Fiber Optic Cobblestone Patio Walkway Project
A contribution designed and constructed by Chris Scirto
This ambitious project, finished in August 2013, was inspired from the Walt Disney World EPCOT “Innoventions” outdoor walkway. I had built an outdoor patio that incorporated a bar, fountains, and a hot pepper garden in 2012 and decided to finish it off this year with the fiber optic walkway.
The effect at night is truly mesmerizing and these “time exposed” pics cannot show the actual intensity of the fibers.
A lot of different lighting effects are used throughout this area but for the purpose of this article the focus will remain solely on the Fiber Optics.
When I decided to attempt this project I made the decision to do it out of my head, so to speak, so that it would be a completely custom job. Therefore, at any point during this construction, someone with experience may indeed have an easier or better “way” to implement these steps. My only suggestion to anyone who attempts this project is to have other people helping. I did this alone and it really tested my sanity, lol.
STEP 1 – Decide where you want the illumination to occur. (You may already have a defined area, like I did, or you may have to mark or stake it out).
STEP 2 – I then used clear plastic sheeting, like the clear plastic typically used for a drop cloth to protect furniture while painting, and spread it out to completely cover the surface of the area. I cut corners where needed so that it fit perfectly then held the edges down to keep it from lifting off with any breeze.
Looking at the photo below, I decided I would have 8 fiber bundles originating from inside the fire pit that would illuminate the square area around it. Then likewise, I decided to have 4 fiber bundles illuminating the walkway to the square area, originating on the left through the 4×4 garden border.
By sectioning, or zoning the area, I could better keep the fiber bundles smaller and the fiber lengths at a reasonable length for better placement. I then used a permanent marker to mark the 12 points where the fiber bundles would “enter” or originate from. The 8 points were marked out 45 degrees apart for the fire pit, and for the walkway the length was measured and quartered. An equal distance between these points was marked and a line was drawn on the plastic across to the other side of the border. I now had 12 zones that would be illuminated by 12 fiber bundles. I then drew out a grid in all zones that were 12”x12” squares not worrying if there was some small space leftover. Once that was drawn out throughout on the plastic, I walked around putting 4 – 1”circles randomly throughout each square, but keeping them somewhat equally spaced from each other. I chose 4 per square foot for this project, but you can do more or less depending on the pin light saturation required. The higher this number, the more the work becomes later, lol.
STEP 3 – Preparation is now made for the area where the fiber bundles will come through any barriers. For the fire pit, prior to cementing the block that forms the circle, I laid 8 pieces of plastic tubing underground so that I could later slide each fiber bundle inside. For the 4×4 garden/sidewalk barrier, I just drilled 4 holes low enough through the side so that the bundles would come through below the cement line.
I used .75mm fiber optic single strand fiber (1500’ spool) from the Fiber Optic Store and rebar ties for placement and securing purposes.
Cut the rebar ties in half so that you can push the pointed side into the circles in the plastic that you just drawn out, and into the ground or gravel to secure the spot. When all the circles are filled with the rebar stakes, carefully lift up the plastic (I cut a slit next to each stake so that the plastic lifted easily without pulling out the rebar stakes), and with a paint can spray each zone’s border on the ground before removing the plastic completely.
Working on one zone at a time, the fiber must be unraveled from the spool and “measured” so that there is a minimum 6” beyond each border so that the emitter can be attached easily, and at least 6” or so beyond each rebar tie. I cut the fiber using a sharp razor blade and a small sheet of metal, pushing the blade hard at a 90 degree angle into the fiber laying on the metal. This caused a nice clean “break” for the next piece so that the emitter had a nice fiber surface waiting.
I used the “walkmaker” form found at Lowes and crack resistant concrete during the construction, 44 – 80lb bags to be exact.
I set the form in a corner and started by realigning some rebar stakes that were positioned under the form’s support so that the fibers came through an opening not too close to the edge of each “stone”.
I mixed the concrete, in small amounts at a time, due to the time needed to hold each fiber while pouring the concrete into the form. When the form was filled, I removed it and had to rinse it between each use, then with a trowel smooth the “stones” edges to satisfaction. When this was done I used the charcoal colorant (see below) and sprayed it with a spray bottle on the entire wet concrete surface, then moved on to the next form placement.
Cement coloring and gold metallic acrylic paint. There will be areas that the 2’x2’ form is too large to fit into and then you will have to play “sculptor” and freeform these cobblestones by hand – nice! One trick I used was to get a 2nd walkmaker form and cut it in half for smaller areas. I still had plenty of freeform areas though.
>>> Freeform area prior to dropping concrete and sculpting. Complete all the concrete and be sure to smooth and apply the charcoal color to the surface of each form immediately after form is lifted.
This could take months to do if you have a large area, lol. On average it took me about 4 hours to complete each walkmaker form.
Below pics show my project up to this point. Concrete has all hardened for days and fibers are easily seen due to the previously taped ends.
You can get other concrete forms that resemble bricks with different patterns too. I was trying to duplicate the color of my tiki water fountain feature.
For this 2nd coloring step I used a paint brush and brushed the brown color over the entire surface area, waited 10 minutes, then hosed off the area with water until all the excess pigment had run off, giving me the overall color shown in the photo to the left.
I then took gold acrylic paint, and using a dry brush technique, gently brushed the surface so that each stone had a slight shimmer of gold throughout resembling natural highlights or veins of metal deposits where the concrete was textured. I will call this step 3 of coloring.
The 4th step is like step 2, except the charcoal color is now used to cover the entire surface, then washed off after 10 minutes to remove loose pigment. This step deepens the color to what I needed, and the gold color “magically” comes through to the surface due to the acrylic properties and the dye.
STEP 6 ~ Now is the time to trim the fibers even with the surface of the stones. Again I used a sharp razor blade and a mason’s trowel to cut these.
Holding the trowel edge on the stone surface and standing the metal surface up alongside the fiber, I pushed the blade into the base of the fiber and cut it even with the surface. The fibers usually snapped clean and “jumped” away making another mess to clean up after.
After trimming the entire surface of the excess fibers, and picking them up from all over the place, I could finally walk on the area without worrying about stepping on and breaking the little guys, Yay!
Now I wanted to seal it right away to protect dirt from accumulating on or around where the fibers were coming through, so I applied 2 coats of “wet look” concrete sealer with a brush (you can use a roller too) per the manufacturers instructions. This really brought the color out! The pic below shows completed section vs step 2 of coloring process.
THE ELECTRONICS! Finally! The walkway looks great during the day, but really the project was designed so that it would come alive at night, so let’s finally get into the fun part. Photos to the right and below show some of the parts of the system with which I chose to illuminate the fiber bundles (all parts easily available on ebay and relatively cheap too!) The Emitters, of which I needed 12 (one for each bundle), are hi intensity 8000mcd RGB 5mm LEDs.
They are common anode and have 4 leads on them, therefore they were easily wired into the existing LED strip lighting system that I have, can be remotely controlled and have the same color changing abilities as the system.
The “power station” for the entire area (notice the silver LED control box at the top). The LEDs are wired in parallel with appropriate value dropping resistors on each cathode, with enough cable to spread the emitters out to each bundle. The ends of each bundle will need to be trimmed so that the fibers are relatively the same length prior to installing the emitters.
The wired LEDs (emitters) are then held in place with the bundle (butted up to the ends) with heat shrink tubing. Depending on placement of these emitters, more heat shrink tubing, caulk, rtv sealant, or waterproof insulating tape can be used to further insulate from the weather. As this is a low voltage ( 12 vdc) system, the only worry would be moisture eventually corroding a connection or LED replacement, which should be an easy repair as we made sure the bundles had plenty of room on the ends to work with, right?
Uncovered emitter entering walkway through 4×4 border. When all the wiring was done and the system was ready to illuminate for the first time, I was somewhat anxious to see how this “years in the making” project would perform.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed, it was crazy cool to walk down the steps from the upper deck, and see the star walkway lit from below. Because of the remotes and controllers, the “stars” can do color change fades and strobes at the push of a button. They can be set to any color desired for a static display too!
As I said before, the labor part of this type of project requires a lot of time and patience should you go it alone like I did. Not only would the
project be so much easier with a friend’s help, but they will be eager to join you when it’s all done to experience what you just created!
HAVE FUN !!!
THANK YOU! To the The Fiber Optic Store.com for the great fiber that made this awesome project possible! ~ Chris