Recently, I began to do more freelance and I wanted to create a sign for my office as a bit of branding. Of course, this had to include some LED lighting. I decided on a light-box with silhouetted cutout of my logo. A few months ago, I took a @bpamphlin intro class on the Blynk app platform at @dallmakerspace . This inspired me to take the LED lighting and connect it to a micro-controller board for a remote controllable color LED sign. So the idea was planted. Now to make it.
The sign I had in mind, would use the logo I had designed for my company, Finishhouse Productions, and make a silhouette of the “fh” with light glowing out from within the sign. For the sign box, I wanted to use mostly 1x4 pine boards. The “fh” silhouette will be .25 inch birch plywood.
Step 1: Design | Intro
After penciling some chicken-scratch on my notepad, I had a rough idea for the dimensions. My next step was to start mocking it up in 3D to get a better plan for size and depth. This step is critical for me because I need to see depth in relation to height and width - I don't have a good instinct for that with just my imagination.
For my project ideas, I have started learning Autodesk's app, Fusion 360, which is good both for mocking up some of my wood projects ideas and to create simple things to 3D print. Fusion 360 is a beginning-to-medium level CAD program. I have found it easy to learn with their basic tutorial videos. I am not an engineering student, so if I can make it work, be encouraged - anyone can do it! Fusion 360 is free to use for noncommercial, hobby use. Check it out if you haven't already.
Step 2: Sketch | Background
First part to mockup - the background. At first, I was planning a plain off-white background. On a whim, I tried white and grey stripes, and really liked it. To access the LED strip and micro-controller, I wanted the background to be removable. The wood, I planned to use was 1x4 pine boards for everything but the “fh” silhouette. The actual dimensions for 1x4 lumber is 3.5 inch x .75 inch.
I’ll leave proper tutorials for Fusion 360 to those who know it far better than I do. In this walkthrough, I show you my process. Currently, my Fusion 360 workflow is starts with creating a separate 2D sketch first of each major section of the project. I’ve found it is easier to extrude the pieces later if I use multiple sketches like multiple layers in Photoshop.
The first step is to draw/sketch the background with the box around it. As I draw out the boxes, I type in the specific dimensions for height and width.
Step 3: Sketch | Box
After the background stripes are drawn, I draw the box. These will be standing on their sides.
In this 2D view, their dimensions are .75 inches wide.
Step 4: Sketch | Trim
Next, I created a new sketch for the trim. This took a quick detour to learn how to make sure I properly drew the 45-degree joints right so I would have the correct dimension later when cutting the boards.
Step 5: Extrude | Background
With the sketches done, I extruded the 2D sketches into 3D. Starting with the horizontal background stripes, I clicked on the first one, switched to Extrude tool (shortcut - E) and type in the size - .75 inch
Quick Tip: I learned that I had to be sure to set the Extrude Operation setting to “New Body”. Otherwise, as I extruded each background stripe, it would merge them together - not helpful.
Step 6: Extrude | Box
Next, I extruded the box frame pieces. These are all 3.5 inches deep. Again, be sure to use the “Operation: New Body” setting to keep these all as separate pieces or boards.
Step 7: Extrude | Trim
With the background and box frame done. I turned off the visibility on their sketch and bodies. Then, I went back to the Trim sketch and extruded the four pieces to .75 inch depth. Now they are 3D, but they need to be moved to in front of the box frame. I know the box frame is 3.5 inches deep. So, I selected the four trim pieces and moved them forward 3.5 inches.
Step 8: Cutout | Trim Notch
Next, I wanted to have the 3D model include a rabbit, or notch, cutout for the “fh” silhouette to sit into the trim, similar to a photo frame. To do this, I created a box with the dimensions of the “fh” silhouette board: 24.375 inch x 16 inch x .25 inch Moved it into position, aligning with the back of the trim. Then I used the combine tool to cut out of the trim anywhere the new board and trim overlapped. This created the notch for where the “fh” board with fit into the back of the trim.
Step 9: Cutout | “fh” Logo
From Adobe Illustrator, I exported an SVG file of my “fh” logo. In Fusion 360, I created a new sketch and imported the SVG file. I do not fully understand why, but it does not import with the correct dimensions. After scaling it as best I could to the right size, I extruded it with a depth of 1 inch. Yes, overly thick. Using the combine tool again, I set the “fat” logo to cut out the silhouette from the board I had used for the trim cutout. This gave me a .25 inch board with the “fh” logo cut out of it. Perfect!
Step 10: Design | LED Strip
Next, I went back to the “fh” sketch and drew a bezier line around the letters to simulate the path of the LED strip. After several tutorials and do-overs, I got the Create-Sweep tool to create a shape similar to the LED strip and assigned it a glowing blue color. With the 3D LED strip made, I switched to the render mode and made a test image of what the sign would look like, including the glowing LED strip. This image took a while to render, but it shows a neat view of what the sign might turn out like. Certainly close enough for my design purposes.
Step 11: Design | Assign Textures
With all the wood pieces in place, I started to assign colors. Fusion 360 has some basic wood textures. They work well enough for me to get a sense contrast and depth.
Step 12: Design | Create Drawings
With the 3D model all setup, I created a drawing, with dimensions. In Fusion 360, I created a new drawing file using the “fh” sign as the reference. When you import a model, you can choose which angle to show. I normally use a front, side and angled view. Then I used the Drawing Dimensions tool to choose which dimensions I want to display. This makes a very printable instruction sheet for when I move on the cutting wood pieces. This is where I got my final dimensions: 27.625 inches x 19.5 inches x 3.5 inches.
Step 13: Cut & Assemble | Logo
Logo I started by taking the illustrator file of my logo to @dallasmakerspace. I used their laser cutter to cut 1/4 inch plywood. I used a small 3 x 2 foot piece from Home Depot. I like the wood texture much better than the MDF boards I've used for prior laser cut projects. For your project, I recommend finding a local Makerspace or workshop that you can get access to for a day. Another option is to find a local shop that will do the laser or CNC cut for you.
For the color, I used a new stain I found at Rockler — Gel stain. I mixed a bit of grey into the black on a paper plate to lessen the deep black color a bit. I like how it came out. The stain is not the cheapest, but it only took one coat for this birch plywood. I have plenty left for future projects.
Step 14: Cut & Assemble | Background Cut and Paint
For the background stripes, I cut them a bit long, so I could cut it more precisely once I had painted and glued them together. I have learned that the planned dimensions sometimes have a way of adjusting as the actual project comes together. It’s best to gives yourself some wiggle room when you can.
I started by using the chop saw to cut down nine pieces to just over 27 inch lengths. Then, I used my table saw to rip cut them to 2 inches. The last one, was cut to 1.75 inch. I did this because the total height was 17.75 inches and I couldn’t find an equal width that wasn’t some crazy fractional amount. I like measuring simpler fractions of an inch like 1/2 or 1/4 and I figured no one would notice the top stripe was not the same as the others.
Next step was painting each stripe. I have found a fun way to stain is using a watered down acrylic paint. I measure out roughly three parts acrylic paint with one part water into an old plastic cup. I stir it to mix together well. Using paper towels, I wipe on the paint, then wipe it off with a second paper towel. Sometimes one coat works well, but I think I did a second pass for this part. This is a really easy process, and I can involve my boys. While everything is wet, it is easy to fix any “mistakes”. Compared to more traditional stains, it’s much more forgiving.
Step 15: Cut & Assemble | Background Glue
Once the paint dried, I glued the stripes together using pipe clamps. I also set up two braces to keep the boards as flat as possible. Since I had already painted them, I was extra careful to apply the glue on the “back” of the sides. It worked out well, even though I was nervous about having glue squish up which would require sanding and paint touchups.
Step 16: Cut & Assemble | Box
Next, chop-sawed the boards for the box frame. Conveniently, the width of the box boards is 3.5 inches, so no rips cuts were needed. To assemble the box, I used the Kreg pocket-hole jig. This device is like magic. It is easy to use and the joints are very strong. After setting the right depth for the drill bit, I put two holes in two of the four sides. Then used a dab of glue, assembled the ratchet clamp and put it in the pocket screws. The end result is much stronger than really needed for a sign.
Step 17: Cut & Assemble | Trim
I started by chop-sawing the four boards a little long. Then, I rip cut them on the table saw to 1.75 inches wide. This is where I would have set up my router to cut out the notch I had planned for the silhouette to go inch But, I forgot and did not realize it until later.
For the angle cuts, I set up the chop saw for a 45-degree angle. I cut the first angle at the end of the board. Then, measured and measured again. And to make sure I didn’t hallucinate, I measured the mark once more and cut the second angle on the first board. With the first side cut, I used it as a guide to mark the opposite side. I repeated this process for the two shorter sides.
The 45-degree cut on the trim takes careful measuring. I have yet to feel like I’ve mastered this process. The trim turned out fairly square, but (cough) don’t look too closely at how it matches with the box sides. #learning
To glue the trim, I used a ratchet corner clamp. Quick Tip: Be sure to use a framing square (right angle) to be sure everything is perpendicular. Looks can be deceiving!
With the trim and box glued, I painted them with the same watered down acrylic paint. I used the lighter white from the background stripes.
Step 18: Cut & Assemble | Cut Background to Fit
Before I assembled any further, I cut down the background stripes to the actual box size. I was just a little off from the 3D drawings. Go me! I wanted to allow the background to slide into the box with an extra .125 inch so the background was not flush with the back of the box. This was for when I hang this on a wall. I like to use a French Cleat by OOK. This hanger is .25 inch deep and I want to keep the sign from protruding the full .25 inch off the wall.
When I checked the background fit with the box, I realized I needed to put in stops on the box side to hold the background in place. To accomplish this, I used some scrap wood and glued the stops in place.
It’s starting to come together!
Step 19: Cut & Assemble | Silhouette and Trim
Before I glued the trim and box together, I attached the silhouette to the trim. Above is a photo of how I did that. Remember when I said I forgot to route out the notch for the silhouette board? Yeah, that would have been much more elegant than this setup. But, I can take solace in how it is not visible once assembled. Lesson - follow the plan. This solution almost didn’t work. Even when I predrilled holes for the screws, several holders nearly split. A notch and frame tab would have been faster and stronger and simpler.
Step 20: Cut & Assemble | Glue Box and Trim Together
With the trim and silhouette together, I glued them to the box. Clamps. I can always use two more. This finished my wood assembly for the sign. Really happy with how it turned out.
Step 21: Cut & Assemble | Gluing LED Strip
Next step was setting up the LED strip inside the sign. I 3D printed some brackets that didn’t work out well with the waterproof version of the LED strip. I started off with hot glue, but it was not strong enough to hold the stiff waterproof LED strip in place. The best solution was buying gel super glue. That stuff is magic. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the box for the power cord to sneak inch Then I glued the LED strip along the edges, following the “fh” contours as best I could.
I could have stopped there. The LED strip came with a neat remote control that can do some color fades and manual color changing. But, I’m a nerd at heart and had to make it so I could control it with my phone, from anywhere. For this how-to, I’m not going to dive into the electronics I put together. I may save that for another how-to later. But, I will not leave you in the dark. Here’s a link to the LED strip I bought:
Waterproof LED Strip Set: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01NH7OG6O/
This is a Non-waterproof LED Strip set that I would recommend: https://www.amazon.com/SUPERNIGHT-Non-waterproof-...
There are a lot of options on Amazon and the stock seems to fluctuate. And I would not buy this version again, with the waterproof layer. It is unnecessary and much less flexible. Here is what you should look for:
Non-waterproof LED strip with SMB 5050 RGB LEDs 5 meters with 300 LEDs total was a good “density” Get a set that includes power supply and controller
On Amazon, you can find numerous of options with these features in the $20-25 range. You can buy just the LED strip for less, but then you need to find a power supply, setup the controller, wire it together, and not electrocute yourself (more than once or twice). This is the second project I’ve made with an LED strip like this. These ~$20 sets are very easy to use. Now, I am looking around the house for more excuses to buy some more LED strips.
Step 22: Final Thoughts
This was a fun project that turned out really well.
Here are a few of the many lessons I learned:
- Follow your plan. MacGyver solutions can work, but often take more time and with less elegant results.
- Simple patterns, like the background stripes can add a little extra to a clean design without becoming too busy.
- LED lights are cool. Very cool.
I hope you enjoyed this how-to. Let me know what you think. And for those of you who are more experienced in the woodshop, tips and suggestions are welcome! Most of all, I hope you got a few ideas for your own project! Happy making!