Giant Neon Santa Claus Build
August 25, 2016 5:31 PM   Subscribe

I have a dream: to build a recreation of this giant neon Santa Claus sign, but cheaply, using neon rope light. My building skills are limited to Legos and Ikea. Can someone steer me towards some basics that will help me achieve my dream?

The Santa Claus appears to be 30' high. I'm guessing my build will require:
-A frame/wall of plywood of some sort for the background.
-A way to afix the rope light.
-Power to the ropelight... and a system to time/synch any potential flashing. (the part I have the lowest idea about... I know nothing of soldering, power, etc.).

Some issues, details:
-I also don't know if the rope lighting I linked to is bright enough, or too bright.
-I'd be happy to first try this with something smaller -- maybe scale the concept down to 8'-10'... just to learn the ropes.

Any maker/DIYers with experience doing cool stuff with rope lights, or advice on steering more towards some similar/related tutorials?
posted by Unsomnambulist to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
-A way to afix the rope light.

When I was planning on making a fake neon sign with that kind of rope, my plan was to hold it in place with ring screws on plywood, reinforced on other load-bearing places with nylon fishing line to hold the shape. Unfortunately the project never went ahead, so I can't tell you how it went.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:06 AM on August 26, 2016

Best answer: I would actually go with an open framework of wood or metal for this, as if you do plywood you're going to be lighting up the plywood in a way that will really change the look of the sign for the worse. You want to have an outline floating in the air, not a big wooden wall with a Santa on it, amirite?

Anyway, what I'd do there is build a simple framework out of 2x4 stock, maybe even just a rectangular ladder sort of thing with some diagonal corner bracing and a sturdy stand at the back to hold it up, paint it matte black, and then staple chicken wire all over it (which I might also paint black, depending). Then you can just tie your rope lights to that with some kind of appropriate wire. Would probably even be cheaper than using plywood, as well as much lighter, and the open wirework would allow wind to pass through so it'd be less likely to get blown over.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:24 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to say exactly what is written above but motivated by the frightful weight of the amount of plywood you'd be using.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:39 PM on August 26, 2016

Best answer: I'd also suggest chicken wire, on a frame of wood or large PVC pipe. (Plywood sounds expensive, heavy, prone to weathering, and a pain to adhere the cable to.) If if doesn't need to look nice up close, then just zip-tying to the chicken wire should work great. If you need a nice surface for daylight viewing or a background image, then coating it with some non-flammable plastic sheeting from the local hardware store seems like the way to go. High temp hot glue would probably adhere the rope lights securely to a plastic surface and not melt as they heat up, but it might be hard to remove afterward.

I've never worked with rope light or any outdoor light displays, but have some electronics experience. I'd suggest buying a small quantity of rope light first to get a feel for how bright it is and how it bends. The stuff you linked to seems surprisingly short on details regarding brightness or other characteristics. Perhaps you can dig up more details elsewhere.

One question to ask at the outset is how much power you need. The cable should list either power (watts) or current (amps) per unit length. Drawing up a scaled design and figuring out how long your cable is seems like an important first order of business, and that will tell you how much power it requires. If you're in the US and powering it from a standard household socket, anything approaching 120 volts * 15 amps = 1800 Watts is going to require extra care. If you're somewhat below that, then powering the whole thing off one power cord plugged into a standard socket should work just fine. Also, it looks like there are both low voltage and high voltage lights, and several different technologies. It doesn't make a huge difference which one you pick, but you'll probably want to make them all the same and insure the thing powering them is appropriate and weatherproof.

The second question is whether you need the lights to turn on and off. And, if you do, do you need them to sequence in a programmed way, or just all-together on and off. The easiest option is to have them not blink, and to use the off-the-shelf wiring tools that come with the rope lights to power them. They may also make all-together on-off blinker controllers.

There are quite a few different ways to approach programmed blinking. Which one you choose depends on (1) how much money you're willing to spend (2) how interested you are in learning electronics skills in general and (3) how complicated your blinking pattern is. If you're big on money and short on patience for learning new skills, and the blinking pattern isn't too complicated, you could probably get an off-the-shelf solution that has a bunch of 110V outlets into which each independent segment gets plugged. Searching for "programmable christmas light controller" turns up a bunch of options and detailed tutorials. If you're cheap or like the idea of making your own solution, a programmable controller (such as an arduino board) and some relays (ideally solid state ones) will give you infinite flexibility. (If you do go this route, make sure your power cords have fuses or circuit breakers upstream of the outdoor parts!) In that case you're definitely going to be doing some soldering and programming. (I'm happy to help point you at appropriate tutorials if you promise not to hold me liable when you electrocute yourself and burn down your house.)

Also, please do come back and tell us how it went.
posted by eotvos at 1:58 PM on August 27, 2016

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