You’ve finished your suspended ceiling, now how do you make it shine with stars?
Overview: In this section we’re going to cover the step-by-step technique of adding fiber optic filament (stars) to a room that has a suspended ceiling. While the actual steps are not very complicated, we might be able to pass along a few tips that could help you avoid some pitfalls.
Suspended Ceilings and Fiber Optic CABLE were made for each other! For our example, we’re going to use a 32 Strand Fiber Optic Cable as opposed to single strand fiber optic filament. While using cable will create a bit more waste, we feel that it is worth it when you consider how much easier the cable is to manage. Towards the end of this section we’ll pass along a couple of tips for those of you using single strand filament. However, we would highly recommend that you consider using fiber optic cable if you’re installing it in a suspended ceiling. Single strand fiber works best when installing stars in a finished ceiling. We’ll cover that in another section.
For our example we use a 2X2 ceiling panel. We will have ONE 32 strand cable per 2X2 panel. This will give us a Star Ratio of 8 to 1. (Eight stars per foot)
No Illumination Discussion: This section is entirely on fiber and panels, no final illumination. We will go into greater detail on the actual illumination of the filaments (stars) in another section.
Keep in mind, the fibers are all going from the different panels to ONE specific area. In this area will be your light source. If you design your ceiling with access to your light source, you’ll have the flexibility of changing or upgrading your illumination method any time you choose.
We have ‘threaded’ entire rooms without having the final illumination of the room decided. Then, after the room was ‘threaded’, we were able to test several different types of illumination to determine the best method of lighting the stars.
Let’s get started! (BTW: We’re in the process of updating this page so that the thumbnail images will link to their larger version. December 2018)
Materials: Besides the fiber optic cable and the ceiling panels, most of the tools you’ll need to “install the stars”, are probably in your workshop or your kitchen ‘junk drawer’:
- A Sharp scissors
- A Ruler or Tape Measure
- A Small blade utility knife
- A Dark Marker
- Duct Tape
- Masking Tape
- A Large sewing needle
- Some source of illumination. The 1000M works nicely. (This is just to test the panels)
A Couple of Starting Tips:
Begin Empty! Before you begin, take out all the ceiling panels. This will leave just the suspended ceiling grid-work exposed.
Letter your Tiles and Corresponding Cables. Write the letter that corresponds to your graph on both the back of the ceiling panel AND the end of the cable the goes to the illuminator. (Put the letter on a piece of masking tape wrapped around the cable about 1 foot from the illuminator end) This will save you headaches down the road if you need to make any repairs.
Further is Better! When starting to install your stars in the ceiling panels. It is better to start with the panels FURTHEST away from the illuminator and work your way towards the illuminator. Our example we would start with panel “A” then go to “B”, “F”, “C”, “G” and “K” and so on. You find it easier to ‘pull the cable’ from the panels as you complete them.
Cut your Cable to Length
In an earlier exercise you calculated the amount of fiber optic filament that you needed. In doing so, you created a graph of your future star room. We’re going to use these initial measurements to cut our cable. Click here to see a pop-up window of these initial measurements. (Keep in mind, these numbers are OUR example… you’re numbers will be different!) These measurements are to the center of each panel. We’ll need to add 1.5 feet for the “fiber spray” (which we’ll cover in a moment) plus the “illuminator drop” distance.
PANEL “A” CABLE: In our example, the distance from “Panel A” to the area of the illuminator was 13.0 feet. To this, we add 1.5 feet for the fiber “spray” bringing us to 14.5 feet. If our illuminator is down 1.5 feet below the plane of the panels, we’re at a total distance of 16 feet. ( TIP: I never cut this exactly at 16 feet, I’ve always added a bit for “play room”, 6 inches to one foot. this will give you some “play” with the placement of the illuminator. )
Fiber Optic Cable Preparation:
First cut your cable to the specific length required. You’ll then need to cut off the protective cover (or jacket) to expose the raw fiber optic filaments. This is best accomplished using a very sharp hobby knife (as seen in the photo). Only you’ll want to begin the cut about one and a half feet up the cable. Carefully insert the blade into the jacket, try not to go all the way through the cable, just far enough to break through the jacket.
SLOWLY draw your blade down the jacket. We’ve found that when you move slowly and in the same direction as the fibers, you’ll have little or no damage to the filament below the jacket. At times your blade will want to travel to the side of the cable. When this happens, we ‘go with it’, turning the cable so the blade is always on top. It does not matter if the cut is ‘straight’, as long as its clean and continuous. After you’ve completely cut through the jacket the entire one and a half feet, you’ll need to “pull” the fibers free from the jacket. You’ll do this by starting at the cut end of the cable and peeling the jacket away from the fiber optic filaments.
BE CAREFUL when pulling the fibers out of the cover. Again you’ll want to move slowly. Sometimes the jacket will not be cut entirely through and the fiber will not come free. When this happens we recommend you stop pulling the fiber and use the hobby knife again to gently cut the jacket at the point of resistance. Once you’ve pulled all the filaments free from the protective cover, you can cut away the excess jacket. However, double check the empty jacket before cutting it away, as sometimes a few stray filaments are closely adhered to the inside of the jacket’s wall.
TIP: You might want to try a few practice cuts on a scrap piece of cable.
Ceiling Panel Preparation
BASIC PANEL: For our example we’re using simple 2×2 foot panels and 32 strand fiber optic cable. This gave us a coverage of 8 stars per foot. You might be working with 2×4 panels or 64 strand cable. For our guide, this doesn’t matter the steps are the same. You’ll just need to adjust for your difference.
FLIP THE PANEL OVER as we will be threading the individual fiber optic strands through the panel FROM THE BACK.
“X” Marks the spot! We’ve found it helpful to pre-mark our ‘stars’ by placing an “X” on the back of the panel. If your using 32 strand cable, you’ll place 32 “X’s”. When placing the stars close to the edge, remember to stay in about 3/4 of an inch to allow for the support grid. When placing the “X’s” try not to be too symmetrical. TIP: Place some of the stars in small clusters to break up the ‘pattern’.
TIP: We’ve done panels where we attempt to re-create the constellations. If your going to do this, keep in mind that you are working on the back side of the panel, and that you’ll need to place your “X’s” backwards, for the constellation to be correct from the front of the panel.
Let’s begin the fusion of Fiber and Panel
Not Rocket Science: Take your prepared fiber optic cable, (the piece with the 1.5 feet of protective jacket removed), and lay it on the back side of the ceiling tile in such a way that the ends of the loose filament would extend beyond the corner of the ceiling tile. Once in place, tape the cable to the backside of the tile. We use duct tape as we want this position secure.
While this famous carpenter’s saying doesn’t exactly apply, it’s intent is correct: Double check your work! It doesn’t take much to do simple test where you tape down the cable and “whip” the loose filaments past the two furthest corners to insure your placement of the cable.
Sewing 101 In our opinion, the next few steps are the most enjoyable. Sewing the individual filaments into (or through) the panel. Using a large sewing needle and working from the back side of the panel we thread a single strand of fiber optic filament through the eye of the needle. You should extend the filament about 1-2 inches through the needle.
Bottoms Up! When starting to thread the stars into a new panel, we like to start at the bottom of the panel and work up. Simply push the needle through the panel up to the where the eye of the needle is ready to go through…
… then flipping to the front of the panel, CAREFULLY PULL the needle through. The fiber will follow, creasing itself as it comes through the hole. This crease is not an issue and will be cut off in the final steps. Be careful when pushing the needle through from the back side, sometimes the panel will want to “flake” from the front side.
TIP: We used a type of ceiling tile that was heavily textured on the front side, so any blemishes created during the threading process would not be noticeable. If you’re using a ceiling tile that is smooth you might want to “pre-poke” the holes from the front side of the panel.
Once you’ve threaded one filament, carefully pull it tight and go on to the next. Don’t cut it just yet, we’ll take care of that later. Here is a shot of our freshly threaded panel.
TIP: Avoid the urge to cut the fibers on the front side. Let them flow freely for now.
NEXT: On the back side, you’ll need to carefully tape down the fibers. We use masking tape for this task. Some pieces are holding several fibers, other pieces are more specific. Our goal is to prevent ” fiber snag ” or shifting.
We say “First Cut” because we will be giving the fibers a final cut once you’ve installed the ceiling panels into the ceiling grid.
“Testing, Testing!” If you’re like us, you’ll want to “test” each panel as you complete it. This is very easy to do. Shine a light (our 1000M illuminator works nicely!) into the end of the fiber optic cable that will be plugged into the illuminator. Your star panel will glow with the same intensity as the light source!
Panel by Panel:
TIP: Begin with the panels furthest away from your source of illumination. This will make it easier for you to direct and manage the fiber optic cables through the ceiling grid work on their way to the source of illumination In our example, starting with “A”, then “F” and “B” then “K”, “G”, “C” etc…
FINAL CUT: Once you have all the panels in the ceiling grid and you’re happy with the star placement you can snip the fiber even closer to the ceiling panel. We use a finger nail clipper for this.
TIP: To create a bit of variance in the ‘size’ of the stars consider flaring or mushrooming some of the fiber tips. Only instead of using a candle, use a soldering iron or a hot light bulb.
Customer Project: For another example of installation of fiber optic stars into a suspended ceiling, take a look at “El Theatre De Lamont”.
Single Strand Filament Tips: While we prefer working with the fiber optic cable when doing star ceilings, it is possible to use single strand filament to achieve the same result. We can suggest two different approaches when working with single strand filament to create your star ceiling. In both approaches you’ll need more room to spread out and carefully manage the individual filaments.
APPROACH ONE: Focus on one panel at a time and cut each strand individually to the desired length. If space allows, lay the panel on the floor directly below the ceiling grid where it will be placed into. Thread and measure the filament one at a time by simulating the distance on the floor. Then once you’ve threaded and cut all your filaments, you can lightly ‘bundle’ it using masking tape every few feet. This will help with fiber management when you lift and place the panel into place.
APPROACH TWO: Place the panel in the ceiling grid BEFORE treading the fiber optic filament through the panel, You would need to start at the furthest point from the illuminator and work your way to the light source. Threading, measuring, cutting and taping each strand as you go. You’ll find that after a few panels, this is not as bad as it sounds. You’ll need to be careful as the more panels you do, the more loose fiber you’ll have hanging down from the ceiling grid. TIP: You might find it helpful to ‘collect’ these fibers together close to the point of illumination.