DIY: How To Build Removable Cafe Lighting Posts that Attach to a Deck

HTD DYI Deck Lighting Post - final result
How to build a removable cafe lighting post that attaches to a deck railing. Full instructions & pictures in this article for this easy DIY project.

There is nothing better than relaxing outside on a deck at night…unless it’s pitch black and you can’t see the person you are talking to. This is one of the main reasons I decided to figure out a way to hang strings of LED cafe lights around our back deck. The problem was, I didn’t have any way to attach the lights. No walls or trees or posts to make my desire for nighttime ambiance to come true. So I decided to figure out how to do it myself. But I had specific requirements.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - lit deck
The final result of my DIY deck lighting post creation!

For starters, I didn’t want whatever my final design was to be something permanent. I wanted to be able to take it down during the winter rainy season to protect the lights. Also, I wanted a way to easily eliminate a bunch of posts sticking into the air when we didn’t have the lights mounted. That was my primary requirement.

I had done some research and had found other pretty innovative solutions for portable posts or poles for deck or patio lighting. Many of these solutions involved getting a large pot for plants, putting quick-dry cement in the bottom, inserting a pole or post, and then adding dirt on top of the cement and planting some flowers. Great idea, but I had some issues with that.

First, while being truly portable is a good thing, those pots would be heavy to move (my back isn’t that great). Also if one of the recommended wooden posts broke, you would have to create a whole new post and pot combo. And if you wanted to not have the lighting, you had to move all of the pots and posts away which then means you would have an area with a bunch of pots with posts sticking in the air.

While the concept and design are suitable for many, it’s not what I wanted to do. Eventually, after thinking things through and designing in my mind for about a week, I came up with a design. Here’s what I wanted:

  • Easy to make
  • Completely removable for storage
  • Nice integration with existing deck
  • Inexpensive to make
  • Easily fixable/replaceable

Before you start “doing,” take some time to assess your environment. As I mentioned, I took at least a week to think about the design and implementation. One significant requirement is that you have some 4×4 posts as part of a deck railing. And I even bought the materials for one post to be sure my design was somewhat sound. In our backyard, we have a few massive decks. And luckily, there were 4×4 posts surrounding much of the deck space where I wanted to have the lighting. The 4×4’s were critical to the success of the lighting posts. If you don’t have that option, this design might not work for you, and you may have to follow that pot method I described earlier.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - 2x2 and 4x4
Key to this project was ensuring the 2×2 post could be attached securely to a 4×4 on a deck railing.

Also, how you want your lights hung is vital to think about. Do you want it as a square or a zig-zagging approach? This will determine where you will need to put your lighting posts. Also, the types of lights you eventually use could be a factor. The ones we chose (FEIT 48ft LED string lights with colors) actually turned out to be quite heavy, so you need to keep weight as an important factor in mind when you think about how far apart you want to have the lighting posts.

You should consider the height of the posts as well. As you can see in the materials list below, I used 8 foot 2×2 posts. I got those uncut at my local Home Depot. For me, the height was about right. But you may have to go higher potentially which means that an 8’ 2×2 might not work. Also, anything taller might make the post a bit more unstable with a possibility of cracking (see my TIPS later on in this article).

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - cracked post
Be sure to select 2×2’s that don’t have knots in them or they will become a weak point and crack (like this one did).

Back to the lights for a second. I recommend a few things here. For one, get LEDs. They use barely any energy and are cool to the touch. Also, if you can, try to find some LED lights that dim. Trust me, you will love to have the option of making things bright or dim based on the environment.

Let’s take a look at how to build the removable cafe light post for your deck.

Materials and Tools Needed for Building a Removable Light Post for a Deck

Here are the materials that I used. Note: you can easily make modifications to this design to fit your needs better. Also, I consider this a version 1.0 of the design and I’m open to suggestions on improvements or changes. Each deck is pretty unique. This is what worked for me. Your mileage may vary!

The materials for one post (Amazon links for convenience):

The approximate cost of all of these materials for one post was less than $9.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - materials & tools
These are the core materials needed – 2×2 post, Hex bolt, washers, and wing nut.

Other materials and tools used in the project (you may need additional items):

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - other tools
These are some of the other tools I used in this DIY deck light post project.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Measure each post to determine the length of the 3/8 inch Hex bolt
  • When choosing the 2×2 8-foot post, look for knots! They can make the post very fragile and susceptible to breaking (it happened to me – see ealier photo)
  • Check the to be sure the Hex bolt and the wing nut use the same threading – I chose “course” threading for both
  • Be sure you get lots of spray paint cans if that is the direction you want to go (for me, 9 posts took at least 6 cans – and I didn’t get full coverage)
  • I used a dark-colored cup hook to match the dark color of the painted post. Be sure the cup hook can hold some weight and the screw part isn’t too big as to split the 2×2.
  • If you use a different type of bolt, be sure to use the appropriately-sized drill bit for the holes
  • You could use three Hex bolts per post for extra strength but it may be overkill
  • Make sure that your holes are drilled at 90-degree angles. Any slope or tilt might not be good. But, if you follow my directions below of pre-drilling the holes in the 2×2’s, you should be okay even if the angle is slightly off.
  • Measure twice (at least) and drill once

Ok, so now you have planned out your new lighting posts and the environment, you have gotten your tools and materials, and you are ready to start constructing! Depending on the size of your deck and what your design looks like as well as how handy you are, you can probably complete most of the tasks fairly quickly. The first post always takes the longest amount of time, but once you understand what you need to do, the subsequent posts should be a lot easier to complete.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - tools & materials
Here are some of the tools and materials that I used. They are required but are definitely helpful!

Remember to allow for time for any paint to dry. So if you are doing this as sort of a weekend project, do all of the initial post work as early as possible on Saturday so that you can paint multiple coats that day and let it dry overnight. (Obviously, this all depends on how many coats of paint you do as well as the painting environment.)

Building the Light Posts for the Deck Lighting

Also, as I mentioned, each deck is constructed differently. You do need an existing solid post (a 4×4) to anchor your light posts. You could use an existing 2×4 as well, but anything less thick might not provide adequate support for your light post.

Here is the process I followed for making each post (remember, you can adapt this process to meet your needs and environment):

1 – Measure the Post

Identify a solid 4×4 post on the deck where you want the light post to be.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - get right Hex bolt lenght.
For this post, there is a gap that I needed to measure and include. This one needed a longer 8″ bolt here.

Measure the combined 4×4 and 2×2 width. There may be additional boards involved or gaps in the wood (see pictures).

2 – Choose the right Hex bolt

Choose the appropriate length Hex bolt. You must have enough length on the bolt to allow for the two washers and the wing nut to tighten.

3 – Identify Where the Holes Should Go

Inspect the 2×2 as well as the 4×4 for two good places to drill your 3/8 inch holes. Try to avoid knots in the wood. Also, space out the areas where the holes will be. One should be low on the post and another at least a foot or more away from it.

Measure from the bottom of the post to mark your holes. The Speed Square is excellent for drawing the line. Find the center of the line.

4 – Drill the Holes in the 2×2 Post

Drill the two pilot holes in the 2×2.

Drill the 3/8 inch holes in the 2×2 using the pilot hole as a guide. Put a piece of scrap wood under your 2×2 so you can cleanly drill through.

5 – Drill the First Hole in the Deck’s 4×4

Take the drilled 2×2 back over to the post. Center the 2×2 to the post you want to attach to. Get the longer 3/8 inch drill bit and choose the existing hole (I liked using the top hole). Then drill through the 4×4 using the previously drilled hole in the 2×2 as a guide.

6 – Drill the Second Hole After Leveling

Put the appropriate length Hex bolt through the new hole and attach the wing nut to hold the posts in place.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - level
Be sure to use a level to ensure that your post is perpendicular. Remember though, the 4×4 might not be level.

Using the level, make sure the 2×2 is leveled vertically. Then drill the second hole through the 4×4 using the 2×2 previously-drilled hole as a guide.

7 – Remove the Hex bolts and take the 2×2 post off

Set aside the post for later.

8 – Repeat with the remaining posts

Once you do a couple, the process is pretty quick!

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - drilled posts
These are all of the drilled posts ready to be painted.

That’s the initial step. The next step is to paint all of the 2×2 posts. Apply a couple of coats of spray paint and let dry thoroughly. (Don’t paint the bottom of the post – read the tip below to learn why.)

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - paint
This is the spray paint I used. Be sure to get more cans than you think you need!

One quick tip here. Each drilled 2×2 will be uniquely paired with the drilled 4×4 post, especially if you are eyeballing the drilling (e.g., not being exactly at 90 degrees). Because of this, you will want to figure out a way to know which 2×2 is paired with its 4×4 mate. There are probably many ways to do this. The way that I chose was to write a number on the bottom of the 2×2 with a Sharpie. As my posts went around in a square/circle, I started with one post and numbered it as “#1” and the one immediately next to it as “#2.” Continuing in a clockwise or counterclockwise manner, label all of the rest of the posts. That way, it’s really easy to remember which post goes where. You just have to remember which post you started with.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - numbered posts
To know what posts go where, number the bottom of each post (and don’t paint the bottom).

Another bonus tip. Using the Sharpie, indicate which side of the 2×2 is touching the 4×4. It makes it a lot easier to line up the two holes properly. I actually didn’t do this and had to test both sides of the 2×2 to see which position allowed for the Hex bolt to more smoothly slide through. Now you know why I said to not paint the bottom of the 2×2 – it’s easier to write and read the number and direction!

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - painted posts
These are the painted posts. Be sure to rotate them and give them a couple of coats of paint.

Once the paint thoroughly dries, you are in the final stage. The last step is to attach the cup hook to the 2×2. For this step, I decided I wanted the hook to face inwards. This was a personal preference. You could but the hook just about anywhere. In fact, because I chose to put all of the hooks on the inside circle/square, I knew which side of the 2×2 touched the 4×4 – it was always on the opposite side. I used a cup hook because there was a hole in the light wire, socket, and connector for hanging purposes. Be sure to look at your lights carefully to see what the best way to attach them is.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - light hooked on
The LED lights we chose had a hole built-in for hanging which made the process quite easy.

To attach the cup hook, I took the 2×2 down, drilled a tiny pilot hole the same distance from the top on all of the posts, obviously in the center. I then screwed the cup hook into that pilot hole. (You don’t have to drill a pilot hole, but it is a heck of a lot easier doing it that way.) There were a couple of posts that were at the corner of my lighting area, so I actually elected to put the hook on the side of the post (not opposite like I mentioned above). Just a nuance of my particular setup.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - cup hook
I chose a dark colored cup hook to better match the paint color.

After you have all of the cup hooks attached, you can re-attach the 2×2 to the 4×4. When you do this, hopefully it will be easier to align if you use my tips above. When you finally do put the Hex bolts on, you should include the washers on either end – one at the Hex end and the other on the threaded end before you attach the wing nut. Then hand-tighten the wing nut. You can make it tighter by using the socket wrench to hold the Hex side while you hand-tighten the wing nut. But DON’T over-tighten it as you could split the 2×2 post!

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - posts & lights
Here is what the posts and lights look like during the day. Painting the posts helps to blend them in to the environment.

Once all of the posts are attached to your deck, it’s time to hang the lights. You may want to ask for help to get someone to feed you the lights as you hang them. If your posts are equally spaced, your lights will hang nicely and evenly (hopefully). Mine were not equally spaced so I had to work to have the light cable hang down uniformly. It wasn’t perfect. Also, as I eyeballed the measurements, I actually had some extra lights that I needed to find space for (I wrapped them around a tree). It is hard to make it perfect, but once nighttime comes, it still looks great one way or another!

Final Thoughts

So that is pretty much it. Creating these removable light posts for cafe-style, LED lighting for your deck or patio is a really easy weekend project. And it makes your backyard elegant, more functional, and intimate at night. And, the great thing is, the posts are easy to remove at the end of the season (or whenever) and then put them back up later. No need to carry around heavy flowerpots full of concrete and an un-removable pole sticking out. Also, they are easily replaced if they break. And if you want to expand to other portions of a deck, it’s easy enough to do so, assuming you have some spare 4×4 posts supporting a deck railing.

HTD DIY Deck Lighting Post - final result
Here are the lights on at night with our pool lights on and some LED tree upward-facing tree lights in the background.

There are many, many different ways to do cafe style, string lighting for your backyard, patio, or deck. A lot of it depends on your own specific environment and what you eventually want to do. I have seen other variations of this (there are many, many articles). You can take a look at this one using electrical conduits. Or this one using a metal pole instead of a wooden post but also cemented into a container. Or this one that doesn’t use posts at all but puts the string lights between walls. Pinterest is full of different ideas and examples.

In the end, it’s really up to you to decide which style or DIY process you want to follow. I’m sure I will fine-tune my approach over time or based on any comments or questions that I receive. I’m not a carpenter nor a landscaping architect. But I do like doing DIY projects, and my family does seem to enjoy the results. If you have any questions, ideas, or thoughts on my lighting post approach, please do leave a comment! Until then, I’ll be having a beer on my back porch late into the night, enjoying the soft glow of my newly hung LED lights!

HTD says: Not only is building these removable LED light posts for a deck a fun project to do, you also get the amazing benefit of having wonderful lighting that you, your family, and your friends can enjoy night after night. And when you are done, you can easily remove these posts and store them away for next season!

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6 Responses

  1. Hi Sara, I simply followed the post lines of my pre-existing deck. It does depend on the weight of the lights you will be using though and how strong the wood posts are (watch out for knots as they weaken the posts).

  2. My 14 year old son is helping me tonight trying to get ours done before his mom gets home from a conference tomorrow evening.

    Instead of spray paint, we are using the leftover latex deck stain that we used to redo the porch last fall. With these being new boards, the tint won’t be exact, but hopefully it will be close.

  3. So, you are 2 years in… any issues with the weight of the lights bending the 2×2 strips if they are left up in the elements over the summer/fall?

    I’m in central Alabama and I am wondering if I need to pull the lights down when we aren’t using the deck. I’m concerned that the humidity will make the wood more susceptible to warping under the weight.

  4. Hi Steve! I haven’t taken my posts or lights down at all. So far so good! I leave them out during the rainy season as well. As long as you have decent wood and paint it, you will probably be ok.

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