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Neon College: Mastering the Splice

The basics for working with neon splicing

By Staff

Working well with neon is a skill that separates the expert craftsman from the average sign worker.

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  • One of the basics for working with neon is splicing-the joining of two tubes by heat. The goal is for the joint to be a smooth and strong bond. Of course, you want the bond without any gas leaks or air leaks in the finished product.

    The first step when creating a splice is to heat the tube ends evenly and uniformly. Move the tube at the edge of the flame. Be sure to heat the whole tube. Try to roll the tube in your palm between your thumb and forefingers. Rotate the tube over and back to ensure the even distribution of heat.

    The glass is hot enough when it is light-brown in color and almost ready to melt.

    Bring the tube ends gently together. This may be done in the flame or just out of the flame. Regardless, the objective is to get a flush joining. If the tube ends are not flush, a hole may be created in the seam.

    As soon as the tubes are flush, bring the joint into the flame. You do not want either tube to cool. If either tube is cooler than the other, a strain may be created that will cause a tube to crack or splinter. That would be the end of your joint and the value of your materials.

    Repeat the heating technique used earlier. Be sure again that it is even and uniform. The heat not only prevents the unwanted strain, but also offers an opportunity to finish and smooth the seam. In fact, you may want to heat the joint a little closer to molten to assist in the smoothing.

    As you heat the glass to molten in the flame, use air to work the glass. Blow in and blow out to smooth the seam of the weld. Some craftsmen who work with neon tubing prefer to work the seam in the flame: they believe it makes the work easier to accomplish. Others work outside the direct flame until the glass begins to cool. They return the joint to the flame for heating and smoothing, and take it out to finish the seam.

    In or out depends on the comfort zone of the craftsman. Some claim it takes a great deal of experience and superior hand-eye coordination to work in the flame. Nevertheless, all that matters is the finishing of the seam.

    Some have an aversion to using air. They rotate the two sides of the seam in different directions while in the flame. Because the joint is nearly molten, this helps smooth the weld.

    A bit of slight pushing and pulling can help to smooth the weld, but you have to have good eyes. First, push together the tubes until the joint swells around two millimeters more than the original diameter of the tubes. Then, pull back gently until the joint is equal to the original tubes' diameter.

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    The next step is to check the seal and the quality of the splice. As the glass cools and stiffens, draw air in through the blow hose. Then blow the air out through the tube. You will know if the seal is airtight or has even the slightest leaks. You will feel the air come back or hear the leak. What you want is the air going out the end until you are blue in the face.

    Once the seal is sealed and smooth, the spliced tube should be heated once again. Heat the joint to molten this last time. By talking it to molten, you will remove any strains and create a whole tube with uniform strength.

    To finish your masterful splice, take the still warm tube to the bending table. It is time to make sure that the newly spliced tube is straight at the new joint. The best thing to do is to assume it needs to be straightened.

    Press the spliced tube between two wooden blocks covered with non-asbestos cloth. Line the tube up on a true straight edge. If the spliced tube is warm enough to be malleable, it should be straightened quickly and without risking your work or the tube.

    Leave the newly spliced tube of neon long enough to cool. This should take only a few minutes. The passive cooling is worth the time. If you were to move your work while it is still warm, you might create a strain in the new joint.

    Sounds easy, doesn't it? It isn't. The skills of the master are not learned in a day.

    Everyone has to pay tuition in the school of neon work. This tuition is usually paid with botched jobs, wasted materials, and lots of time. And, of course, varying levels of frustration.

    Think in terms of practice, practice, and more practice. Then once you have gotten confident with one diameter, try another diameter. Every diameter seems to have its own special quirks.

    It may become a snap to splice straight neon, but try the neon that bends, curves, and seems too awkward for polite language.

    Then there is the challenge of the many varieties of neon.

    Yes, it seems like an endless challenge, but that is why quality neon work is the sign of the master. A good start to becoming a master in neon is mastering the splice.

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