How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Pick up some stock cedar and a hanging lantern to construct a custom garden fixture

Photo by Kolin Smith

If you're looking for a stylish and original way to spruce up your home's landscaping, well, look to the right. This outdoor lighting project is deceptively simple to build. Made of rot-resistant western red cedar, the fixture consists of a 2x4 center post to anchor it, a horizontal arm to hold the lantern, and 1x6 cladding that yokes the 2x4s together and creates attractive shadow lines. Fitted with a handsome copper-and-glass candle lantern, it exudes Zen-like beauty day and night.

This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers installed our lamppost along a garden path but says its proportions would complement virtually any outdoor space, from a patio to a water feature. Turn the page to see how it comes together. And if you'd prefer to wire the lamppost for low-voltage lighting, he shows how to do that, too.

SHOWN: H. Potter Craftsman Lantern, 9¾ by 10½ inches, $80; H.Potter
Watco Teak Oil Finish, $11 per quart; Rust-Oleum

Download and print the lamppost cut list


Steps // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost
1 ×

Lamppost Overview

 
Step One // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Lamppost Overview

exploded view illustration of lamppost construction
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Day-to-day timeline

Day 1: Cut to size and shape the cedar boards (Steps 2–8).
Day 2: Assemble the lamppost and install it (Steps 9–18).

Pathway Lamppost Cut List

2x4 post: 1 @ 6 feet
2x4 crossarm: 1 @ 12½ inches
2x4 crossarm: 1 @ 3 inches

1x6 post cladding: 2 @ 4¾ inches with a 45-degree beveled top
1x6 post cladding: 2 @ 36 inches
1x6 crossarm cladding: 2 @ 27 inches with 1-inch noses and 45-degree angled ends
2x10 base trim: 2 @ 6 inches
2x10 base trim: 2 @ 7½ inches

Both pieces with a 45-degree beveled edge at the top and measured between long points of the mitered ends

Download and print the cut list

 
2 ×

Crosscut the 2x4 to Length

 
Step Two // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Crosscut the 2x4 to Length

cutting a 2x4 with a compound miter saw
Photo by Kolin Smith

Refer to the cut list. Use a sliding compound miter saw to crosscut the 2x4 into three lengths: the long vertical center post and the two shorter pieces that make up the core of the lantern arm.

 
3 ×

Miter the Post End

 
Step Three // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Miter the Post End

cutting the bottom end of a lamppost with a compound miter saw
Photo by Kolin Smith

Set the miter-saw blade to its sharpest angle (some go to 55 degrees) and trim the bottom end of the center post. The resulting sharp point will allow you to later pound the post into the ground with a sledgehammer.

 
4 ×

Cut the Wiring Channel

 
Step Four // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Cut the Wiring Channel

cutting the lamppost's wiring channel with a circular saw
Photo by Kolin Smith

Follow this three-step sequence if you plan to connect a low-voltage landscape light fixture. If not, skip to Step 7.

Mark the centerline of the post from where it will meet the ground to its intersection with the lantern arm, 6¼ inches from the top of the post. Use a ½-inch spade bit and a drill/driver to bore a ½-inch-deep hole at that intersection. To make the wiring channel, set the blade of a circular saw to ½ inch deep and make several cuts parallel to the centerline, no more than ¼ inch to either side. Do the same from the drill hole toward one edge of the board. On the lantern arm, follow the same process to continue the channel from the post; drill a similar turn hole 2 inches from the end, and cut a channel to the edge to reach the lantern.

 
5 ×

Remove the Waste Wood

 
Step Five // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Remove the Waste Wood

clearing the lamppost's wiring channel with a wood chisel
Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a wood chisel to pry out the waste wood from the channel and scrape it clean.

 
6 ×

Set the Cable in the Groove

 
Step Six // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Set the Cable in the Groove

placing cable in the wiring channel
Photo by Kolin Smith

Lay the low-voltage electrical cable in the groove, making sure to leave a few feet extra at the lantern arm. Fasten the cable in place with cable staples. Note that 12-gauge low-voltage cable is sufficient for most landscape lighting systems that total 200 watts or less.

Tip: Adjust your combination square to the distance between the edge of the post and the edge of the channel, and use that setting to avoid puncturing the cable in Steps 9 and 18.

 
7 ×

Mark the 1x6 Arms

 
Step Seven // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Mark the 1x6 Arms

marking one of the 1x6 lamppost arms
Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut to length the two 1x6 boards to clad the lantern arm. Use a combination square to mark a 45-degree cutline on each end of both crossarms. Position the lines so that 1 inch of the boards' ends remains square.

 
8 ×

Cut the Pieces

 
Step Eight // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Cut the Pieces

cutting the cladding of one of the 1x6 lamppost arms
Photo by Kolin Smith

Set the miter saw to 45 degrees and trim the arms at the cutlines you marked. Next, you'll cut the four 1x6 boards to clad the center post. First, though, bevel one end of each board at 45 degrees and use those ends to make the short pieces that fit directly above the lantern arm.

 
9 ×

Lay out the Cladding

 
Step Nine // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Lay out the Cladding

assembling one side of the lamppost
Photo by Kolin Smith

On a flat work surface, arrange the three 1x6 pieces that make up one side of the lamppost, as shown.

 
10 ×

Position the 2x4 Parts

 
Step Ten // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Position the 2x4 Parts

marking the inside of the lamppost 1x6 for the 2x4 center board
Photo by Kolin Smith

Lay the 2x4 center post on the boards. To center it, use a 1-inch-wide scrap-wood block and shift the 2x4 until the block is flush with one edge of the 1x6. Mark the 2x4's final position with a pencil, and repeat the process for the lantern arm.

 
11 ×

Join the Post Parts

 
Step Eleven // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Join the Post Parts

attaching the 1x6 pieces to the 2x4 center board
Photo by Kolin Smith

Remove the center post and arms, apply construction adhesive to them, and press them into the outlines on the cladding. Tack the 2x4 pieces with a pneumatic finishing nailer and 2-inch-long nails. If you installed the electrical cable in Step 4, be sure to keep the fasteners within 1½ inches of either edge of the 2x4. Apply construction adhesive to the exposed faces of the 2x4s and set the remaining cladding in place; use your combination square to align it with the opposite layer of cladding. Press the boards down. For added strength, you can tack this cladding in place with a pneumatic finishing nailer and 2-inch-long nails. If you do, be sure to fill and sand the nail holes.

 
12 ×

Bore the Dowel Holes

 
Step Twelve // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Bore the Dowel Holes

boring the dowel holes
Photo by Kolin Smith

To strengthen the joint between the post and the lantern arm—and to lend the piece a handcrafted look—install two hardwood dowels. Use a combination square to draw a 45-degree line where the post intersects the arm. Make two marks along the line, 2½ inches in from each corner. Slip a scrap board underneath the joint, then use a drill and ⅜-inch-diameter spade bit to bore two holes at the marks; go completely through to the other side.

 
13 ×

Trim the Dowels

 
Step Thirteen // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Trim the Dowels

trimming the dowels with a Japanese flush-cut saw
Photo by Kolin Smith

Smear waterproof carpenter's glue or polyurethane glue onto a ⅜-inch hardwood dowel. Tap the dowel into one of the holes until it protrudes at least ⅜ inch from the opposite side. Trim off the excess dowel with a Japanese-style flush-cutting handsaw, as shown. Peg the remaining hole, and trim the excess.

 
14 ×

Bevel-Rip the Base

 
Step Fourteen // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Bevel-Rip the Base

ripping a bevel with a circular saw with the blade set at a 45 degree angle
Photo by Kolin Smith

Clamp a 2x10 cedar board to a sturdy surface with its long edge overhanging. Use a circular saw to rip a 45-degree bevel along that overhanging edge. If necessary, clamp a long straightedge to the board to guide you to a perfectly straight cut.

 
15 ×

Miter-Cut the Base

 
Step Fifteen // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Miter-Cut the Base

mitering a bevel for the lamppost base
Photo by Kolin Smith

Tilt the miter-saw blade to a 45-degee bevel and adjust the miter angle to zero. Bevel-cut the 2x10 into four lengths to wrap around the base of the lamppost.

 
16 ×

Attach the Base to the Post

 
Step Sixteen // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Attach the Base to the Post

attaching the base to the lamppost
Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply construction adhesive to the back of the first piece of base trim and press it to the lamppost, square end flush with the end of the cladding. Use a pneumatic finishing nailer and 2½-inch-long nails to attach it, then attach the remaining three base pieces in a similar fashion. Use construction adhesive against the post, but apply waterproof carpenter's glue or polyurethane glue to each of the four mitered corner joints. And be sure to nail through the corners, as shown. Sand all surfaces smooth with a random-orbit sander fitted with a 100-grit disk.

 
17 ×

Sink the Post

 
Step Seventeen // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Sink the Post

pounding the assembled lamppost into the ground
Photo by Kolin Smith

Hold a 2x4 block on top of the center post and tap it with a 3-pound sledgehammer to drive the pointed end into the ground. If necessary, loosen the soil first with a shovel. At least one-third of the post should extend belowground. Use a 2-foot level to plumb the post. Treat it with teak oil if you want to preserve the color.

 
18 ×

Hang the Lantern

 
Step Eighteen // How to Build a Pathway Lamppost

Hang the Lantern

hanging the lantern onto the lamppost
Photo by Kolin Smith

Twist a 1-inch screw hook into the underside of the 2x4 arm, and hang the candle lantern from it. If you wired the lamppost for low-voltage lighting, hang the fixture from the hook, then complete the electrical connection.

 
 
 

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