Building Light Walls

March 31st, 2011
by JP Trostle

Although the Light Bike rules come with suggestions (a half-dozen of them in fact) on how to build your own light walls, I’ve been getting requests for detailed instructions on how I built my own setup. So, here they are.

Step-by-steps below the fold

First, I built a simple jig using 1 steel straightedge, 2 pieces of scrapwood, 3 screws and 4 roofing nails. The straightedge was held firmly in place by the nails, though there was just enough room to slide a sheet of foamcore under it. In this way I was able to quickly and easily cut 1″ wide strips of foamcore, moving the board in after each cut. (There’s a scrap piece of matte board under the foamcore to keep the utility blade from cutting into the wood, and I replaced the blade frequently — usually every 12-15 cuts.)

Here’s a closeup of the straightedge and the nails. The straightedge could be slid in and out of the track the nails created at the top or bottom, but couldn’t wiggle side to side, guaranteeing a consistent width to the cuts.

The set-up served double-duty: after cutting all the 1″ wide strips, I turned the jig 90˚ and, with a triangle and piece of black foamcore to act as a buffer, then proceeded to cut all the strips to the desired length. I penciled out 1″ measurements on a matte board, which acted as both quick ruler and a blade protector. (The other thing I did ahead of time was to build a tray for each of the light wall colors, so they were stored in a protected — and easily sortable — environment from the get go.) I cut up one 20″ x 30″ sheet for each color I planned to do — yellow, orange, blue, white.

After all the lengths were carefully cut, I inserted the 7/8″ roofing nails into the bottom of the stand and spray painted them outside. I thought about painting them first, but the smaller foamcore sections will get blown away with the aerosol spray, and the iron nails acted as a good anchor. It took about a can and a half to two 12 0z. cans give a good, solid coating to all the sections. (And I didn’t have to paint the white foamcore.)

I put between two and three coats on all sides. The nail bases also came in handy during the curing process.

After masking off the windows, I painted the light bikes at the same time. The Light Cycles from Spin Master are held together by only three screws, and are designed to be taken apart in a few seconds. Here the yellow bike gets another coat.

Finally, I pulled out all the nails, stood them carefully up on their heads, and spray painted them a flat black. At first I thought this was going to be a pain, but the process went fairly quickly, and the final effect on the board (where you have to look closely to see the nail base at all) was worth the extra couple of hours this took.

The end result: it took about 2 hours to cut the sections for each color, another 2 hours to insert the nails, 3-4 hours to paint each color (not counting drying time… and at this point the white walls were almost done), and another couple of hours to redo the nails in flat black. All told, about 7-9 hours for each set of light walls.  A 20″ x 30″ foamcore board gives you around 90-95 pieces (figure on some slips and losses) that, when placed end to end, gives you almost 575″ of light wall — more than enough.


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