If you’ve ever bought inexpensive solar landscape lights from Home Depot or Lowe’s (like 6 for $12 kind of inexpensive), you’re probably familiar with their Achilles heel: the cheap plastic spike that sticks into the ground.
The photo above depicts a rare specimen whose stake has survived a whopping three years. This is akin to a 300 year-old Galapagos tortoise. The problem of premature breakage and lost spikes has plagued all but the remotest and most forgotten of our lights.
Don’t like where you put that light? Want to move it, do you? Well here’s your shaft, but the spike stays in the ground!
Not watching where you’re going? Leg brushed up against the light? That’ll be a broken spike!
Dogs got into your garden? Ran into one of the lights? You better believe that spike’s a goner!
To sum up: Lights: good. Spikes: cheap Chinese crap.
Between the Mostly Excellent Light and the Spike of Counted Sorrows lies the Shaft of Mediocrity. Meh, it doesn’t care one way or the other if it lasts three days or three years. It sits there in the ground, mostly good, but then it may decide to crack or split or calve off a rounded bit of itself like a Greenland glacier birthing icebergs in summer.
Between our squirrel-mad dogs rampaging through the landscaping and my oafish galumphing, it’s a wonder any spikes survived. However, those few unlucky survivors were quickly and efficiently dispatched during Handan’s frequent and unpredictable changes-of-heart concerning design elements and lighting placement.
Last year, Handan suggested I fashion new spikes from cedar to replace the lost Spikes of Inferiority. Down into my lair I went and returned with enough cedar stakes to slay several platoons of vampires. But the undead would have to wait, as these spikes were for the soil, not cold, unbeating hearts.
They worked well…for a year. But this year, a few of them started to snap when we moved them. Mostly though, they remained strong and resolute – so much so that the Shafts of Mediocrity began to shatter like the adolescent delusions of Millennials entering the real world after two decades of moonbeams, snowflakes and unicorn poop.
With the Pond Project in full swing this year, we needed a solution. As always, Handan hit upon the answer while I was off chasing bugs and chuckling like a dunderhead. Her idea was to get a few cedar 4x4s and cut them into 4 inch cubes. Let me clarify: her idea was for me to get a few cedar 4x4s and for me to cut them into 4 inch cubes.
Next I needed to drill holes into the tops of the cubes into which the lights would fit. I measured the diameter of the protrusion at the bottom of one of the lights: 11/16 inch. Really? This kind of drilling is best done with Forstner bits – and I have two full sets of them, ranging from 1/4 inch up to 1 1/2 inches. But guess which size I didn’t have? That’s right! Gold star for you! I didn’t have 11/16 inch, so off to Amazon I went and ordered one. When it arrived, I got to work. I used my drill press and set up stop blocks, so I could quickly position each piece.
I set a vacuum just above the piece, since Forstner bits create whole ecosystems of wood shavings and debris. Then I drilled the cedar blocks, having set the depth of the drill press to the length of the protrusion at the base of the lights.
All cut and ready to go! Or so I thought…
Handan wanted me to stain the blocks, but as I am inherently lazy, I immediately countered her request by telling her how cool and New Englandy the blocks would look after a year in the elements. She was having none of it. Back into the dungeon I went, can of Minwax Dark Walnut stain in hand. Sometime later, I emerged from the vapors with stained blocks. I had to admit she was right about that. [Ha! I am always right! 😉 -Handan]
I then got to work building the pillars. I made groups of four and glued them together.
Then I stained them in the same manner as the blocks.
When the stain had dried, we were ready to give them their lights and place them in the garden, but before we get to that, I want to tell you about another problem these lights suffer from: solar panel degradation. Since the panels are made of plastic, after one year in the elements, the plastic begins to haze. After two or three years, the plastic yellows and warps.
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