How to make Leaping Light Arches
Leaping Light arches were conceived by Kevin and Ken Maxwell. My inspiration for this project came from the arches made by LauderdaleChristmas.com and their informative PowerPoint presentation and the great videos at Holdman Christmas.
What you need;
10 foot section of 3/4 inch schedule 40 PVC pipe
8 100 light strings of lights
Male plug ends
Heat shrink tubing
I used 10 foot sections of 3/4 inch Schedule 40 PVC pipe. Each arch has 8 channels each. Leave 6 inches at each end of the pipe and the rest is divided into 8 sections (approximately 13.5 inches each). Use a marker to mark the sections. Starting with the male plug end of your lights, tape the light string to the pipe near the first light on the string at the first mark you made. Leave the plug end dangling.
Next, start tightly winding the string of lights around the pipe by turning the pipe with one hand and guiding the light string with the other. You want the bulbs to be sticking straight out and not covered by any of the wire. It should be like a spiked stick. Some people who have made arches have devised ways to turn the pipe to make this extremely tedious job easier. Variable speed drills or modified electric potato peelers are some of the ways I've seen. I chose to turn the pipe by hand. If I wasn't going to get arthritis when I get older, I'm going to get it now. The trick is to support the end of the pipe (the 6 inches without lights on it) while you turn. I flipped over a small chair and let the pipe sit on the rungs between the upturned legs. Keep in mind the pipe gets heavier with each section of lights you add, and the tension you need to keep on the light string adds to the difficulty in turning the pipe. If I were to make more, I would go the motorized assisted turning method.
Turn a few times and then stop and push the new turns together to keep them tight. Then turn a few more times. Keep going until you get to the end of the string. Hopefully you are close to your next mark on the pipe. If you are a little over or under it should be no problem. i was really particular and tried to hit the mark almost exactly every time. That meant unwinding and rewinding a few turns here and there.
Here's where I made a slight change to the way I've seen it done before. When I reached the last light on the string (at the female plug end) I wrapped a piece of electrical tape to hold the lights in place after the last light. Then I wrapped the end of the string back over the lights (being careful not to cover any bulbs). A wire tie held everything in place. I did this for 4 sets of lights. Then for the next 4 sets on the arch, I started with the female end of the lights continuing towards the end of the PVC. What this does is put the male plug ends on each half closest to the ends of the PVC.
After winding the 8 strings of lights, cut off the male plug ends. Strip your zip cord and attach a piece to each light string. I chose to solder the wires, then cover with heat shrink tubing. On the 4 plugs one side of the arch, I used enough wire to reach the end of the pipe and then added an additional 10 feet. For the 4 plugs on the other half I used enough wire to reach the end plus 4 extra feet. I chose to make the extra wire these lengths so when the PVC is in it's "arched" position, the plugs from one side will be long enough to reach the plugs from the other. Wire ties hold the zip cord in place, again being careful not to cover any of the bulbs. You should be able to feed the zip cord along the PVC to the ends by going between the bulbs.
Some people have attached their zip cord to the lights and then run it down the length of the PVC covering it with the next set of lights. While this would hide the cords, I felt each wire would result in an increase in the overall diameter of each wrap. Although the increase would be slight, after a few wires were running under the lights there would be a difference in the length of each light section and I was trying to make them all as equal as possible.
At the ends attach the new male plug ends. The ones I got from Creative Displays had vampire tap spikes inside and a very tight fitting slide on cap. It helps to number the plugs in order to speed up connecting to your light controller.
NEXT...Setup and programming tips
To setup the arches I hammerred 2 foot pieces of rebar into the ground at a slight angle leaving about 8 inches above ground. This gave enough support above ground so I didn't have to tether the arches against high winds. If your arches are bigger, or your ground is softer, you may have to use longer pieces of rebar or tether the tops of the arches to the ground to prevent them from blowing in the wind.