I have been making edge lit acrylic pieces for a while now using my CNC router. I was pretty happy with the results. Then I got a GlowForge laser cutter and things got so much more simple! So I thought I'd share the procedure on how I make these. Of course each project is different in scale and design so this is only intended to give a general idea of how its done so you can stretch your edge lit imagination!
The premise for this particular project is that my sister has just accepted a teaching position at a local elementary school. So I thought I'd make her a "name plate" for her classroom.
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Step 1: Material and Knowledge
To make this project you must have:
- A laser cutter (I use GlowForge basic)
- Reasonable skills in soldering
- LED light strip. I use RGB with a remote but the procedure is essentially the same for a solid color. A couple notes about this. You should try to purchase non-waterproof lights. Waterproof ones come with a "rubber" shell that will yellow over time. It also makes it more difficult to mount in the wood. 12V versions seem to be more readily available than 5v ones. I get 12V from amazon and 5v from China. You should be able to get a 15' role for about $12.
- 12v or 5v power jack (if you want the convenience of being able to unplug the power adapter from the base)
- 12v or 5v power adapter (depending on what light strip you want to use). You only need about 500ma so a 1 amp adapter is plenty sufficient and much smaller than a 2 amp one.
- Infrared receiver "LED". This is to replace the one that comes with the remote. You can try to recycle the one with the kit but its quite difficult to get it to fit inside the wood base.
- Red, White, Blue, Black 24-30 gauge wire (about 16" of each color).
- 14" x 10" 1/4" acrylic
- 20" x 12" 1/4" solid wood for base. I use maple or arbor.
Here is an ebay link for the controller. I don't know how long it will be good for but it is about the best price you're going to get. These usually come from china (for this price) so be prepared to wait a few weeks for delivery. You can also get them from Amazon.com for $5+ /ea
Other links (let me know if any are bad):
Step 2: Design Files
Enclosed are two .SVG files that contain the wood and acrylic templates. The large acrylic template is empty, providing you with a space to place your text or image as you see fit (example provided). Additionally, there is a map that explains the use of each piece and how to cut them. The template identifiers (enclosed in parenthesis) will be used throughout this document to help in the assembly.
Step 3: Cut the Sign
There is nothing special about cutting the sign itself. You need only ensure it stays within the constraints of the designed layout. You will want to cut the acrylic spacer at the same time (see sign-acrylic.svg). The sign or image can be etched or scored as you see fit. I find etching to be sufficient and usually gives a great result. Cutting with a GlowForge used settings of 120/full power at .20 focus (for 1/4" acrylic). Etching used 1000 (950 if you leave paper on) at full power but I step down the dots to 70.
Step 4: Cut the Wood
I use 1/4" maple or arbor for my bases but you can use what you wish. Your settings may differ based on the type of wood you choose. For maple cuts, I use 2-pass 120/full power. For engraving, I use 2-pass/1000. Engraving is crucial to provide channels for wires and to extend space for any electronics.
Using masking tape to cover the wood prior using the laser helps to protect against soot and charring stains. This isn't critical since you will be gluing the pieces together anyhow but it helps ensure a good gluing surface.
Examine the template closely so you know where to cut and where to engrave. The photo should help you.
* Note: The brown pieces are acrylic.
Step 5: Glue the Lighting Plates Together
The assembled lighting plate is made of two slices. One slice has an engraved section for your light strip, while the other has a cut-out section for the electronics, a wiring channel and cut-outs for power jack and IR receiver. These two slices need to be glued together back-to-back such that the cut-out channel in the light-strip area aligns with the electronics cut-out. Be sure that both the light-strip channel and wiring channel are facing outwards. Glue with wood glue and allow to try. Clamp as necessary.
Step 6: Solder Electronics to Light Strip
The electronic I use contain a very small control board that is encased in a rubber heat-shrunk enclosure.
Carefully cut this rubber coating off with a sharp knife to expose the board.
De-solder the plug terminals from the board so you can solder wires to it instead. If you lay the light strip next to the board when you are done you will see the labels "+,G,R,B" which are Black, Green, Red, Blue respectively. I highly recommend you find 24-30 gauge wire of these colors to keep things straight.
Solder the board and light strip together using 2.5" of wire. Once this is done, test your connections by applying power to the board and ensure the different colors correspond to the choices on the remote properly. If you press Green and red LEDs light up, you have some wires switched out. You need to continually test your electonics as you proceed through the rest of this assembly.
Step 7: Take a Break
Things need to dry throughout this assembly so don't rush it. This felt like a vegie pizza type of job so kick back a few minutes to eat... Pizza is optional!
Step 8: Attach Auxiliary Wiring
The controller board has an IR receiver and power jack attached. Neither of these will be of any use since the wires are too short and, with the casing, they take up too much room.
Carefully de-solder each of these from the board and attach appropriate colored 24-30 gauge wiring (at least 6") to each contact. The power jack will require red and back while the IR receiver is red, black and white. It may be easy to get the two sets of red and black mixed up so I suggest you cut them at different lengths. The IR being 6" and the power big 7".
Step 9: Attach Electronics to Plate
I use a small amount of rubber cement in the channel for the light strip. The light strip probably has a self-adhesive side but it is rarely sufficient to keep it solidly on the wood. The rubber cement ensures that it stays put.
Slide the light strip through the hole at the end of the light strip channel so that the electronics are on one side and the strip is on the other. Then adhere the light strip to the wood. I use hot-glue to fill the cavity where the wires are so they do not accidentally get pulled off or damage the light strip as you continue your work.
Hot glue the electronics in the channel behind the light strip and hot-glue-tack the wires in the wire channel. Try to ensure that the wires for the power jack are routed to the correct place while the wires for the IR receiver are routed to the other.
Step 10: Glue Remaining Slices
Now it's time to glue the rest of the slices to your build. Use wood glue for wood-to-wood bonding. I find using spray adhesive or spray rubber cement works very well for wood-to-acrylic.
Generally I would glue the bottom to your base first.
Then add the acrylic (slotted) then the wood (slotted) pieces in that order.
Note that when spraying the adhesive, I re-inserted the piece that I cut out for the slot to protect the light strip from the spray:
Be sure to clamp everything very well. Give the glue a chance to dry! Also, test the lights all along the way! Here I do both, clamp and test. I soldered the IR receiver to the wires temporarily just for the test:
View inside assembled base:
Step 11: It's Sanding Time!
Hopefully you have a decent belt sander or some other tool you are proficient at. It's time to sand this thing and get it ready for finish. A belt sander works best since you will be trying to level the acrylic with the wood completely around the base. Note that you want the acrylic to have a frosted/scratched edge compliments of the sander. This allows the light to disperse more evenly around the base.
Cut the wires for the power jack and the IR receiver diode to as short as you feel comfortable. Keep in mind there is not a lot of room inside the base to stuff excess wire. I try not to let more than 1/2 inch of wire extend out of the base. That gives me enough to do the final soldering (later). Once you cut the wires, stuff them back inside the base temporarily. You will be pulling them back out once the sanding is done.
To the belt sander, batman! Once again, I inserted a strip of wood inside the slot to try to keep the dust out. Before:
You want to sand down all the scorching to get a nice, even, wood face. After:
Step 12: Final Soldering
Pull the wires back out of the base, strip them and get them ready to be soldered to the power jack and the IR receiver. Note the colors of the wires and the orientation of the receiver. All receiver diodes are the same in terms of wiring. I chose wiring (from left to right) red, white, black which corresponded to the colors on the circuit board.
Here is a picture of the wiring when I was testing the lights (before cutting the wires and the diode leads):
And here is the final soldering job. Note how short the wires and leads are. This takes a slight bit of skill but you'll get the hang of it after a few 3rd degree burns to your fingers! Notice the use of hotglue on the solder joints. This is just to ensure there's no short circuit when I push them into the base.
And finally, this is what it looks like after carefully pushing the receiver diode into the base. You can use a little hotglue here if you wish to ensure it stays solidly inside the base. Be sure to scrape off any excess glue that may cover the diode or the wood on the base. I have the base powered up and showing red in this photo:
I have to apologize for now. I forgot to take photos of the power jack as it was installed but the process is the same as for the receiver diode. I'll add photos as I have a chance to take them. Just be sure that you wire the jack such that the outside metal is grounded (black) and the inside pole is positive (red).
Step 13: Finish/Stain the Base
Again, I should have included photos of the finished base. Just stain it as you would any wood. One note, however, you may want to cover the acrylic edges with tape prior to staining. If the stain or finish fills the scratches in the acrylic, the light won't disperse as evenly across the edge. Here is a final photo of the project with the finished base. Be sure to cover the slot if you intend to spray any lacquer or polyurethane on it. Also, some nice rubber feet or a piece of fabric glued to the bottom is a nice touch.