Making Spinner Signs

Copyright © 2012 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in December 2012, Volume 38, No. 6 of The Engravers Journal
Figure 1: The changeable “spinner” signs showing the IN/OUT status.

   I recently wrote an article about the techniques I use for making “sliders, pockets and flippers” (“Making Sliders, Pockets & Flippers,” Nov. 11). In case you missed it, these are signs with a “changeable” message that allow you to quickly and easily switch the message to fit the circumstances. For example, a conference room might be “IN USE” or “VACANT” and by using a “slider” sign, one or the other message can be displayed.
   Within a few days of wrapping up that article, a customer called and asked me to provide a quote for some office signage to display employees’ names on their cubicles or by their office doors. The customer also wanted the signage to display the employee’s cubicle or office number and status of “IN” or “OUT.” The purchasing agent said the signs should be mounted in a 2" metal frame (known as a standard wall or corridor bracket) and, if possible, include a way to change the occupancy status. She said she had seen the wall-mount frames in other offices and seemed to recall some sort of status display, but couldn’t remember any of the details. In my usual entrepreneurial mode of seeking bottom-line enhancement, I assured her I could put something together and e-mail her the preliminary design.
   Going back over the requirements, each sign needed to display a name, a cubicle number and IN/OUT status. The purchasing agent also mentioned that some of the work areas would be vacant from time to time so they would still need the number but no name.
   In light of my recent pontification on the subject of changeable signage, I was confident one of those already-proven methods would somehow lend itself to providing a solution. But nothing seemed to jell. I really did not want to hang some adjunct, perhaps gaudy, sign piece in a nice wall frame to display the status. The constraints of the frame were unfriendly to a slider sign, which uses a sliding insert to cover one of the messages. And I considered a pocket sign that changes the message by way of an insert that slides in and out of the sign, but I did not want the customer to have to deal with any loose pieces for the inserts which were likely to get lost.



Figure 2: After engraving IN and OUT, I vector cut the circle and the back plate.

   While working on other projects, I pondered this problem. I wondered if maybe a new approach could produce a satisfactory result, and I eventually hit upon the idea of the “spinner.” The spinner has some of the features of a slider in that the changeable portion is an inherent part of the sign rather than a separate insert. The difference, however, is that to change the message on a spinner sign, you rotate the changeable portion of the sign so the current status is displayed in a window, as opposed to using a sliding insert to cover one of the messages. Figure 1 shows the finished product in both status modes. In this article, I will detail how the spinner was manufactured.
Making a Spinner Sign
   Standard wall frames are usually made to accept a particular material thickness. Some holders accept 1/16" thick material and others are made for 1/8" thick material. Of course, the 1/8" slot will also accommodate two pieces of 1/16" thick stock. This allowed me to make a two-layer sign which is what I needed for this spinner sign. The frame I used was 10" long. The first 2" of the sign was dedicated to the number and status while the remaining 8" was used for the nameplate.
   The first step was to make a back plate that included a round, cutout area near the left end that the changeable portion of the message could spin in. Each back plate was 101/8" long and 2" high, which allowed me to cut six plates in one setup from a 12" high quarter sheet of material.
   Before laser vector cutting the plates, I engraved the IN and OUT changeable message. I engraved IN upside down compared to OUT so that when the message is rotated into position it will read correctly.
   The next step was to vector cut the circle around the IN/OUT message and cut the outside dimensions of the plate. To protect the engraved areas from burn marks during this step, I covered the engraving with transfer tape (Fig. 2). Figure 3 shows a close-up of the back plate after vector cutting. Note the small radius on the tips of the circle cutout on the left side of the plate. I did this to prevent creating a sharp point which could easily chip and break, and also to provide a smooth corner for the spinner to interface with as it rotates clockwise or counterclockwise once the sign is put together. When inserted, the spinner is offset 1/8" to the left of the plate, allowing it to extend slightly from the left end so a person can easily rotate it using his or her fingertip.

Figure 3: A close-up of the vector cut back plate.

   The top layer of the sign would be a 2" x 2" front plate containing the cubicle/room number and a window to display the changeable message (Fig. 4). After engraving the numbers, I covered the engraved areas with transfer tape for vector cutting the window and the slightly indented radius on the left side. The radius provides additional access for a person’s fingertip while turning the spinner.
   I used my laser to vector cut the window and radius completely through the material, but I made the cuts for the outside dimensions of the plates using a faster speed so that the cut was only about 80 percent through the material. After these cuts were made, the six number plates were still connected, as shown in figure 4. At this point, I turned over the strip of plates and applied “Super Stick” tape to the back. Then I used my laser to vector cut the tape to the shape shown in Figure 5. The tape would allow me to permanently adhere the number plate to the back plate while leaving an opening for the spinner to rotate.
   Figure 6 shows the sequence of assembly for the spinner sign. After removing the protective paper from the Super Stick tape, I attached the number plate with the window cutout onto the left side of the back plate (Fig. 6B). Next, I inserted the IN/OUT spinner into the recessed area and lubricated it with talcum powder to allow it to spin easily. I rotated it both clockwise and counterclockwise to ensure it moved freely in the recess. This assembly was then placed in the wall frame (Fig. 6C) and then the employee nameplate was inserted from the right side (Fig. 6D). Because the employee nameplate is a separate sign component, it can be removed when the office or cubicle is vacant.

Figure 4: Starting production on the cubicle/room number plates.

   Because some of these signs would be installed on cloth-walled cubicles and others would be on wallboard by office doors, the customer wanted two different mounting options. The signs on the cubicles would be mounted using partition pins. For the other signs, I offered two-sided foam tape as a mounting option but they insisted they wanted their maintenance crew to use screws to attach them to the wall. At that point, I reverted to “The customer is always right” mode and let it go. They told me the quantity of each type of sign but not which methods to use for the individual signs. Therefore, I just sent them a bag of the partition pins (they were providing the screws) and let them do the installation on their own.
   This customer also ordered some conference room slider signs with the changeable slider to show IN USE or VACANT. Happily, I was able to put my experience making that type of sign to good use!
This was a fun little project that required something outside the routine of the tags or nameplates we do on an everyday basis. I did do some experimenting and made some prototype signs before I went into full production—the customer ordered 60 of these “spinners” and I wanted to be sure this new concept would work.

Figure 5: Laser cut “Super Stick” tape on the back of the number plates.

   The first prototype I made had a square window. That exposed the edge of the spinner when it was assembled and did not look very good, so I redesigned the window to have the bottom corners radiused to match the spinner. Putting the little radius tips on the cutout of the back plate was another improvement I made as a result of making the prototype.
   Also, my first attempt was using a 1/16" slot wall-mount frame. The sign could actually be made this way by mounting the number plate onto the front of a small back plate. However, this would have caused the number to be raised in comparison to the employee nameplate. It would also have exposed the screws or screw holes in the wall-mount frame. I really did not like the unfinished look this provided and I found that having the two layers across the 10" space made a much nicer sign. In the overall scheme of things, the final product was functional, good looking and even a bit cute.
   Hopefully these unique projects I write about are fun for you to read, but more importantly, they also encourage you to try new things. You might be the one to invent a new mousetrap that really is better.

This is the plumbing I installed on my Shop Vac system. It uses a standard Shop Vac, but the values allow the suction to be turned on and off where needed.




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