DIY outdoor lighting tutorial!
We’ve introduced you to our DIY deck makeover project before. But one of our favorite features out there is our DIY outdoor lighting.
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We made an outdoor chandelier/pendant light fixture out of some vintage tin cans. Today, we’re going to teach you how to make one of your own (**Warning, this is PHOTO HEAVY post…not because this project is hard…we just like photos**).
Before we begin our story/tutorial, let’s talk stuff you’ll need…
DIY Outdoor Lighting Supplies:
- gallon sized tin cans (some of mine were inherited, but the vintage oyster tins were found on eBay!)
- outdoor rated pendant lighting kits (available at Amazon.com, or the PaperLanternStore.com)
- 3/8″ bushings
- exterior rated Romex wiring
- exterior rated light switch
- exterior rated junction box
- plumb bob
- wiring staples
- eye hooks
This idea was born in Chicago. In my grandfather’s garage. Both my grandparents had passed, sadly, and their home was about to be sold. My brother and sisters were walking around the garage, just wanting to find something…anything to hold onto. Just a memory.
I found some old coffee cans. You can see them at the bottom right corner of this picture, below. As you can see, Grandpa was very organized. Everything in it’s place, and a place for everything. He held onto old containers and used them to stash nuts or bolts, what-have-you.
I grabbed the cans. My Dad thought I was nuts. I told him “No, Dad” “This coffee can has nuts (and bolts) in it, but I assure you, I am still (for the most part) in my right mind.” “What in the world are you going to do with that junk?” he asked. I didn’t really know. But I packed the rusted cans in my small carry-on, and they flew with me back to Washington, DC.
We were in the middle of our deck project, at the time. And I knew that I wanted to do something unique for outdoor lighting. As the plane pulled back into D.C., my DIY lighting plan was coming together. Ready to start?
Time for the truth.
Although I’m a bit scared to cross Jack Nicholson, I gotta tell you,
You “CAN” handle the truth, because…
truth is, this project is EASY. You don’t even need a “few” good men to do this project. Just one good man or woman.
Now I didn’t have enough old tins to really get the look we wanted, so I purchased some gallon sized oyster tins from eBay. We were going for a Maryland/east coast themed deck, so these vintage oyster tins worked perfectly for that. But those oyster cans aren’t cheap.
S0 we bought as many as we could without breaking the bank, and used them in combo with grandpa’s tins. Kind of random pairing coffee and oysters, perhaps, but there’s sentimental value there…and we’re kinda random people anyways, so it worked for us.
DIY Outdoor Lighting How To:
1.) Determine arrangement of lights:
We installed these DIY lights under our pergola, and I knew I wanted them in the middle of the dining table/ping pong table area. We gathered the cans, and laid them out in a somewhat random pattern on the table. We played with a few different arrangements before we finally settled on one that we liked. There is no wrong answer here, just arrange the cans in a pattern that works for your space.
2.) Prepping/Wiring the Cans
Once we had the cans laid out it was time to prep them to receive the pendent light kit. Mark the center of the can, then drill a small pilot hole first using a 1/16” drill bit. Then use a larger drill bit to make a hole large enough to fit the pendant light cord through. We used a 3/8″ bit. Once you have the hole, you need to install a bushing to keep the cord from rubbing on the sharp edge of the hole you just made.
These bushings are just small pieces of plastic (seen above in red). They simply squeeze into the hole you just drilled.
Now it’s time to install the pendant lights in the cans. First, cut the plug portion(s) of the pendant light cord kit off. This will allow you to route the cord through the hole you just made. We are going to “hard-wire” our lights into a single switch, so we don’t need the plug portion. Feed the cut portion of the wire into the can and pull the wire until the pendant light is up inside the can. At this point, the pendant lights are ready to hang.
Now the hard part…the power. ***You really should not attempt this unless you have some working knowledge of electricity…or a father-in-law who used to be an electrician***. As part of this process, you will need some basic wiring tools such as linesmans pliers, screwdriver, circuit tester, etc.
In our case, we pulled power from the basement.
I tapped into an existing circuit in the basement and routed the outdoor rated wiring from the basement to under the deck. Remember…TURN THE POWER OFF FIRST! If I have to tell you this, you should not be working with electricity. We then installed an outdoor rated switch and weatherproof box to turn the lights on and off. Don’t forget to use staples to hold the wire to the post.
The next step was to route the wiring from the switch to a single junction box. We placed ours in an inconspicuous spot between two pieces of framing at the top of the pergola. This junction box is where we will gather ALL of the pendant light cords from each of the lights (we hung a total of 7 lights). Make sure to choose a location where you know all your pendant light cords will reach.
4). Hang Your DIY Lights
For our first light, we wanted to get it right in the center, so we used a plumb bob to line up the center of our “room” with the light. Plumb bobs are super handy, I use mine all the time. The middle of our “room” happened to fall between the two joists of the pergola, so we needed to install a 2×4 to hold the center light.
We then installed an eye hook to hold the light and then I drilled a hole in the 2×4 and routed the cord up through the hole to help hide it. Next is to simply hang the other DIY lights based on your initial layout. Use the eye hooks to hold the lights and add 2×4’s as required if your lights fall between the joists.
Once you have all the lights hung, you now need to get the height of each light just right. This took a little bit of time as we slightly adjusted each light and looked at it, then adjusted them again to get them exactly how we wanted.
Now that you have all the lights where you want them, its time to power up our DIY outdoor lighting.
If everything works and you like the height of your cans, then STOP. HAMMER TIME. That’s right, pull out a hammer and us it to punch in your staples to hold all the wires in place as you route them to the junction box.
These DIY lights give off the perfect ambiance for our deck in the evenings.
And during the day the bright colors pop and add visual interest to the space.
Lighting need not be super expensive. It just needs to be functional, and in our opinion, add some interest and personality to your space.
So, what are you waiting for? Because…while it may have been fly in 1990 to say, “You Can’t Touch This“, today we say, YES. YES YOU “CAN”.
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Links below to items purchased, or similar products if an exact match is no longer available.