Thursday, December 20

Day 05: DIY Pallet Christmas Tree

This, my friends, is one of my favorite projects to date. A light-up faux Christmas tree unlike the faux trees in stores (that generally just make me long for the real deal). I was inspired by this lovely Advent calendar by the girls at A Beautiful Mess. But an advent calendar, while super cool, has never been one of my holiday traditions... And as this is my first year in an apartment, I already new I needed a FAKE tree (gasp). I had been dreaming up ideas for DIY wooden marquee letters for a while, and new this was a good opportunity to test out the process. And thus, I give you a light-up tree made from one of my favorite found materials -- a pallet!

I recognize that this DIY is not so DIY-able for everyone, but I'll walk you through the steps anyway. I'm fortunate to have a stepdad with lots of power tools and a huge work space that I can use.

First things first, I stole this pallet. I spotted it next to a dumpster and promptly pulled over, stowed it in my trunk, and drove away.

Now... This whole project was a giant experience in trial-and-error, so these pictures aren't always going to match the instructions I'll give, because the steps we took weren't always necessary. Like this picture above... My revised plan made this step unnecessary.

So here's my attempt at "steps":
  • Step 1: Cut down the length of the pallet on each side, front and back, cutting the side boards off the pallet altogether. You will be left with a center beam with lots of perpendicular boards attached. **We used a table saw, but I imagine you could work with a circular saw or even a jigsaw if that's what you have available.**
  • Step 2: Using a crowbar, pry the boards on the back of the beam off (the "back" should only have 2 - 3 boards rather than a bunch). The boards will probably splinter and break during this process, and that's fine. When the back is done, flip the pallet over and pry off one or more boards at one end on the "front." This will make your tree's "trunk," so how many boards you want to remove is up to you. I removed one.  
  • Step 3: Measure your boards and mark your cuts. I decreased each board's length by 1.5" on each side as I moved up. Make sure to measure out from the center beam so that the boards are equal on each side. To clarify, on the right side starting at the bottom, say I measured out from the center beam to 12", on the next board up I measured to 10.5", then 9", 7.5" and so on. Then repeat on the left side so that the boards will be centered on the center beam. 
  • Step 4: Starting with the top board, cut along your measured lines. (see above photo)
Now, like I said, this was a lot of trial-and-error. So we initially cut the top of the pallet off, which made my tree shorter than I wanted. So to me, the above did not look tree-y enough, so I revised the plan!

  • Step 5: Make a triangle "top" for your tree. One of my favorite (and simplest) tricks is to make a "model" out of simple scrap paper. Measure the full length of your current top board, and subtract 3" (1.5" for each side); this will be your width. Now measure the height of one board (mine was 2.5") and double that (2.5"x2=5"); this will be your height. Cut a piece of scrap paper to these dimensions (mine ended up being 10"x5"), and fold it in half (across the width) to find the center. Now draw lines connecting the bottom corners to the top center line, forming a triangle, and cut it out. I held my triangle up to the tree to make sure it looked good before cutting my wood. 
  • Step 6: Using one or two of the scrap boards you pried off the pallet at the beginning, trace the bottom half of your triangle on one section of board, and the top half on another. Cut along your traced lines with you saw. 
  • Step 7: My center beam wasn't tall enough for my triangle, so I cut a piece from one of the side beams we cut off at the beginning. The "notch" pictured isn't necessary; my stepdad was just feeling fancy or something, and really, it didn't work. Just cut a piece tall enough for your triangle boards. I eyeballed it using my paper triangle. You don't want the center beam to be as tall as your top triangle, or it will show, so keep the width of your center beam in mind. 
Ignore the notch!!! You don't need it, I promise!
  • Step 8: Attach your top piece to the existing center beam using mending braces. I used T-braces because I had them on hand, but straight braces will work too. You can typically find these near the door hardware at your hardware store.

  • Step 9: Screw your triangle pieces into your center beam, centering the boards as much as you can. I eyeballed it. I suggest drilling pilot holes, as pallet wood can be pretty nasty and tough to drill into. (I used 1" screws)
Pretty tree-like, right? But not good enough, folks... I wanted lights!

Now this stage took lots of testing and experimenting and screwing things up to get it right, but once we figured things out, it was a breeze to get done.
  • Step 10: Figure out where you want your lights and mark the wood accordingly. You may find it helpful to draw it out on paper. 
  • Step 11: Using a 1.25" bit and a good/powerful drill, drill almost through the wood in your marked areas. You want to leave about 1/4 - 1/8" of wood, but nothing more, or your lights won't reach. 
  • Step 12: Using a 5/8" bit, drill through the center of each hole. **you can see the two holes in the above photo**

  • Step 13: I bought these lights at Target with the Christmas lights stuff, and they had this giant plastic lip on the backs that was keeping the lights from screwing in through the wood. I cut the plastic lip off using scissors (a lot easier than you'd think), and that did the trick! If you can find lights without the excess plastic, less work for you! But it really went pretty quickly. **DO NOT CUT THE PLASTIC WITH THE LIGHTS PLUGGED IN!** You don't want to nick the metal and shock yourself!

  • Step 14: Insert your light bulb through the front, and screw into the socket on the cord!

  • Step 15:  Initially I thought it'd be cool to hang this on a wall, but I nixed that idea since it would mean putting an anchor into the drywall and an extension cord hanging down my wall. So using a scrap piece of pine 1x10, I attached the center beam to the board as a base. I used pocket holes and my Kreg jig, because it's my new favorite toy, but you could also screw through the base and into the center beam from the bottom with long screws. 
And ta-da!! Isn't she lovely? I love it. Boyfriend thought my make-shift fleece "tree skirt" looked messy, so I apologize if you agree... I was just trying to hide the ugly extension cord!

What do you think?? It required a lot of tools, but do you think it's something you'd ever try?

Regardless, happy holidays, internet! I'm just over here frantically sewing and crocheting things. I always leave hand-made gifts for last.... Oops. ;)
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