For this project I will explain how to make an LED glowing picture frame using 1/2 Polycarbonite glass and color changing LED strip lights.
At first I was thinking I would build a back lit picture frame but I couldn't just stop there. I had to take it to the next level. Did I mention this was about five days before Christmas? Yeah, I know. I saw this video where Mark Rober created a LED edge lit table. In these videos they would scuff or carve the glass and then add LED lights to make it glow around the edges and where it was altered. I thought I could do this too but I had to go big.
Step 1: Design
Now that I had an idea in my head it was time to get busy. First thing I did was design this in Sketchup. It was pretty basic but the great thing about designing it first digitally is I could mess up and/or change this several times without wasting a lot of time and material. I'm not the most skilled in Sketchup but here is a copy of the sketch.
The base version of Sketchup is free and I would highly recommend this for anyone that is getting into woodworking. Check out Jay Bate's video tutorials to learn more about how to use Sketchup for woodworking.
Step 2: Building the Frame - Ripping and Routing
For the frame I purchased two eight foot 1x6 poplar hardwood boards from my local box store. I ripped these down to 2 3/4". I cut them to a rough length but decided to route these before I cut the angle. On the inside corner I put a 1/2" x 1/2" rabbit cut which would hold the 1/2" glass inside the frame. On the opposite corner I cut a decorative edge. Then the other two corners just were rounded with a round-over bit just to smooth the edges. If you don't want to build this frame from scratch you can probably just purchase a picture frame or use chair rail molding or crown molding instead.
Once the routing was done on all four boards I then cut the 45 degree angle on each of the trim boards using a miter saw. When doing this make sure the top and bottom pieces are cut to the exact same length. Make sure both sides are cut to the same length as well. To make sure these were the same I used double sided tape to tape the two pieces together and cut them both at once.
When they were all cut to length I dry fit them to ensure good angles and cuts.
Step 3: Building the Frame - Assembling and Paint
Before I glued these four pieces of the frame together I put the Polycarb glass in to make sure it all fit correctly.
I glued each corner and drove brad nails into each corner in each direction to hold everything in place while the glue dried. I would have preferred to put stronger joint, such as a biscuit joint, but I don't have the tools or jig for this right now and time was running out. Once the glue dried I checked for square by measuring across the opposing corners and ensuring it was the same length for both (e.g. the distance from corner A to corner C is the same as corner B to corner D).
Next I sanded each corner and used a little wood putty to seal up any gaps. When the putty dried I sanded this down again and sanded the entire frame to remove any rough spots or burs from the routing. I decided to paint the wood frame the same color as our wood trim inside our house so it would fit right in.
Step 4: Carving the Glass and Adding the Lights
I picked up a sheet of 1/2" Polycarbonite from a local plastic supplier. I might have been able to get away with 3/8" but didn't want to take that chance so went with a thicker cut. This was by far the most expensive part of the project so I was VERY careful not to scratch or damage this.
I wasn't exactly sure what was the best way to carve or sand this would be. I used a couple of small scrap pieces to do some test stencils first. Sanding didn't seen to stand out enough so I ended up using a Dremel to carve out about 1/8" deep channel. I also decided to just outline each letter.
Next, I put the sheet inside the frame upside down. I was going to carve this on the back of the glass so it would shine through and hide some of the blemishes. Since I was looking at this from the back to the front I had to trace the stencils backward. The glass is coated by a thin sheet of protective firm plastic. I just drew out my letters and lines on this and then carved through this layer. I only got one chance at this part so I checked, double checked and checked again to make sure everything was perfect before I started cutting into the plastic. Dremelling this wasn't really a hard process at all so I just took my time and tried to keep all the cuts clean and the same depth.
Once this part was done was able to remove the protective film from both sides and place it in the frame. I put a thin 1/4" sheet of wood on the back to hold everything together. Since the glass was clear you could see this wood in the back so I ended up painting this the same color as the wall so it would look like the pictures were floating on the wall.
For the lights I used a six foot section of LED strip lights across the top of the frame. I ordered the lights from here and it came on a five meter spool with a power adapter and remote control. I cut the strip to fit across the top and inserted the LED strips in the rabbit on top of the glass so it would shine down through and make the engravings pop. This looked great. I was considering putting a second strip on the bottom to shine up at the same time but this was not necessary. The bottom is not as bright but this gives it a gradient look as it fades brighter on top and darker down low.
Step 5: Add the Pictures and Hang
I had previously ordered the pictures online. They were 20x20 and about 1" thick. To mount these I simply used some strong Scotch double sided tape. This held very well and I'm not sure if I will be able to get it off now when we want to change the images. The pictures sit on top of the 1/2" glass so they seem to float off the wall. Cool effect, especially when the light is on behind them.
We decided to hang this high up on our living room wall. To hang this I used a 48" french cleat (click here for more information about french cleat hangers). I put half the cleat on the wall and the opposing side screwed into the back of the frame. I was able to put two 2 1/2" screws into three different studs and this doesn't feel like it is going to move at all.
For the electrical I decided to put an outlet behind the picture so the cables were hidden. I know just enough here to be dangerous so I will leave this to your own research.
Step 6: Finished Project
In the end I couldn't be happier with how this turned out. If you look closely you can see a few flaws but that's why we hang it high on the wall, right?
The total time it took to build this was about 15 - 18 hours. I'm sure if I did it again it would take half this time. As I mentioned, this was my first picture frame and I took my time making sure everything was perfect. The cost was approximately $450 which is a lot but I'm very happy with how this turned out and think it is well worth the price.
- 1/2" 28x72 Inch Polycarb - $270
- Ordered from Alro Plastics
- Canvas Prints - $110
- 2 - 1x6"x8' boards - $40
- 1 sheet of 1/4" under laminate used for the frame backing - $12
- Misc supplies (glue, sand paper, putty, etc) - $20
If anyone is interested I would definitely recommend trying this. The hardest part was building the frame. Start with something a little smaller first. Carving the plastic sheet just required a lot of patients and a steady hand. I would like to try carving this out on a CNC machine too which will give me a more uniform and precision grove. I guess we will save that for the next project.
That's my project, now let's see what you can do!