This tradition started 5 years ago when we moved into our new home in Brooklyn NY. The neighborhood wasn't very festive during the holidays. About 2 people put out decorations and it was usually a few strings of mini-lights. We decided to go all out and make it as fun and festive as possible. We build everything in the backyard and spend as little cash as possible. The first two years we focused on a Santa's Workshop theme. The next year we wanted to push the limits a little so we added the ability to control the lights and add music through an old computer. Each year we try to push ourselves a little further and we also change the theme. This year our theme is a 1950's Rock 'N Roll Christmas. We have now incorporated music, some of which my best friend Ryan wrote and recorded, singing all six parts himself, over 13,000 animated lights, scenery and props, and our newest additions an animatronic narrator. We built him (Walter) this summer. We also added video that we made. It is rear projected onto a $2 frosted shower curtain from a projector that I won on an auction site for $40 (New would have been a couple thousand dollars).
We are going to share some of our favorite "tricks" to make your very own light displays to wow your neighbors. Our neighbors look forward to the show each year and get nervous if they don't see us working on it. And now there are a great deal more Christmas lights being put out by the neighbors!
The following Instructable will explain how we build
1.) Frames for Rope Light Images and Text
2.) C9 Light Sticks
3.) Christmas Trees from recycled 45 Records
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Step 1: How to Make Rope Light Frames
We came up with the idea of making these very simple and lightweight frames in order to make a train for our display the first year we started animating our display. The rope light decorations in the stores were so expensive and all very generic. This gave us a way to create whatever we want and we can customize it to any size we like. The options are virtually limitless.
Step 2: Materials for Rope Light Frames (Basic 6ft X 8ft Frames)
(4)1"x2"x8' furring strips (these are the cheap sticks of lumber sold in the lumber stores,
try to choose the straightest pieces.
(1) 1"x3"x8' furring strip
(4) 4" Flat Steel Corner Braces
(2) 4" Steel T-Plates
(1) 3'x25' roll of black Plastic Poultry Fence (Plastic Chicken Wire)
3/4" Wood Screws
Rope Light (Color and Length vary depending on your design. We use 1/2" diameter rope
Zip Ties - 4" should work in most places but have some larger lengths on-hand in case
you have overlapping rope light in the design. (White zipties allow some light to
glow through and look better)
3/8" T-50 Staples
Spray Paint to seal the wood (Color depends on placement of finished frames)
Chalk (Thick sidewalk chalk works great)
Black Tape to blackout unwanted rope light
Saw (Jigsaw, Chop Saw or Hand Saw)
T-50 Hand Stapler
Dremel with Grinding Wheel
Step 3: The Build - Rope Light Frames
The finished size of these frames depends entirely on what you decide your design will be. We have used frames of varying sizes to do text and pictures. For the purposes of explanation, this will describe the construction of an 8ft wide by 6ft tall frame which we used for the first half of the Text HAPPY HOLIDAYS and a Music note. We also hang a lot of our frames so we use a wider stick of lumber (1x3) so we have something more substantial to attach wire and rope to.
Cut (1) 1x2 and (1) 1x3 to 8 ft. long. (Label Bottom & Top)
Cut (1) 1x2 to 7ft. 9in. (Label Middle Rail)
Cut (2) 1x2 to 5ft. 8in. (Label Side Rails)
Layout the wood to form the frame, the finished size will measure 8ft.W x 6ft H, make sure the measurements are what you want before screwing the frame together. The middle rail should be 3ft on center from the top of whatever frame you build so it catches the edge of the plastic chicken wire so you have an area to staple to.
Place steel angles and t-braces at joints and attach using wood screws.
When it is assembled check the front for any screws that may be sticking out (If necessary grind them off with a grinding wheel on a Dremel)
Spray Paint the frame before attaching the plastic chicken wire. It is important to paint the frames so moisture does not warp the wood. You can choose whichever spray paint will blend in with the surroundings. We used a brown primer because it was going against a brownish-red brick house. Let dry.
Lay out the dry frame face down. Lay the plastic chicken wire across the back lengthwise and begin to staple about every 6 inches. When you come to the end cut with scissors and do the next section. When you finish cut off at the edge of the wood and it is ready for rope light.
NOTE: The plastic chicken wire comes 3ft wide so whatever size frame you build needs a cross piece on 3ft centers.
Step 4: Attaching the Rope Light
ATTACHING ROPE LIGHT
This step is easiest done someplace warm if possible. Rope light is easier to bend when warm. If you have to do this step outside you should plug the rope light in to warm it up and then unplug it while attaching it. It is also a good idea to work on a surface you can draw on with chalk as this is the best way to see your design on the chicken wire.
Draw your design onto the plastic chicken wire using chalk. This allows you to wipe it off easier if you need to and shows up pretty well.
Start from one end of the rope light and begin laying it along the chalk line and attaching with zip ties until you reach the end of the design.
Tape over the sections of rope light you do not want to see when lit with the black tape.
Step 5: Showing Off Your Rope Light Frame
We always hang our frames because we live in the city and our yard space is non-existent. You could also drive wooden stakes or steel rods into the ground and attach your frames directly to those or even build a base. Another fun thing to do is get a controller and attach it to the rope light so it flashes. We found one last year after Christmas for really cheap at a hardware store. Just make sure whatever you get is rated for outdoor use.
Step 6: How to Make C9 Light Sticks
We wanted to do a small version of a light wall effect for this year's show so we came up with the idea of making individual light sticks using the old style C9 Lights. We made each stick exactly the same so all the bulbs lined up in a straight line. Each section has 8 strings of 25 count lights. The overall impact of these all working together is really great. Individually these sticks could be used in multiple ways to decorate your own house. The possibilities are endless.
Step 7: Materials for C9 Light Sticks
(This will give the materials needed to build one stick. You can make as many as you like, we ended up building 16 this year)
(1) 1"x2"x8' furring strip
(1) Set of 25 count C9 holiday light string (any color)
Scrap furring strip and 1 1/4" screws if joining more than one stick together
Spray Paint (We used Chrome Silver to reflect the light and it went with our theme)
Forstner Bit (We used a 1" bit It is best to practice on scrap wood to see what size fits your
Tape Measure or ruler
Step 8: The Build - C9 Light Sticks
Measure out a spacing that works for your design onto the 1"x2" furring strips mark in the center with pencil. We had 25 holes in each because the sets of lights came as 25ct.
NOTE: We spaced them every three inches. Remember to start the first one a few
inches from the top. We also made sure to have a couple of feet left at the bottom to
give us ample room for attaching to the base.
Using the Forstner bit drill out each hole being careful not to crack the wood
Paint the sticks using whatever paint type and color you prefer.
If connecting the sticks together line them up next to each other making sure the rows of lights will line up. Cut scrap 1x2 furring strips and screw them into the back of each stick using wood screws.
When you get the individual sections connected as one piece work from the back and insert the sockets into each hole. The clip on the side of the socket helped keep it in place by providing some pressure. They will stay permanently when you screw the lamp on from the front basically sandwiching the stick between the lamp and socket.
We did not add the lamps until they were in their final location outside.
Step 9: Showing Off Your C9 Light Sticks
This was our first year making these but we have already started thinking of a zillion other ways to use them in the future. You could easily drive a wooden stake or metal tod into the ground and attach individual ones to each stake and line a driveway or a pathway. You could use them vertically, horizontally or any position in between. They are really versatile. We use controllers on ours so they can chase and fade. Again, you could find an after season clearance on a simple controller to make them do some of the same things.
Step 10: How to Make Vintage Record Themed Christmas Tree Decorations
Our theme this year is a 1950's Rock N Roll Christmas so we wanted to keep the theme going throughout all of our props. We decided it would be fun to make Christmas Trees entirely out of records. We found art quality records on an online auction site for less than a penny a record so we went to town!
Step 11: Materials for Vintage Record Themed Christmas Tree Decorations
4ft x 8ft sheet of thin sintra or plywood
NOTE: We used 1/8" sintra because we stumbled upon a going out of business sale
at a local print shop and they were selling for $3/sheet. Plywood would be a bit more
stable and not as flexible, but would need painted before attaching the records.
Approx. 100 45rpm records
Scrap Wood to screw into the back for support
(2) strings 100 count mini-lights
(1) 18ft section rope light (we used a multi-color chaser set
Hot Glue Sticks
Chrome Silver Spray Paint
Hot Glue Gun
Step 12: The Build - Vintage Record Themed Christmas Tree Decoartions
Place the 4x8 sheet of sintra or plywood on a flat surface.
Use the records to lay out the outside shape of your tree.
Trace the outside with a sharpie marker.
Cut out the sintra or plywood with a jigsaw.
If using raw wood, paint the wood whatever color you want to see through the center of the records. Let dry.
Reserve enough records to make a couple strings of "garland" (We used about 16 records for one tree.) Spray paint one side of the records. We used chrome silver spray paint to go with our theme.
Using a high temp hot glue gun attach records starting at the bottom and working up overlapping enough to hide most of the background except for the center of the records.
Attach the chrome silver painted records on top of the already attached records with more hot glue.
Drill small holes on where you want to attach the rope light along the garland. And also drill holes along the edge carefully as not to split records. This is where you will attach the strings of mini-lights.
Using zip ties attach the rope light and mini-lights.
Step 13: Showing Off Your Vintage Record Themed Christmas Tree Decorations
We made this years display pretty flat because we were trying to fit a lot of elements into a very small space. In order to fit the tree in we attached them directly to some pvc frame we built for a movie screen. The pvc is sunk into buckets with concrete to keep them weighted down. Then we added some sandbags to the back where we built some bracing. We simply screwed from the front directly into the pvc uprights. You could use the same method or whatever method works best for your location. That is the best part about all of this it is fully adaptable to any situation with a little creativity.
Step 14: The Wrap
We hope this instructable gives you a little inspiration for your own Holiday Light Display!
Have a Great Holiday and a creative New Year!!!
Finalist in the
Craftsman Tools Contest