HANSVILLE — From the displays of glowing art and neon signs to its spunky owners Laurie Lewis and Joan Peter, the Custom Neon shop in Hansville screams cool. Not to mention neon conserves more energy than typical household lighting and doesn’t get any warmer than when it’s first turned on.
So, if the ladies’ workshop makes you want to sing along to Nelly’s 2002 MTV hit “It’s Getting Hot in Here,” it is probably all the torches burning at 800 degrees or hotter.
A look at the industrial torches and workshop equipment and it’s easy to see that they are old, but no one would know they belonged to Lewis’ grandfather.
That’s right, designing custom neon signs runs in the family. Lewis, now 55, began learning her craft 27 years ago from her grandpa, Ed Mros, at his own shop, Sun-lite Neon, in Salt Lake City.
“The technology involved with making neon hasn’t changed all that much,” Lewis said. “The equipment lasts forever.”
Lewis’ talent with neon has created many opportunities, from making signs for the Donny and Marie Osmond show to television appearances for PBS presentations.
She has worked in the neon business all over the United States, from Utah to Rhode Island to Seattle, before moving back home to Kitsap County, where she grew up.
Custom Neon has been in business eight years now and there is no sign that either of the ladies is burning out.
“It’s really fun,” Lewis said. “Every job is different and you meet all kinds of fun people.”
Peter, 53, came on board three years ago this April and Lewis calls her the creative force of the team.
“We bounce ideas off each other and we are both able to design,” Peter said. “We make a really great team.”
The ladies have designed everything from beer and espresso signs to the Star Trek Voyager to neon petroglyphs mounted on slate to replicate those found at the archaeological site Ozette that were originally painted by Makah Indians.
The ladies agreed that the art and creativity involved makes it worth the frequent burns and occasional glass chard injury.
They even have a white board devoted to highlighting their injuries. On it are cuts, burns and electrical shocks.
Lewis said she gets more cuts and burns because she does most of the glass heating and bending. Peter, however does the wiring and accumulates the most lime green shock signs on the board.
Custom Neon process
“The process of making the signs isn’t all that complicated,” Peter said. “It’s the creativity that makes it all come together.”
The ladies start out with a design and sketch out what they want the final product to look like.
A pattern is drawn out with the bends and loops, taking into account the trivial spots that will be dipped in black-out paint later.
Lewis then heats a glass tube with the torches between 800 and 1,000 degrees. Lewis said about 150 gallons of propane are required to keep the torches burning this hot over a three-month period.
After the glass is heated and pliable, Lewis matches the tube to the pattern and creates the outline of the sign.
The tube is then cooled and waits for Peter to “bombard” it.
Bombarding, Peter explained, is when the tubing is hooked to a vacuum to remove any air and heated to about 400 degrees to burn off any impurities.
The glass takes only one minute to heat but more than seven minutes to cool, Peter said.
The glass is then connected and infused with a high voltage electrical current.
Once these steps are completed the ladies are able to insert the gas that makes it glow — neon and argon.
Neon, Lewis explained, glows a bright orange color in clear glass, while Argon glows blue. By putting neon or argon in other color-infused glass, the sign takes on different hues. For instance, when argon gas is placed in a yellow glass tube, it glows green.
In a sign’s final stages, ends that shouldn’t be seen are dipped in black-out paint and then the whole sign is wired to a transformer for electricity.
Lewis said the sign runs on 110 volts of electricity and is 95 percent energy efficient.
“It’s a neat way to go for lighting,” Lewis said. “We would love to educate the world about the positives of having neon lighting in their home.”