I would like to create DIY garden pathway lights from complete scratch.

I have some very nice outdoor metal lanterns that I'd like to retrofit and use for my design. I really don't like most of the options available for a variety of reasons. One being that you have to spend so much just for something that will last for years. But secondly, even the very high end good quality light fixtures are not what I am looking for. Plus, for my specific needs I'd like these low voltage LED DIY lights to each have about the equivalent of a 40w incandescent bulb. Even the most high end bulbs seem to only have a 20w equivalent.

I know I will need a transformer to plug in, the correct wiring that will go under ground. But I will need to light sockets and the connections to make these lamps. I know this is a lot to ask but can someone direct me on how to learn how to do this? I don't expect someone to type out every detail as to how to do this DIY project. Has anyone ever attempted to do something like this with long term success?

  • When you say "Email me with product recos", that's kinda using SE as a product-reco site. Second if this site has an email/PM system, I'll be gobsmacked - I've been here for 3 years! – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 22 '18 at 4:52
  • @Harper: you can "at" someone in a very old question's comment to "privately" contact someone. – dandavis Aug 22 '18 at 16:15
  • Timer needs to be reset every time power goes off. Opt for a photocell controlled supply instead. – Phil Freedenberg Aug 22 '18 at 19:41
  • @PhilFreedenberg Are you sure? I had a timer on some holiday lanterns I made for the holidays last Christmas. They were on a timer and came on everyday. Not trying to promote anything but if you want to see a fun craft I did feel free to see what I'm talking about: <iframe src="player.vimeo.com/video/248734542" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href="vimeo.com/248734542">Christmas Lanterns</a> from <a href="vimeo.com/user5611543">A_B_C</a> on <a href="vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p> – Adrien Aug 22 '18 at 19:54
  • Thanks for rewriting your question, but it's still asking "what components do I need" and "what should the circuit be", both of which are off-topic in Home Improvement. – Daniel Griscom Aug 22 '18 at 20:33

Timer controlled low voltage with LED lamps is the way to go, one reason is that the inevitable failure of "line voltage" temporary extension cords could lead to shock injury.

I agree that the consumer grade "big-box" stuff is junk and not likely to last more than 2 years without constant attention. What you need is heavy duty professional grade equipment, check with your local landscape supply house. I like this type because they are heavy duty and manufactured in my area of the good ol USA.

  • Thanks for providing your input. I checked out that link and I have initiated communication with them to get the ball rolling. I won't go with extension cords that could lead to shock injury. But I would like to explore a DIY option with 12v LED where I could wire up some lanterns of my design choice. I have a lot I need to research to try and create this. Thanks! – Adrien Aug 22 '18 at 14:15
  • This DIY youtuber made outdoor wall sconces all by hand. This is sort of what I had in mind for my project. But instead I'd like to use my 14"H outdoor metal lanterns and turn them into pathway lights. I'd wire them using 12v. His video: youtube.com/watch?v=e-Ysbu4QAwk. I would use a metal or pvc pipe (then spray paint it all to match) to serve as the pole to stick in the ground and to run wires through. I wondered if this was feasible. For my application I need to customize the height and want to go with the brightest LED 12v bulb I can use. – Adrien Aug 22 '18 at 14:53
  • Not that this is exactly what I am looking to do but here is another DIY where someone used what looks like glass containers and set them on the ground. It says in the description that it's low voltage but there are no instructions or tutorials. I'd like to learn how to wire up my own 12v pathway lights. sanctionedviolencegear.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/… – Adrien Aug 22 '18 at 15:16

Yes, durable, reliable products exist that do the things you want to do. However, you need to actually buy them.

Seems like your experiences thus far have been haunted by the spectre of "cheap". And that's because I'm guessing your sources are Walmart, endcaps at the big-box home improvement stores who are selling their Chinese made house brand, and even cheaper Cheese that fell off a truck in Shenzhen (eBay, Amazon Marketplace, AliExpress/baba).

I do that myself. But when I do that, I know I'm doing that and so when the thing croaks after 6 months, I understand why, and I know that I can climb the quality ladder and buy from reputable vendors and get vastly better stuff that will last as long as I want to pay for.

So design the system right. Use as good parts as you're willing to pay for. When they blow up, own that mistake, adapt and press onward.

Nice thing is, this project will be a matrix of many little lights, so you have a lot of opportunity to experiment on a small scale.

LED is the only way to go.

Again I think your problem is you've only experienced cheap LED.

LED is definitely the right technology. You need to get a good implementation of it. Making a quality one isn't that hard. The problem is, making junk is even easier and so much easier to sell.

LED emitters are perfectly capable of outliving all of us, and quality drivers and weatherproofing can be made as well. Don't even consider another technology. LED is the way to go.

It actually extends the life of the LED when there isn't a socket to corrode and fail. If you've had short life with those, again, that's the cheap thing.

Don't even think about running 120V around your yard in this day and age. There's simply no reason to do that, and it creates some life-safety hazards that do not need to be created.


I would highly recommend you make your own if you want top quality. You can choose quality parts at every level. Ex: you don't have to accept the manufactures choice of a cheap connector on an otherwise-gorgeous lamp. You can get high-quality lamps, LED modules, wiring, connectors, and DC power supplies. You can even swap out a white LED for a warm white if the lamp looks alien.

If any of your parts do fail, you can replace just that part, and perhaps even cash in a warranty that a maker of turn-key systems would never offer on something meant to be used outdoors. The cost of DIY is a fraction of turn-key too, and that's without even considering replacement costs.

Making the lamps is fun and quick (generally) and gives you bragging rights. The other parts will use just as much labor be they DIY vs commercial. Good starter materials include candle-based lanterns (cheap), glass bottles, existing (used) lights (which might be broken or outmoded OEM-wise), xmas lights, LED strip, LED COBs (though watch out for heat), and LED fairy lights.

I recently helped a friend outfit his path with lamps made from cheap fairy lights, leftover copper pipe and empty wine bottles. Sounds like it would look like a junkyard, but it actually looks great, and he's gotten several compliments since we put it up in May. Total project cost was about $30, including a spool of pvc-insulated wiring (sold for speakers originally), and took about 5 hours to make/install with 2 people. A long-term concern could be the speaker wire, but PVC is tough and my mom has an outdoor fountain I wired with it that's been working for 11 years now; not bad for "scraps".

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