Hang ’Em High

The most challenging aspect of the project wasn’t software or electrical, but mechanical. How to suspend all these strips while simultaneously meeting several seemingly incompatible criteria?

  • Keep the strips all facing “flat,” but still allow for a bit of twist.
  • Durable enough to withstand the occasional tug of the curious; won’t snap or tear.
  • Doesn’t rely on the wires for load-bearing.
  • Nonconductive; doesn’t short the electrical parts.
Wasn’t satisfied with some 3D printed and laser-cut parts. Brought home about half the items in the hardware store to experiment with…
The winner? Fiberglass measuring tape, of all things. Must be fiberglass tape! Vinyl tape isn’t as strong, and anything paper-based would go pulpy in a humid setting. Plastic pallet strapping tape might also be a good choice.

I bought several tapes, cut off the first inch (with the metal tab) and cut the remainders into 10" lengths.
These were doubled over to form a loop for hanging. The leader needed to be rolled in order to fit down the sleeve…narrower tape would avoid that.

A 1" piece of heat-shrink tube (1/2" diameter) is slid over the strip, close to the end.
The tape gets crammed down the back of the strip…the side without NeoPixels.

Make sure the distance is the same on every strip, so they all hang at the same height to form a grid. Also, enough contact area for durability. 1.5 inches felt about right.
Hot-melt glue is squeezed down into the strip, both front and back, then the heat-shrink tube is slid over the end and finished with a heat gun.

This is a balancing act. The tape will melt if exposed to too much heat, but the tubing won’t properly shrink with too little. Practice with some scrap pieces first to find the proper heat setting and distance.
These loops bear the weight of the strips, reducing strain on the wires and solder joints.
The tail ends of the strips also need to be sealed using hot glue and shrink tube. Immediately after heating, pinch the tip flat using pliers to seal it, and trim away any excess after it cools.

Having been stored on reels, the strips tend to have some curl to them. A little extra weight at the tip can help…something like these tiny glass marbles (glass = nonconductive) can go inside the heat-shrink. Totally optional though, maybe not worth the extra effort.
All this manhandling and hot glue can be rough on the strips. Hate to say this, but you may want to repeat the Arduino test on all of them. It’s easier to resolve problems now than when the whole curtain is assembled.
This guide was first published on Aug 11, 2014. It was last updated on Aug 11, 2014. This page (Hang ’Em High) was last updated on Aug 31, 2019.