This year, it's back to large scale Halloween decorations at our house. After going hand-held size with the Candy Corn Goblins last year, we decided to get back to something substantial again. Up to now, our walkway to the front door has been fairly ignored when it comes to Halloween decorations. Time to fix that. The idea came up to make some lantern posts and run them along the walkway. Of course, just throwing up a few pieces of wood with some battery powered lights wouldn't be any fun, so other plans had to be made!
For this version, we're using 4x4x8s, meat hooks, modified railroad style lanterns, miscellaneous this and that, and an existing low voltage wiring system.
The pictures (and a video) tell the story, but I also have a full SketchUp model for measurements on the posts. The SketchUp model is a little fancier than what I ended up doing, so take the overkill with a little grain of salt. :)
Step 1: Tools & Materials
SketchUp (for viewing model and measurments)
Nice to Have Tools
4x4x8 Lumber (I recommend douglas fir)
Old Railroad Lanterns (I used these)
12v light bulbs and misc. parts for wiring
Meat Hooks (purely optional, but fun)
Step 2: Cut Main Post Pieces
There are several ways you can cut the half-lap joints for the posts and arms, I chose to use the circular saw. By clamping all of your pieces together and using a straight edge, you can cut them all at once. I made a single cut on each side to define the total width and then went back with cut, after cut, to clean out the rest of the joint. It takes a little time, but yields a great result. You don't have to be overly precise with your successive cuts, it's easy to clean them up when you're done.
My initial plan was to mortise the angle brace piece, but in the end, that was just too much extra work for something completely unnecessary. But if it floats your boat, I left that in the SketchUp design. So, in the interest of time, I just cut the braces to length and attached them with screws. I planned to hide these by wrapping the area with bailing wire, but changed my mind on that as well. I think it would add an interesting look to the posts though; I may add that next year. Or this year...if it ever stops raining!
Make sure your pieces fit together right and you're ready to move on!
Step 3: Create Wiring Channels
Technically, this really isn't necessary, but I like the way it turns out, rather than having wires stringing all up along the posts. One important note here: I am not an electrician, nor do I play one on television, so be sure to consult your local electrical code before you go to all this work.
Step 4: Get Out Your Torch
The basic idea is to quickly char the wood and then go back and buff it down for a more natural look. The softer parts of the wood will burn very rapidly, whereas the harder parts will not. This produces a dramatic contrast that really looks cool. Depending on the look you're going for, just charring it may be enough, but I prefer to mute it a bit. You can also use the same method to really give the wood some deep texture. The more you burn it, the more relief it will have after buffing.
I prefer to use MAPP as opposed to Propane because it burns hotter (~5300ºF vs ~3300ºF) and produces an instant effect, but either will work just fine. In terms of gas consumption, I did all of my pieces with the bottle shown in the picture, and still had some left over.
Hold the torch an inch or two away from the wood and move it back and forth fairly evenly until you have the look you want. If the wood isn't charring almost immediately, you have the torch too far away. This is a very inexact science, no such thing as a mistake here. If it burns too much . . . good, more character.
A few words of warning that go without saying, which makes them all the more worth saying:
- Blow torches are HOT. Take appropriate precautions.
- They are also cold. In the example video, I'm giving a good example of what you really *don't* want to do. Over long periods of use, the neck becomes very cold and accumulates a lot of condensation. Better to hold by the bottle instead. Unless you're wearing gloves of course. Which you really should be anyway. We're playing with fire here! :)
- Depending on your lumber, there may be patches of sap on the surface of the wood. These will ignite very easily.
- Do not focus the flame on knots in the wood for very long, they can expand and pop. You don't want that.
Step 5: Finish and Assemble Posts
Time to fish some wire, assemble the big pieces, and tone down the "burnt" look a bit.
Step 6: Modify Lanterns
I have this as Step 6, but obviously you can do this at any point in the process; I worked on them at night. They took about 4 hours to complete. Most of that was spent fishing the wire through the lamps.
I removed all of the original electronics from the lamps and replaced with my own that would support 12vAC. The only thing I kept was their switch so I could turn them off on their own, and the battery contacts since that was too much work to remove. BE SURE TO COMPLETELY DISCONNECT THE CONTACTS IF YOU LEAVE THEM IN! You don't want to accidentally get batteries in there and then hook the whole thing up to a 12v source.
Standard 12v bayonet style automotive bulbs will work with this build, but you will want to verify with your own low-voltage system to make sure they power up properly. I just drilled a hole in a piece of wood and used it like a makeshift lantern holder. Worked great.
It was surprisingly difficult to find the right lamp base for these, but turns out they are well stocked at RadioShack. They sell bulbs as well; I just happened to be at the hardware store when I saw them first.
The lanterns I got are particularly cool because they have a built in wiring channel from the bottom to the top that you can fish the wires through. It is a little bit difficult to do, but works great. I made my own mini-fish tape out of a thin coat hanger. If you have some solid wire lying around that would probably make the process easier, but all I had was stranded.
If you use the same parts I did, you'll need to enlarge the hole for the lamp base to fit through properly as it is slightly larger than the one the lamp was using originally.
Once the wires are fished through, hook everything up!
Step 7: Hooking It All Up
All the hard work is done, now you just need to pound some post stakes in the ground, hook everything together, and start spooking up your walkway!