LitwinPuzzles: Elemental : Neon : DIY: Assembly Guide


Do It Yourself (DIY) kit

Assembly Guide

Neon DIY Front

Required tools

There are a few basic tools required to build the Elemental:Neon DIY.  The parts need to be cleaned up a bit before building, with a few required and few optional steps.


There are over 100 parts to the Neon DIY kit, including:

BagOfParts PartList


The first step is not unlike the first step of any instruction manual: Please read the entire manual before starting to prepare or build your Neon.  It is just a good idea.

1.) Boring the holes to proper size 

The preparation of the parts begins by drilling all of the holes of the pieces to their correct sizes.  The failure of the laser cutting batch left them in a variety of sizes and no particular consistency.  This is pretty easy, but care must be taken to drill the right diameters in the right place or the pins won't fit and the screws may be loose.  This diagram (below, right) shows which holes are to be drilled by the smaller #44 bit (black holes) and which are to be drilled with the larger #38 drill bit.  Take note to *NOT* to drill the plunger tops or clear top lid (red holes).  These have been tapped for the screws already.


For this task you will need a way to drive the bit.  A normal drill will work, but if you happen to have a large pin vise that would probably be safer.  An electric screw driver with a chuck on the end would probably be ideal.  I use a large pin vise myself, basically a screwdriver handle with a chuck on the front.  It's a bit of wrist work, but you have plenty of control.

Drill Bit #38 Drill Bit #44

Safety note: Be careful on this step.  If you are a minor, please consult an adult.  Many of the pieces are small and it would be easy to hurt yourself if you aren't careful.  If you use a power tool, make sure you use low speed.   The holes are also quite near the edge of the piece, as they were designed with smaller holes in mind.  So go slow to avoid breaking acrylic in these areas.

If, in the process of boring out the holes, you wind up breaking a piece contact me and we can see about a replacement.

2.) Burr removal

This step isn't really required, but is suggested.  The burs on each (and every) piece are rough and unsightly.

Although I believe the puzzle would be fully functional if you left them on, treat yourself.  Your Neon is worth it.

A file or sandpaper both work to remove them, A file is probably faster. and less likely to scratch up the other surfaces of the acrylic.

The corners on the clear top and bottom piece can be sharp and could use a bit of rounding if you want. 

Burr removal

3.) Protective film/paper removal

The acrylic pieces are covered in protective film to keep away scratches.  This is blue plastic for the clear pieces and tan paper for the black and fluorescent red pieces.  This can all be peeled away.  Take note, however, that the sooner this comes off, the sooner the acrylic can start to get smudged and scratched.  So until you need a piece, you may want to leave them covered.  I only peel them off right before I start putting it together.

Peel tan Peel clear

4.) Etched piece cleanup

This step is possibly not required, but again suggested. 

When acrylic is cut, and particularly when etched, it releases fumes that adhere to the rest of the acrylic to form a dusty and sticky film.  Depending on the amount of cutting, depth and ventilation of the cutter at the time this may be more or less.

This doesn't come off with just water, but comes off easily with rubbing alcohol.

Be careful with the rubbing alcohol:  On the transparent acrylic alcohol will cause crazing, which is where the alcohol gets into tiny cracks and expands them.

Use a paper towel wet with a bit of alcohol and wipe away the gunk from the piece.  Try to avoid any holes or edges and use only as much alcohol as required. 

Etched cleanup

5.) Plunger thickness selection

There are three plungers.  Likely they will all be the same thickness.  In the event they are not, choose the thickest one and set it aside.  You will use this plunger last.  Remove the paper film before making this measurement.  You can use a caliper if you have one, but just doing it by eye is fine as well.  If you can't tell the difference, you are probably fine.

Assembly - Body


We start with the body of the puzzle, from the backplate up to the top.  Take the backplate and put in the three long body screws.  Note that the backplate is etched on the inside (backwards) so it shows through the bottom.  Make sure the three long body screws point up, meaning the heads of the screws are on the un-etched side.  Turn this over and place on a flat surface, screws pointing up.  This is a good time to make sure the inside of the back plate is wiped clean from fingerprints and dust.  After this point you won't be able to easily get to it.  Use a lint free cloth if you can, acrylic tends to have a static charge and attract dust.

Back plate Peel clear

Layer one

The first layer of the puzzle is comprised of three main pieces:  A plunger and the top and bottom body pieces.  Place the top and bottom body pieces first, then place the plunger between them.

Layer One Height Check

Unfortunately the pieces are not all the same thickness so you will have to use spacers to adjust the heights to be the same, and to be slightly higher than the height of the plunger.

I have found with these pieces the top is thinner than the bottom but yours may vary.  As the plunger was the same height as my bottom body piece, I used one spacer there and two for the top piece.

Use your finger to feel where the plunger meets the top and bottom body piece.  Add spacers until you feel it just lower than they are.  Remember that the spacers will compress a bit when the puzzle is tightened.

Once the spacers are placed, insert alignment pins into the central three holes of the body.  These will hold things in place without making it too difficult to add more layers.  The other pins will come later.

Layer One Spacers Center Pins

 Layer Two

Layer two is much like the first layer:  Place the body parts first and add the plunger, using it as a height guide so you can add the required number of spacers. You may have to adjust the bottom body piece a bit since it is only anchored by the one screw and can shift a bit, but placement of the next layer will align it.  Place the placement of the parts rotated 120 degrees so the plunger is oriented from top left to bottom right.

Layer Two Layer Two Spacers

 Layer Three

Layer three is similar to the first and second layers for the body parts in that you place those parts and the plunger, again rotating 120 degrees.  But things are quite different for the spacers.

The goal of layer three is to have the body parts and plunger exactly on the same level because the pieces will be sliding across these gaps.  This means adding spacers under the body parts (as necessary) to raise them to the level of the plunger.  This is why we saved the thickest plunger for this layer; to give us the best chance of the plunger being equal or thicker than the body pieces.

Layer Three Layer Three Spacers

It is a good idea, although not strictly required, to round the top edges of the plunger as well as the top edges of the body pieces to make sure there is no sharp edge to catch the edge of the pieces as they slide by.

Plunger Prep Body Prep

In the unlikely event that the thickest plunger is noticeably lower than the thinest body parts and rounding the edges will not provide a smooth enough transition for the pieces to move freely, contact me and I will get you some replacement parts.

The base of the puzzle is now complete and should be a flat surface with the screws and pins pointing up.  It is now time to insert the rest of the alignment pins.

Body Base Edge Pins

Body Top

The large and small triangles that form the body top are what holds the clear top piece above the moving puzzle pieces. So, like the body pieces and plunger, you will need to add spacers until they are just above the height of the red fluorescent moving pieces.

Top Triangle Top Too Low

Here you can see the body top triangle is thinner than the moving piece, and requires spacers to be taller

Height Compare Heights Match

You will want to add the spacers below the large and small body top triangles so as to have the nice look of the black acrylic on top.

Body Top Spacers Body Top Fits

The body is now complete, and it is time to place the clear top so the body screws can be tightened down. We will later remove this to add the pieces, but having it together will allow testing of all the plunger heights for proper movement.  Place it on top of the screws and pick up the puzzle gently, pressing the back and front plates together.

Body Top Complete Clear Top Placed

Holding the puzzle sideways so nothing falls out, screw the body screws into the clear top plate.  Tighten them secure, but don't over tighten or you risk stripping the threads.  The #2-56 screws and threads are more robust than the thin threads of the #0-80 of the original design, so you shouldn't have a problem with this.

The screws should be slightly too long (better long than short).  Once you see how much they stick out of the top, you can optionally remove and cut them to size.  Two of the three body screws will hold the puzzle together, so remove one at a time to cut them down.  I use a heavy duy set of clippers to clip them close the right size, then a file to remove the burrs caused by clipping.  You could certainly just file them down with no clipping, but that is more work.  This step isn't necessary, but the screw ends aren't great looking and can often be a bit sharp.

Safety Note:  If you are holding the screw in your fingertips and filing it, it will get very hot.  Don't burn yourself.  I did.  More than once.  Be smarter than I was.  And don't file your fingers.  It hurts.
Attach Top Screw Lengths

Assembly - Plungers

Plunger One

The first plunger you will build will be the one for layer three.  Make sure to use the plunger you used to set the heights of the third layer, the one you may have rounded on the top edges.

This plunger requires no spacers, and is anchored by two of the short screws.

From the bottom up place on the screws two plunger edge pieces.

Add on top of this the plunger itself.  If you filed or sanded the third plunger edges, make sure that the rounded edges are up.

It is held in place by the plunger top which is threaded to receive the screws.

Plunger One

Note that there will be a bit of play as you tighten the screws.  The plunger top can rotate a bit.  Make sure to align it with your fingers as you tighten it or it will impede movement. 

Plunger One Crooked Plunger One Straightened

Insert the half completed plunger through layer three of the puzzle.  It doesn't matter which side you built first, but it does matter that the side you built matches how you insert it.  When inserted the angle of the plunger edge should fit the body of the puzzle snugly.

Plunger One Insertion Plunger One Through

 The other side mirrors the first.  Move the plunger all the way into the puzzle so you have room to work on the other side.

Plunger One Other Side Plunger One Complete

Hold the plunger so it doesn't slip through the puzzle and insert the screws and plunger edge pieces.  The plunger top will need to be partially inserted under the clear lid, but with the screw holes over the screw ends.  Allowing the screws to be pushed down here helps, but take care not to let them drop out.

Plunger Two

The next plunger we will do is the bottom plunger.  The screws insert directly into the plunger, and we then need to add two plunger edges and as many spacers as needed for the plunger top to move smoothly on the top layer.  You can push it in with just the screws to get a sense of the height you will need to add.

Plunger Two Plunger Two Measure

Although fairly arbitrary, you might find it easiest to place a plunger edge, then a number of spacers, then a plunger edge, then the plunger top.

Although it may be more visually appealing to break up the spacers to match the body layer spacers, the heights will not necesarily be the same and it can be convenient to sandwich them between two plunger edges.

Tighten down the screws while holding the plunger top aligned with your fingers. Make sure to tighten fully (but don't strip the plunger top!) so the spacers are compressed to get a proper height measurement.

Plunger Two With Spacers Plunger One Through

Slide plunger two into the puzzle. You may have to slightly lift or depress the plunger top as it may not be exactly parallel to the plunger itself.  Guide it under the clear lid but over the puzzle body.  As it gets nearer to the puzzle body, you can tell if it is too tight or too loose.  Not enough or two many spacers will mean it does not move smoothly. 
Plunger Two: Too tight Plunger Two Perfect

Mirror this for the other side of the plunger. With plunger two done the base puzzle is almost complete.

Plunger Two Check Plunger Two Complete

As you insert the plunger into the puzzle, be aware that one of the other completed plungers may block its path. Simply slide it out of the way. It is easy not to notice this with the pieces not yet in the puzzle and a black acrylic on black acrylic.

Plunger Blocks Plunger Clear

Plunger Three

The final plunger is built both below and above the plunger main piece.

There are no spacers needed below but take care to add enough for good movement above.

Again, it may make sense to keep the spacers between the plunger and the top plunger edge.

After tuning the first side, slide through and mirror for the other side just like plungers one and two.

Plunger Three

When complete, test all plungers for good movement and that each side aligns with the puzzle body.

Side Cutouts


The body of the puzzle is now complete. Take off the top lid again, being careful to keep it upright so no pieces, pins or screws drop out.

Add in the pieces, etched side down.

Replace the clear top again, being careful to clean the interior side of dust or debris.  Anything under the clear top can't be cleaned and with the movement of the pieces and plungers may scratch or smear underside of the clear top.  

Body complete Pieces

Your Neon DIY is now complete!

Neon DIY