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.040 Aluminum for a building sign?

Discussion in 'General Signmaking Topics' started by buggyjr12, Jul 23, 2020.

  1. buggyjr12

    buggyjr12 Member

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    I'm making a 40" x 20' sign for a local business. It's going to be mounted high up in the air on the front of a building so it won't have any wind load.

    My thought was to use .040 aluminum because it'll last way longer than painted MDO and it comes in 10' sheets.

    I also thought of using Alumalite but then the edges need capped or sealed and that just doesn't look very good AND it only comes in 8' lengths.

    I could use expanded PVC but I can't get it in my area without expensive freight charges and it also only comes in 8' lengths.

    My question is do you think a 10' sheet of .040 aluminum mounted to a building will get wavy in the hot sun?
     
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  2. Texas_Signmaker

    Texas_Signmaker Very Active Signmaker

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    3mm aluminum composite material. 040 won't look flat, ACM would be a much better option. No need to do anything with the edges.
     
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  3. myront

    myront CorelDRAW is best

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    3mm polymetal or Max Metal
     
  4. unclebun

    unclebun Very Active Member

    Here's just such a sign (but 4'x32') made of 3mm MaxMetal mounted on three rows of treated lumber 2x4's. You could do it out of .040, but it will be harder to lift them harder to hold them in position, and harder to put screws through them. And it will end up looking wavy even with the three rows of stringers.

    Calvary sign.jpg
     
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  5. buggyjr12

    buggyjr12 Member

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    Thank you for the responses!
     
  6. signbrad

    signbrad Member

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    Yes, .040" will be wavy, even without hot sun. .063" would appear flatter, but still have some waves. I don't care for Alumalite for signs like this. I've seen it delaminate at the five-year mark and I consider it a semi-temporary material. I also don't like the way it dimples from fasteners. Incidentally, even many of the solid core ACMs we use are considered only five-year substrates (see the specs on Polymetal at the manufacturer's website, Nudo, Inc).

    So, are these clients wanting a high quality-looking, long-lasting sign, or are they cheapskates? Or something in between?

    My preference on a sign like this is to make a single piece pan in the shop. I don't brake the returns, but make the returns out of 1-1/2" or 2" angle in 20-foot lengths, attached to the back of the sign at top and bottom, plus two short pieces at the ends, mitering the corners. A vertical strip added behind each seam keeps the seams from opening. Built this way, a sign is solid and strong, and not that hard to install. To install, simply prehang a single piece of angle on the wall, level, to serve as a top cleat. Then lift the sign and hang it from the cleat. The cleat supports the weight while you install fasteners. If you use a cleat both at the top and at the bottom, you won't even need to fasten through the face. Just fasten through the top and bottom edges into the cleats. A sign built like this will look substantial and last a long time. And it will stay flat.

    What to use for the face? When I had the equipment for it, I would use .080" welded to the angle aluminum back frame. I would punch 3/8" holes in the angle on 8 or 10-inch centers and put a small plug weld in each hole on the backside all around the perimeter. Yes, a lot of welds but it goes very quickly once you learn not to burn holes through the .080". I welded the corners as well. Install with a two-man bucket or a crane.

    Or, for a lighter, less expensive version, easier to install, but that will still look flat and last a long time—
    Face the angle frame with .063" instead of 080", attaching with pop rivets instead of plug welds. Again, an easy install with two ladders and a helper (not a child).
    If you don't want to deadlift the sign as you climb the ladders, hang two "Rope-Ratchets" from upper rungs on each ladder, assuming your extension ladders are not lightweights and are long enough. Then, using the ratchets, pull the sign up from pick points attached on top of the frame near each end.

    In my opinion, a back frame always makes a sign look better than just screwing thin panels to a wall, and it prevents waving and puckering.

    Rope-Ratchets
    I bought Rope-Ratchets when they first came out many, many years ago, sold as tie-downs. The heavier version Rope-Ratchet came with a length of 3/8" braided (not hollow) rope, which I replaced with long lengths of the same type rope and then used the ratchets for lifting. When I lettered wall jobs off of a pick-and-ladder setup, before I got a bucket truck, I could use the ratchets to raise my aluminum walk pick to near the top of two extended 32-foot ladders by myself. I would do this by hooking the ratchets to rungs near the top and then alternately pulling on each rope, raising each end of the pick 3 or 4 feet at a time till I got it up where I wanted it, then climb the ladders while the pick dangled and install the ladder jacks under it. After this I could release the tension of both ratchets and let the pick rest on the jacks. I never had the rope slip in the ratchets unless the rope was wet.
    As might be expected, building a setup like this by myself was a lot of work. I felt like a superhero. But then I hired a helper and it was much easier.

    Of course, pick-and-ladder scaffolding is illegal in many areas these days, so I wouldn't use it. I am no longer a superhero, anyway.

    Brad in Kansas City
     
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  7. visual800

    visual800 Very Active Member

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    use maxmetal or .063 aluminum. Drill holes slightly large than screws
     
  8. Rocco G

    Rocco G Member

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    If you make a frame for the sign, you can make the face from .040 aluminum. IDK where in PA you are located but sign suppliers sell thin wall 1" x 1" aluminum tubing and even have connectors made for this system. Glantz has them. I've used this system for years and years, but we put a sheet metal molding (like you would have on an illuminated sign cabinet) over the perimeter to dress it up. It's a very light and sturdy system and IMO looks better than a flat sheet of aluminum. We usually attach the panel and then install the molding so it hides everything.

    Of course since this is the sign business, there are endless ways of accomplishing the same thing. It will often depend on what you have available. I've done the pan method that signbrad mentions as well, but use that for higher end customers.
     
  9. Brandon708

    Brandon708 Very Active Member

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    Don't use .040 for this application. Its to thin and will look very wavy. I would suggest doing a pan face with 2" returns out of .063 aluminum and having a butt seam in the middle. Installing with aluminum angle and screwing it in on the top and bottom of the returns.
    If they are on a tight budget I would use 3mm ACM and use a ultra matte laminate with screws in the faces.
     
  10. Texas_Signmaker

    Texas_Signmaker Very Active Signmaker

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    Interesting, I can't find the connectioners on glantz website can you share a link?
     
  11. signbrad

    signbrad Member

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    Glantz may have stopped selling them, but I also used their version in the past. Lightweight, but work fine, especially for single panels smaller than 4x8s.

    I have also bought plastic corner connectors from Outwater Plastics that fit into standard wall 1x1 alum tube. It's sturdier than the Glantz system. Corner connectors and T connectors.
    Outwater Plastics, their Extrusion Catalog, page 61. (downloadable).

    http://media.outwaterads.com/web/outwaterphotogallery/catalogs/pdf/Catalog_031_extrusions.pdf

    Brad
     
  12. Rocco G

    Rocco G Member

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    IDK if I'm allowed to put a direct link but on the glantz site search for "Frielander_Supply_LB57T" or just search "aluminum tubing". Harbor sales sells it too, but only in 10' lengths. TBH, now I would use .050 aluminum for a 4' x 20' sign and cover it all with a break-formed molding. We don't actually use the ready made connectors but cut triangles & squares of aluminum from the drop barrel. Attached is a pic of one across the street from my shop from a couple of years ago. It's the customer's layout - they wanted to re-create the 1910 feel with it, bad kerning, rough letters and everything. This has a .050 face and the rest as I described. It's the only sign I ever remember where we walked it out the door and to the "job site".
     

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  13. signbrad

    signbrad Member

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    Looks flat enough to me
    Even though 0.50" is significantly thinner than 0.80" aluminum, this panel construction looks good, with no apparent waving. Obviously, building a sign like this is more costly than simply screwing a flat panel to the facia. But many clients, when they see the difference, will choose the nicer look.

    Awkward composition
    The customer's layout is weak, for sure. The flourishes are awkward, both in their design and placement. This an example of a sign layout that has plenty of space to work with, but still has an uncomfortably crowded finished look. Forcing the flourishes into the margins at the ends looks, well...forced.

    Large and small caps
    And, are the small caps true small caps? Correct me if I am wrong, but it looks like two sizes of the same capitals, a mistake that a layperson will invariably make. Better to use genuine large and small caps, where the small caps are designed to be small, having different proportions than their big brethren so that everything looks matched. However, this is not easy to explain to a client.

    Also, you are right about the kerning. And it's not just that it needs a little tweak. Tight letter-spacing is a more recent design practice. It was not characteristic of the previous century.

    I am old now.
    Lest my comments seem ego-centric, I am not the young design zealot that I used to be. After my long struggle to become satisfied with my layout expertise (thank you, Mike Stevens), I have mellowed. I no longer indignantly refuse to produce sign work based on a client's "nephew art." At one time my goal was to stamp out ugly signs and make the world a better place. I dismissed juvenile layout and righteously condemned it as worthy of a fiery design hell.

    Now? Now, my main job is to get the money out of their pockets and into mine. Oh, I will absolutely do my best to educate clients on the importance of good composition. I still have an artist's ego, to be sure, but I will work with what clients give me even while I try to tactfully talk them into improving it. I frequently offer alternate layouts if the money justifies the extra time.
    But.....the sign world is awash, overwhelmed, by bad composition. COVID is not the only pandemic (I know...that's not really funny).

    So, I will do my best. But if I am partially responsible when a gnarly-looking sign goes up, no one will die, though I may feel a little ill.
    And when I personally kick the bucket, the layout for my grave marker will already be finalized. Nobody is going to mess that one up!

    Brad

     
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