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diy project: letter light from curbly’s new DIY book

by Kate Pruitt

We all know that hardware stores can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re an avid DIYer. Every time I pass the rows of gleaming copper pipe, I just know there’s an amazing home decor project hiding in there somewhere, but then my eyes scan to the rope section, the molding section, the brackets, and on and on. Too many possibilities! I am so excited to see that the DIY experts at Curbly have tackled the hardware store’s rows upon rows of products in their new book, the aptly named Make It! Hardware Store Decor. This “letter light” tutorial is just one of the 12 awesome home decor projects in the book. Simple to create and the epitome of industrial chic, each project inspires me to raid the hardware store and redecorate my home immediately. Thank you to the creative folks at Curbly for sharing one of their new projects! — Kate

You can purchase the book in downloadable PDF form here. If you’re interested in giving the book as a gift (or if you enjoy the tactile experience of thumbing through pages like I do), you can order a full-color print version of the book here.

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • 1⁄4″ thick compressed hardboard, twice as large as your final design (we used a 2′ x 4′ handy panel cut in half)
  • string light set with 20 or 25 globe bulbs
  • light-duty extension cord
  • vinyl roof flashing
  • 1″ diameter dowel rod
  • spray paint
  • medium-duty picture hanging hardware


  • computer and printer
  • spray adhesive
  • electric jigsaw or coping saw
  • small clamps or binder clips
  • electric drill/driver
  • 1″ spade bit, forstner bit, or hole saw
  • long straight edge, such as a yardstick
  • utility knife
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks


1. Create your design in an image-editing or word-processing software. Use a thick, heavy typeface that’s relatively simple in shape. Try a single letter, as we did, or a typographic symbol or punctuation mark. If using multiple characters, you must be able to connect them easily to form a single piece. Then, note how the lights will fit into your shape. If you can, mark them on your design before you print it out. Scale your design across multiple pages and print off the necessary sheets.

Many image-editing suites can do this internally; if yours can’t, check out BlockPosters.com. Alternatively, you can save your image as a PDF and have it printed in large scale at the copy shop. You can also print your image onto a transparency sheet and transfer it using an overhead projector or, if you’re comfortable, just draw your image directly onto the hardboard.

2. Double up your hardboard so you can cut both pieces at once, flipping the bottom piece so the rough sides touch. Affix your design to the top piece using spray adhesive and clamp the two pieces together. Use a jigsaw or coping saw to cut out your design.

3. Use the 1″ spade bit to cut out the bulb holes from the top piece only.

4. Transfer the placement of the bulb holes by tracing them onto the bottom layer. Measure the height of the bulb receptacle of your light string, adding a 1⁄2″ or so.

Cut your 1″ dowel into pieces of this length. Glue them to the bottom layer, in between the bulb hole traces, to create supports for the top layer. Then, use the spade bit to drill a hole that will allow the male end of the extension cord to come out through the back of your art, and then attach the picture hanging hardware.

5. Measure the combined height of a single bulb and its socket. Add 3⁄4” to determine the total height of your piece (the height to which you’ll cut the vinyl flashing). Use a flexible measuring tape to measure the perimeter of your design (and add 2″ just in case).

Use a utility knife and straight edge to cut the flashing to these dimensions:

  • Height = height of bulb and socket unit + 3⁄4″
  • Length = perimeter of design + 2″

6. Heat up your hot glue gun and carefully glue the flashing along the perimeter of the bottom layer at a 90-degree angle. The heat of the gun will melt the flashing, so take your time and allow the glue to cool just a bit before adding the flashing.

7. You now have two pieces: the top layer, complete with holes for the bulb, and the bottom layer, with the sides attached and the support columns for the top. Take both pieces outside or into a well-ventilated area and spray on the paint.

8. Unplug all the bulbs in your string of lights, then sandwich the top layer between the bulb and its receptacle, using the pressure between the bulb and the light string to hold everything in place. Attach the string lights to the extension cord and feed the plug-end through the back. Using a bit of electric tape to secure the plugs will help keep everything connected inside.

Last, finagle the top layer on. The sides should keep the top secure, and not using any glue here will allow you to take it apart again and replace the bulbs as needed. Now, hang it up!

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