How to Build a Bucket Light for Camping

by Wade Shaddy
White buckets cast more light than any other kind of bucket camping light.

White buckets cast more light than any other kind of bucket camping light.

Some might call it hillbilly or redneck, but the contemporary bucket light is innovative and functional. All you need is a drop cord and access to an electrical outlet or a generator. Use it at RV parks, backyard parties or powered camp sites. The bucket protects the light from wind, weather and general fool-hardiness. Use an ordinary white bucket, install colored lights for parties or express yourself with artwork or clever sayings on its exterior. A novice do-it-yourselfer can complete this project in less than half a day.

1. Tap out the two plugs in the bottom of the junction box with a screwdriver. Remove the lid from the bucket, and turn it upside down on the bucket.

2. Center the junction box on the lid. Trace through one of the large holes with a black marker to the lid. Make a dot in each one of the smaller, drilled holes onto the bucket's lid.

3. Drill through the smaller holes with a 15/64-inch drill bit and drill or driver. Drill through the larger hole with a 1/2-inch drill bit.

4. Insert 1/4-by-1 1/4-inch bolts through the smaller holes. Screw the junction box to the bottom of the lid using the drilled holes in the box, centering the large hole in the junction box with the large hole that you drilled in the lid.

5. Cut the female end from a 6-foot drop cord with a utility knife. Use wire strippers to peel back the insulation on the individual wires. Install wire terminals on the ends. Insert the drop cord through the lid, box and light fixture. Tie a loose knot in the cord to expose 4-inches of cord with the terminals on the end.

6. Screw the wire terminals to the light fixture with the screwdriver. The black wire connects to the brass fixture on the box. The white wire connects to the silver fixture. Screw the light fixture to the junction box with 1-inch screws.

7. Screw a fluorescent light bulb to the light fixture. Place the lid on the bucket. Finish by applying waterproof caulk around the cord and screws.

Items you will need

  • Junction box
  • Screwdriver
  • 5-gallon plastic bucket
  • 15/64-inch drill bit
  • Drill
  • 1/2-inch drill bit
  • 1/4-by-1 1/4-inch bolts
  • Drop cord
  • Utility knife
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire terminals
  • Light fixture
  • Fluorescent light bulb
  • Caulk

Tips

  • If you're not comfortable working with electricity, enlist the help of an experienced person to wire the bucket light for you.
  • Use the handle on the 5 gallon bucket to hang your light from a tree, which may require the use of an extension cord to plug in to the nearest receptacle.
  • You can only use this light in campgrounds or locations where you have access to power or a generator.
  • Keep the cord away from where people can trip on it.

Warnings

  • Some light fixtures do not have ground wire terminals, and some do. If yours does, use it to connect the green wire, if your cord has one.
  • Incandescent light bulbs generate heat, do not use them inside your bucket light, as it could cause the plastic to get too hot.
  • Only use bucket camping lights in good weather, do not use them in the rain because of the potential for electrical shock.

About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.

Photo Credits

  • NorthernLand/iStock/Getty Images