Display construction techniques

This page will attempt to explain various construction techniques used by different people to make their Christmas light displays. I'm hoping to keep adding to this page to give people many options.

If anyone has any new and proven techniques, please send them to me so they can be added here. Thanks!

Gallery of all construction technique images

Plastic tubing

Using indoor light sets of various lengths (20s, 35s and 50s) and stuffing them into clear plastic tubing makes for very durable display figures that will last year after year. Cut the tubing every 1.5" inches about halfway through (not all the way through) and then stick the lights in. Before the lights go in the tubing a piece of solid copper wire goes in the tubing first so the tubing can be bent into the shape desired. Here's the sequence:

  1. Design a figure making the lengths as close to 1.5" intervals as possible. Also try to make the number of lights you use as close to a full set of lights as you can so you don't have any extra lights that need to hidden.
  2. Cut tubing to the length needed. Can be many different pieces.
  3. Cut slots halfway through the tubing every 1.5 inches.
  4. Insert sold copper wire (AWG12 works the best) through tubing and leave 1 to 2 inches of extra wire on each end.
  5. Insert the lights into each slot in the tubing.
  6. Bend into shape desired.
  7. Attach all pieces together with extra copper wire hanging out of ends.

Here's a closeup picture of a finished "snowball" made using this technique.  Click on the picture to get an even closer look:

daytime_snowball_closeup.jpg (133770 bytes)

The tubing is 1/2" inside diameter clear plastic tubing with a 1/16" wall thickness. It can be obtained for about $0.16 a foot and usually in 100 foot lengths (cost: about $16.00)

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Corrugated plastic sheets (fluted plastic sheets - "coro")

Editor's note: the following is courtesy of tarzan@rttinc.com:

This is an excellent way to construct detailed figures that would be difficult with any other technique I have found. It consists of using corrugated plastic sheets or "Corrulite". This material is very much like cardboard but made from plastic. Here in Canada it can easily be obtained from "Totem Building Supplies." They list this product as "Fluted Plastic Sheets". Otherwise, Drew and I were successful in locating this material at a sign shop. It is a cheap material to use, easily cut into whatever shape you desire, and lasts forever. You can but a 4x8 sheet of this stuff for anywhere between $7.00 - $15.00. So, here is how you go about building:

  1. Start by drawing out your design on the plastic. I recommend using a dry-erase marker to do this because you can just wipe it off of this material if you make a mistake.
  2. Once you are satisfied with your drawing simply cut it out with a utility knife. It cuts easily and makes very nice, neat edges. No need for saws or the like.
  3. Go around all your lines that you drew earlier and put a dot every inch (This is your light spacing. This measurement can be increased if you do not want to use as many lights. Do not exceed 2.5 inches.) Remember to try and space your lights out so that you can use whole sets of lights so that you do not end up trying to hide the extras.
  4. Punch small holes through the plastic where your dots are with a nail-set. You could also use a large nail.
  5. Now that all the holes are there, you can just go around with your light sets and slide the lights into the holes. One thing to note here is that the holes should not be to big. You want the lights to fit in tight.  Do the whole design and if you do end up having a few extra lights left over, simply wrap them up and attach them somewhere on the back. But try to use all the lights! You want to have as many lights as possible, right?  Here's a picture: HOW_TO.JPG (39909 bytes)
  6. Your design is complete! Now you just need to mount it. Go out and grab some scraps of 2x4's no longer than 6". Drill a hole through the long side (6") and insert a piece of concrete re-bar (I believe that this is 1/4" so drill the holes accordingly) Now the tricky part. Depending on the design you made, this could be easier or harder. You need to find two spots on the back of your design where you can place two 2x4 pieces vertically. Depending on your design you make need to have 2 or three pieces of re-bar holding it up. This means that for each chunk of re-bar used, you will need to find 2 places for the 2x4's.
  7. Attach these 2x4's to the back of the display be screwing through the front. I recommend using large washers on the front so that the screws do not pull through.
  8. Now slide your pieces of re-bar through the 2x4's and trim them all the same length. Try and leave at least 2' of re-bar so that it can be pushed into the ground and still hold the display off the ground.
  9. Stand your display in your yard wherever you like and push the re-bar into the ground.
  10. PLUG IT IN! Enjoy...

Here are a few more pictures to explain what a finished project looks like (a snowflake) and how the re-bar and 2x4's look:

FLAKE_UP.JPG (47941 bytes)

  SANTA_B.JPG (52888 bytes)

These displays could also be hung from you walls by hanging them like pictures. Just attach a piece of wire to the back and hang it on your walls. They can also be mounted on the roof but this is another lesson....

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me at tarzan@rttinc.com

Other research completed by Drew:

I was once asked "Why not use black coro instead of white?"  After seeing how visible the white was at night I had to admit that black might be a better alternative.  So I set out to discover which was better.  I set up a test one night using both clear and red mini bulbs and took some pictures.

This first picture was taken with the lights in the room on:

Second picture had some time exposure added to it:

Third picture was with lights in the room turned off and some time exposure:

First picture using red bulbs with lights on in the room and just a touch of time exposure:

Second picture with lights in the room turned off and some time exposure:

The decision of which to use can depend on the environment it will be used in, what the display is made to look like, and the preference of the "artist" making the display.  Ultimately it's up to you to decide which color of coro is better....

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Brick clips

Here are pictures of some brick clips purchased for Christmas1998.  I believe these could possibly be made out of computer slot covers:

                   Brick side:                                      Front view:                             Side view:

As one can see there are two "fingers" that act as springs on one end and the "teeth" that grab the other side of the brick.  Then there are two tabs that stick out so one can hang things on them. 

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Rope light

I wanted to use rope light in a display or two because I thought it would save me some time.  Rather than having to punch individual holes for each and every bulb in the plastic sheets (coroplast) I could just tie rap the rope light to the plastic sheets.  I discovered that while it is quick and easy to work with, you cannot use it in lengths shorter than 18" (and thus 18 lights).  For some effects it's easier to use individual lights.  That got me to wondering how individual lights and rope lights would look side by side.  So I did a few tests and took some pictures:

I thought they appeared very similar and used this technique to create the snowman display for Christmas 2000.  Individual bulbs were used for the faces, the snow splatter on the faces, and the hats.  Everything else was made out of rope light.  Yes the individual bulbs aren't quite as bright as the rope light but they got the job done and I was happy with the results.

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Pop/Soda/Soft drink cans

Editor's note: the following is courtesy of animalhouse6@earthlink.net:


Here are the items you need to make a snowflake:

The number of cans you use will depend on how big you make your display.  I made a small 2 foot snowflake because it was easier.

On a flat surface lay out the cans in the design you want.  Look around on the internet and find a design or designs you want to do - nothing too intricate, just keep it simple.  Set the cans on their bottoms (just like you normally would) in the design you have chosen.  Use the liquid nails, which you can get a Home Depot or Lowes, along with the caulk gun, and run a pretty thick line of the stuff down the sides of the cans and press the cans together.  Use it just like glue - the more you use the more stable it will be.  Now this part is VERY important, let it dry in a warm place for 2 days!!

Next, cut a piece of chicken wire the size of the snowflake.  Do this during the 2 days of drying.  Be careful as the chicken wire is sharp.  It's a good idea to wear gloves.  Use the white spray paint to paint the sides of the cans white.  IMPORTANT! - don't get the paint on the bottoms of the cans.

When the snowflake is dry lay the custom cut piece of wire on the top of the cans and use the screws and washers to attach it to the cans.  Just screw them right into the cans all over the display.  The more you use the better it will be.  This will give it wonderful stability and allow you to hang it.

After it has dried and cured and you have attached the wire, turn it over gently.  Plug in your glue gun and let it heat up completely.  Dispense enough hot glue until it is the size of a quarter and press 1 miniature light into the glue with the flat side of the light down.  HOLD THERE UNTIL IT IS SECURED.  I make the lights go in all the same direction on each stem.  Some lights will have to be unused so you can go from stem to stem.  I just black those out with black paint.  Glue the lights until all the cans have a light glued to them.

These can be hung anywhere.  When you hang it in a tree the chicken wire and the wire of the lights cannot be seen.  I have used lights with green wire and white wire and the white looks better but the green looks fine, too.  You really can't see the wire.

Christmas Tree:

Cut plywood to fit the back and attach with liquid nails and screws.  This gives it stability so it can be free-standing.  Simply lay the cans out first and work with them until you get them like you want them.

Make one horizontal row of cans at a time.  Then glue the rows together.  The lights on the tree in the picture are solid green.  The trunk and star are white and I have solid red lights blinking on it that I just draped on it.  This one is 9 feet tall and I have one that is 25 feet tall.

Use the methods described above to attach the lights to the cans.


To make letters just lay cans out first, liquid nail them together, and then let them totally dry.  Next straighten out clothes hangers, cut them to the length of the letter, and criss cross them.  I usually use two pieces of hanger.  Hot glue the hangers to the backs of the letters - this allows the letters to hold their shape.  You can't really see the hangers at night.

Use the methods described above to attach the lights to the cans.

I drove stakes in the ground and attached the letters to the stakes using duct tape or plastic ties.

Changing bulbs:

The lights pop off pretty easily with a butter knife.  Just peel the hot glue off, replace the bulb and hot glue the bulb back on the can.

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Last modified on 02/04/01