I have been really intimidated by the idea of using LED as backlighting for a while because my soldering skills aren’t really up to par. Really, they’re pretty abysmal. When I found a strip of color-changing LEDs with quick-connect options I knew it was time to stop making excuses and try something new. I liked them because no soldering was required, but I still got the full function of color-changes, different strobe options, and remote-control use that you see with other LED lights.
Materials (Some are Amazon affiliate links that help me pay to create and post content):
I started by making the template for “#MAKER” by printing, spray-gluing, and taping the word with a black background it to a sheet of 1/4” MDF and cutting it down to size at my table saw. You could use any number of methods to cut your template down to size- use your scroll saw, a hand saw, or have it cut down for you at the hardware store. After the template was prepared, I took it over to my scroll saw and began cutting out the inside of the letters. The important thing for me was the “negative” space around the letters; I wanted the light to shine through, so made sure to stay inside the lines and saved the interior pieces of the #, A, and R.
Don’t be limited by your tools as you think about how to make this! Some people would use a CNC, laser cutter, vinyl stencil, or any number of other methods to cut out or create a sign image. I used a scroll saw because it’s what I have, but I could have also used a jigsaw, router, or handheld coping saw. Considering that the material is 1/4” MDF, you honestly could use an exacto knife and a ruler. Don’t let the methods I used limit your own creativity.
After the letters were cut out I used a file and sandpaper to clean up the interior edges so each letter line was straight and clean. I then spray painted the piece matte black, including the interior pieces cut out from the #, A, and R.
While paint dried I took my thinner acrylic sheet, cut and sized slightly larger than my #MAKER template, and “frosted” it using sandpaper. The more time you give this, the better. I sanded both sides of the sheet to get complete coverage with the frosted look. Once I was satisfied with how frosted the acrylic piece was, I cleared away the sanding dust and used super glue to affix the #MAKER sign, and the interior pieces of the #, A, and R, in the acrylic panel. This frosted acrylic backer will give the sign a softer glow in the negative space cut out around the letters and diffuses the light directly around the word itself.
The next steps are all about lining up your large green-edge acrylic and the plywood base in order to set the standoffs where they should be. Lay the acrylic on top of your plywood sheet and, using a ruler or compound square, mark out where you want the standoffs to rest on the plywood. Drill out these holes in the acrylic using a bit that’s slightly larger than the shaft of your standoff. Once these holes are drilled, lay the sheet of acrylic on top of the plywood once more and mark where the standoffs should be set on the plywood.
Before attaching the bottom half of the standoff I sealed the wood with one even layer of wipe-on poly. Since this sign is hanging in my shop and isn’t getting wear and tear on the surface, I elected to just do one coat of finish. Once the finish was dry, I used my handheld screwdriver and wood screws to attach the standoffs to the plywood after first double checking their placement by laying the sheet of acrylic on top to make sure my marks were accurate.
I then needed to figure out where to place my LED’s. I laid out my #MAKER mini-sign on the plywood a the exact center and lightly traced around the edge to establish the general area where the LED strips should lay. I then drilled four holes where the cords connecting the strips would be fed through the back of the sign, keeping within the outline I just traced. After double and triple checking that the LED strips would be completely covered by the #MAKER piece and frosted acrylic, I pulled the sticker backing off the back and layed each strip on the plywood.
The large sheet of acrylic is flexible and, because of the size of my sign, it would sag towards the center if it wasn’t supported. To prevent this sag, I glued two small pieces of scrap wood inside of where the #MAKER piece would go to conceal them and give some support to the acrylic.
The final steps are to set the large sheet of acrylic in place, secure it with the top half of the standoff, peel off the top protective layer from the acrylic, and glue the #MAKER piece in the center, making sure to cover the LED strips and support blocks below. This part was the most nerve-wracking of the whole build because once that glue is on the acrylic there’s no moving it and recovering. Take your time with this- it’s better to be accurate the first time than to rush and have to buy a new sheet of acrylic. Once the glue was set I removed the acrylic from the base, peeled off the rest of the protective plastic, and gave it all a good wipe-down with glass cleaner before putting everything back together and mounting it on the wall.
I am so pleased with how this piece turned out. What stared with a desire to push myself and try something new turned into one of my favorite piece in the shop. I love the clean look and dynamic lighting.
This project shows just how much you can accomplish with only a few tools. You really only need a scroll saw and a cordless drill to get this done and, if necessary, you don’t even need the scroll saw.
I already have a commission for a smaller version using similar materials and I think I’ll solder the LED connections to continue growing my skills. The #MAKER sign was a huge confidence booster to me and gave me lots of ideas for ways to modify or change the design.
If you make this piece share your final results with me @beardogdesigns on Instagram. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!