We have a friend who wanted to be able to use her small yard for outdoor gatherings. Setting out chairs and blankets is great, but adding some soft lighting makes things even more festive and fun. Today's project is a simple and affordable way to extend your outdoor living space all year long. 

entertaining outdoors

Before you get started: Call Before you Dig 

It's important to contact your local utility notification center. Why? It's the law. Callbeforeyoudig.org offers some helpful context:

There could be buried facilities anywhere you plan to dig; under the road, sidewalk, or even in your yard. Calling before you dig ensures that any publicly owned underground lines will be marked, so that you can dig around them safely. Having the utility lines marked not only prevents accidental damage to the lines, but prevents property damage and personal injuries that could result in breaking a line.

reviewing diy project plans

Step 1: Estimate How Many String Lights You'll Need 

You'll find many string lights come in 20' lengths that connect end-to-end. Before you purchase your lights, look at your space and determine about how many strings you'll need. We purchased 40' worth of lightweight light strings, which could be easily held up by our 1 1/2"-diameter poles. 

string light bundle

Step 2: Determine How Many String Light Poles to Buy

You're going to want to set a pole every 10' or so to support the string of lights. For our irregularly shaped area, we used five poles. Our poles were spaced more closely together because of this—about 8'. 

string light poles

Step 3: Determine Length of String Light Poles to Buy

You're also going to want to consider how tall the poles should be for your space. If you want a cozy, low ceiling that works with low seating and you don't mind having to duck down to sit under them, something about 5' tall might be enough. For our space, we wanted something higher, so we went with 7' poles. 

measuring string light pole

Step 4: Cut String Light Poles to Length  

Because we bought 8' poles, we needed to cut off 12". Mark the pole 12" from one end, and trim the excess using a handsaw or a power saw.

cut string light pole

Step 5: Drill Stake Holes in String Light Poles 

We'll eventually slip our poles over the top of round metal stakes, so we need to drill out a hole in the bottom of each pole. To do this, clamp down the stakes onto sawhorses and mark the center of the bottom of each pole. This is the hardest part of this project: you're going to be drilling a 3/4"-diameter hole about 12" into the center of the pole. You need to keep the hole parallel to the pole or you'll break through the side of the pole partway up.

If you have any scraps like we did, it's helpful to practice your drilling on them. If you can, have a helper watch as you do this part and correct your angle as you go. We used a 6"-long spade bit attached to a 6" extension in our electric drill. Don't try to rush the drilling, and pause occasionally to knock out the sawdust that accumulates as you drill. 

milwaukee drill

drilling string light pole

hole in string light pole

Step 6: Place Screw Eyes in Tops of String Light Poles

Next, put a screw eye in the top of each pole. You'll use these to secure the string lights. We used 5/16" screw eyes and pre-drilled a hole for them using a 1/16" drill bit. 

drilling end of wood pole

adding screw to wood beam

tightening screw on wood pole

Step 7: Place Stakes in Ground

To determine where we wanted our stakes, we first laid out our string lights on the ground and determined the points where we'd be placing the poles. Then we pounded the stakes into the ground about halfway, leaving 12" or so above ground to slip the wooden poles over the stakes.

One note: Wait to place your last stake; you can locate it near the end of the project in a position that gives the right tension and spacing for the string lights. 

driving stake in ground

measuring stake in ground

Step 8: Place String Light Poles on Stakes

Slip the poles over the top of the stakes. Make sure they're reasonably straight up and down, and adjust the angle (or depth) of the stakes as needed. 

placing string light pole in ground

Step 9: Attach String Lights to Poles 

Using zip ties through the screw eyes on the tops of the poles, loosely attach the string lights to each pole. As you do this, adjust how much drape you want for the strings between each pole. If you didn't already place your last stake and pole, do that now in the spot that completes your run of light, paying attention so you have the right amount of spacing and drape. Then pull the zip ties snug at each pole and cut off their tails. 

attaching string lights to poles

zip tie string light pole

Step 10: Run Power Cord

The last step is running an outdoor extension cord to the lights. Because we ran the cord across a set of steps, we used a plumbing strap and gutter spike on either side of the cord to keep it taut and minimize the chances of tripping. 

hiding diy string lights

running electric cable by stairs

Plug in and enjoy! These seasonal outside lights add a festive touch to the yard and complete an outdoor area where friends and family can gather for conversation and refreshments all season long. 

how to add string lights to your yard