Introduction: Outdoor LED Landscape Lighting

Picture of Outdoor LED Landscape Lighting

These lamps are my own design, but probably inspired by some of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. I made them to replace the black plastic low voltage lights that are so typical in the U.S. These lamps have an interesting way of reflecting the light off the inner surface of the top. They look really cool when it starts to get dark out.

The four posts in the corners are made from Sipo. Sipo is an African wood, also known as Utile. It has characteristics that are similar to mahogany, so it is a good choice to be used outdoors where weather resistance is important.

The grilles are made from 1/4" walnut an they have slots cut in them to allow the light to shine through.

The angled top is made from Spanish cedar. Its lighter color is a good choice to reflect the light.

Step 1: Materials You Will Need

  • Wood
    • I made 2 lamps, so I needed enough wood to make 8 posts. I used Sipo for the posts, but any rot-resistant wood will be fine (cedar, black locust, black walnut, white oak, mahogany, teak, etc.). Figure on about 132" of 2"x2" posts for each lamp (2 posts that are 36" and 2 posts that are 30").
    • Wood for the tops. I used Spanish cedar to take advantage of its lighter color. You'll need a piece that's about 18" x 10 1/2" for each lamp. The wood I used was about 7/8" thick, but 3/4" would be fine.
    • Wood for the bottom. I used Sipo for the bottom that was about 12" x 12" and 1/2" thick. You'll need one of these for each lamp that you make.
    • Wood for the grilles. I used an 8/4" piece of walnut that I sliced on the band saw into roughly 1/2" slices that I planed down to 1/4". The grilles were about 10" x 17" x 1/4". You'll need four of these for each lamp that you make.
  • Acrylic sheet (optional). This will help to protect the bulb from the weather (rain and snow).
  • MR16 LED bulbs. The ones I used can be found here.
  • Sockets and wire for MR16 bulbs. You can find them here.
  • Wire nuts. You'll need two for each light. You can find them here.
  • Black electrical tape.
  • 3 1/2" x 1/4" bolts (four for each lamp)
  • 1/4" fender washers (eight for each lamp)
  • 1/4" nuts (four for each lamp)
  • Patio stone (one for each lamp). Each patio stone should be 16" x 16" or larger.

Step 2: Tools You Will Need

Step 3: Cut the Rough Length of the Wood for the Posts

Picture of Cut the Rough Length of the Wood for the Posts

I cut the Sipo to a rough length of 30" for the posts at the front and 36" for the posts at the back. These are just the rough lengths of the post and will be long enough to accommodate a 20 degree angle for the top.

I am making two lamps, so there will be eight posts in all -- four front posts and four at the back.

Step 4: Cut the Posts

Picture of Cut the Posts

On the band saw, I cut the legs to be a little over 2" wide, with the goal of having the final legs planed to be 2" square.

Step 5: Resaw the Walnut Into Thin Pieces

Picture of Resaw the Walnut Into Thin Pieces

I used a piece of walnut that was 8/4" thick and about 10 1/2" wide.

I used the band saw to re-saw it to almost 1/2" thick so that the final planed dimension would be 1/4". I could definitely feel the saw working. It would have been easier if I had a carbide blade. In this case I used a regular 1/2" blade that was fairly new.

The final pieces will be 17 1/2" x 10 1/2" x 1/4".

Step 6: Plane the Walnut and Cut to the Final Width

Picture of Plane the Walnut and Cut to the Final Width

I planed the walnut down to 1/4" thick and then cut it to width -- about 10" wide.

Step 7: Route the Slots in the Walnut Grilles

Picture of Route the Slots in the Walnut Grilles

Using a 3/8" spiral up-cut bit in the router, with stops attached to the ends of the router table, I routed three vertical slots into the walnut. These slots would allow the light to shine through.

Step 8: Cut Notches in the Sides of the Walnut Grilles

Picture of Cut Notches in the Sides of the Walnut Grilles

I used my dado set to cut notches in the sides of the walnut. This would create additional slots along the edges for the light to escape. It would also create 3 tabs on each side that would attach to the corner posts.

You may have noticed that the grille in the photo has only two slots cut into it. That's because I made a mistake and cut the first slot in the wrong place. I was able to recover by adjusting this design. I purposely made two pieces like this to go onto the back of each lamp.

Step 9:

Picture of

I cut 20 degree dadoes near the top of each post to hold the Spanish cedar top in place. The angle serves two purposes: it allows the rainfall to run off the top; and it provides a nice reflective surface on the underside of the top panel for the LED light to reflect outwards.

I also cut 90 degree dadoes that will be used to hold the bottom board in place. The bottom is used to hold the LED light in place. I used blue tape on the posts to help prevent tear-out.

Step 10: Drill Hole for the LED Light

Picture of Drill Hole for the LED Light

I cut a 1 3/4" hole in the bottom board using a Forstner bit. It's a perfect size to hold the LED light in place. 1 7/8" would work too, but be careful that you don't make the hole too big. A 2" hole would be too big. It's held in place just with gravity.

Attach an electrical box to the underside of the bottom to hold the electrical connections and keep them protected from the elements.

Step 11: Cut the Acrylic Sheet (Optional)

Picture of Cut the Acrylic Sheet (Optional)

I used a knife to score the acrylic sheet. This will be inserted into slots in the legs to help protect against the weather. The pieces need to be roughly 17.5" high x 9.5" wide.

The acrylic is considered to be optional. It will help to protect the bulb from the rain and snow, but it is not absolutely necessary. Eliminating the acrylic sheet is a good way to save on costs (and work).

Step 12: Route Slots in the Posts for the Acrylic Sheets

Picture of Route Slots in the Posts for the Acrylic Sheets

If you choose to use the acrylic sheets, you will need to route slots in each of the posts. Be careful to mark the posts so that you route the slots on the correct side of each post. Each post will have two slots routed into it. I chose to cut the acrylic sheets to be 17 1/2" high, so the slots need to be the same length.

I used a 1/8" router bit to cut slots into the legs to hold the acrylic sheets.

The acrylic was 0.110" and the bit was 0.125", so it was perfect. I ran the router on the slowest speed and was very careful because it's easy to break a router bit that is so thin.

Step 13: Assemble the Lamps

Picture of Assemble the Lamps

Insert the acrylic sheets into the posts. It's a little tricky to do this without a helper to provide an extra pair of hands, but I managed to do it alone.

Then insert the bottom and the top into the dadoes and screw the posts into the bottom and the top to hold everything together.

Step 14: Apply a Coat of Finish to the Interior Side of the Grilles Prior to Assembly

Picture of Apply a Coat of Finish to the Interior Side of the Grilles Prior to Assembly

I applied a spar urethane to the inside of each of the grilles. This was an important because it will be impossible to apply finish after it's assembled due to the acrylic sheets that block access to the inside of the walnut.

Step 15: Cut the Mortises for the Grille Tabs

Picture of Cut the Mortises for the Grille Tabs

I carefully marked the mortises for the walnut tabs using a knife and a chisel. I positioned the grille onto the posts so that the bottom of the grille was about 6" from the bottom of the posts.

Then I used the router with a 3/8" spiral up-cut bit to cut the mortises for the walnut tabs. I cleaned up the mortises with a chisel and end up with a tight fit.

Step 16: Glue the Grilles Onto the Posts

Picture of Glue the Grilles Onto the Posts

It took me about 30 minutes to prepare the mortises for each side. Then I glued and clamped the walnut in place.

I was a little aggressive and left them clamped for only 30 minutes while I prepared the next side, and then removed the clamps so that I could clamp up the next side. Then I let everything sit overnight so that the glue could cure.

Step 17: Mount Each Lamp Onto a Patio Stone

Picture of Mount Each Lamp Onto a Patio Stone

I decided to set the lamps on top of patio stones so that the legs will not be in direct contact with the soil.

I first drilled holes into the corners of the patio stones (after marking the position of each leg). Then I set the lamps in place and drilled a 1/4" hole up into the legs. I used 3 1/2" 1/4" bolts that extend from the bottom of the patio stone into each leg. There is a nut that holds the bolt in place, and it also maintains separation between the wooden leg and the patio stone.

Step 18: Wire Up the Lights

Picture of Wire Up the Lights

Assuming that the 12V DC wiring is already in place, just wire these lights up using a couple of wire nuts. Wrap the wire nuts with black electrical tape to protect them from the moisture.

Step 19: Turn on the Lights and Test

Picture of Turn on the Lights and Test

Turn on the power to the lights to make sure they are wired correctly. You will be pleased by how they look! I am really happy with the design and the way the light reflects off the Spanish cedar.

If you'd like to watch me make these, you can follow along on YouTube by clicking here.

Comments

sharpstick (author)2016-08-25

Looks great! (but at first glance I thought it was an outhouse for your gnomes. I would scale it down a bit for path lighting.)

I'm also trying to design some kind of path lights that don't fall apart like M@libus. Considerations: Light should shine down on pathway without blinding people walking toward it. Wiring connections: My system slowly died over a couple years as the wire connections got filled with dirt and corroded. I had put plastic cups over them and buried them but ants(?) carried dirt and moisture up into them. Next time I'm trying the waterproof silicone wirenuts. Solder is another alternative.

woodumakeit (author)sharpstick2016-08-25

Thanks! I agree that these are too large for pathway lights. One of our friends saw the photo and thought I had built an outdoor shower LOL. I don't really consider these to be path lights. I have just two of these: one on either side of our front entrance and they are an appropriate size for that. I do plan on making much smaller path lights to complement these. I have a few ideas running around in my head. I just need to find the time to actually make them. I should try to do it soon and then maybe enter the Lamps and Lighting contest.

For the problem with the wiring connections, I usually just wrap the wire nuts with black electrical tape to completely seal them off. It seems to do the trick. Another thing you can try is to use wire nuts and then squeeze a bit of silicone into the opening. That should keep all the bugs and moisture out.

sharpstick (author)woodumakeit2016-08-25

If I used regular wirenuts, I would fill them with silicone grease first, then wrap. I live in Florida, megahumidity! Those connectors with sharp spikes in them are less than worthless in a humid environment(inground). They might be okay under a deck with dielectric spray on them first. The main problem I see with wirenuts is that you have to cut the wire. I might try just stripping and folding over instead.

andyholte (author)2016-08-19

Very impressive!

woodumakeit (author)andyholte2016-08-23

Thanks, Andy!

bhvm (author)2016-08-21

Those are quite handsome looking lamps!

woodumakeit (author)bhvm2016-08-22

Thank you! We've had many people walk by the house and comment on how much they like them.

Kblee5 (author)2016-08-22

Functional Art - vey attractive.

woodumakeit (author)Kblee52016-08-22

Thank you!

PhilippeC23 (author)2016-08-20

Nice job but missing something... I can hear the top plate crying : "Hey! Where's the solar panel?" ;-)

woodumakeit (author)PhilippeC232016-08-22

I am a proponent of solar power, but I didn't do that on this project for two reasons. First, the top panel is angled toward the house and the house would block almost all of the direct sunlight. Secondly, mounting a solar panel on top would really detract from the attractiveness of the wood. What I will probably do one day is invest in a solar array that can be place discretely out of view and then use that to power all of my outdoor lighting. One day...

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Bio: I love making things in my workshop, whether it be fine furniture or a simple tool or jig. Hopefully you'll be inspired and maybe ... More »
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