Christmas Lights 2012

This year marks my first attempt at animating my Christmas light display, and the first element I am building is a MegaTree. I built the center pole from scratch, using a lot of stuff I had on hand. Unfortunately, I used up all my 2″ steel tubing building a punkin chunkin trebuchet with my son, but that’s another story. I got more from Revelation Steel in Greeley. Here are some pictures and a description of what I did.

This is the entire tree. The center pole is built out of 2″ square steel tubing with 3/16″ thick walls. You can’t see it in this picture, but there are actually 4 different sections. Each section has a 12″ piece of 1.5″ steel tubing welded inside the 2″ tubing, with 6″ of it sticking out. This allows the sections to just slip together while allowing very little side-to-side movement for each section. This also allows the hook head to travel the full height of the center pole.

The bottom section is 4′ long and has the winch bolted to it. It has a 6″ x 6″ piece of steel plate welded to the bottom so that the pole doesn’t sink into the ground. This plate has 4 holes drilled in the corners so that I can drive stakes through them to make sure the base of the pole does not move. Between the weight of the center pole itself and the lights, I don’t think it will go anywhere.

There are two 6′ sections that provide most of the height. I should be able to increase the height next year by just adding more sections. Although, the size of the tree fits in nicely with my other decorations in front of the housee. Maybe I will leave this one like it is, and build a bigger one for the back yard next year!

Finally, there is a 2′ section on the top that holds the hook head pulleys and the guy-wire attach points. The guy-wire attach points are just 4 pieces of 1″ channel welded to each side of the very top of the section. Each piece has a hole drilled at the end to attach the top of the guy-wires. The hook head pulleys slide over a piece of all-thread welded to the side of the tubing about 1′ down from the top. I need to rethink this a little for next year. I would like to add a star at the top, but I’m not sure how to best do this with my current design.

Here is a close up view of the hook head raised most of the way to the top of the center pole. In this picture I have just a single string of lights on it.

The tree sits in the center of my circle drive. When we first put the pole up, I used 4 of those screw-in stakes you use for dogs to hold the guy-wires. I wasn’t comfortable that those would hold up in a big wind, so I attached anchors to the inside of the concrete shoulder around the inside of the circle drive. The turnbuckles allow me to tighten up the guy-wires as they stretch or the center pole settles in the ground. The guy-wires are 1/8″ uncoated steel cable. Now I will be able to sleep at night.

I built the hook head myself. The center section is a piece of 3″ square steel tubing that I cut down and welded to sleeve loosely over the center pole. I bent a piece of 1/4″ x 1.5″ steel strap into a 12″ circle and welded that around the square tubing, braced in 5 places with more of the 1/4″ by 1.5″ strap. To raise and lower the hook head, two 1/8″ uncoated steel cables attach on either side of the center tube through holes drilled in 2 of the braces. The cables go up over the pulleys at the top and then back down to a small triangular piece of steel with holes drilled in 2 of the corners. The single winch cable attaches to the third point of the triangular piece of steel. The hole for the winch cable is much larger so that I could use the hook that came with the winch. The winch is just a plain old Harbor Freight 1000 lb. winch.

For the base ring, I decided to use an old 12′ trampoline frame. I found one for a decent price on craigslist. Then I painted it black and bolted all the sections together so it won’t come apart. The frame had separate leg pieces that I was able to easily shorten, so now it sits just 18″ off the ground. This gets it off the ground enough that I won’t have an issue with snow. Here in Parker, CO it’s not unusual to have a foot of snow on the ground around the holidays. I was also able to reuse the spiral dog stakes that I had originally planned to use for the guy-wires. Just one on each support keeps the base ring from moving. I used hose clamps to attach the trampoline legs to the dog stakes.

I used velcro strips to attach the light strings to the base ring. This keeps the strings from getting pinched, and makes it easy to adjust the length of each string so that the tension is even all the way around. The only problem I have run into so far with this setup is that a big wind will move the strings around a little, and I have to adjust the spacing after a wind event.

To control the show, I am using hardware and software from Light-O-Rama. It is a pretty standard setup, with 4 controllers total for this year.

The inside of the circle drive is lined with 24 sets of 3-count candy cane lights. Every 2 sets are connected together. I use 12 channels of 1 controller to run these. Maybe next year I will try building some leaping arches to replace these…

For the lights on the tree, I am using 100-count C6 LED strings. I have 12 strings each of 4 different colors (red, blue, green, white) for 48 strings total. The tree is only 16′ tall, so each string runs from the base ring up to the hook head and back down about 1′ over. With this setup, the pattern of the lights is: red, blue, green, white, red, blue, green, white, etc. At the base ring, the connection points are about 3″ apart, so the tree looks nice and full. I debated whether or not to run the strings back down right next to each other, giving a pattern of: red, red, blue, blue, green, green, white, white. I didn’t try it that way, mainly because I thought some of the single-color light sequences would not flow as well. Each string is on a separate channel, so it takes 3 full 16-channel controllers to run the tree.

I have already sequenced a few songs, and I am pretty happy with the results so far. I captured the sequences on video and uploaded them to YouTube. Here are the links to see them.
THX Intro
Carol of the Bells
Christmas Canon

Many thanks to, I used the MegaTree sequences from some of their 2011 sequences as the basis for mine. I mostly just had to adapt their 32-channel sequences to my 48-channel setup. I also had to adjust the timings a little. I purchased all my songs on Amazon, and the music transition points didn’t match up exactly to the sequences. But that was way easier than building all the sequences from scratch, so again, thank you!

The next thing to deal with is the sound. The layout of my lot and house don’t really lend themselves to be seen and heard from the street, so for this year I’m just using speakers instead of an FM transmitter. I wasn’t sure of the best way to do this, so my first attempt was to use some outdoor wireless speakers that I got through Amazon. Here are the ones I got.

To protect the speakers from the elements, I bought two fake landscape rocks and drilled a bunch of holes in them to turn them into speaker grilles. Here they are before I modified them.

I have to say I’m less than thrilled with this setup. Even with the wireless transmitter only 25′ away from the speakers with line-of-sight through a window, I still get dropouts on the speakers sometimes. And even with all the holes drilled in the landscape rocks, there is still a slight echo to the sound. I will have to look at something different for next year.