Steel Patina Sign With LEDs

About: I am a metalworker with a background in Engineering striving to show the generations that follow me that trades jobs are not something to look down on. I try to do so by teaching and showing my progress as I...

One of my best friends is a New Mexico native and was traveling home to spend some time with a family member in the hospital. He asked me if we could design something to bring the outdoors into her room, so we designed this piece that uses natural patina finishes and some lighting to make it all pop.

See the full video at

Step 1: Plasma Cutting

We used my CNC Plasma cutting table to cut our parts after designing them. Plasma cutting is like a laser except it uses hot ionized gas (plasma) instead of focused light (laser). My table has water in the cutting bed to reduce warping on thin parts, like this 20ga (~1/16" thick) steel and to capture the dust created when cutting. An added benefit is that the parts are cool to the touch right after cutting, so we can get right to work!

Step 2: Grinding

Unfortunately my CNC table doesn't cut fast enough to get a really clean edge on thinner steels, so we have to grind off the Dross created during the cut. Dross is similar to the fuzzy tear out in plywood on a table saw, but is much harder to remove as it's made of steel. The use of a wire brush and flap disk on a grinder does a good job though. We also only wirebrushed the background as we wanted to preserve a bit of a mottled texture on it.

Step 3: Cleaning

When using patinas and clear coats and oils will cause a blemish, so after grinding the parts, we cleaned them all with Denatured Alcohol. The background immediate got a clear coat, while the foreground pieces were left to dry.

Step 4: Mountain Patina

I have used Sculpt Nouveau Patinas for years and love them. A patina causes a chemical reaction at the surface of a metal which changes its color, much like how old copper building elements turn green over time.

For the mountains we used "Black Magic" patina to bring on a dark brown color (if applied to hot steel it turns black), followed up by some "Japanese Brown" to add more depth to the color.

Water is used to end the patina reaction after a minute or so, followed by blow drying and a clear coat. We also added a bit of white paint to snowcap the mountains.

Step 5: Bear and Sun Copper Patina

Wow, the "Copper Plating" patina is such a cool effect. Because we only wirebrushed the bear, it still have some surface contaminents on it, which we intended so we'd get some striations in the look. The sun was a more even finish and showed it in the final product.

Again, the parts were neutralized with water, blown dry, and given a clear coat before they started to rust.

Step 6: The Light Box

In order to allow light to shine through the bear prints, but not out the side of the piece, we had to make a light box. This was just two plasma cut plates and some 5/8"x1/8" flat bar bent to shape. Fortunately 1/8" flat bar is easy enough to bend by hand. The assembly was held together with tacks (small welds) in order to prevent any heat-induced warping.

Step 7: Power!

After clear coating the light box, we drilled a hole in the bottom of it for a 5.5mmx2.1mm barrel jack, which is the standard sized connector for 12v lighting. This piece screws in to place with a backer nut. Before doing that we attached some wiring and added eat shrink as that would be difficult to do once installed. The nut was also reinforced with super glue to keep it in place.

Step 8: LED Strips

LED strips come in varying lengths, but most allow you to cut them to length every 2 or 4 inches (3 or 6 LEDs). After measuring out how long of a piece we needed for the white and yellow lighting sections, we cut them to length and pre-tinned the connectors.

Pre-tinning means adding a bit of solder to the wire and the soldering pads on the strips, so when it comes time to connect them, you just touch the two together with some heat and they bond nearly instantly. It takes some time, but makes for a better finished product with less frustration!

The power from the barrel jack connector was routed to the white LED strip in the middle (you can connect up wires at any of the "cut here" sections) then power was jumped from the end of the white strip to the yellow strip at the top of the light box.

Lastly each strip was adhered in to place with it's self-adhesive backing.

Step 9: Glue

The LED strip backing is often kinda "meh" so we added some glue where needed to beef things up.

Step 10: Attaching It All

While welding all the parts together would make sense, the problem is that the welds would distort the sheet metal and show through as heat spots, so we turned to VHB tape, which is VERY strong double sided tape.

The light box was completely surrounded in order to create a light block, white the mountains, bear, and sun were also given some tape. You can see how little you need to get the job done.

The only downside to VHB tape is how long it takes to remove all the backing film. I like to use some needle point tweezers to grab it and pull away quickly.

Also, thanks to my patrons, who support what I do at https://patreon.com/42fab

Step 11: Mounting

Off camera, we drilled some holes to make keyholes to mount the sign to the wall. These went into the back of the lightbox as it was the heaviest part of the build. These keyholes just slip over some screw heads to secure the sign in place.

It's hard to show off the lighting as one color is always kind of washed out on my camera, but check out the full build video to get a better idea of the look of the finished project!

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