Build your own space age Glowyboard in 15 occasionally easy steps.
In another post, I wrote about AWPs disillusionment with WhiteyBoards. We loved the abstract idea of the WhiteyBoard, but couldn’t iron out their unsightly wrinkles. As you might imagine, the part about the iron is figurative, but the bit about the wrinkles is as literal as it gets. Literally.
After some hemming and hawing, not to mention a great deal of unseemly whining, we did something about it. We built our very own transparent illuminated remote controlled light boards. It was like going from waving sticks around to using lightsabers. They were a big hit around the office and with our clients. We called them Glowyboards. We gave each one a cute name like ‘Glowy’ or ‘Steve Holt.’
Anyhow, since then, a lot of folks have asked us how we put them together. Odds are you weren’t one of them, but in this post I’m going to show you how anyway.
Part the First — Gather What Ye Require
The Glowyboards are as useful and fun to use as we imagined. And putting them together is, if not exactly easy, well within reach of anyone with a little DIY enthusiasm, basic handyman know-how, and several pairs of spare hands at critical moments.
If you want to take a stab at it, you’ll need to be comfortable with a few basic tools, like drills, levels and stud finders. And, unless you own your own place, you may want to run the idea past your landlord before you start drilling into the walls. I’ve heard tell they can get touchy about such things.
This is as good a place as any to mention that I have included a lot of NOTES in this post. Please do read them if you value your fingers, not to mention the future viability of life on planet Earth. The first of these important messages begins here:
NOTE: This is the part where I say: READER BEWARE! I’ve tried to be pretty thorough in these instructions, but some details may have escaped my attention. And despite some exceedingly modest efforts to be at least somewhat accurate, it’s likely that I’ve misspoken here and there, so do your homework before beginning. If I say, use a 3/8″ drill bit to drill the anchor holes into the studs, make sure this actually makes sense: if your anchor screws are only ¼” in diameter, it doesn’t take a general contractor to understand that that drill bit recommendation is not going to cut it. Think every step through before you begin. Use your own common sense. In other words, proceed entirely at your own risk! Dammit, Jim, I’m a brand strategist, not Bob Villa!
Here is the list of tools we used for this project. Your list may vary, depending on the hardware you use.
- variable speed drill
- 3/8″ standard twist drill bit
- 1/2″ standard twist drill bit
- drill guide (to make 90° holes)
- stud finder (with AC wiring finder)
- philips screwdriver
- common slip-joint pliers or lineman’s pliers
- 5/32″ hex wrench
Materials and Costs
These are the items that went into each our Glowyboards. We’re making no specific recommendations here, but all of these products worked well for us.
- 1 – Freckleface 4′ x 8′ x ¾” cast acrylic sheet ($585.00 + freight)
- 8 – Mockett MPB-10 multipurpose standoff caps ($14.10 each)
- 8 – Mockett MPB-10 multipurpose standoff barrels ($18.60 each)
- 8 – Mockett 1¾” screw connectors ($2.00 each)
- 8 – Mockett 2½” wood wall screws ($2.00 each) *
- 1 – cabLED 8′ light strip ($44.97 at Home Depot)
- 1 – cabLED 30-watt power source ($69.97 at Home Depot)
- 1 – cabLED RF remote ($49.97 at Home Depot)
- 2 – cabLED 6′ PVC channeling ($8.97 each at Home Depot)
- 1 – LeGrand wall grommet kit ($20.35 at Home Depot)
- 1½” painters tape (why 1½”: it represents width of a stud)
- high quality black electrician’s tape
- superglue (gel variety seems to work well)
NOTE: The wall anchors listed here assume you will be anchoring your Glowyboard into wooden studs. If you are anchoring into masonry, choose the concrete anchor kit. If you are going through drywall using anchors rather than studs, choose the drywall option. Don’t rely entirely on drywall anchors: try to hit at least four studs.
You’ll probably spend about $1100 on materials per Glowyboard, excluding shipping, sales tax, tools, a few gray hairs, and whatever you imagine your labor is worth. That probably sounds like a lot, but it’s about a quarter of the cost of what you’d spend if you bought a commercial transparent whiteboard that (a) isn’t illuminated, (b) is made of inferior quality parts, and (c) is approximately 10% as freaking cool. I think you get me.
- Expo neon dry-erase markers ($6.70 at Amazon)
- 3M whiteboard eraser ($6.95 at Amazon)
- Novus 1-2-3 polish and scratch remover kit ($17.59 at Amazon)
A word about the “neon” markers: these low odor dry erase markers are hands down the best we found: they glow strongly when exposed to LED light and are almost invisible when not. Our only gripe? We’d love to see them made in more colors! If you find others that work, please please please tweet your find @awpny.
Hang On: Why Acrylic?
We tested several transparent materials for the Glowyboard, but found the acrylic (aka, Plexiglass) works better than polypropylene or clear PVC. Acrylic doesn’t shatter like glass and can be polished if it gets scratched. Most important of all, we like that its glow is both bright and warm. Polypropylene shares many of these qualities, but it yellows gradually as it is exposed to UV rays: you can get it with a UV coating, but this gives the material a noticeable bluish cast and can’t be polished.
We recommend getting a sheet that is ¾” thick if you plan to mount it on offsets to avoid any sagging over time. It’s heavy (by which I mean it is really really heavy), but the thickness makes the glow all the more impressive.
NOTE: Wherever you buy your acrylic, be sure it is cast and not extruded. Why? Maybe cast acrylic is stronger. Can someone google it?
Part the Second — Get Your Drill Ready
On to the main event. You don’t want to just slap this 150 pound sheet on the wall and hope that it sticks. It’s not spaghetti after all. Anything delicate set beneath it (like your toes) will be crushed when it falls. With this in mind, I offer the following step-by-step instructions to do the job right.
You may have to adapt these somewhat to fit your own situation and suit your own questionable preferences.
1. Find and Mark Studs
Once you’ve decided where to place your Glowyboard, it’s time to find the studs you’ll use to secure the board to the wall. This is an important step to get right because a 4′ x 8′ acrylic sheet is going to weigh about 150 pounds and you’ll want most, if not all, of your offsets supported by studs rather than drywall anchors.
Use a stud finder to locate the studs, preferably one that can also find electrical lines: mark the studs with a strip of 1½” painters tape. Run the strips of tape from a little above the top to a little below the bottom of where you plan to hang your Glowyboard. We planned to place ours 3′ off the floor, so we ran our tape from 2¾’ to 7¼’ feet off the floor. Be sure to mark all studs spanning the entire width of your mounted board. If your studs are 16″ apart on center, this means you’ll mark 7 studs. You don’t have to hang an anchor on every stud, but marking them all now will tell you where you can anchor your Glowyboard when it comes time to choose your anchor points.
If you detect electrical lines, make note of these too so you don’t accidentally drill into them later.
2. Prepare Acrylic Sheet
EXTRA HANDS! — Unless you are strong like bull (but with hands instead of hooves, obviously), you’ll want to get some help with this part.
Now we’re going to prepare the acrylic sheet. To make this easier, put your acrylic sheet onto a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood set up over saw horses. The plywood will help support the acrylic sheet and keep it from sagging while you work on it.
NOTE: Your acrylic sheet will come protected on both front and back by a tough paper film: keep this on until you are ready to hang your sheet on the wall.
3. Mark Holes for the Glowyboard
Next we’ll mark the holes for the offset mounts you’ll use to hang the Glowyboard on the wall. We placed three on the top, three on the bottom, and one in the center of either end. We planned on placing all holes 2½” from the edge to avoid the possibility of cracking the edge of the sheet when we hung it on the wall.
The first thing to do, then, is draw straight lines 2½” from each edge directly on the paper film protecting your acrylic sheet: all of your holes will fall on this line.
Mark one long edge of the sheet as “TOP” and the other as “BOTTOM” to help you keep track of the orientation of your board once you drill your holes and attempt to mount it on the wall. This is because your studs may not run precisely parallel to each other (or perpendicular to level, for that matter); as such, the holes along the top edge will not necessarily be precisely the same distance apart as those on the bottom. It’s more important that the offset mounts are set securely in the studs than it is to be absolutely symmetrical.
To figure out where along this line to drill the holes, look at the lines of tape you’ve used to mark the location of your studs. We chose to sink one top and one bottom offset mount into the center stud (the one in the horizontal center of your Glowyboard) and one top and one bottom offset mount into each of the studs 32″ to the left and the right of the center stud. This accounts for 6 of the 8 anchor points. The final two we decided would fall onto the vertical center of the lines we drew on the left and right ends of the Glowyboard paper covering. Great! The only problem is, there weren’t studs in the wall there. We used drywall anchors in those spots.
Mark your hole locations right on the paper film protecting your acrylic sheet. Be sure that you double check the distances between the points you will drill in your board with the distances between the centers of the studs you will use to anchor your board when it is hung on the wall.
4. Drill Holes in Sheet
Now that you know where you are going to drill, you’ll want to take extra care to insure that the holes are drilled at right angles to the sheet so that your sheet will slide easily onto your mounts.
Unless you have access to a drill press with an extraordinarily large table (yeah, didn’t think so), plan on using a portable drill guide like the Wolfcraft pictured here. Use a normal ½” drill bit to make the holes. To avoid blackening or melting the acrylic around the hole, you will need to work the drill at about half speed, and stop every 10 seconds or so to let the bit cool down before continuing. Only press down hard enough for the drill to bite into the acrylic: don’t really lean into it. This means it will take you awhile to drill all eight holes, but in this case your patience will be rewarded.
NOTE: As long as the acrylic comes off in nice long white curls, you’re doing ok. If it starts to lump up or smoke, you should stop and let the drill cool for a minute or two before continuing.
5. Drill Anchor Holes in Wall
EXTRA HANDS! — Get three or four friends to help with this part.
Now we need to drill the anchor holes we will use when we screw the offset mounts into the wall.
To insure that the mounts you screw into the studs will match up precisely with the holes you’ve already drilled in the sheet, you’ll need to be able to place the acrylic sheet against the wall in the precise position it will hang.
To do this so that your extra hands don’t have to support the considerably hefty weight of the sheet for the duration of this step, you’ll place the sheet on top of several short lengths of 2×4 stud. The studs will bear the weight of the sheet and your extra hands will just be there to make sure the sheet doesn’t move (as it might if it crashed down on your head).
If your board will be 3′ off the floor, you’ll cut several (two or three should do the trick) 3′ lengths of 2×4 stud. Place these stilts on end against the wall, as in the accompanying photo. You may need to buttress these a little so they don’t fall over (i.e., away from the wall). Note also that, if your floor isn’t precisely level (ahem AWP studio floor, I’m talking to you!), your studs will need to be of slightly different heights so that your Glowyboard is truly level when hung on the wall. We used a laser level to help us mark our stilts for cutting.
Once you have your studs in place, place the acrylic sheet firmly against the wall so that it is sitting on top of the stilts: the centerline of the acrylic sheet should be aligned with the tape on the wall marking the center stud. Once the sheet is on the stilts, double check that the top of the sheet is in fact level. If not, depending on how anal retentive you are, you may feel compelled to take the sheet down and adjust the levels of your 2×4 stilts. If you do this several times, you may have to bribe your extra hands with ice cream or face the very real probability of mutiny.
Once the sheet is level and centered over the middle wall stud, double check to make sure that the holes in your acrylic sheet are over studs where you expect them to be. If so, you are ready to drill into the wall. Switch to a 3/8″ drill bit. Use the drill guide and position the drill bit precisely over the center of one of the holes in the acrylic sheet. Drill a neat perpendicular hole through through the drywall and well into the stud (at least to a depth of 2¼” from the surface of the wall). Repeat this process for the remaining holes.
NOTE: When done, place the acrylic sheet back on the saw horses, this time face down so that the paper coating on the back (the one not marked by lines) can be removed in a later step.
Part the Third — Mount the Beast
6. Prepare Offset Mounts
The offset mounts are comprised of four pieces: (1) an anchor, one end of which (the pointy end) goes into the wall, and the other which goes into the offset cylinder, (2) an offset cylinder which will sit between the wall and the acrylic sheet, (3) a screw connector, one end of which (the end which will accept a hex key) goes into the offset cylinder and the other which goes into the cap, and (4) the cap which keeps the acrylic sheet from leaping off of the wall and killing you ninja style.
Put all the screw connectors into the offset cylinders first. Make sure that the screw connectors have just enough thread showing after being screwed into the offset cylinders so that they can pass nearly all the way through the acrylic sheet (just shy of ¾”, in other words): this will allow you to screw the caps on them so that the bottoms of the caps are flush with the surface of the acrylic sheet.
Next, screw in all of the anchor screws into the free end of the offset cylinders until they make firm contact with the screw connectors inside the offset cylinders. At this point, neither the screw connectors nor the anchor screws should be able to tighten any further.
NOTE: Don’t put the caps on yet.
7. Install Offset Mounts
Screw each of your offset mount assemblies into the holes you’ve drilled into the wall using a 5/32″ hex wrench. Screw them in until the offset cylinder makes firm connection with the surface of the wall. Don’t overtighten to the point at which the offset cylinder sinks into the drywall.
NOTE: If you need to use drywall anchors for any of your offset mounts, follow the directions provided by the manufacturer.
8. Mount Sheet on Offsets
EXTRA HANDS! — Get three or four friends to help with this part.
It’s time to remove the paper covering the back of the acrylic sheet (before mounting the sheet to the wall, obviously). Once you get one edge up with your fingernail, it is pretty easy.
NOTE: Don’t use a scraper or other sharp implement for this step as it could easily scratch the surface of the Glowyboard.
Then hang the acrylic sheet up on the mounts, making sure that the front side of the sheet (the one that still has the protective paper on it) faces out into the room. You may have to jiggle the sheet a little to get all the mount screws to go through the holes in the sheet properly. When you are finished, the back of the sheet should be sitting flush against the flat heads of the offset cylinders.
Now remove the paper covering the front of the acrylic sheet (agains, no sharp tools, just your fingernails should do to get you started) and then screw the caps onto the offset mount screw connectors. Note that your extra hands may need to hold up the sheet a little in order to get the cap stem to sit properly in the hole so that the underside of the cap lies flush with the surface of the sheet.
Your board should now look more or less like this:
Part the Fourth — Lights, Camera, Action!
9. Lighting from Above or Below?
You only need to illuminate the acrylic sheet along one of the long edges. We illuminated our upstairs Glowyboard in the conference room from the top because we wanted to de-emphasize the dormer ceiling. In our production room on the first floor, however, we put the lights along the bottom to project the glow more dramatically up the wall toward the high ceiling.
Lighting from the bottom seems like it should be the default option in most case, so, to keep things simple, we will outline that process here.
10. Prepare the Light Strip
If you are using the cabLED components included in the materials list, you can use the following instructions as a general guide for setting up your lights. If you are using other products, you may need to experiment a bit to see what works well.
Using the cabLED components, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and slide an end cap on one end of the LED strip and attach a power supply connector to the other using a pair of pliers.
Cut the PVC channel to fit your 8′ LED light strip. We primed and painted our channel so that it matched the wall color: we wanted the channel to more or less disappear against the wall. Then feed the LED strip into the channel so that the lights are facing out of the channel (duh!).
NOTE: Don’t connect the RF receiver or power source to the light strip yet. They’ll only get in the way until we are ready for them.
11. Attach the LED strip to the Glowyboard
EXTRA HANDS! — Unless you’ve got hands to spare like Shiva, you’ll want three people for this part.
Place the LED strip (now snug in its channel) with the lights facing up on some old cardboard, newspaper or something that you don’t mind getting supergluey. First, note that the channel the LED strip is held in has a small lip along one edge. That side of the channel will face forward once you glue it onto your sheet of acrylic. Add a small bead of superglue along the “inside” of that lip (i.e. where the lip of the channel and the LED strip meet). Be very sparing with the superglue here: you don’t want the superglue to smear out over the LED lights in the center of the strip.
Then, with a little help from your friends, position the LED strip so that the channel lip catches the front edge of the bottom side of the Glowyboard. The surface of the LED strip should be held firmly in place against the bottom side of the Glowyboard until the glue sets after 3 to 5 minutes. If this gets tiring, delicately jam the stilts you used earlier in the process up underneath the strip to keep it in place until the glue dries.
NOTE: The superglue reacts chemically with both the PVC of the channel and the acrylic of the Glowyboard itself, so be careful not to get the glue where it shouldn’t be or it will create “scars” that you’ll end up having to polish out.
12. Walls and Grommets
When lighting your Glowyboard from below, you can either hide the power supply and RF receiver in the wall through a grommet, or just set them on a small stand at the foot of the Glowyboard.
In our case downstairs, we really liked the idea of hiding the power supply and RF receiver in the wall to keep things nice and tidy, so we cut a single grommet at the bottom of the Glowyboard and slid the hardware through it. We used electrical tape to help insure that the connections between components held together. If need be, we can always retrieve the power supply and RF receiver by pulling it back out through the grommet.
The grommet kit we reference in our materials list provides instructions for creating the grommet hole in the wall using the included hole saw bit. Our one piece of advice: choose the location of your grommet hole carefully. Don’t place it over a stud or in the path of the electric cabling running through the wall.
Once the grommet hole is cut, install the grommet bracket into the hole, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
NOTE: Don’t insert the grommet cover yet!
13. Power Up
Once you’ve prepared the grommet hole, it’s time to hook up the power! Follow the manufacturers directions to attach the power supply to the RF receiver and the RF receiver to the power connector already attached to the end of the light strip. Before tucking all that hardware into the wall, plug in the power supply and test that both the remote control and lights are working properly.
NOTE: The remote requires batteries to function. Make sure they are inserted properly, as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Next, use good black electrical tape to secure the connection between the power supply and RF receiver to make sure these two items don’t come apart when they are in the wall. Finally, make sure that the weight of your power supply / RF receiver will not strain the power supply connector attached to the end of the LED strip once they are at rest behind the wall.
14. Feed Your Grommet
Detach the RF receiver from the power supply connector attached to the LED strip. Pass the plug from the power supply through the grommet cover from the back of the cover to the front. Then, in the same fashion, pass the free end of the RF receiver cord through the bracket from back to front.
The RF receiver and power supply should now form a little loop out the back of the grommet cover. Pass the RF receiver and power supply through the grommet bracket and into the wall until it is resting comfortably on the bottom stud in the wall (what builders call the bottom plate, for reasons known only to them).
Now seat the grommet cover into the grommet bracket and plug the RF receiver cord now dangling out of the grommet into the power supply connector dangling off the end of the LED strip. Plug the power supply into a properly grounded three pronged wall outlet.
Part the Fifth — Light Em Up
15. Press the Button
Use the remote to turn the LED strip on and…Voila! You should now be basking in the soft warm glow of your very own Glowyboard.
If not, you probably did something wrong. Perhaps many things. What did you do wrong, you ask? How should I know, I’m not psychic.
Seriously though, we’d love to hear about your Glowyboard experience! Did you improve on our methods or design? Tweet it @awpny.com!