Introduction: Yet Another Edge-Lit LED Sign

Picture of Yet Another Edge-Lit LED Sign

There are kind of a lot of them. But then, everybody does like glowing things, yes? Yes, of course they do. Things that glow are awesome.

I needed a project.

I felt that the Bergen hackerspace needed a cool sign.

Karlmag shared that opinion.

Thus it was only logical that we team up to build one.

Skill: Moderate

Time: Lots

Kilos of mixed nuts consumed during project: 4.2

(Requires basic knowledge of: hand tools, woodworking, metalworking, electrical wiring and soldering.)

Hahaha, wow, this Instructable turned out huuuge, didn't it? Ah well, better too many photos and information than not enough.

Epilog Contest

Yes of course Chimera and Karlmag want a chance at acquiring a laser cutter. (Who wouldn't want a laser cutter? Boring people, that's who.) In the event we did win it, it'd go to the Bergen hackerspace, which is in the process of doing a bit of renovating and trying to expand its tech base, and having a laser cutter would be amazing.

Hand Tools Only (and any other) Contest(s)

Same deal applies: pretty much anything we might win would end up at Hack Bergen for the use of all members.

Step 1: Acrylic Panel - Tools & Materials

Picture of Acrylic Panel - Tools & Materials

Tools & Materials

  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Fine-tip marker
  • Steel ruler
  • Clamps
  • Squishy plastic sheeting used as a non-slip mat
  • Dremel 300-series rotary tool
  • One conical cutting burr and several sizes of spherical cutting burrs
  • Dremel 335-01 plunge router attachment
  • Dremel 225-01 flex shaft attachment
  • Palm sanders
  • Car buffer
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Anti-vibration gloves
  • Respirator
  • Slab of clear acrylic
  • Smaller acrylic scrap for testing purposes
  • Paper
  • Not-exactly-contact-cement glue
  • Sandpaper
  • Autosol polishing paste
  • Vacuum cleaner

Have access to a laser cutter or a CNC machine? Lucky you; go use them. This part will go much faster. The Bergen hackerspace doesn't have either of those bit of equipment, so this is all hand-engraved. It took a few hours.

Okay, it took a lot of hours.

(Want a burr case like the one pictured in the third photo? There is an Instructable for it here.)

Step 2: Acrylic Panel - Preparation

Picture of Acrylic Panel - Preparation

Draw or otherwise acquire whatever image it is you want on the sign. For our project it's the Hack Bergen logo. Things show up best when they're engraved from the reverse, so remember to flip the design. Open it in your program of choice and scale it to the size you need.

Before you hit Print, double-check that you have indeed flipped the design. Then check it again. Then print it.

If the image had to be split across two or more sheets of paper to get it the size you need, line them up and tape them together. This one was printed across two pages of A4. Position it on the acrylic and mark around the corners so things can be easily lined up again.

Usually I stick the pattern to the layer of protective plastic sheeting and do my best not to rip it off while I engrave it so everything comes away clean at the end. If there is no protective layer and the piece of acrylic is small enough, I cover it in clear packing tape to prevent scratches. Ours measured 50cm x 40cm (by 8mm thick), which was a bit on the large side to do the tape thing, and had been kicking around the hackerspace for months, or maybe years, and whatever protective sheeting used to be on it was long gone, so we glued the printed design right to the plastic since we were going to have to buff out the accumulated damage afterwards anyway.

Apply the contact cement to the paper. Get a layer of glue on as much of the surface as you can so the paper doesn't start peeling off completely the moment a burr cuts into it. Smear a thin layer of contact cement on the acrylic too, keeping it inside the guide marks made earlier. Use said marks to get everything properly lined up and press the paper into position.

Once the paper is stuck good and secure to the acrylic, clamp it to your workbench in preparation for engraving.

Step 3: Acrylic Panel - Engaving the Horizontal and the Vertical

Picture of Acrylic Panel - Engaving the Horizontal and the Vertical

Get your protective gear on. Definitely safety glasses, hearing protection strongly encouraged, anti-vibration gloves are not 100% necessary but still very nice to have, aprons are entirely optional but do make it easier to brush away the plastic shavings, and closed-toe shoes are just a good idea in general in any workshop.

Use a scrap piece of acrylic to do a few test cuts to get a feel for things and test out different burrs to find the one that handles best for you. We went with a conical burr for the first cuts, though if Chimera does this again she's just going to jump straight to a round one.

Set the cut depth. Get the Dremel in position with the first line you're going to cut and lock the guide fence distance. Eyeball it again to be sure it's in the correct place, then turn it on and start engraving. Depending on acrylic thickness, several passes might be needed to get it cut to the right depth. Go easy and don't force the burr along, especially if it seem to catch on something. Shoving it through is a good way to slip and mess up the cut (and possibly yourself), so back it up or back it off to a shallower cut depth and try again gently.

The glue-covered paper does tend to gum up the burrs something fierce, so we had to stop now and then to de-gunk them.

Once all the individual cuts along one level are done, line up with the next one and readjust the guide fence. The guide rods were just long enough that we could just reach every part.

Step 4: Acrylic Panel - Engraving the Diagonal and the Curved

Picture of Acrylic Panel - Engraving the Diagonal and the Curved

The guide fence only worked for the horizontal and the vertical. All the diagonal and curved lines had to be done freehand. Same general rules apply: test out things on some scrap first to get a feel for the motion of the burr (it will tend to pull more one way than the other), go gently, don't force things.

Step 5: Acrylic Panel - the Last Cut Is the Deepest

Picture of Acrylic Panel - the Last Cut Is the Deepest

We probably could have done all the horizontal and vertical lines to their final depth using the plunge router, but it was taking forever so Chimera did the rest of it freehand to speed things up.

It's a lot easier, for Chim anyway, to see where to engrave if the paper pattern printout is removed once everything is outlined with the shallow cuts, though of course this is optional. (If your acrylic still has the protective layer on it, for instance, maybe leave that on to make your life easier later.) Peel/scrape it off. Doesn't matter if there is a bit of scratching on the acrylic because it'll get sanded and buffed all smooth later anyway.

Once again, same general advice applies: several shallow passes are better than trying to cut it to final depth all in one go. Your hands are a lot closer to what is essentially a ball of tiny razor blades whirling at several thousand RPMs.

Chimera is stupid proud of her engraving job on this, by the way.

Step 6: Acrylic Panel - Sand and Polish

Picture of Acrylic Panel - Sand and Polish

Time to get the last of the glue residue off of the acrylic and sand/buff out the scratches and dings. The smaller palm sander only took those weird Velcro-y sheets made specifically for it, and those only went to 240 grit, so we used another palm sander the finer grits, all the way to ~2500 grit sandpaper.

After sanding came buffing, to make everything smooth and clear so the light only refracts on the engraved areas.

Step 7: Acrylic Panel - Shiny!

Picture of Acrylic Panel - Shiny!

Engraving done!

Put the acrylic sheet somewhere safe, especially if it's like ours and no longer has any protective covering on it. We put ours in the window with LEDs underneath it. Maybe not the safest place, but we were too impatient for the whole sign to be done before we showed it off.

Step 8: Blueprints - Making Plans

Picture of Blueprints - Making Plans

Tools & Materials

  • various rulers
  • adjustable protractor/angle-guide thing
  • mechanical pencils in 0.7mm and 0.3mm
  • eraser
  • more eraser
  • calipers
  • a very tattered RGB LED strip.
  • A3 graph paper with 1cm x 1cm squares subdivided every millimetre

For practical reasons, and since we could, the drawings were done to actual size.

At first, Chimera tried planning and rendering the frame in 123D Design. Autodesk's 123D Design software does not, in fact, behave anything at all like Autodesk's Inventor software, with which Chimera is far more familiar. There resulted much frustration, followed by much cursing. Karlmag found it all highly amusing.

It's a good sign you've maybe been doing too much work on the computer lately when you're seized by a sudden panic of: "Oh crap, I haven't saved my work in like three hours now!", sense the muscles in your hand reflexively go for that CTRL+S motion, fail to feel a keyboard, then look down and go: "Oh yeah. Paper. Right."

A rectangular base would have been so much easier to do, but those are boring. Trapezoids look much cooler.

Step 9: Frame & Base - Rough Cuts

Picture of Frame & Base - Rough Cuts

Tools & Materials

  • Not-actually-blue blueprints made in previous step
  • Steel rulers
  • Square
  • Tape measure
  • Mechanical pencils
  • Hand saw
  • Mitre saw
  • Coping saw
  • C-clamps
  • F-clamps
  • Pipe strapping (metal strip with a bunch of holes in it)
  • Power drill
  • Drill bits, 1mm up to 10mm
  • Ratcheting screwdriver/socket wrench
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Assorted pliers
  • Assorted screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Dremel rotary tool, 300-series
  • Dremel 225-1 flex shaft attachment
  • Cutting disc
  • Cylindrical cutting burr
  • Tiny bench vise
  • Pin vise
  • Block planes
  • Palm sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Reclaimed wood and plywood and particle board
  • Wood pegs, 10mm diameter
  • Angle brackets
  • Wood screws in various lengths and diameters
  • Bolts
  • Nuts
  • Acorn nuts (not that sort of acorn nor that sort of nut)
  • Washers
  • Painter's tape
  • Duct tape
  • Ancient touchscreen stylus
  • Super glue
  • Wood glue
  • Wood filler
  • Large plastic sheet
  • Some rocks
  • Grey primer
  • Black spray paint
  • Matte varnish
  • Scrap fabric
  • Rubber anti-slip feet
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Possibly some more things I don't remember right now

All the wood we used was reclaimed. Zerblatt, another Hack Bergen member, was doing some home renovations and let us dig through the junk pile for anything we could use. The sign's frame is made from old baseboard and door frame mouldings, while the base is made from some old plywood scraps. The base's front and back panels are made from an old particle board sliding door we fished out of a dumpster in front of one of the industrial buildings along the road to the hackerspace, which was also renovating at the time.

Have (access to) a table saw? Lucky you. Use it. Use it use it use it. We didn't have one, so this was all done with hand tools and took us dozens of hours over several months, instead of a few hours over several afternoons.

Step 10: Frame & Base - Filler

Picture of Frame & Base - Filler

Because this stuff used to be old baseboard, it's full of nail holes. We cut around the worst, but couldn't avoid them all. The tube of wood filler in the 'space was all dried out and useless, and we didn't want to wait until we could get to the store to buy new stuff. Super glue + wood dust makes a pretty good substitute if you know how to use it, plus it dries quick.

Step 11: Frame & Base - Smoothing It Out

Picture of Frame & Base - Smoothing It Out

It is old reclaimed wood, so it's time to make it pretty and also just a little bit less warped, because oh boy were some of these pieces ever warped.

Step 12: Frame & Base - Frame Top

Picture of Frame & Base - Frame Top

The frame's top bar is the easiest to assemble. Allow the glue to dry overnight for best results.

Step 13: Frame & Base - Frame Sides

Picture of Frame & Base - Frame Sides

One side of the frame is assembled just like the top, except it's the outer layers that protrude farther than the inner layer this time. Apply glue, align the outer edges, stick the pieces together, clamp it and set it aside to dry.

The other side also has the outer layers protruding farther, but the inner layers are a bit more complicated because this is the side with the channel for the LED strip's power cable.

Step 14: Frame & Base - Corner Pegs

Picture of Frame & Base - Corner Pegs

It took a lot of thinking before deciding just how we were going to bolt this whole mess together. We wanted to be able to disassemble the entire sign in the event of LED strips or other part of it ever needed to be repaired or replaced, but we didn't want huge steel bolts sticking off the sides either (and the frame isn't thick enough to recess them without compromising structural integrity anyway). We settled on wood pegs: sturdy enough to hold things together, can be sanded flush with the rest of the frame, can be knocked back out if the need arises.

Step 15: Frame & Base - Frame Bottom

Picture of Frame & Base - Frame Bottom

This part of the design may have been slightly more complicated than necessary. The bottom edge of the frame melds into the base, and is comprised of two thick pieces of wood buttressing two narrow-but-taller lengths that form the frame itself.

Step 16: Snack Break

Picture of Snack Break

Tools & Materials

  • Strawberries
  • Paper towel

Also recommended

  • various other types of snack food
  • assorted beverages

Not recommended

  • the adult kind of beverage unless the project is done or you are calling it quits for the day, because alcohol combined with power tools or really any tools at all is A Bad Idea

It is difficult to overstate how important this step is!

It may be the most important step of the whole process!

Alternative approaches:

  • having a Snack Break between all the regular steps
  • having a Snack Break sub-step on each step
  • all of the above

It is important to note that the last entry also opens up for the possibility of having several Snack Break steps in each regular step. Even more important; you can have recursive Snack Break steps!!!

Step 17: Frame & Base - Side Sockets

Picture of Frame & Base - Side Sockets

The frame sides go clear to the bottom for structural reasons, but they have to go through the base top to get there. That means cutting some holes for them.

Step 18: Frame & Base - Endplates

Picture of Frame & Base - Endplates

A slight design over-complication we had to incorporate because the base's top and bottom are the longest we could possibly get out of the slab of plywood we used, yet still too short to extend far enough that the frame sides don't bump up against the end plates when everything is assembled.

Step 19: Frame & Base - Attaching and Shaping the Endplates

Picture of Frame & Base - Attaching and Shaping the Endplates

Rectangular prisms may be easier, but where's the fun in "simple"?

Step 20: Frame & Base - Attaching the Bottom Frame Rails to the Base

Picture of Frame & Base - Attaching the Bottom Frame Rails to the Base

These are the last pieces to attach and then the base is done.

Step 21: Frame & Base - Just a Little Off the Sides

Picture of Frame & Base - Just a Little Off the Sides

Trimming the pieces that were just added so they merge smoothly with the other angled parts.

Step 22: Frame & Base - Cable Run Access

Picture of Frame & Base - Cable Run Access

The power cable for the top strip needs to be able to get into the cable channel inside the frame. Time to drill a hole for it.

Step 23: Frame & Base - Hardware, Power, IR

Picture of Frame & Base - Hardware, Power, IR

Friction with the base isn't enough to hold the frame in, at least not if you want something properly secure, so it's time to add some hardware. Drill the holes for the LED control box's infrared sensor and the power cable while you're at it. (And pretend like we haven't actually painted the thing yet. We were making everything up as we went and did the steps in not quite the optimal order.)

Step 24: Frame & Base - Not So Blocky Blocks

Picture of Frame & Base - Not So Blocky Blocks

"Oh yeah, we still have to do this other thing that we forgot about and that will completely trash the paint job. Whoops." Keep pretending it hasn't been painted yet. Or pretend like we did it on purpose to increase the photographic contrast.

Now we could have just left the frame edges all right-angled and blocky-looking and ew, but that would not be in keeping with the overall form we have going on with this thing.

Step 25: Frame & Base - Rough Cut and Placement of Front and Back Covers

Picture of Frame & Base - Rough Cut and Placement of Front and Back Covers

We had several discussions on what to use for the front and back panels, and then found something perfect in a dumpster down the street from the hackerspace.

Step 26: Frame & Base - Trimming to Size

Picture of Frame & Base - Trimming to Size

More stuff that would have been so much easier and faster with a table saw, but you work with what you have. Even if we had managed to acquire a table saw in the interim, I think we would have finished it completely by hand just on principle.

Step 27: Frame & Base - Wood Filler Is Messy

Picture of Frame & Base - Wood Filler Is Messy

The panels are made of particle board, which means the edges will be all chipped and generally ugly and not smooth. Make smooth with wood filler.

Step 28: Frame & Base - Final Fill and Sanding

Picture of Frame & Base - Final Fill and Sanding

Locate and fill any dents, chips or cracks that might remain, let dry, sand smooth.

Step 29: Decorative Brass Hardware - Power, IR, Signatures

Picture of Decorative Brass Hardware - Power, IR, Signatures

Tools & Materials

  • Scrap brass plates
  • Cardboard
  • Pencil
  • Dental pick
  • Graving pen
  • Scrap wood
  • Clamps
  • Coping saw
  • Metal files
  • Sandpaper
  • Power drill
  • Assorted drill bits
  • Dremel 300-series rotary tool
  • Bench vise
  • Brass hinge screws
  • Screw tap and die, M2.5 x 0.45
  • Black porcelain paint (Marabu Porcelain)
  • Household oven


For the Etching

  • Pieces to be etched
  • Duct tape or other tape
  • Spray paint
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Small non-metallic container used as a measuring cup
  • Glass jar for mixed etchant
  • Funnel to pour the used etchant into a bottle for storage and eventual re-use
  • Paint thinner to remove the spray paint after etching is done
  • Splash goggles
  • Respirator
  • Nitrile gloves

It was decided we wanted a little bit more secure anchor point for the power cable than just jamming the socket in a hole in the wood, so Chimera made some decorative brass plates, because black + gold = classy. Of course they are in keeping with the whole trapezoid thing this whole frame has going on.

The metal etching was done with the 2:1 hydrogen peroxide to hydrochloric acid method detailed in this Instructable.

Step 30: Decorative Brass Hardware - Ball Catch and Frame Corner Covers

Picture of Decorative Brass Hardware - Ball Catch and Frame Corner Covers

Painting the wood pegs fastening the corners wasn't the ideal solution to hide them, thus decorative plates over them too. The front and back panels could probably have been left as they were, but since they're made of particle board -- not known for spectacular structural strength; the brass plates will spread any force over a larger area -- and the black colour of the acorn nuts just looked blah against more black, the front and back panels got some fancified hardware too.

Chimera was real tired of cutting and filing brass by the time this project was finished.

Step 31: Decorative Brass Hardware - a Little Bit Screwy and a Little Bit Nutty

Picture of Decorative Brass Hardware - a Little Bit Screwy and a Little Bit Nutty

We couldn't find any screws in brass, or at least brass-coloured, that were small enough for the plates in any of the hardware and hobby stores around town, so Chimera dug through her parts bins at work and turned up some old, tiny brass hinge screws. The heads were huge, but that was a problem that could be easily solved with a Dremel and some files.

The other problem with the screws was the thread count. M2 x 0.45. The smallest nuts to be found anywhere local were M3, and we didn’t want to wait for the time it would take things ordered from abroad to arrive, so we made our own nuts. They may not be pretty, or even particularly nut-shaped, but they do the job just fine.

Step 32: Decorative Brass Hardware - Lining It Up

Picture of Decorative Brass Hardware - Lining It Up

"Measure twice, cut once," is a maxim for a reason. Careful measurements are needed here.

Step 33: Frame & Base - Painting

Picture of Frame & Base - Painting

Tape off all the places you don't want or need paint to be. Work in a well-ventilated area, wear a respirator, follow the usage directions on the can.

Step 34: Frame & Base - Adding the Fluff Stuff

Picture of Frame & Base - Adding the Fluff Stuff

The acrylic is 8mm wide, while the baseboard and moulding is 10mm wide. This was okay because it let us add a layer of fabric along the edges, which would help hold the acrylic, let it slide in more smoothly during assembly, and prevent light bleed from the LEDs. The fabric was some scrap from a coat I was working on.

Step 35: Electronics - Power Distribution Board

Picture of Electronics - Power Distribution Board

Tools & Materials

  • Soldering iron
  • Lead-free solder
  • A piece of prototyping board, strip board type.
  • Connectors
    • 4 pin single row breakaway pin header, round type
    • 4 pin right angle
    • 4 pin straight
  • Eye protection
  • Some means of getting the soldering fumes away from your face. (Fume extractor, fan, open window, fellow hacker waving a sheet of cardboard, etc)

The strip board and the connectors are all 2.54mm (0.1") spacing types.

The round pin headers were put in to be able to connect the RGB control box directly to the board.

The other connectors where chosen because we already had them available and because they are unidirectional, so you cannot (easily) connect them the wrong way around. They are actually the same type of connector that was being used as power connector on 3.5" floppy drives, for those remembering those. ;-)

You can obviously use connectors with different spacings or different types depending on what you like and have available.

The straight and right angle connectors are sold as "Series 2500 wafer connectors" by Tayda Electronics.

Direct links: 4 pin straight and 4 pin right angle

They are really standard connectors and should be easy to source everywhere. They will probably go by many different names though.

Step 36: Electronics - LED Strips

Picture of Electronics - LED Strips

Would it have been simpler to have one continuous LED strip with one connection? Probably, but we put a separate LED strip on each side with the goal of eventually connecting them to some microcontrollers so each strip could be programmed individually. For now they all plug into the one control box that came with the roll of LED strip.

Step 37: Electronics - Power Cable

Picture of Electronics - Power Cable

Internal power cable, that is. One end is the power socket that mounts in the side of the base, and the other plugs into the control box.

Step 38: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

If your acrylic still has a layer of protective plastic on it, now is the time to remove it.

Step 39: Done!

Picture of Done!

Gaze lovingly upon your marvellous creation that took way to freaking long to build but is totally worth the time and effort.

Comments

daved8 (author)2015-03-03

Nice. I do everything with templates and jigs. No need for a CNC (though would be nice). Liked your creativity to do with what was on hand ... wow, a lot of work but rewarding I'm sure. What LED controller did you use? I see a few RGB LED controllers with various modes (likerainbox hopping / gradient) at dx.com super cheap .. like $20, complete with remote controls and am wondering if they're any good.

Akin Yildiz (author)2014-12-05

hello chimera and hack bergen,

I am working on a plant pot that changes color when different conditions are in place. since the battery life is a huge issue, we have to use just one rgb led. i've never worked with acrylic like this before and would love to hear your opinion..

.

I am assuming that there will be an outside layer on the plant pot of thin sheet of acrylic and the light will be hidden closer to the bottom of the pot? here is another instructable that is similar in idea; https://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-controlled...

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i am trying to assemble a team of amazing people. we are a non-profit, open source electronics company, specializing in plant care instruments - feel free to message me with any questions. all contributors are listed with their input/date on our webpage.

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thank you very much for such a detailed instructable !!!

Acrylic can be heat-formed, so I guess the whole pot could be made/covered with a layer of clear plastic, and just hope the bottom-mounted LED is strong enough to illuminate the whole thing? The surface would have to be roughed up in places, otherwise the light will just shine right through with only a bit of glow on the edges, though I don't really see why it must be able to light up all the way around. I have no idea about the power requirements of electroluminescent wiring, but could that maybe be an option? It's a lot easier to wrap around something than a sheet of acrylic. Alternately, it's a pot for a plant. Plants generally need sunlight. Can't you stick a solar cell on it somewhere and use rechargeable batteries? That would extend the battery life, wouldn't it?

I\m not really sure exactly what it is you want to know from me. :/

heat formed maybe just at the very top rim. i dont need the entire pot to change color, just the rim should be fine for now. well if it is only lit from one side and if that side is facing away from you, then you may not be able to see the alert from other angles. this is basically why I need the light to be seen from every angle, and the best way to do that would be to have it travel with acrylic.

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about the solar cell, yes there will be an option for lit areas, but we have to have a 100% battery operated one for no sunlight scenarios for indoor growing. i was going to just use led strips like you have, but they require their own power source and it is 12V usually. so I have to go with regular smd rgb leds

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heat forming and roughing the edges was kind of the answer i was looking for. I will try to put together a prototype and share with you how it goes and ask for help if i run into anything. thanks again for an amazing instructable.!!

Why not just position the pot with the LED side facing the direction from which it will be seen most often?

Another option could be fibre-optics, perhaps? Light from a single LED could be split to several fibre bunches and run to all sides that way. Not sure how bright this would; might not be visible from across a room unless it's dark.

Tangski (author)2014-09-03

Now that is what I call a PROJECT!!! Wow! I have to say, some of the wood I would have just purchased ready to work with, and used my table saw to best advantages here. Hand stuff is really nice, but I would have saved that for all that brass work. Also, next time check for brass screws etc at an electrical store that the public does not usually go to. They often have those smaller sizes. In Canada, Canadian Tire does have bins of brass bolts, screws etc, that go to very very small sizes for electrical projects. I should know, I used to have to stock them!LOL Anyway, check for pro stores for those items and save some more time!

However, the use of the dremel was very interesting as well. Good for you! It was also nice to see another gal doing this project too...way to go!! If you keep the cover on the plexi glass, you should not need to have that polish step, and some plexi out there WILL NOT polish up, so be aware of the kinds you can purchase! To have clear edges I have found that you have to lightly heat the plexi with a small flame to get the edge glass clear. That will also make the light travel through even more?

I thought the frame was very inventive, but could be simplified somewhat. Maybe look into that a bit more for the next one? Not being picky, just know how much time we display artists have on some projects. Since this is one I would try, I would change many of the steps to make it a project just as effective by eliminating many of those wood working steps. However, your project looks great and shows a lot of skill to get there! For a kid proof set for example, no snap off backs..just inset screws. Kids will be kids!

Forget the MDF when you can. Since you used ply or solid wood, stick with those and you will save more steps with wood or poly fillers. If you want that pro edge, then just use the wood edging tape. Looks better anyway, especially if one decides to keep the natural look rather than paint it all up. If you do use the MDF, use the lightweight stuff, high density, then you can use it on the entire project. All the edges then can be very smooth and finished looking no matter what, and may even make the entire project lighter. You can get very thin stuff out there as well now. Another time saver. You can now add pro coatings to MDF that make the surface look plastic. Very cool effect, and about as expensive as a qt of paint!

And yeah, fill first paint last!LOL Use primer too, and spray good paint using a sprayer, not that canned stuff, however, it works well in a pinch, but lightly sand between layers. You will like the finish better I think when painting wood projects. A satin clear coat over it will also give it a better pro look when done, and it adds a protective layer as well that will stand up to handling much longer. But that is just personal pref.

Hope you don' t mind my comments, only trying to help out as your project rocks and would like to see more! Instead of letters, how about a layered color scene? Two or tree layers of plexi with different colored LED? OK, kidding!

Well done and thanks again!!

cheers

Vicki

Believe me, we checked every store we could. Even the RC/model hobby shop didn't have what we were searching for. Our fault for being too picky, I guess. :P The loose parts bins in hardware stores here leave a bit to be desired sometimes. I'm Canadian-born if not necessarily bred, even if I live in Norway now, and I have certainly spent my share of hours running around in Canadian Tire.

Our reasons for buffing the plastic were addressed in the Instructable. Specifically: the acrylic we used was kicking around the hackerspace for so long that whatever cover it might have once had was long gone and it was all scratched to hell. It needed to be buffed. The edges, thankfully, didn't need any going over with a propane torch.

Oh yeah, the base and its crazy shape is definitely more complex than it really had to be, but Rule of Cool rules all over here. We wanted something a bit more sleek-looking than just a big block, but still wide and bottom-heavy enough to not be easily knocked over (but really I just over-complicate everything I touch because I don't even know). A lot of the steps can be dropped for a more simple design, but what we did is what you see.

We used the wood/sort-of-wood because it was what we had lying around. Would it have been easier and neater to use new lumber? Probably. Not as cheap, though. Half the point of the project was: "How far can we take this using just what we already have at hand?" Answer: pretty far, actually, if you're creative enough.

Um... we did use primer, and we sanded between each layer (so many layers), and we used a matte clear-coat over everything. Commentary seems to be implying we didn't do any of that when it's all clearly laid out in Step 33.

All my other acrylic/LED projects are a lot simpler (and smaller!) than this one. I'm ready for a bit of a break, haha. Not that I'm going to get one. Non-stop projects all the time. \o/

Well, I think the project rocks, and would love to give it a go sometime for a set:) Sorry I missed that step 33, I kinda started to skim a bit due to all the steps here...haha...sorry! Was looking at the photos and the finish look from those.
Maybe I can send you stuff over there if you cant find it, and I might be able to here where I live...never know! Willing to help out if I can.

What did you use to polish up the plexi? I can't seem to find anything here that works well at all, and mine tends to just get worse not better, or just tends to do a waxy cover but not an actual polish that makes the plexi stay 'polished', just a temp cover up...any ideas what I could use that would work better?

Thanks for the great reply! I do appreciate the information. I am sure going to look close at the electrical part of the set up. I want to learn how to do more of that!

Hey, enjoy where you are living now! I would love to see that country some day. Been to Holland since my Dad served over there in WW11 (no I am not that old, was adopted late in their lives), and LOVE that place!
K, thanks again, cheers and say Hi to the gal in your studio..she is great! I am one of the few here who does display work for a Nature Centre. OK, so it is about a one of a kind job in Canada..I am VERY blessed!!:)
Oh, since you do display work, have you also checked out the new options in covering foam and wood as well? A new water based apoxi that is weather proof as well. Used on movie sets now and outdoor signs. Look up Styrospray that can also be rolled on, brushed etc. Thought you might find this stuff interesting to use.
Cheers guys!
Vicki.

We used something called Autosol.
http://www.clasohlson.com/no/Polerkrem-Autosol./Pr344252000 It's a
polishing cream that's meant for metals, but works okay on some plastics
too. I've also heard that doing quick passes with a propane torch to
very lightly melt the surface also works, but none of my test runs have
shown any improvement (I could be doing it wrong), plus I didn't want to
risk damaging the finished engraving beyond salvaging.

TrollFaceTheMan (author)2014-09-27

Love the snake break intermission, and love the overall project Keep it Up!!

bpark1000 (author)2014-09-05

Don't polish the edge with a flame unless you have the equipment and the willingness to go through an anneal for the whole sheet. When you flame the plastic, it heats, expands, and melts. When the plastic cools after the polishing, it solidifies and shrinks. The surrounding plastic that wasn't heated braces the outside edge in tension. Hairline cracks will form on the edge, and spread inward, after a day or a couple of months. Laser cutting will do this also, and should be followed immediately by an anneal. Annealing the plastic heats it enough to relieve this stress, but not enough to sag, followed by slow cooling which allows the whole sheet to shrink together, stress free. Even the friction heat due to cutting the design could do this, so the advice to cut the design a little at a time is good, and keep cutters sharp, and RPM low. Also, work with the plastic when it is warm (such as outside on a hot day) rather than cold, (as in the winter). Regarding the comment about using multiple layers, I saw a large art display that consisted of a dozen panels with different sea creatures engraved in each one, creating an undersea 3D display. Not kidding! The sign could even change depending upon which layer is illuminated.

No flames were used on this piece (and I don't have the equipment to anneal plastics anyway and would probably screw up and melt it if I tried). Crackling the acrylic on purpose can provide some neat effects, though, like what Shockfossils does.

longwinters (author)2014-09-05

Your intuition is spot on, I actually made my own filler with glow powder and white glue that dries clear.
The powder I bought from United Nuclear

I did almost exactly the same thing, except I mixed the powder with a clear varnish made for porcelain, which fuses to the glass permanently once "fired" in an oven. Worked great, but not a good option for plastics that can melt at household oven temperatures.

longwinters (author)2014-09-04

I have an old engraver, while playing around making clear edge lit signs , I discovered that using glow in the dark putty in the cut outs makes for a great look when lit by UV Led's.
Nice work.

That does sound neat. Do you fill in the cuts completely, or is it more just a light coating on the edges? I've done some glass engraving where I painted in some of the lines with glow-in-the-dark/UV-reactive paints, but never thought to try it with edge-lighting projects.

craftosaurus (author)2014-09-03

I love it; great job! I especially enjoyed step 16.

karlmag (author)craftosaurus2014-09-03

Thanks!

We do have a particular love for step 16 too.

alcurb (author)2014-09-03

Very nice instructable and project. You got very nice results in the end.

This would be a great application for a CNC engraver, but doing it by hand as you did has its great rewards.

karlmag (author)alcurb2014-09-03

Thank you! We are very happy with the end result too :-)

As for CNC, we do have the extremely versatile Chimera "Nutmix" Cutty, and she engraves like a champ! :-D

elb8652 (author)2014-09-03

The resulting sign was beautiful, and I have yet to figure out how to wire leds. I suggest you invest in a table saw. Seeing someone rip cut plywood with a hand saw was painful. Plastic body filler works well on wood projects to be painted. An adequate table saw is under $200 at the box stores. It will improve accuracy and save you days on such a project.

karlmag (author)elb86522014-09-03

Thanks.

I guess we could have been slightly clearer with regard to the LED strip wiring. It's quite straight forward. You have 4 channels on the light strips; +12V, red, green and blue. Make sure you connect the same channel from all LED strips to the corresponding channel on the LED control box . That is what the power distribution board does. It also make it possible to easily swap out the strips or connect to a different controller with more separate channels. In particular, get the +12V correct as you *may* fry the LED strip if you connect power backwards. If you get the color order wrong that doesn't matter as much, but it is nice to have the same color all the way round, obviously :-)

We did look at some table saws, but the "cheap enough" ones seemed anything but accurate and not of as good quality as we would like. They would otherwise be way too expensive to defend buying for our needs. But yeah, a proper one would have helped quite a bit on build time that is true. That said, there are lots of other tools that would have helped on time too; table top electric planer, drill press, band sander, and a few more.

Jake Maverick (author)2014-09-02

awesome! i know how it is things taking way too long.....abt a year a project for me at the moment....but that is certainly far more complicated way of doing it than i would have done.

very impressive, thanks for sharing!

This one took us almost exactly a year from start to finish, but we only worked on it an average of three hours per week. Which is... over 150 hours. Well, that's only about a week straight with no sleep.

sekitori (author)2014-09-03

Looks great !

How deep are you actually cutting in the acrylic ?

It's about 3-4 millimetres deep (the depth varies slightly due to the freehand engraving), and the acrylic measures 8mm thick.

BeforeTron (author)2014-09-01

First off. Nice project! Secondly, love the light hearted write up!

I try. :) It's strange; I've never thought of myself as an especially funny person, but lately I've had a few folks tell me they find my way with words hilarious.

Yeah, I can vouch for Chim is good (and hilarious) with words. She is also a nice and funny person to be around - otherwise I would have bailed out of this project long time ago :-P

electro18 (author)2014-09-01

That looks so cool ! good job !

Thanks. Karlmag and I are really happy with the end result (and just happy that it's done, haha).

seamster (author)2014-09-01

Excellent work!

It's refreshing to see some skillful hand engraving. Most people don't have access to CNCs and such, and this kind of project proves you can still do awesome work by hand. Thanks!

Thank you!

I got into glass engraving in a big way back in 2010
and just keep pushing myself with what I can do using a rotary tool and
some burrs. Something this size was almost a cakewalk compared to the
tiny scales at which I'm usually working.

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Bio: I work as a musical instrument repair technician. Outside of work hours I bury myself in art projects, work out at the gym, waste time ... More »
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