have found their way onto my list got picked up because I know and like the people writing them rather than because of content. I think all of them have great content as well, but it’s nothing like an objective judgment. Thinking in terms of science and science fiction as a crossover point I will say that you could do worse than to read Jay Lake’s blog. He does a great job of aggregating cool links from both fields among other things.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog November 19 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)