Outdoor Lantern

Make sure you hold or clamp the stock firmly against your miter gauge's fence as you raise the dado stack. If you let the workpiece shift, it's very likely that it will self-destruct in your hands.

Make sure you hold or clamp the stock firmly against your miter gauge's fence as you raise the dado stack. If you let the workpiece shift, it's very likely that it will self-destruct in your hands.

Call me dull, but I’ve never been a Tiki torch kind of guy. And the last time we lit an outdoor party we used oil lamps – which, because of the flammable nature of oil, almost ended in disaster. So my task before our next party was to build a lantern that’s low-key and electric (to ensure that only ribs were barbecued and not the neighbor’s dog).

This lamp can be used in a variety of ways. It looks great on a patio table, or you could glue 6″-long dowels into the feet and stake it in your garden. Either way, it’s going to stand up to the elements.

The lantern’s body is made from quartersawn white-oak scraps. The “rice paper” behind the slats is actually acrylic ($4 for an 18″ x 24″ sheet) that I sanded on both sides with a random-orbit sander and installed in the lantern using waterproof silicone.

The light fixture itself ($3 from my nearby home center) is vinyl clad and is intended for outdoor use. It’s also installed in the base of the lamp using silicone.

Construction

Clamp the post with one corner facing up. Check the grain direction and start planing. Begin with short strokes at the top of the post and, as your taper lengthens, make your strokes longer.
Clamp the post with one corner facing up. Check the grain direction and start planing. Begin with short strokes at the top of the post and, as your taper lengthens, make your strokes longer.

There’s no complicated joinery in this project, but it does require more precision and care than most outdoor furniture. Essentially, the four panels are glued at the edges to the four posts. This is a long-grain-to-long-grain joint, so no real joinery is required. However, to keep all the parts aligned during glue-up, I used a single No. 10 biscuit in each joint. This saved me some real headaches when clamping.

The lamp base, which holds the light fixture, rests on two cleats nailed to the inside of the panels. The removable top is held in position by four cleats nailed to the underside of the top.

Begin construction by cutting out all your parts. Cutting the five 3/8″-wide slots in the panels – the first task – is the trickiest part of the whole project. Once you do that, you can breathe easier.

There are several ways to cut these slots. A plunge router with an edge guide is an obvious way to go about it. I chose to use a dado stack in my table saw. Place a dado stack measuring 3/8″ wide into your table saw and get out your miter gauge or table saw sled, which will hold the work during the cut. You’ll make a plunge cut into the panel for each slot.

First pencil a line on both long edges of the panel that shows where the slot should start and end. Position your panel slightly back of the blade’s center, then raise the blade until it emerges from the panel and has nibbled to the far line. Move the piece forward until the dado stack nibbles to the near line. Lower the dado stack back under the saw’s table, move the workpiece over 3/4″ and repeat the same process.

If you’re feeling like these slots are more work then they’re worth, consider other patterns. You can drill a series of holes with a drill press, or you can use a scroll saw to create a design that suits your brand of outdoor parties.

After all of your panels are cut, sand them to their finished grit or take a hand plane to them before turning your attention to milling the four posts.