Custom neon follows your script
Get your creative juices flowing! Work with a neon artist to create a custom sign that will become the focal point of your man cave.
First, shed some light on the design
Neon artist Charly Conn, left, discusses the proposed artwork with Allen Darrow, who supplied a concept drawing of his signature on 81⁄2 x11" paper.
Acrylic forms the back
With a blade for plastics (Bosch T101BR) mounted in his jigsaw, Charly cuts the 1⁄2 "-thick black acrylic that will become the back panel of the custom neon sign.
A quick cleanup
After peeling the protective paper from the acrylic, he wipes down the sheet with Windex to remove static electricity. The custom vinyl decal is ready to apply.
A layer of vinyl adds character
Charly removes the protective paper from the 48"-long vinyl sheet, then smooths the vinyl with a squeegee. He then sets aside the acrylic.
Air pressure prevents pinching
At the propane-fueled ribbon burner, our artist blows air into the glass tube, preventing it from kinking or becoming restricted while he forms tight bends.
Charly checks the curves
With a full-size reverse pattern on his bench, Charly tweaks each bend in the still-warm glass. He continues pushing air through the blow tube.
An electrode insertion
After heating the end of the first section of tubing, Charly slides an electrode into the tubing. His blow tube prevents the glass from collapsing.
Flattening the sign
Using the flat bench as a reference surface, Charly presses the warm tubing into the same plane. "Wide curves take a lot of time to allow the glass to cool before heating another section," he notes.
As Charly finishes up the first section, he mounts a second electrode in the tubing and checks his work on top of the reversed pattern.
Three letters down, three to go
Nine trips to the ribbon burner and Charly is nearly finished with the first two letters of the second section. Now, he pencils a mark for a section to heat to begin forming the second R.
Rounding the final bend
The last two letters require a second piece of 48"-long glass tubing. After 10 bends, Charly has the two letters formed and then plans placement for another electrode.
Clean cuts in glass
To splice the two sections of lettering, Charly uses an electric glass cutter for a clean, precise cut. He plans the splices to place them on what will become the back side of the lettering.
Splicing the cuts
A hand torch heats up the two sections of glass-tubing union. Once again, the blow tube and cork prevent the interior of the glass tubing to be joined from closing.
A final pattern check
After joining the two sections of tubing, Charly checks the letters against the pattern one final time. He creates a full-size pattern like the one above for every sign passing through his shop.
Time for a test light
After removing air from the glass and then pumping in argon, Charly burns-in the lettering to achieve full brightness.
Blacking out the spaces
Charly brushes on a fast-drying block-out paint, formulated for glass and high in pigments, to the tubing between neon letters. When illuminated, this creates the illusion of separate characters.
Trimming out the sign
For a finished look, Charly edges the acrylic back with 1"-wide acrylic trim. He uses a heat gun to create tight bends. To weld the band to the acrylic, he flows on a thin bead of methylene chloride.
Supports offset the tubing
After drilling a 1⁄8 " hole in the acrylic, Charly attaches clear 13⁄4 " tube supports to the sign. This design, using about 17' of tubing, gets two supports on the arrowhead, and 13 tube supports total.
Power it up
With the neon tubing secured on the tube supports, Charly fits an electrode boot that joins an electrode and a specialty cord capable of handling high voltage that leads to the transformer.
The finished product
Allen couldn't be more pleased with the final products—so tickled, he asked Charly to build an identical neon sign for his shop. "It's exciting to see my autograph in neon," Allen says. "I love almost every neon sign I see, but no one has a sign like this!"
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