This Solar-powered Pallet House Address project recycled and upcycled several things, and only cost 8 dollars but took creative shopping to keep the price down. This project only needed ONE pallet board, too, so drag out those scraps!
Consumable Supplies Needed:
- One broken wall clock (or shadowbox frame – but should have a GLASS front)
- House numbers in any style you like (or make your own and skip this purchase)
- Solar "dollar-store" yard lights
- Scrap piece of wood – any type
- Scrap piece of THIN plywood or THIN backer board (if your frame has a good backer board, skip this)
- Finish nails
- Screws (should come with the house numbers if you buy those)
- Water-resistant glue – I used Titebond III PVA wood glue
- Clear Silicone Sealant – I had leftover silicone from sealing around our sink and faucets
- UV-resistant outdoor spar varnish (optional – if you fully paint your wood you wouldn’t need this)
- Heavy-duty construction adhesive – I used “Power Grab” brand (optional)
- Wall-hanger (if your frame doesn’t already have one)
Note: For all paint, stains, and colorings – these are OPTIONAL. You can just use natural wood and seal it. I wanted natural wood, but I stained it, and then did some decorative edge painting, etc.
- Outdoor Craft / Hobby Paint & fouling paint
- Wood Stain – I used two tones for this project
- Plastic paint – I used Rustoleum plastic spray paint
- Exterior gloss paint – I used Rustoleum oil-based paint from another project
- Small craft paints brush
- Small craft foam brush
- Sandpaper/sanding sponges
- Table Saw
- Miter Saw
- A band saw (jigsaw or scroll saw would work too)
- Utility knife
- Hand files
- Small hand plane
- Rotary craft tool (Dremel or similar) OR a plastic cutting tool like a Hot Knife if using a plastic frame
- Screwdriver (electric and manual)
- Wood clamps
FYI: the “Raincross Bell” is my city’s logo. Use your city’s logo, favorite shape or maybe your initials if you choose.
Prepping your frame:
I had a broken wall clock that had a glass face and sturdy plastic frame, so I gutted it.
- Find a shadow box you want to use
- Set the glass aside somewhere safe
- Spray paint the frame if needed (mine did – I used Rustoleum spray paint for plastics in matte black)
- Allow drying
Replacing the backer board:
The clock I gutted had a cardboard backer plate, so that was no good other than as a template for a wood replacement so don’t throw it out yet. If you’re using a shadow-box style frame, hopefully, you find one with a backer board sturdy enough to glue too if needed, and it needs to be water-resistant.
- Use THIN plywood. I used approx. ¼” thick plywood, reclaimed from the top deck of a pallet
- Use the cardboard backer board and a pencil to trace out the proper size onto the plywood
- Cut the plywood with a band saw or jigsaw
- Pre-drill the holes out if it covers the mounting locations
Prepping the backer board:
- Sand the plywood gently and correct any crookedness that happens from the band saw with hand files or by hand-sanding
- Wipe all the surfaces down with a very slightly damp cloth to remove the sanding dust * Make sure it is dry before applying stain or paint
- Stain or paint it any way you want (I stained mine using Minwax Golden Pecan)
- Set it aside to dry for now
The background design:
Plan your design and address frame clearance restrictions:
- Measure the depth from where the backer board sits when installed to the front of the frame
- You may need to put your glass back in for a moment to double-check this measurement
- If you make your project too thick, it won’t set into your frame correctly, and you’ll be re-sanding to adjust it
Cut and begin assembly of your background design:
I made the city logo and used oak scraps from a splintered, broken board that wasn’t much good for anything else. Our city logo is called the “Raincross Bell”, so I searched for images and picked the one that was very simple. Our logo is fairly simple anyway, but I wanted it as easy as possible.
- Rip a deck board down into narrow, workable strips – about 1” wide. I used a1x4” deck board
- This size will depend on your frame and design
- Use the cardboard backer (or your frame) to trace the frame size onto a piece of plain paper * This will give you your maximum design height
- Sketch out your design on the paper. Make it as big as possible * You could use a computer and size up or down the design of your choice
Start trimming your strips down:
I cut down the strips into small pieces, dry-fit them and set them directly onto my sketch. Next, I used files and a small hand plane to adjust any fit issues.
My design consisted of the following pieces:
- Two small bars on the top of the “double-cross” * The topmost being shorter than the next one down
- Foursquare pieces:
- One at the very top of the double-cross
- The next between the two bars making the double-cross
- The third at the bottom of the cross
- And the last one between the top bar of the frame and the top of the bell
- Two horizontal bars – the top being narrower than the bottom to create the bell frame
- Two vertical bars, equal length to create the bell frame
- The bell shape itself
- The additional bell clapper shape on the bottom – just a half-circle shape
- I also cut two pieces of blocks and painted them black – they’re visible in the photo – they’re where the bottom of the logo sits, so it’s entirely visible in the glass and stabilizes it. I used hook-and-loop tape to doubly-ensure it’ll stay in place.
There were some angles on the outside edges of all the horizontal pieces. I set a miter saw to the angle I wanted and cut them all.
Glue your background artwork together:
I used a good-quality, water-resistant PVA glue again (Titebond III). Additionally, I stabilized the top of the cross with a long, thin finish nail down through it all. **NOTE: You may have to glue individual components of your design together and then finish it after the smaller parts are dry, OR you may be able to use a jigsaw or a scroll saw and cut it all out of one larger piece of wood. I only had scraps in the color I wanted (to match a bench I made for my front porch), so I had to piece my design together.
- Attach your background artwork pieces together with glue
- Use any additional fasteners you need to further stabilize your design
- Pre-drill anything you are going to nail or screw together
- These little pieces want to split!
- Stabilize your project with wood clamps while it dries
The House Numbers & Final Assembly
Create outline cutouts of your house numbers:
We used standard brass numbers we found at a swap meet for a dollar apiece – still new in package. I wanted to highlight them.
- Put each number onto another scrap piece of oak and trace them out
- Exaggerate the margins to about 3/8” or so in order to make them more visible from the street
- No need for exact measuring!
- It doesn’t have to be perfect because no one will be that close to it
- Just make it please your eye
- Of course, you can pre-print everything and use them as templates instead
Cut out the house numbers:
- Cut them out using a band saw (or jigsaw), and hollow out the centers with a jigsaw (or scroll saw).
- Sand down the rough edges with hand files (if necessary), a sanding sponge and then finer sandpaper.
Prep for sealing and/or painting:
- Use a very lightly damp rag to remove the dust
- Allow to fully dry
- Do any pre-drilling necessary and re-sand as required
Sealing and/or Decorative touches (optional):
I sealed all the wood pieces with a UV-resistant Minwax spar varnish. The photo will show it assembled, sealed, and then the slops of paint on the back of the wood. Next, I painted the number outlines using Rustoleum oil-based outdoor gloss paint – Sunset Red color, that I had leftover from another project.
I used more Rustoleum oil-based outdoor gloss paint, this time in Hunter Green, to paint the dried Raincross symbol. The Raincross bell was painted using a bronze craft foiling paint and let it dry.
I also painted a little rope shape at the top of the bell on the little block with craft/hobby paints.
- Apply decorative finishes (I used foil paint to outline the numbers)
- Seal or paint with whatever you choose
Light it up:
Here’s where you can have fun finding things in your local dollar store. I happened to upcycle some Halloween solar lights that we bought for 1$ each piece and used four of them in this project.
Removing the Solar Cell Assembly:
- Carefully open the light up
- Remove the solar cells and the connected circuit board/battery assembly
- You may have to use a rotary tool like a Dremel with a cutting wheel to carefully cut wider around the solar cells to free them from the plastic they were molded into
- Hand-trim with a utility knife or a hot knife, or even with a rotary tool and a grinding wheel
- The soft plastic cuts fairly easily, but wear good gloves and eye protection just in case! **NOTE: You need to avoid flexing the solar cells and be cautious of the cheap, fine-gauge wires. The solder wooden joints are commercial-grade, so they’re not the best.
- Repeat for however many lights you want to put in
Prepping the frame for the lights:
- Drill a small hole for each solar cell assembly
- You only need the holes to be big enough to accommodate the wires and/or the base plastic – some of them have a little circle-shaped plastic collar at the base – and if it has that, just make the hole big enough so that the collar fits in snugly
- Create a small, narrow slice to the edge of the plastic frame (or saw a narrow slice into a wood frame)
Sealing the frame back up/mounting the solar assemblies:
But wait! Now there are holes in your “waterproof” frame! Silicone was my product of choice because we all know those cheap, dollar-store style lights eventually fail, and I wanted to be able to simply cut them out.
- Apply a clear, flexible outdoor silicone sealant around (and into) the holes
- Gently mount the solar cells on the outside of the frame
- Reinforce if necessary
- I used more hook-and-loop tape to secure the solar cells to the outside of the frame as extra support in the summer heat
- You may want to add another small bead of silicone around the sides where you trimmed the solar cells free to protect the now more-vulnerable cells
- Once they are in place, seal the small slices that allowed the wires to be wiggled into the holes with more silicone
- To finish, use hook-and-loop material and put a small piece on the inside of the frame, and more on the back of the circuit boards to secure them.
They look ugly in the photos, but from the street, you can’t see the circuit boards. The front edge of the frame hides them enough. You could install battery-powered lights or permanent low-voltage lighting that you could wire into your house if you chose. I kept it low-cost and used what I had around already.
OK! Now that everything is dry, it is time to assemble! I secured the bell inside the Raincross logo with a long, skinny finish nail that I ran up through the clapper portion. The top of the bell was secured well with PVA glue already, but the bottom seemed a little weak, so the nail was insurance.
Mount the brass numbers:
- Install the numbers onto the pre-painted wood number shapes using the brass screws that came with the numbers
- You can use construction adhesive too if you don’t have hardware
Installing your wooden number assembly:
- Attach the wood numbers to the background artwork with heavy-duty construction adhesive (Loctite Power Grab Instant Adhesive) that has a very fast set time
- QUICKLY align the numbers – you have seconds with construction adhesives
- You could use fasteners too as an option
- Attach any blocks or supports inside the frame with the construction adhesive at this time too
- Allow drying a few minutes
- Apply more adhesive to the back of the artwork and attach it to the backer board
- This wasn’t totally necessary, because I had pre-fit the Raincross logo and it actually sat against the frame and the thickness matched the backer board recess. It was just extra reinforcement.
- Clean the glass well – you won’t have access to it easily after this
- Assemble your project into the frame
- Attach a wall hanger to the back of your project frame if it didn’t already have one
- Of course, I up-cycled it instead of buying one (used the old one from the clock) and attached it to the back of the plywood
Hanging it up:
My husband got the job of getting out the large ladder and installing it at the peak of our little house.
I hope this long-winded description helps you easily make your own Solar-powered Pallet House Address too!