Saturday, June 13, 2015

Guest Post: Vintage Neon Turned Marquee Lights

Y'all, I am happy to say that the love of my life has written a post about our Shine Marquee letters!  I hope you enjoy!
A special How To written by Benjamin

We have a ledge in our entry way that is super high and perfect for decorating!  When the house was being built we added an electrical outlet up incase we would want to do something with Christmas lights someday.  During one of our house brainstorming sessions, Sara and I decided that marquee lights would be the perfect thing for that space.  Picking the word Shine was an easy choice.  It seemed like a fun reminder to let our Light shine on a daily basis.

The next day we went to a local place that Sara said sold just what we were looking for: The Happy Peddler in Old Town Spring.  When you walk in you can't miss the letters hanging from the ceiling, resting in the corners, and cascading down the walls in all different fonts, colors and sizes.  Knowing what letters we were after before walking into the store helped keep us from feeling overwhelmed by the selection.  We found an "I" and an "E" that we really liked and as we were waiting in line to hear the prices on them we saw a huge "N" sitting by the counter.  We started chatting with Adam, the owner, and he said he currently had way to many "N's" and we could have this one for $50 if we took it with us today.  Without hesitation we said, "Great!"  We told him we would be needing an "S" and "H" and he said to keep checking his Facebook page because he updates it when new shipments of letters arrive from the scrap yard.  Within the next few weeks we had found an S, but we were still on the hunt for an H.  Tracking letters down like this over the internet proved to be a difficult and very expensive task, with many places wanting hundreds of dollars for the larger letters.  A month or so later I called Adam who said he had a shipment of letters on the way and there was one large H in it.  We scooped it up and could continue with the project.

Since the letters we purchased were old neon letters with no bulbs, we debated how to light them.  We could use neon lights or marquee bulbs.  Many of you know that I love woodworking, but what you probably don't know is that I have a fascination with glass work.  I keep telling Sara that I want this to be my next hobby and she is always quick to remind me that I don't have enough time for all of my current hobbies so the last thing I need is a new one.  I have watched numerous shows on PBS and the History Chanel on glass blowing and thought blowing new glass for neon would be a fun adventure, but Sara was able to convince me that LED bulbs were a smarter choice for this project.

We thought LED globe lights would be nice because they look like vintage marquee lights but are much more energy efficient.  Thankfully Amazon stocks lights like we were looking for year round, and they even had them in varying string colors, hues, and wattages.  We ultimately decided on 5 watt G40 bulbs for the job.  With the bulbs on the way it was time to get the letters ready.

Winston helped me give all the letters a good wash down.  Many of them had been sitting outside or in scrapyards for years, so before we hung them up I wanted to make sure all dirt and critters were gone.  Winston and I tapped out a few large dents but made sure to leave character to each letter. Over the years the letters had all been painted different colors that we thought looked nicely together.  I touched up any areas that had chipped or scratched so that everything would pop.
Next I flipped the letters on their faces on my workbench and marked on the back with a Sharpie where the bulbs should go, making sure to put the bulbs around 6 inches apart.
I then used a 1/8 metal cutting bit to start a small pilot hole for each bulb.  Last year for Christmas my sister and her husband had given me an assortment of drill bits.  This step bit was part of that assortment and   proved to be a perfect bit for the job.  After discerning the proper step I buzzed out 125 holes to make room for the lights.  Working with metal can be a dangerous task, as high temperature pieces of sharp objects are flying in all directions.  Be sure to wear eye protection and close toed shoes while doing nay sort of metal working.  Also, sweeping up the shop immediately afterwards is a must if you share your shop with a toddler like I do.
With the holes drilled and filings cleaned up, it was time to string in the lights.  I avoided stringing multiple letters together until they were up on the wall to help make hanging them an easier task.  After trying to scale an extension ladder while holding a 40 pound letter and a drill gun I quickly realized just how high a 15 foot ledge can be.  I decided that to safely hang the letters I would need scaffolding or a scissor lift.
Give any guy the choice of lugging and assembling scaffolding or driving around a scissor lift and the decision is an easy one.  Thankfully SunBelt Rentals carries a lift that was exactly 1/2 inch smaller than our doorway and proved perfect for the job.  A few quick tips about renting one of these babies: most rental places offer daily rates and are closed on Sundays.  This means you can pick it up at the very end of the day on Friday or first thing Saturday morning and you don't have to return it until Monday at 7:00 with just a single day's rental fee.  Also, they are only front wheel drive, so getting them over a threshold or up and down a ramp can be tricky, so plan accordingly and have plenty of extra lumber on hand if needed.  They will charge you for the lift, a trailer to tow it with, and the chains to secure it to the trailer.  If you call ahead you can likely negotiate a package deal, especially if they have multiple units available to rent that day.  Even Sara wanted to take the lift for a spin!
After getting the lift home and finagling it into the house, hanging the letters proved to be an easy task.  We spaced them on the floor and then took them up one at a time in the lift and fixed them to the wall.  Since the bulbs stuck out just over an inch from the back of each letter, flush mounting them was not an option.  I had scrap 2x4's that I cut into 4 inch pieces and secured into studs in strategic places along the wall.  I then screwed the letters into the blocks to anchor them on the wall and hide the 2x4's from sight.
Since the sign is just over 3 feet by 7 feet in size, we ended up using 5 strings of lights with 25 G40 bulbs rated 5 watts each.  To prevent electrical fires each string of lights has a small fuse in it that I did not want to overload.  To avoid constantly getting the ladder out to change fuses, I daisy chained three strings together in one outlet and two strings together in another.
The project turned out every bit as well as we had hoped.  The letters provide a gentle glow each night that helps create a nice ambiance in our entryway and takes advantage of a space too high for virtually any other purpose.  Special thanks to Adam at The Happy Peddler for his help in tracking down all of the letters.  Also, thanks to Winston for helping me clean and hammer out each of the letters.  Last but not least, thanks to Sara for keeping her cool when I nearly got a 3000 pound scissor lift stuck in our doorway and for constantly guiding but never standing in the way of my DIY spirit.


  1. Wow! That looks fantastic and I can't believe you did that yourself! Pure awesomeness :) PS. I too am a dachshund owner. Love the photo bomb by yours! ~Ree

  2. Oh wow! This project came out so great. I am in love with it.


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