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.
Before you get started: Call Before you Dig
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.