You've got a problem.....
The backyard is great and everyone wants to spend time out there (until darkness sets in). You need the world's best lighting solution to extend your summertime hours! This able will lead you through the process to install a commercial grade STRING LIGHTING professional set up without spending a couple K to get there.
When it comes to getting everyone outside remember this one rule.....
"If you build it, they will come".
Step 1: Checklist of Materials & Tools
OK you saw the photos and now you want your backyard to light up in a similarly amazing fashion!!!
You can start by looking at everything below to see what you need to buy and what you already have.
I'll give as many links as I can to the products I purchased to help me complete the project. One quick note: I'm not sponsored and would certainly never steer you in any direction one way or the other as to what you should spend your money on. This is what I bought and used to get to the finished result in my undertaking. I would hope you creatively consider what you would require to complete your snowflake project.
Let me know if you have any questions!!!!
COMPLETE MATERIAL LIST: In no particular order...
Safety First = Personal Protection Equipment a.k.a. PPE
Gloves - All Purpose (Do not skip this item. Seriously, a must with wire rope)!!!
A Climbing Helmet (I didn't take a picture of mine, but you better believe I wasn't going to risk falling on my skull from height). Invest in this if you don't already own one, no exceptions or excuses. It's your brain after all!!!!
Wire Rope Cutter (I borrowed one but the sharper the better. Frayed wire ropes are just begging to puncture you.
Swage Tool (Again borrowed but absolutely critical. The more leverage you can afford the better).
Extendable Ladder ( I use an articulating 16' but anything will work that'll get you to your desired height)
Step Ladder (for a friend)
Long Tape (for distance)
Needle Nose Pliers
Socket Wrench and Set
Drill Bit set with Varying sizes
Paracord or string (for mock up level of my wire rope line)
Voltmeter (if wiring is necessary)
String Lights for illumination (I'll elaborate on why I decided on the product I did. I've been researching these for at least a year. Anything remotely affordable has limitations. Mainly, how the product holds up (incandescent bulbs are expensive and burn out frequently according to most, they take an unreasonable amount of power, they're delicate in tough weather. LED strands have traditionally been too cold (over 2700K temperature), too expensive, unable to link in long distances, etc...The brand and product I used take care of ALL of these issues. You can connect up to 350' in one strand. They have a "lifetime bulb" guarantee whatever that means. They use little power, have commercial grade strength and durable, weather-proof wire, a warm temp, and appear to be bulletproof). After the install I can assure you they have a warm inviting light and do an amazing job of lighting up everything. For the record, Amazon sells the 36' strands for $82 currently. I bought them at Sam's Club for $50 flat. What a steal!!!)
1'8" Steel Wire Rope = 500' roll (Reinforce your lights. I don't care what anyone says you should never have only the strength of the product holding up the strands. This is the main difference between a seasonal fix and a real install. Make it tough and permanent. I chose a 7 x 7 braid which is cheaper than the 7 x 19 one. The 7 x 7 is plenty strong to keep your lights in the air, just maybe not an airplane.)
Stanley National Hardware 3150BC 3/16" Zinc Plated Quick Link ( I bought 20, you buy however many you need x 1.5 because you've underestimated).
Loos Cableware AN100-C4 Stainless Steel Thimble for 3/32" and 1/8" Diameter Wire Rope
Buy thimbles to keep your wire rope protected from fray over time. "Friction is a grind"
Also please remember you NEED 2 for each run of cable. There's 2 ends after all!
The Hillman Group 4839 1/8 Wire Rope Clip, 10-Pack
I bought a bunch of these as well. Remember you need at least 2 per cable run!
M4 Stainless Steel 304 Hook & Eye Turnbuckle Wire Rope Tension (Pack of 10 Pcs)
I bought these turnbuckles not knowing if I wanted slack in my lights or a taught line. In the end I chose slack so I actually didn't use any of these. That being said, you should buy them if you want your lights to have any tension whatsoever!
Aluminum Crimping Loop Sleeve for 1/8" Diameter Wire Rope and Cable, (Pack of 100)
You'll need 2 per cable run if you build to my specs. (IMPORTANT NOTE: IF YOU DIDN'T BUY A SWAGE TOOL TO CRIMP AND ONLY USE WIRE ROPE CLIPS YOU WON'T REQUIRE THESE).
SOME SORT OF POLES...MAYBE
If you can't secure your lights to any permanent existing structures you may need to problem solve. The most common method of running string lights with no support points is to set a pole (read: mast) in the ground. This pole will act as an attachment point and secure a good spot to rig the lights. You can/should also use them to shorten long runs in cable length if necessary.
I should note I used 1 1/2" aluminum tubing as it was gifted to me by a friend. Those tubes were set in heavy duty patio umbrella stands (also gifted). This was an exercise in "upsycling" so I imagine your end result won't be exactly the same (albeit similar). Free works just fine even if it wasn't the best choice in materials. I'll let you dig deeper as to what materials you should use for your project!
Quikrete Fast Setting
Use this to secure your mast or pole into the hole you will eventually dig.
Screw Eyes (For Wood)
I used something like this. There was a load rating (which you should have) although I don't remember what it was.
5/16 in. x 4-1/4 in. Stainless Steel Screw Eye
3/16 in. x 1-1/2 in. Nickel-Plated Ring (2-Pack)
I used something like this but it could have been smaller.
5/16 in. x 3-1/4 in. Zinc-Plated Eye Bolt with Nut
5/16 in.-18 Coarse Zinc Plated Steel Jam Nuts (8-Pack)
I used these to double up on my machined eye hooks and make sure the nuts don't spin anywhere after time.
1/2 in. x 3/8 in. x 10 ft. PVC Tubing
Don't be a jerk. Wire rope kills trees. Use this to protect them :)
4 in. Plastic Cable Ties - Black (100-Pack)
For connecting the lights to the strands.
Scotch 3/4 in. x 66 ft. Electrical Tape
Wire Connector Assortment (50-Pack)
I didn't buy these exact ones but you will need something to connect the wires if you're hard wiring.
8 in. Wire Stripper and Cutter and Crimper
Use if you are hard-wiring
5/16 in. x 1-1/2 in. Zinc-Plated Steel Fender Washer (6 per Pack)
Step 2: Decide Your Layout
I spent a significant amount of time dreaming up this project. I wanted it to look amazing but most importantly, I wanted it to be functional. The answer to your problem will be different from mine, based on what you're working with. My plans ran the cables in every direction possible while maintaining the end to end plug rule. I think I had 4 different designs in the end, of which I chose the simplest. Not because of a lack of motivation but rather a simple notion that it would work the best given my situation. With the plan decided, I could start purchasing my products to fulfill my demands (qty, length, tools, etc..).
One important note: No matter the layout or length of your design there is ALWAYS one thing you need to keep in mind. Where is your power source? I hard-wired mine into an existing line but maybe you have a different scenario? These lights allow for long lengths so you should consider one starting point, and the run after that.
Good luck and have fun!!!
Step 3: Start Digging!!!
Actually don't start digging. Call 811 before you do so they can come out and mark your dangerous to dig areas. Power lines, gas lines, pool equipment, landscaping, etc....You can destroy it all if you're not careful. Also you can die, so there's that. This whole project started because my neighbors landscapers were careless when cutting down a tree. That tree knocked over my lamppost, which was barely secured below ground. The reason they didn't dig too deep when they set the pole in the ground? A gas line below my BBQ.
How to tackle a problem like this? I used the heavy duty bases I inherited as a more stable solution than the oft suggested 1/3 length below ground hole you would need to dig. I needed 3 masts for my light set up, so I dug my holes to accommodate the bases about 6" underground.
Step 4: Level Your Bases/poles
After your holes are dug it's time to start leveling. I dropped my bases in the hole and started to slowly level by adding/removing earth until she sat right. Once all my bases were level I could proceed with setting them.
Important note: Take level measurements from the front and side of the pole. She could tilt on you one way and not the other so be careful!
Step 5: Pour Your Concrete to Set Your Supports
With your bases dropped or your masts level you can pour your concrete footing to set your supports in place. The Fast Setting Quikrete just requires you to cut the bag open, dump the mixture into the hole, and pour water to set. You can molest within 4 hours. Easy.....
After everything was dry and solid I back filled the earth into the remaining hole. In my case I used a couple of inches of dirt and then topped with a couple of inches of decorative river rock.
The bases look great!
Step 6: Pre Drill for Your Eye Hooks/Install
You should consider pre-drilling for the eye hooks you will install. In the pictures you will see the poles and the wood from my Pergola being prepared. This will make sure nothing splits on you while installing the hooks and in the case of the metal poles (makes sure you can actually put something through the pipe!). I used my power drill and various bits to bite into the anchor points. Just be careful and make sure to not use a bit equal to or greater than the diameter of what you intend to install. Start small and step it up until you get a secure fitting.
When installing I'd like to bring up a couple of points. To set the eye hooks intended for wood, use a pair of adjustable pliers to twist deep into the wood. When installing the eye hooks machined for metal, use washers and double up the nuts on the back end to make sure nothing will spin anywhere and loosen.
Another quick note here.
My backyard is on a serious slope. Since I set the 2 poles beside my BBQ essentially in the same location (but on said slope) I knew I would need to account for leveling while setting my wire height. I used the paracord to mock up a wire set to height and adjusted until it was properly leveled. You can see examples in the photos. I then pre drilled the hole that would run from pole to pole. You may not need this tip, but it's better said out loud in case the thought passed you.
Step 7: CRIMPING AIN'T EASY! Anchor Points Are Ready. Time to Make Your Wire Rope.
The time has come for you to create your wire rope runs.
It will of course be custom depending on your layout but we're not worried about that!
I favored a wire crimp on one side to permanently lock the wire and then use the wire rope links on the other side to custom adjust the lengths. I'd double up on the links to make sure she'll never fail.
To start, grab your wire and slip on 2 crimping links. Fold the wire back and insert into the first link. Then slip into the swage tool and crimp tight. I would repeat 3 other times (2 times per link X 2 links).
Step 8: Save the TREES!
I anchored some of my lines from my 2 very matured Palm trees. I'd hate to kill something that's been around longer than I have so I used the vinyl tubing to protect the tree from the sawing like motion of the wire rope.
I cut the lengths of both the wire and tubing. The I slipped the wire into the tubing and made my crimps/ends.
Here you see a wire that won't do damage while still performing it's role!
One quick note.....
I measured the distance from my wire to the ground on the first tree. This meant I could match it on the second palm tree anchor point, you should do the same!
Step 9: Support Wire Install
Time to add that pro touch to this project!
This wire will ultimately be working harder than anything else so take the time to do it right!
If you need to tighten the wires down taught you should use turnbuckles here. Since my project had slack in all the lines, this wasn't necessary.
I would use the permanently crimped end of the line and attach it with a quick link to one anchor point. Then I would run my wire to length and cut. I would then attach another thimble using the wire clips and close the rope. Attach it to the second point and continue the process until complete.
This is where my layout came in extra handy while I worked my way from the first line to the last.
I always kept on eye on height and slack in the line, careful to match from one to the next.
Step 10: Attach Your Lights to the Support Wires
Time to attach the lights to the support wires you just installed.
Take your time on this and do it cleanly in one swoop.
You should have your lights laid out before the install. Be extra careful of any unwanted twists in the line.
Start with your power point and move end to end.
I used the Zip Ties/Tie Wraps and pulled them tight after attaching the lights to the wire.
I then used the wire cutters and clipped the excess plastic from the ends to clean it up.
I used a simple rig of 2 carabiners connected by Paracord to rig the lights up on my ladder while I was working at height. Seems like excess but truly made my life easier. It's like an extra pair of hands to hold something!
When my anchor point was high up I connected the end to the highest point, then dropped the lights and connected the wire to the rope from the top down.
Step 11: Wiring???
I don't want to explain this part as you shouldn't be messing with your wiring. Neither should I for the record, I just got through it. If you want to hard-wire your system safely call a professional. If you're like me and exercise recklessness on a regular basis than by all means proceed as follows (don't though).
I had 2 power lines running to my previous lamp post. Let's call them incoming and outgoing. They set up an extra GFCI outlet next to my BBQ.
Long story short I had to modify the PVC lines underground to match my new pole set up. Then I added a waterproof box to make my connections inside. Then I wired everything to a switch (which is awesome) and ran a wired extension cord since I'm gangster and give zero ****s. Next comes the timer for added backyard security.
Step 12: Turn on the LIGHTS!
What a difference a weekend makes. Also a bunch of money, and tools, and products, and sweat, and knowledge. Still though your backyard can transform with moderate effort and hopefully increase the quality of life for everyone who was stuck inside in the dark. I added a few photos of the dreadful "BEFORE". I'm confident you'll recognize the need to get this done at your place ASAP!
Runner Up in the
Summer Fun Contest 2016