Introduction: Kitchen Cabinet Faux Stained Glass and LED Lighting

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I'm starting this Instructable with a video of the project. In the steps that follow the video I've added more tips and hint about what I would do differently if I were to do it again (Step 7).

The first few seconds of the video shows how the top of the kitchen wall cabinets looked "before" the project got seriously started. Here you will no doubt see that I had to do something to cover up the light fixture and the electrical wires that are clearly visible above the cabinets. For some time I concealed the mess with a set of model boats - that was fine for a while but they didn't really blend in with the rest of the kitchen.

After learning about the availability of faux stained glass (I found it at Home Depot), I thought now is the time to get going on the project. (The original idea was to have someone make up real stained glass panels... a very expensive and perhaps difficult approach!)

The faux stained glass is designed for use on regular house windows...The manufacturer (Artscape) labels it as "window film". I started the project by trying the window film on acrylic sheet (aka plexiglass sheet). Following the manufacturers instructions I found that the film stuck great to the acrylic (no adhesive is needed or recommended) and the test results gave me the incentive to go full steam ahead with the project.

Step 1: Video of the Faux Stained Glass Kitchen Project

The video is important as it covers cutting and trimming the acrylic sheets with the table saw and the miter saw. I didn't manage to get any great still shots of this part of the project, but I need to note that safety in terms of eye, ear and general safe use of the saws is the primary consideration.

BUT there are alternatives to cutting the acrylic sheets! Acrylic can be cut by scribing with a simple hand tool that is designed for the purpose. The manufacturer of the acrylic sheet that I used (Plaskolite) sells a plastic "cutting knife". After multiple runs with the cutting knife you snap the plastic sheet by applying force at the score line. You can see a photo of the cutting knife in Step 3.

Step 2: Preparation - Some Other Points to Consider

I knew from the beginning that I wanted lights above the cabinets so I planned for this by having electrical outlets installed there. The outlets are controlled by wall switches in the kitchen. That is the ideal way of powering the LED lights but no reason why you could not just feed the electrical cord down between cabinets and plug it in at a backsplash outlet.

Once plugged-in the LEDs are operated by the remote control; that includes ON and OFF and selecting a multitude of different colours and effects. Playing around with the colours is the real fun part of the project!

I found that the signal from the remote control had no problem communicating with the controller sensor even though it had to pass through the window film and the acrylic. So no need to make a hole for the sensor in the film/acrylic to make this work. Another point: I did not stick the flexible LED strips to the top of the cabinet (they come with an adhesive strip protected by a removable film). It doesn't matter if the strings of LED's twist and turn as the light output from eye level is the same. That is good as this makes changing lights as simple as removing a panel or two and pulling the LED strip out (with a string on the other end to pull a new strip back in).

I bought a number of different flexible LED strips at different times and from different manufacturers. Good news is that all of the LED's work the same with either of the supplied remote controllers. I even control the rigid LED strips that I installed under the cabinets with the same controller.

I painted the kitchen ceiling a few days before I started installing the stained glass - much easier than doing it later on.

Step 3: Cutting, Trimming, and Nailing

I considered different alternatives to mount the acrylic/stained glass window film panels, in the end I decided to go with a length of PVC 90 degree angle trim stock nailed directly to the ceiling. (The next step gives more details on how the panels are secured in place). This material is easy to cut and nail and it doesn't require any paint or stain. I also selected the white PVC as it blended nicely with the white ceiling. In determining a mounting method for the panels I had to keep in mind that I needed to have reasonably easy access to behind the panels as the lights and electrical outlets are located there. I mention the "wisdom" of selecting the PVC angle trim in a later step.

I clamped small sections of acrylic sheet to the top cabinet trim to help me align and gauge the length of the PVC angle. Once cut and aligned I nailed the PVC angle strips directly to the ceiling with the nail gun. As the load on the PVC strips is minimal I didn't worry about the nails anchoring in any solid wood behind the ceiling drywall.

For the longest piece of PVC angle I used a clamped string as a straightness guide while I nailed the piece in place.

As I mentioned earlier, I decided that using my table saw and my miter saw was a good way to get the acrylic sheets cut and trimmed to fit. Safety when using the table saw and miter saw is of paramount importance.

An old camera tripod came in handy as a panel support system when I was cutting longer lengths of acrylic with the miter saw.

Starting out I tried .080 inch thick acrylic sheet material - it was fine for short lengths of panel but it proved to be a bit floppy and difficult to handle with longer lengths. So I ended up using .118 inch acrylic for most of the project.

Suction cups were a life saver when it came to test fitting and eventually installing the acrylic panels. In some cases you will not have access to both ends of the panel so some means of holding and securing the panels during the installation is needed. The suction cups that I used are designed to pull out dents in auto body work but they were the cats meow for this project.

The suction cups must be kept clean and you might have to dampen them a little. The last photo shows a situation where I separated the panel from the table with paper towels as the suction force was felt right through to the table.

Step 4: Holding the Panels in Place

Each panel is secured in place with a PVC bracket on the bottom and a screw or two on the top. The bottom of the panel just slides in between the bracket and the top rail of the cabinet. I spaced the brackets from the cabinet rail with two thicknesses of acrylic. A piece of green tape temporarily identified the location of each bracket and this helped while I was experimenting with inserting and removing the panels.

2:45 mins into the video (Step 1) shows a panel being maneuvered in place between the bracket and the cabinet top rail.

The top of each panel is held with pre-painted sheet metal screws. The screws colour match the PVC trim and the screws self-tap nicely into the acrylic.

I made a small pilot hole through both the PVC angle and the acrylic at the same time... it's necessary to put enough force on the acrylic, using the suction cups, to hold the sheet against the PVC angle while drilling the pilot hole. I kept alignment by inserting a finishing nail in the first pilot hole while I drilled subsequent pilot holes in the panel.

After the pilot holes were made I increased the hole diameters to accept the self tapping screws in the acrylic and screw clearances in the PVC angle.

Step 5: Cutting and Installing the Faux Stained Glass Film on the Acrylic Panels

The window film comes in 24x36 inch sheets - one per package. Artscape supplies a small squeegee with each roll of film. Good news is you can easily mate one piece of film with another as the patterns repeat. Where it is necessary to join two pieces it is best to use the factory cut edges. (That applies to both the window film and the acrylic). With the stained glass pattern that I chose (Clematis) it was not necessary to match patterns from one panel to the next where the panels meet at corners. The pattern design makes the transition unnoticeable.

Film installation steps

  1. Unroll the film and flatten it with weights - let it sit for a few hours or overnight
  2. On a board or table, that you don't mind scratching or scoring - place the acrylic panel (holes are already drilled in the panel) on the film and align two adjacent edges, clamp in place with a spring clamp if desired
  3. With firm pressure cut through the film using the edges of the acrylic as the guide. A sharp utility knife works good for this.
  4. Pull the protective plastic covers off the acrylic and discard - clean the acrylic of any dust or plastic particles
  5. Peel the window film from its paper backing - discard the backing
  6. Spray the acrylic with plenty of water (Artscape recommends mixing in a few drops of liquid soap with the water)
  7. Align the window film on the acrylic using the edges as guides
  8. Lift and realign as required
  9. Spray the top of the installed film with water
  10. Squeegee out any ripples in the film
  11. Dry the top and bottom of the panel with paper towels
  12. Using an awl push holes through the film using the previously drilled holes in the acrylic as the guide
  13. Lift the panel with the two suction cups and install in place using the screws referred to in the previous step

Step 6: Joins and Joints

I was pleased with the way you can readily position and reposition the window film to make a neat film-to-film join on the acrylic panel. (First photo).

The same applies to a film/acrylic to film/acrylic join. (Second photo)

In the finished project the joins are not visible at eye level - unless you really look for them.

And as you can see someone is very happy in the newly decorated joint!

Step 7: Corner Trim and Some Design Thoughts

This is where my design considerations became tricky. For convenience, availability, and colour matching I went with the white PVC 90 degree angle trim. This trim worked fine against the ceiling and even the against the wall. But this material is not available with 45 degree angle and I have two spots where the cabinet layout requires 45 degree trim. That was the incentive I needed to make my own corner trim pieces from some strips wood that was left over from the cabinet construction. So I ended up with two different colours of trim.

Bottom line: After the project was finished and evaluated I probably should have gone solely with wooden trim, including the trim on the ceiling and walls. I believe this would make for a more cohesive visible presentation. But reality is, no one but me seems to find a problem with the existing design so - perhaps I can safely say no big deal.

All of the corner trim pieces are held in by friction between the top and bottom ends of the trim. At a couple of corners I needed a small piece of sponge rubber on the bottom end to make the fit tight enough. With this trim mounting method it's easy to remove a panel for light changing, cleaning, or for any other reason.

Step 8: One Panel Is Secured With a Magnet...

One end panel in the kitchen required a different approach to mounting as it came up against a ceiling bulkhead. Without access to the top of the panel, as with all the other panels, I secured a magnet to the panel and installed a mating steel screw in the bulkhead. It's just a matter of giving the panel a little knock to open it up. You pull it back in place with a flat magnetic tool (I use a large kitchen fork).

Step 9: No Lights and Playing With Lights

With all lights out behind the panels you get a calming kind of effect - that's especially true if you have been playing with light colours for a while :)

Well that's it for this kitchen project - looking forward to any and all comments, and thanks for checking it out.

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