Ropelight is a great way to decorate almost anything. It’s the closest thing you can get to actual neon bulbs without the price and hassle. Ropelight vendors sell it in 6-150 foot lengths and a variety of colors. They’re available in both incandescent and LEDs. The LEDs cost quite a bit more but use only about 20% of the power of incandescents.
Here are a few tricks learned the hard way.
Get 3/8 inch diameter ropelight whenever possible. It’s easier to bend.
Use white (natural color) tie wraps when attaching the ropelight to anything. The tie wraps will transmit the color of the light and are very durable.
Save money and cut ropelight to the length you need. There are a few things to remember.
Rope light is actually made up of short segments, each 18-24 inches in length. In each segment is a string of small bulbs wired in series. Each segment is then tied to the two primary voltage strands which run the length of the ropelight. Cutting the ropelight in the middle of a segment will break the series connection and that section will go dark.
Look carefully at the picture to the left. This is clear ropelight. Along the top and bottom is an 18 gauge stranded wire that runs the full length of the rope. These conductors carry the primary voltage. Every 18-24 inches you’ll see a break in the rope where there are no “little” wires (the yellow arrows.) These “little wires” are part of the segment wired in series. The break you see is where each segment is attached to the primary voltage (blue arrows.) This is where you cut the ropelight! On colored ropelight (especially blue), it can be very hard to see these breaks. Try plugging in the ropelight and many times the internal bulbs will point you to the cut points. If you are really lucky and buy ropelight in 150 foot rolls, the manufacturer will mark where each cut point is on the outside of the ropelight.
How do you get power to a freshly cut piece of ropelight?
Save money. Don’t buy the official connector, but do it yourself!
|The yellow arrows mark the primary voltage wires that run the length of the ropelight. These conductors need to be connected to lamp cord.|
|Use standard 18 gauge lamp cord. Strip 1/2 inch and tin both connectors with a little solder. The blue arrow shows a tinned conductor and the green arrow shows that it hasn’t been touched yet.|
|Here’s the magic tool, a small ice pick. I’ve added some red heat shrink to the shaft so I can see it better.|
|Insert the ice pick into one of the primary wire strands in the ropelight. Shoot for the center of the strand. Leave the ice pick there at least 30 seconds so the plastic can expand a little. Remove the ice pick and do the next step quickly.|
|With a pair of needle nosed pliers, push the tinned lead of the lamp cord into the hole left by the ice pick. Repeat for the other conductor.|
|Take a 2 inch piece of heat shrink and put it over where you inserted the lamp cord.|
|Fill the heat shrink tube with some silicone. Heat and remove excess silicon squeezed out with a paper towel.|
|Here’s the final result. Note, I added a couple of smaller pieces of heat shrink to better transition from the rope light to the lamp cord.|
|Just to prove it worked… it’s now plugged in!|