Introduction: Christmas Gone Wrong

About: I love me a good project! I enjoy expanding my skill set through taking classes, researching online and classic trial-and-error. I've been a Halloween and home improvement nut for years and gradually broadenin…

Here's my scene of "Christmas Gone Wrong" with Santa stuck in the (fake) chimney, a reindeer tangled in lights, an elf hanging from a ledge and presents strewn over the roof and in the trees.

I wanted to take advantage of my flat(ish) roof and heavily-trafficked, well-lit street to make a fun Christmas display. Last year, I created the chimney with Santa legs and this year I added the rest.

The Instructable steps are broken into different parts to cover the chimney with legs, reindeer, elf and Santa's bag/presents. Feel free to use whatever elements make sense for your own roof/yard/street; hopefully there is some advice you can use for your own custom display. And if you have any questions, please let me know; I'm happy to provide more info.

This project took roughly 35 hours in total and the materials cost around $300 (not including lighting which was an additional $100, or so).

More projects at my website, Funtitled Workshop, with more Instructables on the way.



Step 1: Materials and Tools



  • Snap blade shop knife
  • Surform shaver
  • Drywall hand saw
  • Rotary tool (Dremel)
  • Screw gun
  • Chop saw
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Band saw
  • Table saw
  • Hacksaw
  • Sewing machine
  • Tape measure
  • Hot glue gun
  • Paint brush
  • Safety gear (mask, glasses, gloves)
  • LED floodlights (3)
  • Computer (optional)
  • LCD projector (optional)

Step 2: Chimney - Build the Structure

I built the chimney with plywood scraps and 2x4s - ripped down in half with my table saw. I essentially made two matching "ladders" and then attached then to each other with cross braces. As long as the structure is solid and square, it doesn't really matter what it looks like since the three visible sides will be covered in foam. My roof is fairly flat (11% grade) so I decided to build the chimney to be level; I accounted for the slope once I install it. Also, the parapet wall (the facade of my house that is higher than the actual roof) will cover the base of the chimney so I made sure to build it high enough (6' tall) to be sufficiently visible.

Step 3: Chimney - Faux Brick It

I used 1" thick foam to cover the chimney and used extra layers of foam to add some detail to the top border. I used foam to keep the weight down but you could use another material if you wanted. After cutting the foam pieces, I used a heat gun to add some slight texture to the panels. In retrospect, this step was probably unnecessary since I don't think it could be seen from a distance once it was painted. I considered carving the mortar lines to add depth but decided against it because 1) the mortar of my house is pretty flush with the surface of the brick and 2) from so far away, people weren't going to be able to see it. Instead, I just relied on faux painting.

Spackle the foam as necessary (any noticeable score marks, etc.) and apply a base coat. I used leftover off-white drywall primer but any latex or acrylic paint should work. Apply a couple of washes in brown and grey - depending on the color of the mortar you're trying to match. Irregularity is the key; you don't want an even color. I used brushes and paper towels to mottle the surface. Next, I measured the pattern and shapes of the brick that I was going to match and replicated this - as well as I could - with masking tape. Before taping, I (CAREFULLY!) cut the edges of the masking tape to, once again, make it less uniform. I added bits of tape in random corners and edges to simulate where bricks were chipped and mortar covered the surface of the brick. After taping everything, I started painting the brick. There's a ton of variation in the bricks of my house so I painted some reddish brown others pinkish and even purple. After I was done paining the bricks, I removed the tape. You may need to touch up the mortar slightly if the tape pulled off some of the original wash.

Step 4: Chimney - Make the Santa Legs

First, find a willing helper - or even a reluctant one - who's legs are big enough to pass as Santa's. Measure his or her legs from toe to heel, heel to knee, and knee to hip and use these dimensions to cut and attach the wooden structure. Add a couple of feet length to the knee to hip measurement so you have plenty of material to help you when you're ready to install the legs. I used 3/4" thick by 1.5" wide plywood pieces that I glued and screwed together. Cover your model's legs with plastic wrap or scrap fabric and then start wrapping them in duct tape from ankle to thigh. Once wrapped, mark hash marks along the line where you intend to cut. Carefully (no flesh wounds, please!) use scissors to cut off the duct tape along the line and then tape the legs back up using the hash marks as reference. Slide the leg tubes (eww, sounds gross) over the wooden structure and set the legs aside.

Find a pair of boots I used army boots) and cover them with a garbage bag. Then cover the bag in black duct tape - making sure all of the bag is covered. Once done taping, cut a slit down the back of the tape (from ankle to underside of the heel) to slide the boot out. Tape up the slit then tape the boots to the tape legs. In preparation for filling the legs with spray foam, cover the ends of the legs with cardboard and seal up everything with more duct tape.

Cut a few small slits in the legs/boots (~1/2") through which you can poke the spray foam applicator tube. Fill the legs with spray foam. It'll take a fair amount - I used more than one can - but it expands pretty slowly so take your time. You can always add more if you end up with empty pockets. After the foam hardens, I cut away any bits of foam that seeped out (don't worry, it doesn't shoot out like geyser or anything).

Use red fleece and white fur to make pant leg tubes to pull over the legs. You can attach these with hot glue, safety pins and straight pins (stuck directly into the leg tape/foam).

Step 5: Chimney - Assemble the Parts

I attached the three foam "brick" panels with foam adhesive and screwed in to the wooden structure. I mounted the legs by drilling a hole where the hip would be and sliding them onto a dowel. In the original version of the chimney, the legs were animated to kick which, as you can imagine, meant that the assembly was much more complicated (as seen in the pics above). I used windshield wiper motor with strings, pulleys and rubber bands to make the legs kick back and forth. While it worked in the shop, once installed, one of the wires (which had been slightly damaged during installation) eventually melted through. So, Santa stopped kicking. I could have fixed it but, at that point, I got worried that I could have a similar issue in the future and didn't want to risk a fire on my roof. Safety first, right?

Step 6: Reindeer - Cut, Glue and Carve

I used an LCD projector to project an image of a reindeer on a 4'x8' sheet of 2" thick foam. The reindeer is about 6' from tail to nose and 3'6" from hoof to shoulder; from my research, that seems to be about life-sized. The top of the head was almost to the to edge of the board so the antlers were projected onto a different sheet of foam. I used four layers of foam to give the deer it's shape. From front (closest to viewer) to back:

  • layer 1: head, body
  • layer 2: front antlers, head, body, front legs and tail
  • layer 3: head, body and tail
  • layer 4: back antlers, head, body, back legs

I glued the layers with foam adhesive and, once dry, started carving. I used a reciprocating saw (with saw blade for cutting metal), drywall saw and snap blade shop knife to rough in the shape. Then I used a surform shaver to to refine the shape. Everything except the antlers will be covered in fur so there's no need to sand those parts. I did smooth the antlers with a Dremel tool with a drywall cutting attachment (lightly brushing the edge along the surface of the foam) and sanded slightly. I then sealed the antlers in white glue to help strengthen them before adhering them to the head of the reindeer. I then painted them with a couple coats of acrylic paint.

Step 7: Reindeer - Build the Support

I used a plywood base (just some scrap wood) with 2 pieces of "1-1/4" x 48" zinc-plated punched angle" to support the back legs and body. I cut these pieces down to the correct size with a hacksaw. I chose these pieces of metal because they were sturdy but lightweight and the holes allowed me to attach rope handles. The front legs were supported with 1/2" thick pieces of wood. These four braces were secured to the base using blocks of 2x4s. Once built, the braces were glued to the foam deer with foam adhesive and screwed with 3.5" screws (be careful not to over-tighten the screws since it can pull out of the foam).

Step 8: Reindeer - Paint, Fur and Accessorize

I used two yards of "soft bear" faux fur from Joann Fabric (like this) to cover the body. It was a splurge (coupons help!) but it looked more authentic than most others. This allowed me to cover the body and front legs in one single piece, the head and ears with a second piece and smaller pieces for the back legs. I used 1/2 of a yard of long hair white "grizzly" faux fur for the collar and tail.

All of the fur was glued to the foam with foam adhesive and I secured the edges with a bunch of straight pins (poking right into the foam). While I put most pins on the back of the reindeer, the fur is thick enough to cover pins even if they're on the front side. Be careful when gluing the white fabric because the adhesive has a blue tint and it can show through if you use too much.

Since the fur is dark with light tips, I was able to trim the fur on the face and feet to make them appear darker. I tried to use hair clippers and they didn't work so I had to use use scissors and cut the hair by hand. It's messy - hair everywhere! - and it was tedious but it helped with authenticity.

Step 9: Elf

I cut out the elf from 2" thick foam using a band saw and shop knife. I cut the head out of a second piece of foam that was stacked and glued to the main body. I shaped the form with shop knife and surform shaver. While the first picture here shows the foam with the shape of ears and hair, I eventually trimmed these off. I didn't bother with carving a face since it wouldn't be seen. I made his hair from brown yarn - just a bunch of short pieces tied to a longer piece that runs from side to side. The clothes are made of red and green felt, the gloves are from scrap sweatshirt material, the belt is a scrap piece of leather and I finished the outfit with jingle bells. The green striped tights were old socks.

The hat and shoes were sewn but everything else was glued - either foam adhesive for fabric on foam or hot glue for fabric on fabric. After gluing, everything was secured with straight pins - through the fabric and into the foam.

To mount it, I sunk 3" screws into the hands (uncarved stubs, really), wrapped wire around the screws and hooked the wire around nails in the brick facade.

Step 10: Santa's Bag and Presents

I cut the presents from, you guessed it, foam! To weather the rain and snow, I thought this would be the best material. I used a band saw to cut same-sized rectangles to stack for thicker shapes. After the pieces were glued together, we covered them using wrapping paper and clear packing tape. I sunk 3" screws into the blocks and tied black string around the screws so I could secure the presents in place. I've found that the paper holds up well in the weather if the packages are stationary; in other words, make sure they're not going to roll across the shingles, for example.

The bag is 3 yards of burlap sewed across the bottom and up the side. The bag is filled with a 32 gallon trashcan (with lid) to help keep it upright and lightweight. I used several trashbags filled with foam scraps to stuff the rest of the bag. I tied a present to the top of the bag to cover the opening and to signal the source of the gifts. The brace on the back of the bag was screwed into the top lip of the trashcan. The trashcan already had a small puncture in the base so I sunk a screw through the this hole (with a washer on the screw) to help keep the trashcan in place.

Step 11: Install and Light

First off, please be extremely careful anytime you're working on your roof. That said...

I built stands to elevate and anchor the different elements on my roof. To maximize viewability from the street, I positioned the deer and bag to be level with the parapet wall. I built the bases from 2x4 but they wouldn't need to be that sturdy. To prevent anything from tipping over in the wind, I used long pieces of scrap plywood as counter balances. I prefer this approach because the weight is well distributed across the roof and not too heavy in one location.

To light the display, I used three LED floodlights. One 60W light was mounted on top of a 12 foot pole zip tied to a tree in my front yard. I built a stand to raise another 60W light above the front corner of my porch. The last light, a 30W flood, was placed on the parapet wall to shine up on the reindeer.

Step 12: Enjoy!

These are a big hit with kids and adults alike both in daylight and at night. Enjoy!

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