Over the last several years as my family has taken our traditional Christmas Eve drive to look at light displays, there has always been one display that caught the attention of my wife. It was a silhouette angel, wings and arms spread and casting a beautiful glow from behind. This angel brought to us thoughts of our own angel, who we lost as an infant in December of 1997, and I have been looking for a few years to find one. With no luck at all finding one, I decided the best action would be to make one so, last year I took some pictures of the one we knew of and went to work from that. What follows here is my best attempt to recreate the angel with my own thoughts as to how it should be done.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- • 4’x4’x3/4” plywood, sanded on at least one side
- • spray-on adhesive
- • 1-1/4” drywall screws
- • 2” drywall screws (about 6 of them)
- • wood glue
- • ¾” iron-on melamine edge banding (Lowes #51125)(optional but highly recommended)
- • white exterior paint (1 qt is plenty)
- • white exterior spray paint (1 can)
- • heavy duty picture hanging system (I used Lowes #56156, but whatever works for you will do, just heavy duty)
- • LED light strip – or whatever lighting system you choose. Standard rope lights, Christmas lights, etc. will work, I wanted a bright white light to match my house lights so I used these lights with this power supply. You will need two of the lights sets but they connect together pretty easy with included connectors.
- • 2”x4” Velcro tape
- • jig saw
- • table saw (optional but helpful)
- • sander
- • heat gun
- • scissors
- • drill/screw driver
- • paint brush/roller
- • hot glue gun
- • small torpedo level
Step 2: Layout and Cutting
The first thing I needed to do was create a 1 to 1 scale drawing of the picture I had taken for an accurate template to cut out the pieces. I am fortunate to have AutoCAD available to use so I imported the picture, scaled it up to full size using one of the house bricks in the picture as a reference, and traced the edges of the different sections (wings and body) to create the outlines. I have included the CAD file (saved in 2004 format, as that is pretty compatible with older 3rd party software) for your use as well as 2 PDF files, one that can be printed on a large format plotter, the other shows how I laid out the templates on the 4’x4’ plywood. You can also take a look at the cad file by using one of the AutoCAD DWG viewers found here.
If you don’t have access to a large plotter for printing out the templates, an alternate method is to use a projector connected to a computer and project the PDF file on to your plywood, then trace the line on the wood. The dimensions of the angel are 34-7/8” horizontally and 39-3/8” vertically. They are also on the PDF file. I was able to print them out so I will be showing that method.
Once you have the templates plotted, rough cut the paper outside the lines and use the spray adhesive to stick them to the plywood as shown on the layout drawing.
Now comes the fun of cutting out the pieces! Just a quick buzz with the jigsaw, following the lines, and you are done cutting…almost. I used the table saw to cut a bunch of 1”x2” pieces which will be used to mount the lights and give separation to the wings and body. You will also need 2 pieces cut at 4”x6”.
Step 3: Assembly and Painting
The first part of assembly is getting the paper off of the wood. For this, there is nothing better than the heat gun. Just a quick wave and the glue softens allowing the paper to come right off. While this does leave a bit of a sticky surface behind, I have found that taking some of the sawdust from the previous step and rubbing over the wood will get rid of all the tack.
Next a quick sanding and you are ready to assemble. A note on sanding, though; I wanted a well defined edge as this is backlit and needed to give sharp shadow lines, so avoid the temptation to round over the edges with the sander. Having a nice sharp blade on the jigsaw will also help create the clean edges and reduce splintering on the plywood.
Now you want to lay the parts face down and begin attaching the 1”x2” pieces to the back of the shapes. Try to keep the blocking around 1-1/2” from the edge of the piece to hide the lights when they are installed. Lay out all the pieces before fastening them to allow for adjustment. I chose to glue and screw each piece in place to give them extra strength.
Finally it is time for a nice paint job. I started on the back side of each assembly with a brush but soon realized this was going to be woefully inadequate, so a can of white exterior spray paint was enlisted to fill in the gaps the brush couldn’t get in between the blocks. This will be exposed to the elements so I wanted very good coverage.
Once dry, flip the pieces over and apply as many coats as you like to the fronts; I went with two.
Don’t forget to also paint the 4”x6” blocks you cut.
Step 4: Installing the Lights
While keeping the painted surface protected, lay the body and wings face down on your work surface. At this time, screw one of the 4”x6” pieces on to the back of the angel in the gap between the shoulders. I didn’t get a picture of this step, but it basically goes where the body and wings overlap and will be used to connect them together. Now you can install the iron-on edge banding to the outside edges of the 1”x2” blocks. This is an optional step, as you could stick the lights right to the blocks, but I wanted the banding to provide a continuous smooth surface for the lights to stick to. You could use an iron for this step but I found the heat gun again to be the perfect tool. A second or two of heat on the back side of the banding and it stuck right to the painted wood. If you need to readjust, just hit it with the heat again and shift the band.
Once both the body and wings have the banding installed, start with the lights. I found the best place to begin was on the body at the left side (from the front, right side from the back) of the neck. This is where the gap in the wings will be and allows for easy transition of the lights from body to wings. Make sure you pick the correct side or you will be redoing portions of your work. Ask me how I know that.
Work your way around the body and head with the lights until you get back to where you started. At this time, lay the remainder of the lights down and put the wings into position on the body. Again, remember that you are working backwards when lining things up. I found it helpful to dry-fit the pieces before the lights went on and made light pencil guidelines to help alignment.
Install screws through the back of the wings into the 4”x6” block you put on the body to hold the two pieces together. Now run the lights up through the gap in the wings and continue installing lights around the wings until completely covered. I did notice later that the tape on the back of the lights was not completely effective in some of the inside curves so I hit some of the trouble areas with hot glue and it held great.
Since my lights have an external power supply, I mounted it in the leg cavity of the body piece using Velcro tape. I know it isn’t rated for exterior use but it is very well protected back there. Now just tuck in the extra wire and get ready to finish up.
Step 5: Mount Up!
You might need another person to help with this step unless you have a calibrated eyeball. Take the remaining 4”x6” block and hold it on the back of the wings, roughly over the location of the 4”x6” block on the angel. The space back here is not big enough for it to fit inside the 1”x2” blocks, but that is OK since you want a bit of separation from the wall when you mount it.
Put the torpedo level on top of the block and hold it up while the other person determines a good angle for the angel to be mounted. Once in position, adjust the 4”x6” block until it is level, then carefully set the whole assembly down while not shifting the block. A second set of hands is very helpful here. Screw the 4”x6” block into place using the 2” screws, then screw the mounting bracket onto the block, keeping it aligned with the edge you just leveled.
Since my angel will be on a brick wall, I used a couple of Tapcon screws to mount the other half of the bracket. The bracket I used had a built in level so installing it level was a snap. All that is left is hauling the whole thing up a ladder and setting it in place, then running a power cord to bring it to life. I did find that the center of gravity for the assembly was not exactly in the location of the mounting bracket but it was not enough that I felt the installation was unstable. Your mileage may vary.
That is about it! Wait for it to get dark and enjoy your very own Christmas Angel.
Thanks for taking the time to read through and possibly build this Instructable. As always, feedback and voting is welcomed.