4 Channel Controller

DIY 4 Channel Controller

This is a how to for a simple 4 Channel Controller made from a string of incandescent chaser lights.  This is not my idea, I followed the directions on Kindla Christmas and decided to give it a try.  The pictures below are from him and the original idea was from Doug Lawrence.  They put together a great How-To which is reepeated here.  Apparently this is what a lot of people did before LOR to simply animate parts of a static display.   I use mine to controll the Peppermint Pinwheels I made thus allowing me to animate them using only 1 Channel on LOR.  It should take less than an hour to put one of these together once you have all the parts.    Thank you all for your feedback!

  • 1  String of incandescent "smooth" style chaser lights with variable speed controller
  • Standard electrical outlets
  • 1   2 outlet indoor/oudoor metal junction box
  • 1   Metal faceplate for indoor/outdoor junction box


  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Wire Nippers
  • Butane Torch
  • Soldering Iron with pointed tip
  • Flux core solder
  • Exacto or other utility knife
  • Sharpie Marker
  • Tape Measure
  • Jig Saw or other saw


Here is an example that shows how a four channel controller works. You will see there is one neutral (C) and 4 hot (1,2,3,4) wires. Each hot wire shares the neutral connection. This controller does a simple 1-2-3-4 (repeat) sequence.

Here is the same four channel controller hooked up to only three outlets. This configuration could be used for elves waving, bells ringing or anything that need to move back and forth through three frames of animation.

#1 = arm down
#2 = arm middle
#3 = arm up
#4 = arm middle

Now this is my favorite sequence. This is a three channel controller set up to animate a smoke stack and wheels. One of these controllers are most likely not powerful enough to power all of the wheels and smoke. Continue reading to learn about their limitations.

There are two major types of controllers out there.
 The first type is a single function controller that simply chases the lights one after another and has a speed adjustment. This feature is very desirable. Without this speed adjustment you may get the proper sequencing effect you want but, at an inappropriate speed.

The second type is a multifunction controller that has several functions built in. You have to be careful with this type to make sure it has the memory feature. A multifunction controller will power-up in its factory default setting if it does not have memory. That function may be a fade function or something totally unsuitable for the effect you are trying to achieve. To determine if your controller has the memory feature, power-up your lights and set the function switch to one of the middle settings. Don't use the first setting on the controller for your test as this might be the factory default setting. Unplug the power, and then restore the power after about 15 seconds. If, when power is re-applied, the controller returns to the same setting, you have memory and this controller can be used for your animation.
Do you have a three or four channel controller?
140 light controllers have four channels with 35 lights per channel (35+35+35+35=140).

150 light controllers have three channels and 50 lights per channel (50+50+50=150).
Now that we understand how the controllers work lets turn one into something useful. Keep in mind these controllers have limits. These devices are not over engineered. They will do what they are designed for well but they can not handle many more lights than what they came with. Most are limited to 50 mini-lights per channel. If your design demands more than this, you will need to connect the outputs from the controller to some relays. Franklin's page at http://lightsofchristmas.com/ssrs.htm has a solution for you.


First we need to identify which wire is neutral and which ones are hot. To do this you will follow the wires from the controller out to the first four bulbs. The first bulb you get to will be channel one. Cut the wire just before the bulb and label this wire #1. Go to the next bulb and this wire will be channel #2. Cut this wire just before the bulb and label this wire #2. Continue this process for channels #3 and #4. At this point the only wire left coming out of the controller that was going to the lights should be the neutral wire. Cut this wire a little long and label it "C" for common. Now your controller should look like the picture.


 Feed the wires into a square two gang junction box. Use a wire clamp to secure the wires as they enter the box. This will keep the wires from pulling on the connections inside.


You can add any type of plug ends that you want. You can even use the ends off of old light strands. I choose to use standard outlets because I had some extra around the shop. The ground wire will not be hooked up on these receptacles and is not needed for mini-lights. The longer slot on the left side is always neutral and will have silver screws on the side. The shorter slot is always hot and will have gold screws on the side.


To make it convenient for electricians to wire up these outlets a jumper tab is placed between the side screws. This feeds power to the top and bottom outlet at the same time. Since we want to control each outlet separately we will need to remove the tab on the hot side ONLY. The tab on the neutral side can stay because we are going to share the neutral connection. This is a very important step and must be performed on both outlets. (only one outlet is shown here with the tab broken off.) A pair of pliers can be used to break off the tabs.


Here is the wiring diagram. Each hot wire will go directly to one of the outlets. The common wire will attach to the neutral side of outlet #1. Since the jumper tabs are still on the neutral sides, the neutral connection will be carried to outlet #2 without any additional work. Now, attach a short piece of wire from outlet #2 to outlet #4 on the neutral sides. (You can use a piece of wire from the lights you cut off the controller for this connection.) The neutral jumper tab between outlet #3 and #4 will carry the connection up to outlet #3 to complete the circuit.

If you were using a three channel controller you would do everything the same except you would not have a hot wire going to outlet #4.


Here is your completed controller. You can use any type of square electrical box to hold these components. It can be plastic or metal. Double check all of your connections before you plug it in for the first time. If you have the wiring wrong it will usually fry the controller and you will have to start over with a new one.

Always be careful with electricity and if you don't feel comfortable making these modifications then don't! Have fun and enjoy your new controller.