I have been fascinated by logos since high school. This fascination would eventually lead me to take up graphic design at a sign shop a few years later. I've since moved on to engineering, but my bent toward design has not left me. Recently, I decided it was time to change up the logo for my Youtube channel (and Instructables profile as well). After settling on the design of the logo, I thought it would be fun to make it into a small illuminated sign. I took some of my inspiration from this amazing project by La Fabrique DIY. You should really check out his channel as it has some of the best DIY project on Youtube.
The basic idea was to cut the new "MAK" logo into the side of an aluminum box tube. Lights located inside the tube would illuminate the inside of the box, making the letters appear to glow. This is the story of how I turned this idea into the reality you see above.
Step 1: Preparing the Box Tube
A few months back, my father-in-law gave me some spare 2" aluminum box tubing (1/16" thick) that was left over from a fence project. I cut a piece of this box to 5" long and proceeded to remove the black paint from it. While this paint was quite tenacious, I found that a quick strip disk attached to my angle grinder made quick work of removing it. I've never used one of these disks before, but it was my easiest paint removal experience ever.
Step 2: Transfer the Logo
The logo was prepared in CorelDraw and printed as line art within a 2" x 5" rectangle. Using an X-acto knife, I was able to easily trim out the logo and cut along the edges of the rectangle. Spray adhesive was used to temporarily affix the trimmed logo to the side of the box tube. Once the logo was firmly pressed into place, a Sharpie permanent marker was used to fill in the exposed letters, transferring the logo to the aluminum. When this Sharpie work was complete, the paper template was simply peeled off and discarded. This is the beauty of using spray adhesive (I used a spray adhesive with less holding strength). It holds objects in place, but when the time comes to separate them they pull apart quite easily.
Step 3: Cut Out the Logo
The logo was cut from the aluminum box using a Dremel cutoff wheel and a drill. The cutoff wheel was used to make the long, straight cuts. Since the radius of the cutoff wheel limits the length of cut that could be made completely through the aluminum, a small drill bit was used to make the short "cuts." By drilling a row of holes close together, the remaining aluminum between the holes can be easily broken away, releasing the letter. Sometimes I had to bend the letter back and forth a bit to break this aluminum, which wasn't difficult as aluminum doesn't like to be bent repeatedly. With all of the Dremel cuts and holes complete, the cut letters were removed from the side of the box tube.
Step 4: Clean Up the Logo
After removing the letters, the very rough edges of the logo were smoothed and straightened by filing. I used a combination of inexpensive needle files as well as a larger metal file when it would fit inside the letters. The nice thing about the needle file set I have is that some of the files are shaped to allow for very sharp corners to be cut. This step does take some patience, but it is perhaps the most rewarding as you see the logo taking its final shape in the aluminum.
Step 5: Make It Green
I wanted the logo to light up green, but instead of using colored lights I decided to simply paint the inside of the box tube green. The white lights would reflect off the painted surface producing the illusion that the light was green.
Step 6: Finish the Tube
Once the green paint dried, the overspray on the outside of the box was removed by sanding with a random orbit sander. I sanded all four sides to both remove the excess paint as well as to smooth any imperfections in the surface of the aluminum. With the tube was sanded smooth, its outside surface was polished using a buffing wheel attached to my angle grinder. I used Mother's Mag & Aluminum Polish, which resulted in a very high polish, making the tube look like chrome.
Step 7: End Blocks
To cap the ends of the tube, two 2" x 2" x 3/4" blocks were cut from pine. I wish I would have used a nice hardwood for these, but I had pine on hand so that's what I ended up using. After cutting the blocks, I created a depth stop for my miter saw, which allowed me to stop the blade above the cutting surface of the saw. As seen in the picture above, by sliding the saw blade across the edge of each block, I was able to create a small recess around the edge of each block. This recess was added to prevent light bleed through the future joints between the blocks and box tube.
Note that I would not recommend cutting these recesses in the way I did. It probably looks worse that it was as my fingers were still an inch or so away from the blade. However, in retrospect I should have come up with a way to clamp the block to the miter saw so that I could keep my fingers well away.
Step 8: Drill Hole for Switch
I wanted to add a small toggle switch to the one end block, which would turn the lights on and off. I have several old switches salvaged from some old control panels, which ended up being the perfect size. After drilling a small pilot hole though the center of the one block, I drilled to around 1/4" deep with a larger bit (with diameter to match threaded part of switch) on the non-recessed side of the block. Flipping the block over, I drilled out the larger hole required to fit the backside of the switch. This larger hole was drilled nearly the entire way through the block as I wanted the backside of the switch to rest below the surface of the block.
Step 9: Create Cavities in Blocks
1/2" deep cavities were created in the faces of the blocks with the recessed edges. As shall be seen later, these cavities will house the LEDs used to illuminate the logo. I first used a forstner bit to drill five holes in each of the blocks. These holes were connected to form the cavities by chiseling away the wood between them. Once the cavities were created, the edges were smoothed with a the Dremel using a sanding drum.
Step 10: The LEDs
A while back I purchased a 12V tape light strip. This strip ended up being too warm in color for my intended application, which is why it has been sitting in our closet for the past year. The nice thing about these LED tape lights is that they can be cut to virtually any length. I determined that two sections of 9 LEDs each would be perfect for illuminating the logo.
Step 11: The 12V Jack
I cut the circular 12V jack from the end of the LED light strip to serve as a power jack for the logo. The housing surrounding the two wires leading from the jack was stripped back to the base of the jack to allow for easy manipulation of the two wires inside. Next, a large hole was drilled in the side of the block with the switch hole in it. This hole was sized to allow for the jack to be pressed into it. 5 minute epoxy was used to secure the jack in the hole.
Step 12: Wiring Everything Together
Once the switch was fastened in its hole, the red (positive) wire from the jack was attached through the switch to the red wire leading to the end of the first section of 9 LEDs. These wires attached to the LEDs were the wires originally leading to the jack before it was cut from the strip. The black (negative) wire from the jack was directly connected to the black wire leading to the LEDs. Once all of the wires were twisted in place, all these connections were soldered together.
After connecting the jack to the first 9 LEDs through the switch, sections of black and red wire were soldered to the far end of the first LED strip. These wires were then soldered to the one end of the second LED strip. It was convenient to use two different colors of wires as polarity is important for LEDs. The red wire was connected between the + tabs on the two LED strips and the black wire between the - tabs.
Step 13: Light Sealing and Diffusion
During initial testing of the lights, I found that light would "leak" through the wooded blocks resulting in bright spots in the wood. Since I wanted to avoid this, I painted the insides of the blocks black using an acrylic craft paint.
I also wanted to diffuse the light from the LEDs to eliminate any hot spots in the light. Two square diffusers were cut from the sides of an old milk jug. Small notches were made in a corner of both diffusers to allow the red and black wires connecting the LED strips to pass through.
Step 14: Assemble First Block
The first LED strip was carefully wrapped around the cavity in its block. I didn't bother gluing this strip in place as it was held in place by the tension produced as the strip was bent around the cavity. In addition, once the LEDs were in place, the diffuser was epoxied in place over them, further securing the LEDs. I used small pieces of masking tape to hold the diffuser in place until the epoxy set.
Step 15: Final Assembly & Finishing
With the first LED block assembly complete, the second LED strip was passed through the box tube. I made sure that the wire connecting the two LED strips would lie along the inside corner of the box directly above the cut logo. This location would be the least visible at the typical angles the logo would be viewed from. The second LED strip was wrapped around its respective block cavity before being covered by a diffuser.
Once the diffuser epoxy dried on both block assemblies, these assemblies were epoxied onto their respective ends of the box tube.
To finish the logo, the end blocks were lightly sanded before two coats of Danish oil was applied to them. I protected the aluminum tube with painters tape during both the sanding and oil application.
Step 16: Finished Logo
After plugging the logo into a 12V power supply, I flipped the switch to the on position and admired my hard work! For only having LEDs in both end of the tube, the light across the logo is quite uniform. It is slightly brighter towards the sides, but I don't find it distracting and most people would probably not notice it. I particularly like how the painted interior of the tube lends its color to the light. It is a unique look that seems to add more dimension to the logo than simple colored lights would. I'm sure the techniques used here could be applied to many different illumination projects that you may come up with.