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The "Deco Box"
By Dave Benz
Posted on December 15, 2004
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EL Wire Neon

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Going with the Art Deco theme for this project, I wanted to make something resembling neon lighting for the case. This project uses electroluminescent (EL) wire with acrylic and polyetheline tubing to make something that resembles neon. The acrylic tubing is 3/8 inch outside diameter. The polyetheline tubing is 1/4 inch outside diameter.

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To bend the neon tubes out of acrylic, I built a bending jig. Then I used a heat gun to melt the tubing and bend it around the jig. This turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected. It's really hard to get acrylic to soften consistently, and it seems like once it gets pliable, it's easy to overheat. When it overheats, the surface starts bubbling. Also, the tubing wants to collapse when you bend it, so I had my work cut out for me. I went through six feet of tubing before I got the hang of it and had to run back to the store and get another six feet of tubing to get the six finished tubes I needed.

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Once I had the tubes bent, the next problem was how unimpressive the tubes looked with bare EL wire threaded through them. I spent a week or two trying different things. I discovered that spray paint doesn't dry in tubing like this. Remembering my childhood and how model airplane canopies would fog up from the model glue, I tried model glue fumes. Sadly, that didn't work. Super glue fumes didn't do it either. Neither did acylic paint. Ironically, I found that sand paper would have done a great job IF ONLY I HADN'T ALREADY BENT THE TUBES. I have to admit that I had given up hope by the time I found the flexible polyetheline tubing purely by accident in a hardware store.

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Put the EL wire into the polyetheline tubing, and then the polyetheline tubing into the acrylic tubing, and then fire it up. This definitely does the trick. I found that sanding the surface of the polyetheline tubing would diffuse the light even more. Voila! Poor man's neon.

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Here's the front panel assembled and ready for testing.

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Here's the inside. I used two layers of Sintra in the places where the tubing would go through so that it would be more stable.

Next, the inside of the front panel with the foam installed. The little piece of circuit board with the connectors near the bottom is for the power and hard drive activity lights, which are built into the front.

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One final shot.

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