Introduction: Wood, Bluetooth and RGB LEDs!
My brother in law is pretty much the biggest fan of Game of Thrones that has walked the planet. He bought his first house during Thanksgiving last year. While helping him move in, he told me that he named his estate 'Winterfell' after the family grounds in the Game of Thrones books and show.
It has been quite a long time since I'd done any woodworking or electronics, and I had been looking for a new project for a while so I came up with the idea to make his new house a 'name tag'.
The name tag/sign has to be EPIC! My original plan was to make something I could hang under the eve of his front door (outside, but in a dry spot). This sign fit that bill, but he loved it so much he wanted to keep it inside.
I should also say now that I'm going to describe the general process I used to build this unique gift, not so much a step by step on how to produce the exact same thing. These principles could be used to build pretty much anything imaginable, just adapt the things I've done to your project.
Read on for the build story!
Step 1: Supplies and Materials
Once I have an idea, I run compulsively with it and tend not to document things all that well. The image above is literally the only documentation I wrote for myself before I started piecing the sign together. From memory, reviewing my Amazon Purchase history and measuring things here's the supply list I used:
- 3/4" Hardwood Plywood cut into:
- Top/Bottom edges: (w)48" x (d)10"
- Sides: (h)8" x (d)10"
- Inside Back: (h)8.5" x 46.5"
- Leftovers kept to make letters
Step 2: Idea and Design
My idea was to make an LED-backlit sign of some sort. I wanted the lettering to stand out with a shadow-cast effect.
What I ended up coming up with was to build an outer shell of the box, mount a backing plate into it, and mount the letters W, I, N, T, E, R, F, E, L, L inside the box using dowels to stand them a few inches off the back.
This was going to give me the effect of having the light come from behind the letters.
When it came to choosing a font for the letters, I didn't like ANY that I originally started with. I decided to see if GoT had anything that said 'Winterfell' in a cool font that I could use. As it turns out, during the opening credits of the show, many of the places in the show are shown in a 'flyover' style with the name of the place displayed nearby. This 'Winterfell' was PERFECT!
Except for one problem. The view of the words was skewed and distorted to match the perspective of the 'flyover'. Fortunately for me, I am adapt at image editing and I was able to work out the kinks and produce a straight, normalized version of the 'Winterfell' text.
I made the image high-contrast and stretched it out so the letters would print at something just shy of 48" wide (the width of the box).
Once I had the letters printed at the size I wanted, I stuck some thick cardstock in my printer and printed the image again on something more durable.
I then moved onto the wood working build.
Step 3: Wood Working - Box and Letters
When buying the wood from the local 'big box home improvement' store, I had the gentleman cut my pieces, mostly so I could fit them in my car to get them home.
Now that I had my stencils and some wood, I traced out each of the letters and began cutting them out. Cutting the letters proved to be one of the more difficult and time consuming parts of this project, and truth be told, I scrapped the first set of letters because I HATED them and how they came out. I spent a lot of time using my jig saw to remove the outside material to shape the letters just right.
Since I planned on painting everything with paint, I also got some wood putty to fix up my minor mistakes when shaping the letters.
I also assembled the outer box by dry fitting everything together, drilling pilot holes and using standard wood screws to tie it all together.
To give it a bit more sturdiness, I cut out some squares from some scrap 2x4s I had lying around and screwed those into the corners of the back side to keep it nice and square. Look for the captions on the photo of the back side.
These corner blocks actually served as a good place to pre-drill and screw the backboard into.
With the box and the letters done I placed all of the letters into the box to decide on their placement. When I printed up my images, I kept one on hand so I could see how the shape and spacing of the letters should look. With the letters in their appropriate spots, I traced them lightly in pencil. I then decided on the best spot to put the 1/2" dowel hole in. I marked the letter in roughly the same spot (the cut out letter and the traced letter on the backboard) and drilled out a 1/2" hole. I also needed holes for the LED bulbs to come out so I found the 2 best spots behind each letter and drilled out a 1/4" hole (5mm bulbs) for each bulb.
The last hole I needed was for the power switch.
I cut 10- 3" lengths of the dowels, sanded the front end down well and glued them into the backside of the letters, letting them dry overnight.
After everything was assembled (letters and box) I sanded everything down and used a bit of wood putty to fill the screw holes, around the dowel/letter holes and a few edges just to touch things up since I was painting it.
Time to build a wiring harness!
Step 4: Electronics Wiring Harness
I'd done a little bit of soldering in the past, but never really built an electrical circuit. I did a LOT of reading on the proper design of LED circuits, learned Ohms law (again) and drew up my extremely fancy schematic just to solidify my understanding (like I said, I didn't document this well when I built it). The table where I worked out the resistor values necessary is attached.
I decided to put 2 LED bulbs behind each letter so I figured I would make 10 branches (one for each letter) off of the power supply and feed the 2 bulbs in parallel
This meant I needed to put 3 resistors at the end of each branch. A 270Ω resistor at the end of each branch of each Green and Blue line and a 330Ω on each Red line.
I measured out each segment and cut them all before soldering or wiring anything up. I laid it all into the back side of the box to confirm the lengths were correct. Once I was happy with that I started the splicing/soldering to produce the 10 'branches' off of the 'trunk'. This is pictured in the back side of the box. I made each branch long enough to reach the further of the 2 holes. I planned to feed the wire to between the LEDs, solder in the resistors, and then split the wire to feed the 2 LEDs. Remember to put your shrink tubing on BEFORE SOLDERING anything!
Once I had the wiring harness done to this point, I connected the Battery to the Bluetooth controller with the switch in line so I could turn power on and off at will. I tested this with my multi-meter.
Satisfied, I began making playing with LED and building mounting assemblies.
Step 5: LED Bulb Assembly and Setup
Prior to starting the wiring harness work, I had already played with the LD448 to see it's capabilities and understand how it works so I could know what to expect when I connected things up.
I'll tell you, for $15 bucks, you simply can't go wrong. The LD448 fit the needs of this project in that it comes with an Android/iOS app to control the color, intensity, pattern, etc. of the LEDs connected to it. It also lets you play music in the app, or use the device's microphone to drive the displayed colors. This gave me a great idea on how to present this gift to my brother in law for Christmas.
Now that I knew how the device worked, I needed to build a mechanism to attach the LEDs to the wood.
The LED strip connectors I ordered weren't exactly what I thought, but I figured out a way to put them to good use. They have a little door to help close things, but once I soldered the LEDs onto them, I quickly realized they wouldn't be closing. I cut the little covers off of them and decided the flat side would be a nice gluing surface once everything was all assembled.
I built 20 LED connectors and soldered one to each 'branch' of the wiring harness.
I tested the circuit after each LED was attached. Something that caught me up a number of times was forgetting to take the LED out of the Alligator clip before turning the circuit on. This grounded the lines and caused the whole thing to fault and not work. Fortunately, luck and intuition kept me on track and things worked pretty much right off the bat.
Once all of the LEDs were attached to the wiring harness, I bent each LED 90° so they could be inserted through the holes in the backboard.
Step 6: Painting and Installing the LEDs
I have all the wood a final sanding with high grit sandpaper.
Then I painted everything with a flat matte black paint and let it dry.
Once the paint was dry, it was time to glue the wiring harness, Power cord, on/off switch and LEDs down on the inside of the back. The original design was going to use the battery, but I decided to switch it out for a long cord since the battery charge wouldn't hold to my satisfaction and charging it back up would be a pain.
I got everything connected and turned it on, only to HATE IT! The positioning of the LEDs was terrible. I had tested them from the sides and facing in from the front and they all gave me the effect I wanted. Having the LEDs facing front, even though they were behind the letters, was extremely disappointing.
Since I was giving the gift the next day, I was desperate for a quick solution to defuse the light. I came up with the of using white tissue paper, and I very fortunately, had some as it was Christmas time.
The white tissue paper did a beautiful job of defusing the light and happens to contrast with the matte black letters damn near perfectly! I LOVED how it turned out!
The idea I had on how to give it to him is demonstrated in this video (Game of Thrones Theme Song, if you're unfamiliar):