Modding the Zebralight SC52w

I recently destroyed the driver on my Zebralight SC52w in a failed attempt to swap the emitter. :TIRED: On the upside, this meant I now had a lovely new AA-sized host available for modding! :stuck_out_tongue:

Zebralights are notoriously hard to mod, due to the following:

  • Press-fit bezel can be very difficult to remove.
  • one-piece board contains both driver and emitter.
  • shelf is solid with a tiny hole for a wire for the positive contact. Before removing the driver, this wire must be disconnected from the driver board.

I destroyed the original driver by first cooking it with a heatgun trying to remove the driver, then actually tearing traces off the board when I yanked it out with pliers while the positive wire was still attached. OOPS! }P

Here is a picture of the SC52w with the bezel, lens and reflector removed. You can see the stock driver still in the light:

Here is a picture with the driver removed:

The pass-through hole for the positive driver wire is a tiny opening in the upper left of the big divot in the shelf.

Since the original light used a single board for both the driver and the LED it was not possible to use the original reflector since there wouldn’t be room for both a star and a separate driver board. Fortunately, triple-TIR optics are much shorter than a single-emitter reflector which opens up room between the shelf and the star for a replacement driver.

The first step was to make a platform for the triple-star to sit on. I made a simple platform out of 2 pieces of sheet copper soldered together:

The next step was to file a 20mm Noctigon star and a Carclo 10507 optic to fit in the rather irregular space inside the head of the light:

I had a 15mm Mountain DD driver laying around that was small enough to fit in the pocket below the copper platform. I flashed it with Anduril and then tested it outside the light to make sure it worked.

Installing it into the light was tricky:

  • The first problem was how to get a wire from the positive contact on the inside of the battery compartment through the tiny hole and into the driver compartment. I used a long piece of 24 gauge silicone wire with a piece of paperclip soldered to the end as a guide rod. I threaded it through the hole, the pulled it with pliers until it was dangling below the light. I detached the guide rod and soldered on the stock contact board. I then covered up the solder with thermal adhesive to prevent shorts then pulled the wire to the top of the battery compartment from the driver side. I then cut off the excess wire and soldered it to the bottom of the driver. This took a couple tries as I needed the wire to fold up into the divot in the shelf so the driver wouldn’t ride too high.
  • The next problem was how to connect the body tube to the driver for the ground connection. In the unmodded light this is done via the 2 driver retaining screws. I wrapped a short piece of 24 gauge wire around one screw and then screwed it down to hold it in place. I soldered the other end directly to one of the contacts on the underside of the switch board. With the driver pressed into place, I then made a solder bridge from that switch contact to the rim around the edge of the driver.
  • I still needed a switch wire from the MCU to the other switch contact. I used a small piece of 26 gauge wire for that.

Here is a picture of the new driver installed in the light with a temporary star attached for driver testing:

I used the stock switch. Unlike more recent Zebralights which have the switch on the driver board, the SC52 used a separate board with the switch on it with solder bridges connecting it to the driver board. The SC52’s switch is quite a bit nicer than the switch on the newer zebras. It has a firm click and requires around twice as much pressure to activate.

Final steps were to thoroughly insulate the inside of the copper platform with Kapton tape. Then insert the platform around the driver, add thermal grease, then the triple star, then the optic, and finally the o-ring, lens and retaining ring. The stock o-ring was too thick so I ended up using a slightly smaller one.

For emitters I used three SST-20 4000K 95 CRI FD2 bin from Kaidomain.

Here is the final light:

I quite like it.

  • Excellent anodizing
  • Great clip
  • Almost as small as an FWAA but much throwier due to the Carlo optic.
  • Excellent switch.

Very nice :+1:

Good job and thank you for sharing. However, I am thinking, does this mean that the three led is now heat sink using the ‘copper shelf’, and the shelf is not really connected to the body in a solid way?

I am just worried if you use ‘DD’ mode, it can easily cause LED board to overheat.

That’s a valid concern. It’s also why in addition to arctic silver between the copper shelf and the star, I also used lots of arctic silver between the edges of the star and the inside of the head.

Right now it seems to work fine even on turbo. The entire body tube gets hot. However, if it overheats, I’ll know when one of the driver wires on the star desolders itself. If that happens, I’ll remove the star and the copper shelf and add even more arctic silver between the sides of the copper platform and the head.

This is not my first time doing a mod like this so I have some idea what works as far as heat sinking. I did a similar mod years ago with a Sunwayman C20C, and more recently with a DQG Tiny III. The key is to use LOTS of thermal grease.

Nice save. Looks like a bit of work went into it the salvage.

I’m assuming it’s not quite as throwy as the stock reflector…?

Depends on which power setting.

  • The original Zebralight SC52w used a neutral white XML2 with low-CRI and a rather greenish tint with around 500 lumens max output on a 14500.
  • The modded light uses triple SST-20 with Carclo 10507 narrow spot optics. Max output is probably 3x higher than the unmodded light.

The modded light has a bigger hotspot than the original. At full power on a fresh Vapcell H10, it also is much throwier than the unmodded light. I think it probably outthrows even a Zebralight SC64w HI. It is pretty close to an FW3A with 3x SST-20. This is primarily due to the much higher maximum output.

On the other hand, the unmodded light was probably more efficient at 500 lumens output. If both lights were set to 500 lumens, it is possible that original light would have more throw than the modded one. I no longer have an unmodded SC52w to compare with though.

Very nice and creative mod Firelight2! That is a small host for you to be working with.

My SC52w was my first nice EDC and now it’s always in my backpack for when I need it just in case.

Seeing what you had to do to modify it, I’m happy with leaving it alone. The tint on mine isn’t all that bad.

Nice job! :heart_eyes:

Clever fix...nice job!

Very nice job!

Beautifully done!

Wow, I never thought I’d see a triple TIR Zebralight SC52w! What an innovative solution. I used to own one of these and wasn’t confident at the prospect of upgrading the emitter—your travails confirmed that. I really LOVE this host. It has a kind of “army steampunk” look to it. Of course, the one big drawback is that you can’t swap out the Carclo optic with other types at will, like you can on the FW3A.

I sold mine to someone having a hankering for an SC52w, and then got an SC64c LE. It’s pretty compact for an 18650 and I’m glad I made the upgrade. But yeah, part of me is thinking of a future SC52w project. :wink: :sunglasses:

Great job!

Very impressive mod, thanks for sharing!

That is the first triple Zebra I’ve seen :+1:

Now pimped up with some minor easily reversible aesthetic mods:

  • replaced stock clip with titanium deep-carry clip
  • added a few strips of Talon Grip Tape.

Not sure if I’ll keep it like this or go back to the stock clip and no grip tape.

Here are some pics next to an FWAA:

What about the rare S6630? I’d love to have one someday. :partying_face:

Here’s a video review:

I remember the Zebralight S6330.

Never owned one, but I did play with one briefly at Illumn a few years ago.

Very nice light. It’s main claim to fame is that each cell powers a different emitter. It’s basically like having 3 separate lights in one.

My understanding is that it is the safest multi-cell li-ion light ever made. You can use different chemistries of 18650 with different capacities and at different charge levels without danger.

^ 8.5 years ago… Wow. That was well designed for its time. I wonder why it had such a brief run.

The S6330 has always been on the wishlist for me. Certainly not for the tint and lumens, but for the special flashlight that it has always been.

Wish I would’ve been into flashlights when these were for sale since I probably would’ve gotten one then, but perhaps it would’ve been too expensive compared to the other flashlights that were available. Hence probably why ZebraLight discontinued them.