Introduction: Build Decorative Lights to Add Atmosphere

Decorative Pole Lanterns

Many years ago a friend asked me to decorate for his wedding reception. He had free access to a church meeting hall, but wanted to completely change the interior atmosphere so that it was something very different. We agreed to change it into a city park at night. The main components of this transformation were park lights and greenery (trees, shrubs and flowers). I took on the challenge of making 10 park-like 'street lights'.

These lights were constructed from materials found at the local DIY hardware store. The most expensive part of these lights is the light fixture (luminaire) mounted to the top of the pole. I was very fortunate at the time to work for a company that made these types of lights and was able to repurpose customer returns into my project.

Years later I repeated the decorative transformation for my own wedding. Along with the lights we used an overwhelming number of plants: trees, shrubs and flowers. We were fortunate that we found a service that allowed us to rent tons of greenery (if no such service is available talk to a local nursery and see if they will allow your to 'borrow' or rent their inventory for a small fee). In order to extend the illusion even further I created faux planter boxes against the walls, edged in real red brick and filled with redwood bark and flowers. I also added park benches and a water fountain.

We finished off the atmosphere with a string quartet softly playing classical music. It was a truly a unique experience.

Instructions for building the lights follow...

Step 1: Materials

PARTS LIST:

Brass Coach Lantern Light Fixture (Luminaire)

ABS 2" Cap

ABS Toilet Flange

ABS 2" to Toilet Flange Adapter

ABS 2" pipe 80"

ABS Cement

24" diameter 3/4" thick wood round

Flat Black Spray Paint

1" length of 1/8 IP all threaded pipe with nuts and washers

Four 1/4" bolts with nuts and washers

Computer disk drive extender (or polarized/keyed electrical connecter suitable for 120Vac and ~1A)

Computer power supply cord or power supply cord

Solder and Electrical Tape/Heat Shrink Tubing or Insulated Crimp Connectors

9 feet each of 18AWG wire; of black, white and green

Acetone

TOOLS:

Rags

Soldering Iron or Crimping Tool

Wrenches

Drill and Bits

Step 2: Lantern Top

MECHANICAL

The lantern top is a regular brass lantern that you would normally use at your home, either wall-mount or post mount. In my case the lantern was a wall-mount lantern. I had to modify it by removing the spun brass part that mounts the central lantern body to the wall. The goal is to disassemble the lantern enough so that you can remove the mounting parts, either the wall-mount of post-top mount. This way you get down to just the lamp compartment, typically with an opening in the bottom that you can use to install the pipe cap to.

Everything on these lanterns is held together by threaded pipe, washers, and nuts. If you remove threaded nuts and decorative nuts you should be able to get down to just the lamp compartment.

With the bottom brass spinning accessible you can install some all-thread pipe through the bottom brass spinning and the 2" ABS pipe cap. You drill a hole in the pipe cap for the all-thread pipe to fit and install nuts and washers on both sides (in the lantern bottom and in the ABS pipe cap) to hold the ABS pipe cap to the bottom of the brass lamp compartment. Before putting the lamp back together, push the power wires out through the all thread pipe. You should also include a grounding wire which typically is attached to a large washer that should be sandwiched under the all-thread nuts. You reassemble the lantern so that the lamp compartment has the cap attached to the bottom of it.

ELECTRICAL

The lanterns need to be assembled and disassembled for transporting. The lanterns on top need to be able to be disconnected electrically so that the units can be disassembled. The cheapest way to get mating electrical connectors for me was to cannibalize computer disk drive extension cables I had. The computer extension cables work well because they are polarized (keyed) so that they only fit together one way; the wiring cannot get mixed up and miswired during assembly. The extension cables have a male and female plug connected together by a short length of wire. The wire is cut into two, and the male (has recessed pins in it) is connected to the wires in the lantern and the female (has recessed mating 'tubes'/sockets) cables are spliced onto the wires in the lamp pole. The wires are connected by stripping back the insulation, slipping on some heat shrink tubing (I found some clear), twisting the wires together, soldering and then slipping the heat shrink into position and shrinking with a heat gun or flame/torch.

Step 3: Lantern Base and Pole

MECHANICAL

The bottom is a 24" diameter 3/4" thick particle board disk. I found these precut at a home improvement store. In hindsight I would suggest plywood rather than particle board as I have had quite a few dings chip out bits of the particle board. The wood disks are spray painted flat black. A black plastic ABS toilet flange is fastened upside down to the base by four 1/4" bolts with nuts and washers. The heads of the bolts are recessed into the bottom of the wood disk.

The pole of the lamp is 2" ABS sewer pipe 80" tall. ABS pipe is nice since it is already black. It may have some surface printing on it which can be removed by rubbing with a cloth dampened with acetone. [Only use acetone outside as it is extremely flammable.] The pole has a 2" to Toilet Flange adapter cemented on with ABS cement. The connection between this 2" adapter (cemented to the pole) and the toilet flange on the wood base is NOT cemented, it is left as a friction/press fit.

ELECTRICAL

The electricity is run up the pole on three 18AWG wires (white, neutral; black, hot/line; green, ground). Use enough wire to go from the bottom of the pole plug about a foot or two extra at the top.

The least inexpensive electrical cords I could find were computer power cords. You cut off the square part that plugs into the computer and you are left with a very nice grounded power cord with a molded-on plug. The cords are installed into the bottom side of the pole. Drill a hole just large enough for the power cord. Thread the cord through the hole and pull the cord out of the bottom of the pole. Tie a knot in the cord so it won't pull out of the pole. Strip the power cord and splice its conductors onto the wires running up the pole. Match the colors white-white, black-black, green-green. Make the splice by either stripping the wires, twisting, soldering and taping with electrical tape or use crimp-on connectors (insure that you use the correct crimp tool). The splice is tucked back up into the bottom of the pole to keep it out of the way.

The wires at the top of the pole are connected to the computer extension cable connector with the female 'tubes'/sockets (the ones that you can't touch with your finger -- this is so if the light gets left plugged in you won't get shocked taking it apart or assembling it.). Follow the splice instructions under the "Lantern Top" step as these connections are identical.

Step 4: Assembly / Disassembly

ASSEMBLY

Assembly consists of making the electrical connection at the lantern by pushing the computer connectors together, making sure they are aligned properly. I generally cradle the lantern in my arms so that I have both hands to work with making the connection. Push the mated connectors into the top of the pole. Mount the lantern to the top of the pole by pushing the ABS cap on the bottom of the lantern onto the top of the ABS pole.

With the base in the intended location insert the 2"-to-toilet-flange adapter into the toilet flange bolted to the wood base. I push it down and then gently step on the edge of the adapter to force it a bit further into the flange and make a solid fit. After installing a lamp (I prefer crystal clear lamps so the filament shines brightly and sparkles), plug the assembly into an electrical outlet and let the light shine.

DISASSEMBLY

Unplug the pole lantern. To take the pole lantern apart you start with the base. You stand on the base and gently push the top of the pole around in a circular motion while gently lifting. The adapter will loosen in the toilet flange and the pole come off of the base. Lean the pole over and gently pull the lantern and cap off of the pole. Disconnect the electrical by pulling the connectors apart.

ADD-ONs

As a secondary project I took a cheap light dimmer and mounted it in metal outlet box with an electrical outlet and a power supply cord. This essentially made a light dimmer that could be inserted between my pole lantern and the electrical outlet. I can then dial-in the dimmed light to just the right brightness, from a candle-like glow to a light-up-the-room blaze. I used a dimmer rated 600 watts so I could plug up to 6 lanterns with 100W bulbs into it.

I also made some very nice storage boxes from cardboard and foam to protect my investment.

Step 5: Transform

Lighting has a very large impact on any event. I have found that having the pole lanterns as the only sight source adds a lot of atmosphere to any function. And, as mentioned earlier, greenery and flowers add an enormous character too.

I have used these lights many times and even rented them out for anything from high school proms to weddings.

Enjoy!

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