Edge-lit LED nativity display

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Steven Paxman

Project by

Steven Paxman

General Information

Very simple and classic Christmas nativity display using LED strip lighting to shine through the edge of etched acrylic on a wooden base. This same technique could be used for any number of signs or decorations, with colored or white LEDs, logos, etc. Options are unlimited.

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Material Description Price
Clear Acrylic Sheet

Clear Acrylic Sheet

Dimensions: 12 in × 12 in, Thickness: 1/4 in, Type: Cast, Backing: Paper

$9.49

Walnut

Walnut

6" × 12" × 3/4" Walnut

$6.99

$16.48
from Inventables

1

Watch the video!

The video goes through all the steps, shows the materials I used, and the techniques. Also, see a full blog post here:

http://www.craftingintherain.com/2015/09/edge-lit-led-nativity.html

2

Etch the acrylic

5 minutes

I used a 1/16" two-flute downcut bit to carve the acrylic. I also carved with a maximum depth per pass of 0.01 inches, and only carved to 0.015 inches deep. And, to top it off, I used a carve speed of 100 in/min. The idea here is to go very shallow, but very fast. And I used my compressor to constantly blow the chips out. All this together gives you a chance of avoiding a common problem with acrylic – the chips heat up and melt back into your carve, messing it all up. I also carved with the paper left on the acrylic, hoping to avoid any scratches. Anything that scratches the plastic will show up in the final product! I just used a free clipart of a nativity scene.

I used a 4″ × 6″ piece of 3/8" thick cast acrylic that I picked up from my local Tap Plastics store. They cut it with a routered edge. This means I didn’t bother having them finish the edge perfectly clear. A little rough edge gives the final lit project a nice lighted frame. Too rough, though, and the light won’t be able to shine through the edge, so a good straight edge cut by the plastics store did it. A table saw or a router in your garage with the right blade or bit could do it as well.

The main Easel link referenced in this project is for carving the acrylic.

3

Carve the base top

The base is in two parts in this project. I took one block of Hawaiian Koa wood and cut it in half for the two parts. The top is carved out to hold the acrylic, and the bottom is carved out to hold the LED light strip and the wire. In this step, I take the top part, and simply cut a slot all the way through it for the acrylic to slide into. Some tips for this part – cut the pocket just slightly longer than your acrylic piece. Remember, the round bit will leave the corners slightly round, so going just 1/8" longer will made it so you can fit it in there. Also, I measured my acrylic with the paper on and cut the slot that wide. That way, with the paper off, there is just enough room to comfortably slide the plastic in without too much trouble, but without letting it move around in there. it feels snug, but not too tight.

The edges of my slot on either side don’t quite go all the way through. There is a quarter inch “shelf” on both sides that will keep the acrylic piece from going through and hitting the LEDs below when it is done.

The Easel project I used for this portion is here:
http://easel.inventables.com/projects/XvbTL9V93apN_9KyfCXu1g

4

Carve the base bottom

With the thinner piece of the base, I carved out a pocket wide enough to hold my LED strip, with an exit groove for the wire. On this one, you have to take a look at exactly the piece of LED strip you are using. The wire on mine came off at an angle for some reason, so I had to angle my exit groove accordingly. This will be the bottom of the base, so this groove doesn’t go all the way through.

The Easel project I used for this portion is here:
http://easel.inventables.com/projects/0aSaWkBWMllAgA9yQEj9qw

5

Assemble the base with LED strip

In this step, I glue the two base pieces back together. In the bottom piece, fasten the LED light strip down into the grove cut. Most LED strips have double-sided tape on the bottom, and I have cut the strip to the length I need, according to the instructions. I just got my white light LED strip lighting kit from Amazon, including the power adapter and remote control.

After sticking down the lights, I made sure the wire was set into the exit groove and I put a drop of hot glue on the wire to hold it in, so any tugging on the wiring after it is done doesn’t pull the LEDs out of place.

Next, just glue the top piece onto the bottom piece. Now it’s easy to see how this is going to work. The lights are down inside, but they will shine right through the slot cut in the top piece, and right through the edge of the acrylic.

At this point, I sanded down the entire project and finished it with a few coats of spray lacquer. You can use anything you want to finish. I think it would look nice with simple danish oil as well.

6

Drop in the acrylic

1 minute

Now I just slide my etched acrylic piece into the slot, and that’s it. Plug in the remote control piece and the power adapter from the LED kit, and plug it in. Personally, I think it looks best with the LEDs turned down to pretty low brightness level, but you might like it brighter, especially if you are doing some color lighting on a logo or something fun like that.

This completes the project!

David Young
Thank you for posting, you answered all my question!!
David Young
Sarah Whitfield
Can you cut the led light strip or would it need soldering to make it work again if that makes sense? Thank you for sharing this lovely project.
Sarah Whitfield