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How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Use a PVC column kit and trim to create an architectural detail that shines day or night

Most lampposts favor utility over aesthetics. But why shouldn't your source of street-front lighting enhance curb appeal when the sun is up, too? This lamppost is a chunky, square column wrapped in layers of Colonial Revival moldings. And it's not as complicated to make as it might look. We designed the parts to slip over a post sleeve that itself slips over a standard 3-inch-diameter steel pole. Made from PVC, which won't rot, the lamppost looks classic in stock white but can be painted if you don't mind retouching every few years. Follow along as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers shows you how to dress up a drab metal post—a stylish welcome for guests who come knocking at any hour.

Light fixture: Beacon Post Mount Lantern, about $550; Walpole Outdoors. PVC column wrap, from about $13 per linear foot; PVC molding, from 55 cents per linear foot; PVC trim boards, from 70 cents per linear foot; all, Azek

Download and print the cut list.


Steps // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost
1 ×

Lamppost Overview

 
Step One // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Lamppost Overview

illustration of steel lamppost construction overview
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Project Timeline:

Day 1: Build the column and pedestal (Steps 2–10).
Day 2: Install the post sleeve and wire the lantern (Steps 11–18).

Download and print the cut list.

 
2 ×

Cut the Boards to Length

 
Step Two // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Cut the Boards to Length

cutting post sleeves to length with a circular saw
Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a circular saw and a miter saw to cut the PVC parts except for the scotia molding to final dimensions according to the cut list. Fold out the three taped sides of the column wrap kit. Place spacers on either side of the cutline and trim the panels to length with a circular saw. Cut the fourth panel to the same length. Save about 5 inches of the offcuts to make a jig to use for building the molding layers.

 
3 ×

Join the Sleeve Panels

 
Step Three // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Join the Sleeve Panels

attaching lamppost sleeves
Photo by Kolin Smith

Coat the grooved corners with slow-setting PVC cement (we used one with a working time of 10 minutes). Starting at one end, fold the kit into a U shape, snapping the joints together, and work toward the other end. Use a dry rag to wipe away any adhesive that squeezes out. Add cement to the fourth panel and snap it into place, as shown. Repeat this process with the offcuts to make the jig. After the cement dries, peel the tape off and mark 10 inches and 36 inches from one end of the column. Chuck a 45-degree chamfering bit into a trim router and rout between the two marks, on all four corners.

 
4 ×

Attach the Base

 
Step Four // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Attach the Base

assembling the lamppost base
Photo by Kolin Smith

Fasten a 5¾-inch square block, which represents the inside dimensions of the column, to the work surface with 1¼-inch deck screws, as shown.

 
5 ×

Add the Form

 
Step Five // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Add the Form

attaching the form to the lamppost base
Photo by Kolin Smith

Fit the jig over the block. You'll use it to assemble the rings of molding that embellish the post. Once you remove each assembly from the jig, the moldings will slip right over the finished column.

 
6 ×

Rout the Shelf Stock

 
Step Six // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Rout the Shelf Stock

routing the shelf stock with a trim router
Photo by Kolin Smith

Clamp a 2-inch-wide board overhanging the work surface. Fit the router with a ¾-inch-radius roundover bit and push it along one edge, as shown. Flip the board and repeat on the underside of the same edge, completing the bullnose. Wrap the base of the jig in a wide band of painter's tape to keep the molding from sticking to it. Cut four sections of shelf stock with 45-degree miters at either end to fit around the jig like a picture frame. Starting at one corner, coat the mitered ends with all-purpose PVC cement and pinch the pieces together for 30 seconds, using the jig to hold the joint square. Repeat at the other corners, cleaning any squeeze-out with a rag.

 
7 ×

Add the Bed Molding

 
Step Seven // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Add the Bed Molding

adding bed molding to the lamppost base
Photo by Kolin Smith

Measure and miter four pieces of bed molding to layer onto the bullnose shelf. Add cement to the underside of the concave, or cove, detail on a piece and place that edge against the shelf while lining up the miters. Rest the molding's nose detail against the jig. After the cement bonds, coat the next piece and press the wet miter into the first piece and the shelf. Complete all four sides.

 
8 ×

Make the Sleeve Block

 
Step Eight // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Make the Sleeve Block

building the sleeve block for the top of the lamppost
Photo by Kolin Smith

Draw lines corner to corner on the piece to mark the center, then rout the edges of one face with the ¾-inch-radius roundover bit. Clamp the piece over scrap and use a hole saw to drill a 3-inch-diameter hole, as shown, to slip over the existing lamppost. Erase the pencil marks. Now remove the molding assembly from the jig and place it on the work surface, bed molding down. Apply cement around the inside perimeter of the shelf stock, then place the sleeve block on top, using a combination square to center it.

 
9 ×

Add Flat Stock

 
Step Nine // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Add Flat Stock

adding mitered stock to the top of the post sleeve
Photo by Kolin Smith

Back at the jig, make a picture frame out of four lengths of mitered ¾-inch square stock, as described in previous steps.

Tip: Use an all-purpose PVC cement on the miter joints after you dry-fit them. It bonds in 30 seconds and cures in about 2 minutes.

 
10 ×

Wrap With Drip Cap

 
Step Ten // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Wrap With Drip Cap

adding a drip cap to the top of the post sleeve
Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply cement to the back of a mitered drip cap and bond it to the ¾-inch stock. Complete the other three sides to make another picture frame. Once the cement sets, remove the molding assembly from the jig.

 
11 ×

Make the Panels

 
Step Eleven // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Make the Panels

adding panels to the post sleeve
Photo by Kolin Smith

Set the narrower pedestal panels on edge and coat the top edges with slow-setting cement. Place a wider panel on the wet edges. Screw through the panel and into the edges with deck screws at each corner, as shown, and one between them. Flip the assembly over and attach the last panel the same way.

 
12 ×

Add Stiles and Rails

 
Step Twelve // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Add Stiles and Rails

adding a stile to the post sleeve
Photo by Kolin Smith

Add the narrower stiles over the edges of the wider panels using all-purpose cement. Then attach the wider stiles overlapping the narrower ones, making a 90-degree corner. Cement the rails between the stiles, flush with the top of the pedestal and inset 2 inches from the other end, as shown.

 
13 ×

Add Scotia Molding

 
Step Thirteen // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Add Scotia Molding

adding scotia molding to the post sleeve
Photo by Kolin Smith

Measure and miter pieces of scotia molding to fit, and use them to frame the interior of the panels. Bond them in place one at a time, as shown, with all-purpose cement. Then wrap the base of the pedestal with mitered 1x4 boards to create a plinth, using more cement.

 
14 ×

Add the Column

 
Step Fourteen // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Add the Column

adding the column sleeve over the lamppost
Photo by Kolin Smith

Shut off the power to the lamppost, remove the fixture, and cap the wiring. Slide the sleeve over the post, as shown, and rest it on the ground. Wedge shims made from 2x4 scrap between the steel post and the sleeve to keep it plumb.

 
15 ×

Slide on the Pedestal

 
Step Fifteen // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Slide on the Pedestal

adding the pedestal over the column sleeve
Photo by Kolin Smith

Slip the pedestal assembly over the column and slide it all the way to the ground. Shim any gap between the column and the pedestal with PVC scrap, then score and snap them flush with the top of the pedestal.

 
16 ×

Attach the Base Molding

 
Step Sixteen // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Attach the Base Molding

adding the base molding over the column
Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply a ring of all-purpose cement to the top edge of the pedestal. Slide the base molding over the column, as shown, and onto the wet cement. Press it in place for 5 seconds.

 
17 ×

Slide on the Capital Molding

 
Step Seventeen // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Slide on the Capital Molding

adding the capital molding to the top of the column
Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply cement to the top edges of the column. Fish the wires through the hole in the capital, then slip the assembly down over the pole and onto the column.

 
18 ×

Wire up the Fixture

 
Step Eighteen // How to Upgrade a Steel Lamppost

Wire up the Fixture

wiring up the lamppost
Photo by Kolin Smith

Place the fixture on a stepladder while you work on the wiring. Make the connections: black to black, white to white, green to ground. Tip the fixture into position, slip it over the exposed steel post, and tighten the set screws. Screw in a bulb, flip the power back on, and bask in the glory of your handsome new lamppost.

Tip: If you plan on painting the PVC, use an exterior-grade, 100-percent acrylic paint and choose a light color. For darker tones, use a paint formulated for vinyl or PVC.

 
 
 

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