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Creating Leaping Arches with Rope Lights


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Yea, I know there are other threads about arches, but since this is using a different technique, I thought I'd create a thread for it.

This year I put together my first lighted arches. I wanted them to last a long time, so I was nervous about using incandescent mini-bulbs as they break too easily and often have to be replaced. As I experimented, it seemed I was walking on egg shells trying to to break the minibulbs as I put them on an practiced setting up an arch. Fortunately I only put on on string of old lights.

LEDs are more rugged, but strings of them still look jagged. I decided to use rope light because the bulbs are protected against the rain and they last a long time. The look of the arch is also very smooth. At first I thought they would be expensive, but when I was walking through Walmart, I saw some at $6.50 for an 18 foot long rope light. When wound tightly around a 3/4 inch PVC pipe as shown in the photos, it covers a section almost exactly two feet long. Thus a 20 foot arch could have about 9 or 10 sections.

To keep the rope tightly wound around the pipe, I use a 1 inch hose clamp at each end along with a cable tie to keep it firmly in place. The photos below only show the center section, so what you can't see is that before winding the other sections, I tape the extension cords along the pipe so they will be hidden under the rope light as I wind it around the pipe later. It provides for a very clean look. I'm really happy with the results and I wont have to worry about damaging them when stored in teh garage throughout the year or when setting up / taking down.

Attached files 159939=9282-Rope-Light-Arch.jpg

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Greg wrote:

Looks good! great idea. Do you have any trouble with heat?

Do you mean heat that the lights generate, or heat from other sources that affect the rope? I assume you mean heat from the lights. I have not noticed any significant heat being generated. It is barely warm to the touch after being on a while. These Walmart lights don't generate much heat. Even so, it gets very cool out here at night, so I would not expect heat to be an issue.
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Richard Your rope light idea is awsome. However I just spent the last Two days rapping my arches with mini lights and cursing the whole time. I knew I should have gotten on line earlier. I still might change them over because I'm only half done with the arches. Longevity is important to me also. Thanks for the idea.

Mike and Patti 128 channels of LOR

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Yeah,

I was wondering if the lights would generate alot of heat. I made some stars this year with rope from action lighting and noticed if they were coiled for awhile it would generate alot of heat.

I may try to build some of these for next year, Looking forward to see some video of the finished product.

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Greg wrote:

Yeah,

I was wondering if the lights would generate alot of heat. I made some stars this year with rope from action lighting and noticed if they were coiled for awhile it would generate alot of heat.

Yo Greg, one other thing to consider that I forgot to mention. Consider the purpose of the lights. Since they are on arches, I don't think it would matter how much heat the lights generate anyway. I have noticed some brands will generate much more heat than others... especially when coiled as you mention.

However, I doubt that many people will keep the arches on solidly all the time. After all, the whole idea is to make them leap, so each section should be on for only a short period of time.. I suppose there might be times when you have them on solidly during a song or between shows, but if heat becomes a problem, then don't have them on full bright. Frankly, I doubt you would ever need to do that.

For my display, I will not have the arches on between shows because I don't want to give away the surprise effect. I do the same with shooting stars, strobes, and some other items. They are off most of the time.
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mike and patti wrote:

Richard Your rope light idea is awsome. However I just spent the last Two days rapping my arches with mini lights and cursing the whole time. I knew I should have gotten on line earlier. I still might change them over because I'm only half done with the arches. Longevity is important to me also. Thanks for the idea.

Mike, I feel your pain. When I was experimenting with an old set of lights, I could see it was going to be a problem. Then at one point, the arch fell over and 5 of the bulbs broke ON THE GRASS !!! Toooooo delicate. That's when I said no more of this design and started thinking about another approach.

You got your arches going and that is a good thing. You know the ole Mark Twain Adage... "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Perhaps you discovered a better way to wind, install, and store lights than I did. Maybe they will work next year too. My worry is that they will break or that water will get into the sockets and they won't last long. I'm hoping mine will last 5 years or more.

NOTE: One thing I did was to buy 5% more rope lights than I actually needed. I know they will eventually wear out since they are incandescant bulbs, so I want to have some spares to replace a section if I need to. I think that regardless of what type of lights you use, keep some spares handy and tag them for that purpase because if you have to replace a section next year, a newly purchased set of lights might be brighter or dimmer and that is going to look weird in your arch !
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Folks, I came back to give an update, now that I have built all of my arches. I have some tips. This turned out being a LOT easier than I thought, and they are a lot more rugged than my experiment with the "minibulb arch from hell." I got really frustrated trying that a couple weeks ago. The rope light is much better. The interesting thing is that those Walmart 18 feet long lights wrap araound 3/4 pipe to a length of almost precisely 2 feet long. So if you have a 20 foot arch, you have 10 sections. Frankly, I think a 16 foot arch looks about right, and it is exactly 8 channels. Or if you want to double-wrap a string, you can get 1 foot increments with a bit more brightness. I made my arches smaller (10 feet long), so they will look better scaled to the lawn. I chose the "Crystalled" version of rope light. It looks good.

Here are tips if you go this route...
1. Measure and mark off the 2 feet sections on the pipe with ink marker before you begin.

2. Use hose clamps (often called worm-gear clamps) of 1/2 to 1 /14 inch opening. Put clamps in approximate location with the tie-wraps under them the on pipe before you begin wrapping.

3. Anchor one end of the pipe to prevent it from spinning while you wrap it. Or have a helper.

4. Tighten the rope light electrical fittings immediately because they seem to be very loose right out of the box.

5. Don't bother to uncoil the light from the box. Slip it over the end of the pipe & begin wrapping. Leave the tags on the rope light until you have completely set them up. Note: I left the lights on for about 10 minutes BEFORE I started wrapping them. This lefts me test the lights out of the box and they will get slightly warm and more pliable

6.Wrap the rope NOT tightly around pipe. This will let you "compress" it better. Compressing coils close together is more important than a tight wrap if you want exactly 2 foot sections.

7. Connect the ends of rope light to hose clamp with cable ties.

8. Lastly, I light ALL of the sections fully for about 15 minutes before bending the pipe and mounting. The lets the pipe not be so brittle from cold weather and lessens the chance of breaking. My 10 foot arches are bent enough so the ends are anchored about 5 feet apart in the ground.

Note: The reason I said to leave tags on rope light is because I got one right out of the box that had a section of lights not working in the rope light. So I took it back. Fortunately out of 25 boxes, only one had a problem. I tested the lights before I started and after I was finished wrapping.

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Dan Ancona wrote:

Rich, Could you post a picture of a part between two secitons? I'd like to see how you handled the conections / wiring to the end of the arch.

Hi Dan, I will have to post more photos later as I am already out of town, so all I can do for now is check the boards in the next two weeks.

I'll tell you quickly that what I do is to tape thin extension cords the pipe before I wrap it and they exit at the point between the center sections. I only put cords for the center 3 sections because the rope light cords near the end are long enough. Beside, the rope light cords are too bulky to run under the rope light. They are also white and they don't show. I tie wrap they to the back side of the pipe so they are not easily spotted.

And Fred, yes they do look nice and smooth when wrapped. They almost look like those spurting water spouts in theme parks that kids play in.
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Rope light would make the pipes awfully heavy and coiling rope light like that shortens the life of the lamps, perhaps not significantly when single layered and outdoors but it does. Try leaving one coiled up and see how long it lasts. Don't touch it with your bare hands though, you may get burned.

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Madhatter wrote:

Rope light would make the pipes awfully heavy and coiling rope light like that shortens the life of the lamps, perhaps not significantly when single layered and outdoors but it does. Try leaving one coiled up and see how long it lasts. Don't touch it with your bare hands though, you may get burned.

Well, it seems that mine are just fine. I wieghed a ten-foot section and it was about 8 pounds. No, noi, no, coiling the rope like that does not shorten the life of the lamps. Somehow you have gotten wrong information about that. Perhaps you are talking about some other type of rope light. There is barely enought heat on this thing to even notice it is warm, much less burn your hand. I also think you are forgetting the fact that arches are used for effects and they are on very short amounts of time. Evem so, during testing, I left mine on for 4 hours constantly in the garage to gauge the effect. I oserved nothing unusual.
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I built one last night and it works fine also. I'm using 3w ropelight instead of 6w. I'll be putting a shiny garland on the backside to use as a reflector. The garland should hide the power connections pretty well too.

I'll try to get a video of it soon.

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Richard Hamilton wrote:

Well, it seems that mine are just fine. I wieghed a ten-foot section and it was about 8 pounds. No, noi, no, coiling the rope like that does not shorten the life of the lamps. Somehow you have gotten wrong information about that. Perhaps you are talking about some other type of rope light. There is barely enought heat on this thing to even notice it is warm, much less burn your hand. I also think you are forgetting the fact that arches are used for effects and they are on very short amounts of time. Evem so, during testing, I left mine on for 4 hours constantly in the garage to gauge the effect. I oserved nothing unusual.


Gee, after going back and reading my post above, my English teacher would have been embarrassed. I'll have to be more careful about checking the spelling. I apologize to the readers. I should not try to create a post when hurrying to get out the door. Too bad the board doesn't allow editing posts for a bit longer time than 60 minutes. Too late to correct my spelling mistakes. Yes, I use one of those programs to convert speech to text, so it isn't always reliable.... but it is fast!

Yup, peter I will get some video in a couple weeks on the operating rope lights. I am out of town right now.
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Westport Lights wrote:

I built one last night and it works fine also. I'm using 3w ropelight instead of 6w. I'll be putting a shiny garland on the backside to use as a reflector. The garland should hide the power connections pretty well too.

Nice idea about the garland. I'd like to see that. Glad to hear you had good look too. 3 Watt ! Hmmm, sounds like an LED rope light to me? Otherwise they would not be very bright.
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Madhatter wrote:

It isn't the hollow snake light stuff is it? Just a string of lights in a single layer plastic tube? I use a lot of rope light, duralight and lumalite , It's heavy stuff, certainly heavier than yours is.

Hmmm. Maybe we are talking about two different products. The ones I am using are from Walmart. Cheap stuff... about $6.50 for 18 feet. It does not seem to be that heavy and certainly does not generate much of any heat even when on all the time. Yea, I think the heavy stuff might not work... especially if people use the gray electrical pipe. I use the white pvc stuff just for the reason that it is a lot stiffer and isn't sagging with the lights on it.
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Here's a video of mine: No garland to cover the connections or to act as a reflector yet, but you'll get the idea.





It's 1/2" 2-wire Flexilight Clear Rope Light.



I used 3/4" Sch40 Gray PVC Pipe. I used the hose clamps in a similar fashion at the beginning of this tread, After placing the hose clamps, I staggered SPT-2 wire along the outside of the pipe, then secured them to the pipe using electrical tape. This makes the pipe thicker and hides the wires. If someone was to do this without hiding the wires, I'd say to use 1" or 1-1/4" pipe instead because the ropelight can't be wrapped too tight.

My rope light is not tight against the pipe, it's only snug enough to eliminate slop. You'll notice the first channel has a few bulbs out in the middle from wrapping too tight. That was my first one and that's how I found out about wrapping too tight.

It is fairly heavy, but I'll be using 4` rebar with about 1-1/2` in the groud. I'll be spacing these roughly 6ft end to end and use fishing line to stablize it also.
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Westport. It looks nice. It will be nice to see what it looks like at night and mounted in the lawn.

I guess I got lucky. Out of the 5 arches I built, I did not have any lights go out on me due to wrapping, but as I mentioned earlier, I did have one malfunction right out of the box (manufacturing defect). I also use 2 feet of rebar as suggested in this thread. It supports the whole arch without any additional support. I put 1 foot of rebar in the ground and 1 foot in the pipe.

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