Introduction: Upcycled LED Sign (for My Daughter, Ella)
There is a full build video of this project on my YouTube channel!
I pass by a sign shop every day on my work commute. Occasionally I'll stop in to see if they have any free wood or other stuff I might be able to use. One day I saw all of these letters that were not too big, already wired with LEDs, in fairly good shape, AND just happened to spell out my daughter's name! I went dumpster diving and brought home the letters I needed plus a few extra.
24” X 12” plywood I had 3/4" but thinner would definitely work https://amzn.to/2JcgssK
1” X 4” X 4’ Pine board https://amzn.to/2uDhE5j
Extra LEDs, power supply, switch, and motion sensor can be found here:
Motion Sensor LED Under Cabinet Lighting Kit: https://amzn.to/2uwXNoq
Hot Pink - https://amzn.to/2InOfhm
Hi-Temp Glue Gun: https://amzn.to/2Gt9oGq
Super Glue: https://amzn.to/2GrQlMD
Wire Nuts:https://amzn.to/2InbtUW (also good as spray paint stands)
Extra wire: https://amzn.to/2uFwkke
Threaded Rod: https://amzn.to/2J9Zyeh
Broken hard drives: Search eBay or other websites for "Hard drive parts" or "hard drive lot" etc. Or ask a friend in tech support! ;0)
Band Clamp: https://amzn.to/2ImUyls
Drill and Impact Driver: https://amzn.to/2Ik7ckY
Table Saw: http://bit.ly/HubbMade2JeTLo2
Lots of other things in my shop can be found here: http://bit.ly/HubbMade2GPBtLq
Step 1: Digging for Gold!
Here is a picture of the dumpster where I found the letters. I consider it a lucky find!
The other part of this project is that I have been saving broken hard drives for several years (mine and friends). I wasn't even sure what I would do with them but I thought that the hard disk drive platters would look cool on a project just like this. I also wasn't sure if the hard drives (or parts) were worth anything… but I saved the disks and the magnets and tossed almost everything else. They were old, broken, and most of them were between 80-320 Gb anyway so I didn't feel like they were worth trying to rescue as computer parts. Alternatively, I suppose old CDs or DVDs would have worked just as well. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to let me know that I threw away some very valuable pieces...I have no idea...
Step 2: Paint
I cut my 3/4" plywood to 12" x 24" on the table saw. If you want to skip this step this link has plywood the right size but it depends on what letters you're using too. I laid out some paper and used spray paint to make it black. I didn't worry about the edges because it will be covered by the frame. I ended up doing two coats. After a minute or two, it was dry enough to move aside and set up my letters. Ella picked the hot pink color because she liked it! I could have primed the letters and then painted them all pink but on the test pieces, I liked the look of the pink on blue. It ended up being a very interesting purple and pink gradient. As I said in the beginning, these letters already had LEDs on the back. Although there are many kits to be able to add LEDs wherever you want. I just had to be careful not to get paint on the back that could cover the lights.
As a side note, I personally find spray painting to be an interesting creative outlet. I like not having to get a perfect coat of paint on a project like this. Some areas were lighter and some were darker and it ended up looking very cool!
Step 3: Make the Frame
I cut the pine board into four sections. Two a little more than two feet long and two a little more than a foot long. I then tilted my table saw blade to 45 degrees and used a miter gauge to cut miters and create a box frame. There are many ways of doing this including a tilting miter saw or hand cutting with a miter box. I test fit my pieces around the plywood to make sure all of the corners were lining up and the sides were the correct length. I applied glue with a brush to all of my joints and used a band clamp to hold them together while they dried. I didn't feel the need to reinforce these corners but feel free to do so on your project. After it was dry, I gave it a light sanding.
Step 4: More Paint
When the frame had dried I took it out of the clamp and painted the whole thing blue to match my letters. I let that dry for 10 - 15 minutes Then I started to go over it with the hot pink spray paint. I was trying to make a purple and pink gradient like the letters and it came pretty close.
Please work in a well-ventilated area and wear your respirator with vapor cartridge! It might not make a lot of difference for this one project, but you never know. Damage adds up over time! (author steps down off soapbox)
Step 5: Disassembly
As previously mentioned, I disassembled 4 or 5 old hard drives to get some cool looking parts. This is a pretty simple process of finding the right size screwdriver (look out for that hidden screw under the label!) Removing all the screws and then removing all the screws on the inside of the case. For the most part, these come apart pretty easily. *note: voids warranty!* XD
Step 6: Assembly 1
I used wire nuts to add extension wires to all of my letters to make them long enough to push through the plywood and join together. As I was going I made sure to keep testing the lights to make sure all of my connections were good. All of these letters had holes and length of all thread to hold them away from the backing surface. I used some super glue to keep the threaded rod at the same distance in all of the holes. I also used hot melt glue to hold all of my wires inside of the letters. I basically made a glue puddle to push the wire nuts into after I had tested them to make sure they wouldn't come disconnected.
Step 7: Assembly 2
I used a level as a straight edge and made sure I liked the placement of all my letters. Then I used a dead blow mallet to tap the letters and make a mark on the plywood. I highlighted those spots with a silver Sharpie and took it to the drill press to drill holes halfway through the plywood for my threaded rods and one hole all the way in the middle of each letter to feed the wire through. A more secure way to do this would be to cut your own threaded rod long enough to feed all the way through the plywood and secure the bolt with a nut on each side of the board. I'm lazy (and cheap) so I just used the threaded rod I found with the letters.
Side note: this would be a good time to drill some pocket holes in the back for attaching the sign to the frame. I did this at a later step and it was much more difficult.
Step 8: Assembly 3
You can do all kinds of things with these hard drive disk platters. I decided to keep them whole and glue them to the background to reflect the lights from inside the letters. I used a combination of hot glue and super glue but I think the super glue holds better. I also glued in the threaded rod of each letter into holes and fed the wires through the center hole in the plywood for the next step.
Pro tip: I wore latex gloves during this part to prevent getting fingerprints all over the disk platters. They would be harder to clean up after everything was assembled.
Step 9: Wiring
I didn't do a very good job of organizing my wires. I should have cut them all shorter but it worked out okay. I used a larger wire nut to combined the four positive wires and four negative wires with one wire leading out to be screwed into the power adapter that came with the kit. I also wasn't worried about just stapling them in place on the back because I hung it on the wall with a French cleat. alternatively, you could recess the plywood board in the box frame.
Step 10: Assembly 4
It was at this point I realized I hadn't left myself anyway to secure the plywood back to the wooden frame. The Kreg Jig came to my rescue and I drilled for pocket holes and screwed them together making the back of the board flush with the box frame. I then cut a simple French cleat out of a bored 20 in long. This is easy to do on the table saw with the blade set at 45 degrees. I drill pilot holes with a countersink bit and attached the French cleat to the back of the sign. I had to cut a spacer board for the bottom of the sign the same width as my French cleat so it would sit evenly on the wall. I then took an extra length of LED and wrapped it across the French cleat down the side, across the spacer at the bottom and up the other side and wired it into the other LEDs. That way the sign is backlighted and lights shine out from behind on every side!
Note: if you dont want to make your own french cleat I have had good success with this 18" wall hanger.
Step 11: Hang and Plug In!
At this point, the sign is finished! I took it to my daughter's room and used a level to attach the other half of the French cleat to the wall in two studs. I couldn't decide between using a switch and using a motion detector that came with the LED kit. I tried it with both and we decided to leave it on the motion detector with a five-minute setting. It works really well! When you walk in the room the sign lights up or when she gets out of bed in the morning the sign lights up! Feel free to ask me any questions.
Good luck with making your own sign project! Check with local sign shops to see if they are getting rid of things or just take a peek in their dumpster! Thanks for looking!