Western Neon Gets a "High" Rating From this Customer

Seattle pot shop goes old-school with exposed-neon sign

Andre Lucero is president of Western Neon (Seattle).
Adhesive: Two-part 403 epoxy, from Lord Adhesives (Cary, NC),
(877) 275-5673 or www.lord.com
Coating: Gray and white, acrylic-polyurethane paint, from Matthews Paint (Delaware, OH), (800) 323-6593 or www.signpaint.com; black neon-blockout paint, from Tecnolux Inc. (Brooklyn, NY), (718) 369-3900 or www.tecnoluxglass.com
Letters: Aluminum returns and backs, fabricated from 0.050-, 0.063- and 0.090-in.-thick aluminum, from such locations as Kaiser Aluminum (Trentwood, WA), (800) 367-2586 or www.kaiseraluminum.com
Installation: One x 1-in., aluminum square tubing, 0.090-in.-thick aluminum sheeting, 2 x 2-in., aluminum angle, and aluminum raceway, from such vendors as Kaiser Aluminum
Neon: White, exposed 3,000K, 15mm neon (160 linear ft.), from Tecnolux; channel-letter coil, from such vendors as Kaiser Aluminum; electronic, 12,000V/30mA transformers, from France (Fairview, TN), (800) 753-2753 or www.sfeg.com; tube support and glass #200 housings, from such vendors as West Coast Custom Designs LLC (Phoenix), (480) 820-9517 or http://prositesllcwccd.homestead.com/
Software: CorelDRAW® 7 design software, from Corel Corp. (Ottawa, ON, Canada), www.corel.com (Design), Illustrator layout software, from Adobe Corp. (San Jose, CA), www.adobe.com
Miscellaneous: Copper wire, 3M™ ScotchBrite™ pads and 80- and 120-grit sandpaper, available at hardware and home-improvement stores; Transfer tape, from such vendors as American Biltrite (Moorestown, NJ), (800) 437-8743 or www.american-biltrite.com
Our relationship with Ian Eisenberg began when we built the sign for his Sea Suds Car Wash in 2011. We’ve enjoyed a productive partnership ever since. He owns several businesses; recently, he approached our senior salesperson, Carole Alexander, about building a sign for Uncle Ike’s, a recreational-marijuana retail shop in Seattle.
It’s the second-largest, recreational-pot store among 16 Seattle locations. The name, “Uncle Ike” comes from Eisenberg’s nickname, which was given to him by his niece. The establishment, located on a prominent corner in Seattle’s Central District, serves anyone’s (who’s over 21, that is) cannabis needs. It offers a wide selection of cannabis flowers, edibles and concentrates. Next door, Uncle Ike’s Glass and Goods shop provides related accessories, and the store operates a food truck. A wide array of Uncle Ike’s apparel is available online.
A Central District resident himself, Eisenberg wanted to stay true to the neighborhood. Ian and his designer, Kevin Berger at Graphiti Assoc., wanted to create an iconic sign that would become a neighborhood landmark. According to Ian, the sign has done just that – he said, “Over 99% of the neighborhood loves the sign. We have really gotten the sense that the community wanted a visual cue like this.” After we’d conferred with our design team, everyone agreed a set of retro, neon channel letters would set the right tone. Such an old-school vibe would reference classic Seattle neon signs, such as Ivar’s Seafood Restaurant and Dick’s Drive-in.
The design
Working with a client who’d already hired a designer simplified the process for Dave Bumgarner, our shop’s designer. The biggest challenge involved the permitting process. Recreational-marijuana sales were legalized slightly more than one year ago – Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana, was officially unveiled July 8, 2014 – in Washington State; given its newness, everybody asked a lot of questions.
With the help of the client, our salesperson, designer and Washing-ton State officials, we successfully created a great sign.Our vinyl-application expert, Katy Schenold, began by creating a layout and patterns for our glass and metal shop. However, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. She had to eliminate any special effects on the design, make sure the connection points were accurate for neon operation, and verify the components could be broken apart and turned into bendable pieces.
The glass fits within the sign at 8-ft. intervals; fabricators determined where the pieces would break, how to situate housing, and then figured out the exact footage before printing out the patterns. This proved challenging because the majority of glass stayed above the raceway; ideally, you want the housing in the raceway while also keeping tube lengths reasonable. We resolved this issue by making a few of the tubes end on one side in a double-back pattern. This meant one end would be secured within a housing in the raceway, and connect to another, double-backed tube, with the end of that tube penetrating into a raceway housing.
A glass act
Our master tubebender, Zach Velkoff, bent all glass for this project. He used 15mm Tecnolux Number 7 3000K, triphosphor glass. Because we used triphosphor tubing, the sign contained more than double the phosphorescent powder an ordinary tube possesses; therefore, it’s a lot brighter!
He used warm-white tubing inside the plain-white channel letters, which feature the logo’s off-white color. The design’s typography required double-stroke script, and, because of its many slow curves, Zach used his 24-in., Hyde ribbon burner a lot!
The final glass preparation required painting the back of the neon to accentuate the words. Because they’re too big to dip, we handpainted them with a standard gray basecoat, and then painted over that with white to prevent the painted backs from standing out over the channel letters.
Heavy metal
Our lead fabricators, John Burbridge and Matt McMahon, produced the letters and raceway for Uncle Ike’s. Once they’d routed out the letter material, they bent the returns, which are channel-coiled around the flat stock with pipes for curves or small finger-brakes that generate 90° angles.
Next, they sanded the backer with 80-grit sandpaper and cleaned it off with lacquer thinner. After having found and marked the bends from the design, they riveted the backer several times. Our fabricators then measured and traced the letters’ perimeter while marking all the returns’ sharp, angled bends.
They then laid transfer tape on the flat return, putting it up to the backer and bending it to fit together nicely. They repeated this process approximately 30 times for all the letters at each 8-ft. section. They then seamed the returns on the top of the letter, which provided a cleaner aesthetic. After that, they used 3M™ Scotch-Brite™ pads to scuff and clean the letters in preparation for painting. Finally, they applied silicone to the inside edges, which prevents light leaks and provides a nice, clean seam.
Mount and skin
Next, our fabricators mounted the letters to the raceway (a framed box that holds all wiring and transformers). They built the raceway from a 1 x 1-in., aluminum square tubing skinned with 0.090-in.-thick aluminum sheeting.
They made the frame according to the design team’s furnished measurements.Next, they skinned the raceway with .090-in., 6061-alloy aluminum sheet. After this step, they turned it sideways and applied the pattern. Then, they drilled holes for the PK housing (where neon terminates), which weaves through the back of the letters, through the raceway and is secured from the inside. Once we’d mounted the letters,
they screwed in the raceway, flipped it upright and then installed kickers, which were built from 2 x 2-in., aluminum angle on the back of the raceway, which stabilizes it against the wind. Fabricators notched the angle so the parts could be brake-formed at different angles, and be removed from the raceway at the proper angle, and rest neatly flush to the letters’ backs, while securing them to the raceway. Finally, John and Matt took everything apart, sanded components with 120-grit sandpaper, and cleaned them before sending the sign to the paint booth.
The assembly
Once we’d removed the sign from the paint booth, we had white channel letters, cool-gray kickers and two raceways. The kickers and raceways were painted cool gray to blend with the background and not detract from the sign’s focus. The channel letters were separated in two pieces: “Uncl” and “Ike’s.” The “e” in “Uncle” required a detached piece, which disguises the seam between both halves once installed.
Because we’d pre-drilled the channel letters and raceway, we had a convenient process for fastening the channel letters to the raceway, as well as to attach the kickers. The holes for the housings were also already drilled for easy installation.
Next, we placed the finished glass within the channel letters, and marked where we wanted to attach the tube supports, and then installed them. We placed the wiring behind, which meant transformer installations were also done there. We ran the primary wiring out so we could plug it in and make sure everything worked correctly, and make the final connection onsite. Finally, we connected the secondary wiring to all the housings.
The installation
Because of the sign’s size, we made two trips to transport the sign and glass tubing. We installed the sign directly on top of the flat awning onsite. Once we’d secured the letters and their anchors, our installation technician, Peter Green, moved on top of the awning and set up 4 x 8-ft., wood panels, which enabled the crew to move safely.
Next, the lead installer, Gabe Ochoa, attached two eyebolts to the sign; they’re connected by a big strap that’s lifted by our 2,000-lb.-capacity crane. Once lifted, Peter guided it into place. Gabe joined Peter on the awning; together, they bolted the sections together, ran the electrical wiring through the two raceways and made the final connection.
The end
The first Uncle Ike’s sign, facing the west side of the street, was installed in December 2014. A window sign that reads “Get your pot across the lot” appeared in February. And, finally, this past September, we made them another Uncle Ike’s sign that faces the street on the south side, and another exterior sign that says, “Hey Stoner, around the corner.”
We’ve had such a good time working with a customer who’s as successful and creative as Ian Eisenberg. Each project has been fun and memorable, but Uncle Ike’s was an experience that will always stand out for us.
More about Western Neon Inc.
Michael Blazek started Western Neon (Seattle) in 1985; his brother, Jay, assumed ownership in 1989. Both brothers learned the trade from their father, Dean, who operated the Northern Wisconsin Neon Workshop and formerly authored ST’s Neon Techniques column. Dean and Michael collaborated to publish Neon: The Next Generation.
Jay Blazek served as Western Neon’s president until 2010, when he passed the torch to long-term employee Andre Lucero. Today, Western Neon employs approximately 20 team members. Its focus on high-quality craftsmanship and dedication to client satisfaction has garnered a strong following throughout Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit www.westernneon.com.