I love old signs. It breaks my heart to see all the old businesses fold up and their signs fall into disrepair. I decided to make one of my own as an homage to my passion for flashy vintage signage. So! What is a chasing light sign, you may ask? It's those crazy flashing lights that look like theyre moving around a sign. It's a wonderful old-timey effect that is classy and eye-catching. I had a lot of fun learning about the technology and techniques involved in monument sign design and fabrication. Let me know if you have questions.
Step 1: Tools and Methods
I have a laser cutter and I made a foam cutter just for this project. You can do this without these tools but I'm just not a practiced enough hand to do it freehand or without stencils. This really cuts down on the work involved. Other those, a jigsaw, a cutting razor and scissors do nicely.
I created stencil letters in Illustrator and laser cut them in thin wood. I used this as a stencil on my hot foam cutter to get perfect edges on my letters. You'll notice the stepped letters. The top layer of the letters in yellow is actually craft foam that has been laser cut. When you reduce scale a complex object in illustrator, it requires multiple frustrating steps. If you can freehand this, you lucky artisan, please do.
LASER CUT PANEL
The main panel and frame have a 1/4" laser cut panel sandwiched between them. This gives a beauty of depth to the sign design. It can, of course, be painted in instead.
I used foamboard glue from home depot to glue foam to foam and foam to wood. Please bear in mind that this is a latex based adhesive and air dries. Do not expect immediate grip no matter what the claims on the tube. Extra drying time depending on humidity.
Working with foam? Please use latex based paint so you don't melt your work! Roll on 2+ layers of latex primer if you insist on spraypaint but test a small surface first.
Step 2: Main Panel and Frame
I tried to use an overhead projector and a transparency to do this step. I could NOT get it to work. Don't ask me why, it was just warped no matter what I did. Could be the garage sale projector I used. However, I still believe that's a good way to transfer your design to a larger scale.
Frame and Main Panel
In my case, however, I ended up printing it out on regular office paper and gluing it in place. The frame is cut from 4x8 3/4" wood. You need a steady hand but most of all, patience. Take your time.
The main panel follows as another 4x8 3/4" piece of wood. Again, slow and deliberate. After they are both cut out, clamp them together (with the 1/4" board if you have one) and sand the edges smooth.
Step 3: Wiring the Chaser
What is a chasing light box?
The chasing light box allows the lights to blink in series so they look like they're moving. It's a stunning effect. The chaser box itself has 4 leads and a ground wire. Each lead is its own circuit. Like an on/off switch. It turns each lead on, one at a time. In order for you to get the illusion that the lights are moving, you need to have your quantity of light bulbs divisible by 4.
In the diagram, you see 4 red boxes. Each red box is its own circuit. Let's call the outermost red box circuit 1. Every 4th light is connected to this red box. When the chaser box activates circuit 1, every 4th lightbulb will turn on. Now, when circuit 2 is activated, circuit 1 turns off. So now every 4th bulb from lightbulb 2 is illuminated. I hope I've made that clear! It may take a little ruminating for it to become clear. Questions? Just ask!
The wiring diagram is much like how I wired up my sign. I found it clean and easy to troubleshoot. In the end, that's up to you! :]