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Eric E. Larsen

Wizards, Magicians and Secrets

A fabricator’s experiment with LED strips solves a problem.




Dave Feuerstein practicing the “light arts” of his wizardry.

SOMETIMES IN OUR industry a product is designed for a certain use, then the fabricators use it for something else. The wizards in our signshops have tricks they keep close until they perfect them before sharing with others — nothing wrong with that. Over the years I have seen many ideas start during a lunch break being scratched out on a piece of paper, then later become SOP.

Wagner Electric Sign Co. (Elyria, OH), is working on a theater renovation project in Scottsbluff, NE that I designed. The theater board was adamant about not using neon for the marquee like the original. A propensity for hailstorms had consistently damaged the exposed neon.

The challenge looked simple enough: Some of the larger letters were 48 in. tall and without tight corners. The smaller letters, however, presented more of a problem at 17 in. tall. Compared to just a few years ago, finding outdoor LEDs to look like exposed neon is getting easier — if you have a big letter to use it on. Most options can be bent without damaging the internal electrical components; it’s much harder to find options for small letters with very tight corners and curves. Companies are looking into it and improving their products for just such a use…

But that doesn’t help us today with the current project. So, what did we do? We obtained several types of outdoor flexible LEDs and experimented. As we thought, some weren’t compatible with what we wanted to do. The curves were too tight and some had mounting issues that just didn’t fit for a small, outlined letter. One product that we found, however, “kind of” fit what we needed. The mounting was an issue and the product itself was not meant to be bent as tightly as we wanted.

This is where one of our fabrication wizards came to the rescue. Dave Feuerstein has been in the sign industry for many years and could write a book on fabrication techniques. He gathered a few strips of the LEDs, mounting clips and a letter we had fabricated, then disappeared behind a black curtain to perform his magic. Well, it was a welding curtain but still you get the picture. A while later, Dave reappeared with a perfectly outlined letter with tight corners and sweeps that looked amazing.

Dave had studied the pieces’ internal electrical structure, then found a way to bend the components without damaging the LED strip. He also manipulated the mounting clips to accommodate the tight corners and sweeps. The product was not meant to be used the way Dave had devised, but it solved our problem and created a look the customer likes.


The product we are using is Principal LED Street Wrap Flex. It has a much smaller diameter than most outdoor-use LED strips. It bends side to side with a recommended bend radius of 2.36 in., but done correctly and with patience, that radius can go tighter by custom-cutting the mounting clips and placing them to accommodate the tighter turns.

Jim Troe from Van Ladder mentioned to me in a recent phone conversation how the more experienced fabricators and magical installers (his words, not mine) take everyday materials and situations and work with them in ways no one hears about.

Fabricators like Dave Feuerstein learn from experience and curiosity. Their minds work differently from those in the office or on the road selling. Our situation in Scottsbluff proves that if you give someone the right tools, materials and the freedom to experiment, problems will get solved using wizardry possessed in secret.





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