|- American Flag V2 -
|Our first American flag was born out of the 9/11 terror attacks. It was our son's idea, and we whipped it out quickly for the
2001 season. The first Christmas LEDs were showing up in stores at the time, and we used red LEDs for the red stripes and
white and blue incandescents for the rest. Even with the red LEDs, the flag pulled almost 8 amps with it's 3150 bulbs. You
could actually feel a wave of heat hit you in the face when you plugged it in. We used peg board with a frame made out of
2x2s and hot-glued the bulbs in place. The flag was built before we computerized the display and was just one channel. See
below for three photos of AF-V1.
|Click image for hi-res photo
|With a lot of TLC, AF-V1 flag lasted for 6 seasons. We had to repaint the blue bulbs with stained glass paint multiple times.
The original red LED's had removable bulbs and as we all learned, that was a major reliability issue (corrosion). We finally ran
out of spares and the flag ran the entire 2006 season with a bad 50 bulb red segment. At that point we knew that we would
need to build a new one for the 2007 season.
Lessons Learned from AF-V1
We should have primered and painted all wood components front and back (we only painted the front to match the house)
The 2x2" frame was too weak. The flag flexed too much.
Enhancements for AF-V2
Now that we were using LOR, let's animate this thing! We made each stripe a separate channel and the stars and blue field
their own channels for a total of 15 channels. This allowed us to ramp and fade individual stripes and give the flag a waving
All LEDs! We chose M5 LEDs from Creative Displays Inc. for all of our LEDs. The flag no longer needed a dedicated circuit as its
power consumption dropped down to 0.8 amps. Also no more bulb painting as the colors will never fade.
Used 2x4s for the frame instead of 2x2s
Painted and caulked the entire thing before gluing in lights.
"Bumpers" on the side with the lights to protect them in case the flag fell on its face.
Because we anticipated high reliability of the LEDs (so far, so good...) we cut off plugs and soldered strings together to improve
reliability with the connectors (a major issue with V1). This also saved a little weight and made the wiring less messy.
Issues and regrets for AF-V2
The 2x4s and the heavier wire gauge and diode "blobs" made the flag much heavier.
Also, because we made each stripe an individual channel, we had a lot more extra lights that needed to be "blacked out". You
can see the difference in wire density comparing photos of V1 and V2.
For the white stripes and stars, we chose warm white LEDs so they would match with our incandescents. In 2008, we made
the decision to make all white LEDs pure white, and now the flag looks funny with warm white stars and stripes. We have also
switched to 5mm concave for all new LED purchases and we use Valerie at www.christmas-leds.com exclusively. She also does
an off-season pre-sale/bulk purchase like CDI.
Go here for a handy worksheet that gives proper American Flag dimensional ratios. It will also let you plug in a height and then
calculate all other dimensions for you.
Our size criteria: I wanted 3 rows of lights per stripe, and it had to fit on something less than a 4x8 sheet of peg board. Given
the 1" hole spacing on a sheet of peg board, the height for our flag had to be 39". The actual 2x4 frame has to be bigger
because the 2x4s have to be outside of all the holes for the lights, because they are inserted from the back side. This gave us
an overall dimension of 78x42" for the flag. Here is the frame ready for caulk and paint. Note the 90 deg metal braces on each
corner. They help a lot with rigidity.
The stars are an issue in that they are the only component that require special holes to be drilled. I used 6 bulbs per star.
One for the center and 5 for the points. I created a drill template, so all I had to do was mark the center point for each star
and then I could quickly bang out all six holes.
|More about the rails and bumpers. In the top photo you can see the top
rail bolted to the top bumper with a long 1/4-20 bolt and wing nut. The
rails are 2x2x8'. One on top and one on the bottom. Two removable
bolts per rail. What do the rails do? Make it WAY easier to move the
flag and make it possible to get it to the second floor.
|AF-V1 in 2004. We had just repainted all the blue bulbs. I used the tungsten setting on the
camera, thus making the whiltes look less yellow.
|Sometimes the star holes match perfectly (center) and other times, not so much.
|It's important to do the stars first. You'll never get them in right if you do the blue first. Just a dab of hot glue on one side, and
then hold in place until the glue sets. Very time consuming. Use zip ties where necessary to keep things as neat as posslble.
|As mentioned with the stars, waiting for the glue on each bulb to cool takes a long time (if you don't hold the bulb straight, the
wire will pull it and it will set in a crooked position). I created a fixture for the long straight runs than sped things up
significantly. Using excess peg board, I cut three strips of ten holes each. I laminated these together (with the holes lined up)
to make my fixture. I would then put this fixture underneath the flag and align it with the holes in the flag that I wanted to
glue bulbs into. This allowed me to put in 10 bulbs in a row without having to hold each one because the fixture was keeping
the bulbs aligned. Note that the strips for the fixture have to be less than 1.5 inches wide to keep from interfering with
previously installed bulbs. It's hard to see in the picture on the left, but the flag has "bumpers" on the top and bottom that
offset the flag surface so the ground (or table) won't press on the bulbs. As mentioned earlier, I soldered strings together, so
on the board you see: glue gun, soldering iron, heat gun, Dr. Pepper, and an old iPod (required for this tedious work). I always
keep the lights plugged in when working to quickly note if there is any type of failure during assembly. Finished flag on the
right with rails mounted to help with the lift to the second floor. That is not me, it's my BIL.
|Since I'm writing this in April, I don't have any photos of "The Lift" to the second floor and text will have to suffice. To get the
flag to the second floor, we first place two saw horses about three feet apart on the ground floor. Then we place the flag in
"portrait mode" on the saw horses and lean it up against the gutter on the roof. The rails are required to lean against the
gutter. We then get up on the roof (absolutely a two-man job). The rails extend a couple of feet above the gutter. Each
person grabs a rail and on the count of three pulls up and back, and the rails slide along the gutter with the lights protected
from rubbing by the bumpers and the rails. This may not work if you have plastic gutters. In other words, don't blame me if
your gutters get messed up....
We then discuss which way to rotate and pivot to get the flag in proper orientation, make the move and then get the flag to its
mounting position. At this point, we remove the rails and put them away until it is time to take the flag down.
|The flag is attached to the house via two plastic coated wires on the top (left and right sides) and one on the bottom
(middle). They attach via caribiners to eye-bolts that are mounted to the house. Also note in this picture that the bolts that
hold the rails are recessed so the flag can slide easily on the gutters during the lift. We tilt the flag slightly downward to
give a better view from the ground. This was more important with AF-V1, as the red LED's were very directional. It's not as
important with M5 bulbs.
|Plugs are color coded red, white, and blue as well as labeled with channel number.
|AF-V2 with icicles overlapping.
|AF-V1 in 2004 - showing the flag in reference to the rest of the display.
Please note that we display the American Flag out of love of country, and not to promote any specific political ideology.