So you are minding your own business, shopping in a store, any store, when you spot something that kicks your creative juices into high gear. You start visualizing the next addition to your Christmas display. You buy as many of the items as you can possibly lay your hands on and begin to incorporate it into the next display that will make you proud you ever learned how to plug in a string of lights. Your idea is a success and you have gained the adoration of Christmas light display admirers for the next 365 days.
The next year you haul the items out of storage for their second round and find they are not in as pristine a condition as you remembered when you put them away. Still, you cobble them back into use for another year and faithfully store them away. The third year you wonder, as you haul out these tattered relics of Christmas Past, what demon possessed you into buying these horrible items. Still, you spend time, shivering in the cold, wind, and driving snow, putting together decorations you would just as soon see run over by a Mack truck. Again, you store them away after spending countless hours and three times as much money as the decorations cost in the first place to repair them into a semblance of the grand idea you once had.
Been there, done that? Obviously, I write from experience. So this was my life until I decided to take charge and make my own decorations. My story started with some plastic balls, about the size of a standard basketball that I had thought would be just the thing to use to decorate my thirty foot tall fir tree. The decorations were advertised as light weight, durable and easy to store. This was all true. But it all had its drawbacks. What is light weight can also be blown out of the thirty foot tall tree easier than you can say “I just put my ladder away!” What is durable to one person will not stand up to a Montana blizzard without serious nicks, cracks and cuts to its plastic. Each year I kept these decorations I was frustrated by the increasing amount of effort it took to make them right; or even look good.
My solution was to create a decoration out of material that was light weight, durable, could be broken down into pieces no thicker than an inch and that would go back together the same every time. I wanted decorations where the light color could be changed to suit whatever my display needs might be (LED, RBG, or incandescent bulb) and the decorations could be stacked, stored and put away in no time at all.
Starting this project was not easy. There were huge learning curves everywhere – like finding local vendors who routinely carry 1/4” metal rod. I had no idea the dimensional challenges in building a uniform and true circle. Once that hurdle was overcome I had to rethink the process from the aspect of attaching the components so the entire decoration could be broken down for easy storage and reassembly the next year. This is the point where I hit the proverbial brick wall. I put the idea on a shelf to give my brain a rest.
About six months later, like a lightning bolt, it came to me to use compression fittings to hold all the pieces together. This enabled me to create a six sided 16” sphere with compression bolts on the top and bottom. The next hurdle came when I realized I did not want to use a 24” pipe wrench and 10” crescent wrench to put 20 lighted balls together for my tree every year.
I had put lighted segments to each of the six sides of my 16” sphere and I wrote a simple light sequence for the ball. The ball now got its own name – “Franken Ball” – because the sphere had wires sticking out in every direction. While it wasn’t the polished look I had been hoping for, it worked and I continued to see possibilities.
I shared the early sphere with one of the members on Planet Christmas. He thought it looked good and gave me a suggestion that was crucial to the eventual success. He suggested making the sphere with eight sides so it would be compatible to the tempo of most Christmas songs. I hereby publicly say “Thank You!” to Cory Coulter aka Cacoulter on the PlanetChristmas forums, for being my sounding board and providing such a basic yet integral suggestion for the success of my idea.
So now I had a lighted, eight-sided sphere which looked less like a Christmas decoration and more like a Halloween decoration and had a name to match. I tried to not think about the sphere and one night, as I was sleeping the answers started to flow. Now I had new learning curves to overcome. I needed to find a light weight material that I could use to create a sturdy compression joint. My incentive was visualizing the ball falling out of that 30 foot tall fir tree and surviving.
I found an aluminum vendor who had some creative and enthusiastic employees. Through many trials I finally developed what I eventually named the Eaton Puck. This was my compression joint! I used aluminum rod and bent it into shape to create the new Eaton Sphere.
Having mastered the sphere shape I could visualize more possibilities. I started bending aluminum rods like crazy and out came some stars, then Bethlehem stars and wham all kinds of forms started to emerge. I realized that if the Eaton Puck were connectable I could build complex designs. To date I have created a 4’ spider, a 10’ snowman, a 6’ reaper, a 6’ snowman, a 4’ candle and I still have a bunch of ideas drawn out on paper.
Once again I need to give a huge “Thank You” to one of the PlanetChristmas vendors. Val at Christmas-LEDs.com. Val was so helpful getting me materials and giving advice to a hesitant newbie. I initially contacted her because she carries 20” cut rope light. Eventually I asked Val her opinion of the new decorations. She thought the product was very nice and agreed to carry my decorations on her web site. A wonderful personal and professional relationship has been born, due in large part to Val’s support and suggestions.
This new company is just in its infancy but I remain convinced we will grow. The decorations are made from commercial quality aluminum and stainless steel. My motto is – you really do get what you pay for. I have also created an aluminum tree hook for hanging lights and am headlong into some RGB projects that look great with the new decorations. I have taken on a project or two custom making decorations. I will offer the Eaton Puck for DIY people who want to create their own shapes. I will also offer any of my creations in progressive formats. I truly hope you like the new decorations. Please head over to Christmas-LEDs.com and check them out as well as the other goodies Val has to offer and please support The Eaton Decoration Connection makers of the Eaton Puck and more to come.
This article was included in the December 2013 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Dennis Eaton