Life gets busy sometimes. And that means that sometimes you don’t get to build models. I’m usually blessed with a surplus of free time, so I get to build frequently (or build / blog these days). But these past few weeks have been light on free-time. I’ve had a number of household projects sneak up on me all at once, so… it’s been a good long time since I’ve built any models. However, one of those projects was getting to finally build out the LED lighting solution for this curio cabinet that my in-laws gifted me with a while back.
I’ve long used a half-curio cabinet to house my larger models (basically all my Piececool and ICONX / Premium Series models), but it was a snag from a furniture outlet place, so it had it’s issues. Biggest of them was giant groove patterns in all but one of the windows, and lots of framing. It made it quite difficult to actually look at the models. So I was thrilled when my in-laws offered a curio they were no longer using. It came with some lighting, but I decided I wanted to go full out on it (since I didn’t have to actually cover the cost of the curio itself). So LED strip-lighting it was.
But I needed a good way to mount the LED strips to light the models. Thus began a long process of thinking and conspiring, brainstorming and discarding bad ideas. I did eventually purchase an LED strip set that I liked that wasn’t too expensive. Then I bought some metal corner guards (for wall corners) that I thought I could use to mount it. But when I started trying to figure out the exact mechanics… I realized it was a terrible idea. Finally, I gave in and bought some aluminum LED channel with a diffuser cover (I didn’t want to be blinded by a bunch of reflected LED spots). I was trying to do this as cheap as possible, and ended up wasting money. Such is life.
But that wasn’t complicated enough! No, not for me! Seriously, though… I always seem to think up things to make projects take longer and increase the difficulty. In this case, I decided that I didn’t like the idea of having the mirror at the back of the curio blinding me with reflections of those LED lights. Yeah, I know, I was obsessing on the blinding thing. Well, I decided that I would apply something to cover the mirror. Originally it was going to be window tinting or frosting, but that’s expensive. Then I thought of butcher paper, but that just didn’t sound appealing. Finally, I realized that there was a cheap option that might work: tissue paper! The stuff for gift bags, you know?
So I experimented with watering down white glue and painting it over some tissue paper against some glass from a broken photo frame I had lying around. Amazingly it worked, and so I set out to find some black tissue paper – figuring it would give a great contrast. Went to Dollar Tree, but they only had pastels and white. Bought some white in case I couldn’t find any black, and then drove around the rest of the town visiting several stores before I found some black. Then, before I actually started, I realized that the black would absorb all the light and make everything dark. So I ended up using the white after all. And I think it was the right decision.
I originally thought I would apply the tissue paper and try to smooth it out perfectly, but as soon as I started trying to do it on the curio itself, I realized it would be way too much work. So I decided to embrace the results: the sort of marbling / crackled look created by the wrinkles of the tissue paper was a feature, not a bug. And I decided to not care about the way the overlapped sections look funny. Sometimes, like with building the models, you have to recognize that perfection is just not going to happen. But, while I was at it, I decided to “opaque” the shelves as well, so that some of the lighting would reflect up on the underside of builds. Lots of work.
Of course, before I began on all of that, I had to figure out how to set up the V-channel. And originally I had found some “joint” pieces that could be used to connect them in L-shapes. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it was close. Unfortunately, those were no longer available when I ordered my V-channel. Urgh, this project was cursed! So… I looked and looked and looked for an alternative. And could not find one. I was getting discouraged… until I remembered that I had a 3D Printer and wasn’t half bad at designing things on TinkerCAD. And so I was off on another stage of this project. In the end, I created 3 different joint types, though I went through a few test prints along the way.
Finally, it was time to cut up the LED strips and get to soldering! Well, sorta. First I cut some wires to make pigtails, did a bunch of measuring and planning, made some diagrams, cut-lists, etc. And then I cut up the LED strips. And I cut the aluminum V-channel to the right sizes. And I soldered “pigtails” of 18 gauge solid-core wires onto the ends of the LED strip segments. And then I attached them to the channeling. And started soldering sections of these together. It was all coming together, I was excited! I even applied liquid electrical tape over the soldered points to protect them. And then started to join the segments together… which was when the wires started popping off the LED strips, along with the contact points for soldering onto the strips.
Yep, this project was cursed. Once the contact points popped off, you couldn’t solder onto the end of the strip anymore. I was devastated. I thought I had just completely wasted an entire set of LED strips, as well as a bunch of wire, and many many hours. But, as it turns out, all I needed was some time to sleep. Because a couple days later, I had a moment of clarity. As it turns out, you can use contact points further in from the end of the strip, but it will still light the whole strip. So I bought some new 20 gauge stranded wire (actually, 22 gauge, but I thought I was getting 20), and pulled all the existing wire and painted rubber off the strips.
And so I began soldering again. But this time, I used the more flexible stranded wire. And I soldered on to contact points farther in on the strip, where I could solder to two at once (on either side of a cut-mark). And ran the separate wires down either side of the LED strip, and hot glued the wires in place at the end of the V-channel. By doing this, I was able to make sure that no stress was put on the actual contact point, but on the hot glue holding the wires in place. Yay! Move on to soldering together the segments into sections of lighting strips / channels. Then soldering sections together, and I ended up with two LED strip assembles, ready to put in the curio! Well, that is… after I fixed the spot where I cross-wired the negative / positive, which is not such a good thing for LEDs.
But then, after that, I did have some stuff ready to go! Time to assemble. And oh my gosh… it was not as easy as I thought. Lots of balancing, cursing, and inserting v-channel into joints. Then more balancing, re-inserting v-channeling that fell out, then putting diffuser screens back on again, re-balancing, realizing that I’d mis-measured, then throwing out some of the joints, then balancing glass shelves and hoping not to break them, balancing v-channel, re-inserting v-channel into joints again and again and again. And mounting some stuff crooked that is driving me nuts but I was too tired to fix it at the time.
So, yeah, projects can blow up and take up way more of your time than you ever planned on it doing. And that was just one of the many projects I’m juggling. Most of them are good projects, at least! Like setting up my new 3D printer and printing out my first “big” print with it. And, because she’s just the best, I decided the first print should be for my wife. She love’s her “little” Bernie, and plans on painting the gloves. Yep… she was a big fan of the meme.