Introduction: Backyard Fence Light

About: My first name is Joel; my Profile name is Joe Seven. As a very young boy, I wrote a thank-you note to my beloved Grandmother for one of her frequent handcrafted gifts, but I penned the last letter of my name …

These lights are very easy to build, very inexpensive, and provide a nice glow. With time, the light fixtures will weather and match surrounding fencing since identical materials were used.

I wanted soft accent lighting on our backyard fence for effect rather than for activities, security, or safety. I chose simple down-lighting attached to the fence near the top so it would wash it with a soft light. I made light fixtures out of cedar fence picket lumber identical to the pickets used to build our fence.

Step 1: Gather Materials

· Cheap landscape light set

· Cordless drill & bits

· Cedar fence picket* (enough to make the light fixtures your design requires) *or use wood material in a size that matches your fence's material.

· GFCI Power source (check your circuit breaker panel - some entire circuits are GFCI protected)

· Landscape wiring splice connector (1)

· Tape measure

· Screwdriver (if you don’t use a power tool.)

· Screws (two sizes) #6 x 1/2” wood screw and longer wood screw(s) for attaching light fixture to fence (I recommend using a Kreg 2 1/2” Coarse Thread pocket hole screw - optional, but very handy.)

· Finishing nails (3d nails are 1 1/4" long) or supply of 18 ga. 1 1/4" nail gun nails (a.k.a. "pin nailer")

Optional items

o Power pin nailer (small finishing nails are fine but a powered nail gun makes the job a whole lot easier.)

o Waterproof carpenter’s wood glue

o 100' tape measure will make layout phase easier

o Wire strippers (wires can be stripped without them, but they make the job easier and neater)

o Table saw (you can cut pieces with any saw, but a table saw with stop blocks makes the job faster and more accurate.)

o Table saw sled (you don’t need a sled, but it makes perfectly square cuts effortlessly.)

o Pocket hole jig (you can toe nail light fixture to fence, but pocket holes are much easier.)

o Screwdriver bit (manual screw driver is just fine, but screwdrtuver bit in power tool is finer.)

Step 2: Cut List

Your pieces count and dimensions may vary depending on what size boards (called pickets) make up your fence.

For 10 light fixtures: 30 pcs @ 5 ½” x 5 ½”

10 pcs @ 5” x 6 1/2”

Cedar pickets are available by the piece and cost about $1.50 each. Pickets come in ½” or 5/8” thickness and usually 5 ½” wide (varies by manufacturer) typically in 6’ lengths. All ten light fixtures were easily cut from 4 cedar pickets with plenty of room to spare.

Tip: Carefully measure thickness and width of the existing pickets on your fence to make sure the picket material you buy for this project will match your fencing material.

Option: You can run the wiring through access holes (shown) and "thread" each fixture onto the cable; I just fit each light fixture box over the wiring by notching the fence boards.

Step 3: ​Layout and Measurements

Determine a power source and decide where you want to mount the control unit and where you want the lights. The power source needs to be GFCI protected and the control unit should be accessible but blocked from view (with a bush or tree trunk for example.) Locate the intervals and height of the light fixtures; unless your landscaping dictates otherwise, evenly space the light fixtures and use a uniform height.

The light set I used came with 10 pathway lights, so I made10 cedar light fixtures to be mounted onto the fence. Your application may require changes in your layout. Regardless of your design goals, focus on safety (12v will still cause electrical shock if done incorrectly) and focus on maintenance. Sloppy work, poor weatherproofing, wrong parts can all cause your lights to fail and may be dangerous.

While in the design phase, keep in mind what will be involved when it is time to change a light bulb – you don’t want a major re-build every time a bulb goes out (they don’t last forever.)

Be sure to not exceed the capacity of your controller – read the instructions fully, note the combined wattage of all the lights in your layout, and the maximum wattage your controller can handle. There are often other requirements you need to factor in to your layout (e.g., some sets require 10’ between controller and first light, lights must be elevated a minimum distance above ground, etc.) If you don't add extra lights to the set, none of this should present a problem.

Once you have laid out the power source, control unit, and light fixtures, you can measure your whole layout to determine how much wire is needed. Usually, outdoor lighting sets come with a quantity of wire (typically 50’.) If your layout calls for more wire than came with your set, you will need to buy more wire and splice together the two runs of wire. It is recommended you use a waterproof connector; use a crimp connector that you heat shrink with a heat gun (or cigarette lighter.)

When adding length to what came with your set of lights, be mindful of voltage drop that can occur over very long runs. If you significantly alter what came with your set, you may run into problems, so get some professional advice if that happens. You shouldn't run into problems of this nature if you stick to what came with your light set.

When measuring wire, add a few feet (wire isn’t expensive) to allow for last-minute adjustments and to help make wiring easier.

Step 4: Run Cable

Place each light fixture on the ground at the base of the fence per the layout plan and loosely run landscape cable from controller location to end of the run of lights. This will ensure that there is enough cable for your project and will allow a visual last check to see if the lights are spaced to your satisfaction. At this time, make changes and adjustments as required.

Step 5: Preassemble Parts

Most landscape light sets require some assembly. It is often simple, but important to be done properly. The set I used is made by Malibu® and requires that two 6” wire leads be inserted into a lamp socket and the socket into a lamp shade. The two wires easily slip into holes in the socket and when in place, they create a lamp base for 4w wedge base lamps (included in set.)

The opposite end of each wire lead is a plastic wire connector. When the connector is snapped around a landscape cable, metal teeth dig into the cable to establish an electrical connection (which is all you need on a 12v system.)

My set is designed for pathway lighting, with 10 round light fixtures that fit atop a spike. The light socket fits into a lamp shade and then a short piece of plastic pipe connects to a spike that sticks in the ground. A plastic cover and a plastic ring complete the walkway light. I threw most of that away.

You only need the socket and light bulb for this project, but I decided to use the cylindrical lamp shade as well to further soften the light's output.

Once the light socket wiring is assembled, assemble all the wood parts. Thinking ahead will save lots of work in your assembly. I recommend waterproof glue on all joints prior to fastening with pin nail gun or finishing nails.

Tip: The design of your light set may differ, so experiment with some scrap wood first.

My design is a simple box with no back or bottom. The “box” is fastened to a fence, so the fence serves as the back. The top is solid and the bottom open; if your design calls for light to shine up as well as down, leave the top open as well.

I shortened the top by ½” to allow the box to slip onto one picket of the fence and remain square to the fence.

Before assembling the “box,” I drove two short wood screws to secure the lamp shade. Most parts of a light set are designed to be twist-locked together with parts using small tabs along their outer edge; I positioned the two screws to allow the lamp shade to twist firmly into place by locking against the screws.

Tip: When assembling the "box," use a small bead of waterproof carpenter's glue everywhere wooden pieces join and set in place with small nails (a powered nail gun will pin nails makes this pretty easy.) The assembly can be done without the glue, but using glue with nails will waterproof and strengthen the box.)

The lamp socket twist locks into the other end of the lamp shade.

It may be necessary to notch a small access along both edges of your existing fence picket. There will be a snug fit between the light fixture “box” as it slides over the fence picket.

I centered a pocket hole on one edge of the top piece of the “box.” This single screw is adequate to securely attach the fixture to the fence.

Tip: to avoid splitting fence boards, recommend pre-drilling holes.

Tip: Driving the two screws are best done before the “box” is assembled; notching the sides of your fence picket is best done before mounting the light fixture to your fence.

Tip: Use liberal amounts of landscape cable and wait until the very end of the project to trim excess cable – it will help create slack cable to make the wiring easier.

I made ten light fixtures.

Step 6: Mount Light Fixtures

The design uses a ½” offset in the top piece to allow the fixture to straddle one of the existing fence pickets; the 2 ½” screw allows you to firmly snug the light fixture into the fence’s horizontal support boards.

Referring to your layout, secure each light fixture to the fence at a uniform height. It should not be necessary, but if added support is desired, nail or screw the bottom rear edge on each side of the box to the fence as well.

Tip: cedar picket material is typically ½” thick and brittle, so consider pre-drilling holes before driving screws

Try to stay with your layout, but you may have to alter your plan if a plant or other feature gets in the way.

Step 7: ​Wiring the Lights

I mounted the controller near the center of my run of lights, so I had to branch some lights to the left and right of center using a splice connector. The connector is very easy to use. It separates into two halves - lay your wires into little slots, close the two halves onto the cables, and as the handle is twisted, the device securely "bites" into both cables for a secure connection.

Connect the wire leads to the landscape cable inside each light fixture “box.” This is much easier to do before the box is mounted to the fence and several feet of cable are gathered on either side of the spot you’re working on so there’s some slack. Those little “pinch” connectors work well but it is easier if you give yourself some ‘elbow room’ to fasten them.

Connect cable to controller following instructions that came with your light set. Plug controller into power source.

Test your lights to make sure each are lighted.

Step 8: ​Set Clock and Enjoy

Normally the light set controller has a timer with on/off settings for two “on” times and two “off” times. After testing everything to your satisfaction, decide on what time you want your lights to run and adjust the timer on your controller accordingly. You may need to adjust on/off times to actually match your local sunrise/sunset cycle; you may want to run your lights all night or have them go off after bedtime, etc. Now, sit back and wait for dark!

Step 9: Inspiration

I recommend you review an Instructable by Two Paddles Design

That Instructable inspired me to use on his idea for pathway lighting on my fence lighting.

We used to see just blackness if we looked on the yard at night, but now the fence and plants are accented with very soft light.

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