This Instructable documents my thoughts and the build of a custom "Pig BBQ" neon sign using a combination of repurposed Vintage Neon & Laser Cut Sheet Metal. This sign could also be made using a string of LED's to light the sign from the back which would make it more "Home Friendly".
Two of my good friends decided to open up a Texas Styled BBQ joint ( AAA Bar ) this summer and as is my nature I decided to help them out as much as possible. They had a very small budget so we had to make do with what we could build / find / recycle / steal, especially when it came to decor items. I was lucky enough to find on Craigslist some cheap vintage neon sign parts (The sign was from the 50's) that I could use to create a one of a kind neon sign for their bar. Here is a link to the Instructable which guides you through the building of the bar: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-use-Free-Pallets-to-Build-a-BBQ-Restaurant/
Note: Neon signs use very high voltages and broken tubes can contain dangerous elements so use extreme care if you want to do something similar to this Instructable.
Step 1: In the Beginning...
The neon tubes I found on Craigslist were two separate tubes, one a clear tube (with red neon) that spelt out the word "Bar" in script and the other was a yellow neon tube shaped like the top 2/3's of a "lemon". This sign was in the window of a bar in Toronto for over 60 years until the owner passed away. The original transformer included with the sign was extremely old, heavy and very unsafe looking (frayed wires and lots of old electrical tape) so I decided that it was not usable for this project.
When I showed my friends the neon i aquired they loved the "Bar" but did not want it with the "lemon" surround. This would allow me to extend the budget and make two neon signs from my one purchase. For the opening, I built a quick frame out of aluminum bar stock that would hold the neon to the wall. I acquired used neon transformer on eBay (there are many available from broken neon beer signs). This sign became the focal point of their "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" wall. I put the yellow tube in my "to do" pile while I tried to figure out what the best to do with this odd shaped neon tube.
As I was researching elements for the bar one recurring element that always popped up was the mighty "Pig". Many BBQ places have cartoon pigs as their mascot or logo so I wanted to avoid this and make the sign as a more "realistic" pig. I pictured this as a pig standing on a hill at night with the moon behind him. So the "Lemon" neon tube became the "Moon" neon :-)
In December Ponoko.com had a half price sale on their largest "P3" size of sheet metal so it was time to act. I downloaded a "Pig" drawing and imported it into Corel Draw to modify it and trace the outline. I needed the size of the pig to match as closely as possible the size of the neon yet be able to fit on the size of the metal that was available from Ponoko.
As I was playing around with the drawing I decided to create "cut out" letters spelling BBQ on the pigs belly. This would allow the light to shine out through the back. Once I had the vector drawing in Corel I imported this into Inkscape and updated the lines to be "cutting lines" for Ponoko. This file was then uploaded to Ponoko and the pig was ordered.
Step 2: Reflector...
With the letters cut out of the pigs belly I needed a way of hiding the transformer and wiring that would be behind the pig yet still allow light to emphasize the letters. I had some very thin sheet copper and some acrylic sheet left over from other projects so I figured if I placed the copper behind the letters (on the acrylic to give it a support structure) and had some space between the metal pig and the copper that the neon light would reflect off the copper illuminating the BBQ letters. At the same time the copper color would give the impression of "fire / heat" in keeping with the whole theme of the bar.
The first step was to cut the acrylic and copper to size. To cut the acrylic I used the awesome cordless Dremel that I won in the Halloween contest! (shameless plug). I wrapped the copper around the acrylic with the edges folded over to hold the copper in place.
I drilled two holes through the copper and the metal pig and inserted bolts with a spacer to hold the acrylic sheet slightly above the letters.
Step 3: Supports...
To support and protect the neon I cut and bent some aluminum flat bars that could be attached to the pig. These supports not only need to hold the neon but it also had to keep the sign off of the wall so that there was airflow around the transformer. After "dry" fitting the neon tube to determine where the supports would be placed I marked the location and drilled holes through both the bars and the pig.
Using a manual rivet gun, I riveted the supports to the pig making sure that the "clean" side of the rivet was on the outside of the sign. If you have never used a rivet gun before I would highly recommend it for this type of work as it is quick, easy and gives a nice, clean finish that still has an industrial feel.
The next step was to figure out where to mount the transformer. As this was a second hand unit the wires were cut to the length required by the previous sign. While they were long enough for my purpose there was no extra room to change the transformers mounting location by more than a half inch. The transformer has a pull cord for "on / off" so that side of the transformer had to be facing down. It also had two holes in the back for mounting screws that I could use to attach it to the sign.
I used the mounting bolts that held the copper to attach another aluminum bar to which I could bolt the transformer on one side and then bent the other side to provide the main wall attachment point for the sign. The other end of the transformer was bolted through the sign near the pigs tail using of a spacer to adjust it to clear the height of the copper reflector.
Step 4: Mounting the Neon...
As neon tubes are very fragile I attached rubber pads to the metal mounting arms to provide a softer surface for the glass. I also added another neon support arm at the top of the sign as the neon was only being held at the bottom. At this point I attached the transformer wires to the neon tube and capped them with the neon wire protectors that came with the transformer to protect the unit from the high voltages. I then wrapped the caps in black electrical tape so that everything was sealed properly.
Using a medium gauge copper wire I attached the neon tube to the rubber coated support arms. The copper wire gives the neon some wiggle room as it is being handled so there is less stress on the glass tube. The copper sheet was only attached in the center so I used some felt furniture pads on each corner of the copper sheet to make sure the "lighting gap" was consistent all of the way around the letters. The final step was to plug the sign in and see how it looked!
Step 5: The Glowing Pig!
When the lights are dim the yellow neon reflecting off of the copper sheet really looks like you are seeing a red hot oven behind the "BBQ" cut out. The sign turned out even better than I could have hoped. This sign will hang above the Kitchen door letting everyone know what they can expect when they come into my friends bar!
To make your own (for your man cave or patio BBQ area) you could simplify the sign putting a red plexiglass sheet behind the letters and lighting it with LEDs. Or another alternative (if you did not want the expense of the metal) you could have the pig cut out of plexi or even wood.
Note: I have attached the svg file (it is zipped) so that you can make your own Pig BBQ sign.