In the summer, it's all about spending time outside, whether joined by friends and family or simply relaxing away from the artificial surroundings that seem to permeate our days.
Our house has a very nice setup with a small deck, a stone patio and enough surrounding woods and flowers to make things feel at home. The only drawback has been the lighting: two lamps were installed by the builder, one over each gathering area. While this technically meets minimum requirements, it's far from ideal.
After working through several iterations of lighting schemes for the area, I settled on mounting some posts in half-barrel planters and stringing some lights between them. The height, as well as their dispersed placement of the lights, provides a very soft, even light across the entire landscape.
If you're looking for a way to keep the party going all night long, read on! There aren't many tools required for the build but you'll need:
-table saw for lap joints
-paint or stain
As for supplies, I got away with 5x 4x4x12' treated posts, 3x 24" half-barrel planters, 75 feet of braided steel cord, 8 eye bolts, 8 sets of cord anchors, and a 100' strand of lights.
Step 1: Modifying the Posts
You'll start with a set of 12' 4x4 treated posts. This will get the lights fairly high, which will evenly spread the light, but will also make the posts a little top-heavy... don't worry, we'll weight them down later.
Begin by trimming all the posts back to about 11' 6" so that you have flat top and bottom and they're all the same length. Remaining at the miter saw, cut a 45-degree chamfer at the top to add some interest to the piece. Additionally, to improve aesthetics, you can use a router to cut a similar chamfer up each side of each post. This will also remove the sharp edges and reduce the overall weight. If it's still too heavy, you can follow up by cutting flutes in the middle. I stopped each chamfer about 6" above the top of the planter and 4" below the top of the post so that an onlooker will notice that they were hand-cut and not simply rounded at the factory.
Once the posts are cut, break out some outdoor stain and cover up that lovely green tint... unless you're into that sort of thing.
Next, measure the bottoms of the planters and cut a pair of supports from the same 4x4" stock; mine came out to be a hair under 20" across. To get these to sit nicely on top of each other, we'll carve the middle out with a lap joint. Move to the table saw and mark the top and bottom of each pair with a centered notch that extends halfway through each piece. There's no wrong way to remove the waste. I normally cut slices with a regular table saw blade and chisel the remainder by hand but a dado blade or router would likely work as good or better.
Once the cross supports are complete, check that they fit into the planters, then measure a 45-degree angle from the bottom corner of the planter to the middle of the post, making sure you don't extend above the top of the barrel. Use some 1x6" deck boards to cut 4 supports for each post.
Step 2: Add the Barrels and Assemble
Once the cutting is complete, you can begin assembly. Pre-drill the bottoms of the crosses and drive some lag/wood screws through the joint. Let them barely protrude on the far side, since we'll finish these off by putting them into the posts themselves.
Next, place a post on some saw horses and mount the cross to the end, driving in the screws you started before. Check the cross for square, then add each angled support in turn, using 4-5 wood screws on each side of the mount. Flip the post by 90 degrees and continue until all four supports are in place.
With the posts complete, stick on a barrel and screw it in place with ~8 screws through the bottom. If you're planning to add flowers, make sure all 4 quadrants have exposed drain holes.
Moving to the top, you'll need a method to attach the lights in place. To remove stress on the power cords, I drove an eye bolt into each corner, then strung up a thin line of braided steel cord. This will be strong enough to support the cords and also remove the risk of a planter tipping and ripping away the lights. Pre-drill the holes, then twist the bolts in place, using a screwdriver if needed for extra leverage.
Step 3: Stringing Up the Lights
We now have 3 planters and a tree to set up around the patio. Set each planter in place and add a bag of gravel to the base; this adds about 60 lbs of weight to keep them from moving. If you want more weight, you can add some busted-up cinder blocks (see my previous 'ible).
With the aid of a ladder, mount each span of the wire so that each section is tight, but not enough to tip the planters in on each other. In my case, we have a tree firmly set on the far side so this was used as our last anchor point; don't worry, the bolts weren't long enough to go all the way through. Continue slowly and carefully around your location until all of the cable is in place.
Afterwards, begin stringing up the lights. Mine had clips built into each setting so I attached them to the cable as I went along, going carefully around each corner until I ended up back at the start. Once there, I realized I had a few extra feet of lights to spare. In order to make the result look even, I ran a final span diagonally across the middle and zip-tying it to the line beside the tree.
For power, attach an outdoor extension cord (not shown) to the post, zip tie it in place to reduce stress on the cable/connection, and route it to a convenient power outlet.
Step 4: Flowers and Enjoy!
Unless you want to keep the planters empty or fill them on occasion with ice and cold drinks (a recommended solution at this point), take a trip to your local home center and find some greenery to finish this project off in style!
With that, you're all set to host the summer bash of the year or maybe just relax while you wait for the a/c to get repaired. Enjoy and try not to think about the impending winter!