Hidden path lights

By Ray Ford

Make an evening walk more enjoyable with this simple project

Path light

Photo by Doug Thompson

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When you veer off a dark cottage path, it’s easy for things to go bump in the night—things including your forehead on the birch near the privy. But there’s no need to take your lumps at Doug Thompson’s Lake Temagami family cottage, thanks to the cedar path lights he installed with his father, Graeme.

The tradition began in the 1980s, when Graeme mulled over a use for a hollowed-out cedar that blew over in a storm. To make the basic lamp, Thompson grabs his chainsaw and starts with a straight cut through the log to form the base of the light, then a 30-degree angled cut for the sloping top. For the “mouth” of the fixture, he makes two straight cuts into the face of the block, and then knocks the centre piece out with a chisel and hammer.

Thompson tops the lamp by tracing an outline of the angled end onto a piece of ½” plywood, and then cuts the plywood with a jig saw.

He protects the plywood with wood preservative, screws it into the cedar block, and glues or staples cedar bark on top for a natural surface. Final touches include screwing an outdoor junction box and light fixture with a compact fluorescent bulb into the underside of the lid, which is easily unscrewed, and covering the opening with chicken wire or hardware cloth to protect against debris and critters. (The CFL bulbs are cool, so they avoid the heat buildup of incandescents. During the winter, the Thompsons leave the lamps in place and cover them with garbage bags.)

When night falls, Thompson can flick a switch in the cottage and illuminate the paths for travel. Solar lights won’t work on the Thompsons’ well-treed island, and the cedar units avoid the glare of floodlights and the stray light that obscures stars and annoys neighbours. “You hardly know they’re there during the day,” Thompson says. “But at night, they throw a lot of light on the path.”

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Ray Ford