The Lighthouse Project
By Tom Pawlak
Marblehead lighthouse located
on the southwestern shore of Lake Erie.
Bob, my brother-in-law, has a beautiful yard
that he has set in a nautical theme. He had
been looking at lighthouse plans and asked if
I was interested in helping build one with
WEST SYSTEM epoxy. All the plans that he
looked at were for flat paneled six or
eight-sided lighthouses built with plywood. I
was interested in a project that was a bit
more challenging and unique, so I suggested
we build a stripped plank version. That way
the tower could be round and tapered like
many of the popular lighthouses around the
world and it would differ from the flat-sided
variety often seen in people's yards. Bob
liked the idea, so he went online and found
photos of lighthouses that he liked. In the
end, we based our design on Marblehead
lighthouse located on the southwestern shore
of Lake Erie.
As Bob became more excited about the project,
he thought he might like a second lighthouse
for the backyard. With that in mind,
we decided to build a mold so we could easily
make multiple towers if desired.
Our mold was a series of semicircles made of
¾" particle board that defined the shape and
taper of the tower at 12" intervals. These
were attached to a piece of OSB board that
was supported by a flat table that served as
our mold strongback. Here's the process
used to set up the mold:
Lay out a centerline for the mold stations on
a flat sheet of ¾" plywood or OSB. To stabilize
the mold, use a flat table or an old hollow-
core door supported by sawhorses.
Attach 2"x2" cleats (used later to support the
semicircle mold frames) to the plywood base
at 12" to 16" intervals along the centerline.
Be sure they are mounted at 90° to the centerline.
You can vary the taper of your tower
by moving the mold frames closer together
(more taper) or farther apart (less taper) if
you wish. Attach the mold frames to the
cleats with wood clamps or with drywall
screws. Make sure the frames are centered
on the centerline.
Check the mold frames for proper location
by laying a straightedge along the length of
the mold. This is best done on each side of
the mold and along the centerline. If necessary,
adjust individual mold frames side to
side and up or down on the 2"x 2" cleats or
back and forth along the centerline to
achieve the best fit. Low spots on individual
mold frames can be built up (faired) with
strips of masking tape.
Cover the mold frames with electricians tape
or duct tape so glue used to hold the wood
strips together will release from the mold
Strip Planking the Tower
Our lighthouse towers were made with wood
strips resawn from 2"x 10" construction lumber,
which yielded strips 3/8" thick by 1 ½"
wide. These were eventually tapered on the
table saw so we would spend less time fitting
The planks were temporarily attached to the
mold frames with 18-gauge brads driven in
with a pneumatic brad gun operating with
low air pressure. This assured that the brads
would remain proud of the surface for easy
removal after the glue holding the planks together
We initially attached all of our planks to the
mold without glue and intentionally left
small gaps between planks. This made the
planking process go quickly. The gaps between
planks were filled with WEST SYSTEM
epoxy thickened with low-density filler.
Once cured, the brad nails were removed
and the planking was faired with a low angle
block plane and a hard sanding block with
60-grit sandpaper. Low spots were filled in
with epoxy thickened with low-density filler.
I used 410 Microlight on one lighthouse
and 407 Low-Density Filler on the other.
The outside of the tower was covered with
one layer of 4 oz fiberglass cloth.
Once the epoxy/fiberglass cured, the tower
half was removed from the mold and the inside
of the planking was sealed in epoxy and
reinforced with a few bands of unidirectional
fiberglass tape that were applied across the
width to strengthen the laminate and hold the
shape until the other tower half was built.
Finishing the Lighthouse
We painted the insides of the tower halves
with a latex primer, which allowed us to apply
the paint while the epoxy was partially
cured. White paint reflects light from a single
low voltage light inside the tower. This in
turn illuminates the etched glass windows
that were attached inside the tower with a
flexible silicone sealant.
Eventually the two halves were glued together
and the seams were glassed over with
a layer of 4 oz fiberglass cloth and epoxy.
The seams were faired with epoxy thickened
with low-density filler.
The base of the lighthouse was made of ¾"
AB grade exterior plywood. Outside surfaces
and glued seams were glassed over with a
layer of 6 oz fiberglass and epoxy. Inside surfaces
were sealed with two coats of epoxy.
879 Release Fabric was applied over the
fiberglassed exterior to minimize surface
prep later when I planned to glue on pieces
of quartzite flagstone for a decorative effect.
The flagstone was glued in place with epoxy
thickened with 406 Colloidal Silica and dry
We filled the seams between
stone slabs with the colloidal silica/dry thin
set powder mix to eliminate maintenance on
at least that part of the lighthouse. The color
of the epoxy grout can be modified by
choosing dry grout mix with the color of
your liking. As a last step, we sprinkled dry
bright white thin-set powder over the epoxy
while it was still uncured. This leaves the
grout seams looking uniformly white and appealing.
Excess powder was brushed away
with a stiff bristled brush after the epoxy
cured. Burying the uncured epoxy grout with
the thin set powder provides UV protection
that will last many years.
The window and door trim and baluster supports
for the catwalk at the top of the tower
were made with scraps of 5 lb density foam,
but they could just as well have been made
with stable softwoods like cedar or redwood.
The trim was glued on with G/5 Five-Minute
Adhesive thickened with 403
The base of the lighthouse was made of ¾" AB grade exterior
plywood. Outside surfaces were covered with
6 oz fiberglass and epoxy. Inside surfaces
were sealed with two coats of epoxy.
The base was attached to the tower and fillet was applied to the joint.
Quartzite flagstone was glued around the base with epoxy thickened with 406 Colloidal Silica and dry thin set mortar.
The light at the top of the tower was purchased
at the local home building center. It is
a solar powered lamp intended for use as a
yard accent light mounted on top of a post.
We considered purchasing a light kit online
that rotates the light and flashes, but we
thought better of it after considering the
The lighting inside the tower is a low voltage
light that is spliced into the existing circuit
for accent lighting in the yard.
The door at the base of the tower, which allows
access to service the light, was cut from
the original strip planked laminate. The
edges were sealed with a couple of coats of
epoxy. The door is held in place with industrial
Velcro mounted on the back of the door
and on tabs that project from the inside
edges of the doorway. The door handle is
made from a very small stainless steel rope
The bottom of the eight-sided tower base
was covered with a piece of ½" plywood that
had several drain holes incorporated around
the edges. It received three coats of epoxy
and special attention was paid to sealing the
edges of the drain holes. After it was glued in
place, the bottom was fiberglassed over with
6 oz cloth. The base was eventually filled
with river gravel to provide ballast so the
lighthouse would stand up to high winds and
to foil half-hearted attempts by vandals to remove
it from the yard. We debated anchoring
the lighthouse with screw in anchors often
used to secure children's playground
equipment but opted for this easier but possibly
less secure method instead.
We put a bit of detail into the catwalk support,
balusters, and chain railing surrounding
the base of the main light to give it some personal
flair. People go to great lengths to
build scale models of boats and planes, but
neighbors rarely see them because they are
usually stored away in a showcase. If you
have a favorite lighthouse, you can make an
exact scaled model of it down to the smallest
detail and showcase it in your front yard.
Our version of the Marblehead lighthouse
showcased in Bob's front yard.
Epoxyworks 27 / Fall 2008
Copyright © 2008, Gougeon Brothers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form, in whole or in part, is expressly forbidden without the consent of the publisher. EPOXYWORKS, Gougeon Brothers, WEST SYSTEM, Episize, Scarffer and Microlight as used throughout this publication, are trademarks of Gougeon Brothers, Inc., Bay City, Michigan, USA.