Introduction: Make a Jewelry/Mask Tree From a Christmas Tree

About: Chandra X-Ray Center Predoctoral Fellow, Stellar Undertaker, Maker of random things

For those of you who celebrate the holidays by hauling a pine tree into your homes (Christmas, Saturnalia, New Year's, etc), I am sure you have been faced with the unfortunate dilemma of what to do with it once the festivities have ended. Around here, the tree is put out with the trash and then unceremoniously chipped by the municipality in the streets --after being buried in snow several times. Now these are the things that make (inner-) children weep, and we definitely don't want that during the holidays.... at least not from the Holiday tree.

What if, instead of tossing that tree aside, you converted it into something useful; a tool that could also solve a problem many of us have been faced with in these unexpected days. If that sounds interesting to you, please read on.


1 Christmas Tree

1 Hatchet

1 handsaw

1 Draw knife

1 Spokeshave

1 pocket knife or other whittling knife

1 Bit Brace or Electric Drill

1 7/32" drill bit

1 7/64" drill bit (or 1/8")

1 3" #8 wood screw

1 3/8" x 1 1/4" fender washer

1 3/4" black pipe flange

200 grit sandpaper


1 Multi-Material Countersink bit (to bring the screw head flush with the top of the washer)

1 1" forstner bit (to counter sink the flange into the tree)

1 spring (To help straighten the tree if you are like me and can't always drill straight)

finish of choice (We used boiled linseed oil on the big tree, and Van's furniture wax on the small tree)

Step 1: Trim the Tree

Now this part will still scar the children... The branches aren't particularly useful for our purposes and will prevent us from working the trunk. To remove them I took the tree outside and grabbed a hatchet to gently chop the branches off at the point they met the trunk. When doing this, please review all hatchet safety instructions: wear thick leather gloves, wear SAFETY GLASSES (No one want to be in the ER with a chunk of wood in their eye). You will also want to secure the tree in some way. This could be with a vise around the base of the tree, or by tying it to a sturdy surface and taking care not to hit the attachment point. Keep your hatchet swings short, smooth, and controlled. We don't need to cleave the branches off the tree in a single swing. We can clean up the surface later with a draw knife.

Now, if you are:

1. Smarter than I am

2. Following this instructable so you can learn from my mistakes

you can save some of the thicker branches you have cleaved off in order to whittle them down and make the branches for our tree later. I trimmed the tree in February, and had not considered what the branches could be used for.

Step 2: Strip the Bark

Now that we have trimmed the tree, it is time to strip the bark. Holiday trees are often quite sappy species of wood, so you may want to give the tree time to dry out before attempting to strip the bark. I waited a month or two (This was unintentional) and it made scraping the bark off a lot easier as I didn't have to constantly stop and clear sap from the draw knife.

Unlike the other tools on the list, a draw knife and spokeshave are not quite as common for the average DIY-er. A good enough for our purposes draw knife can be picked up for ~$20 and a spokeshave for ~$9, both on amazon. I have included a link to slightly higher quality ones from a company called Narex: Draw Knife
and Bench Dog: Spokeshave.

Don't worry too much about the surface finish, we will deal with that when we break out the spokeshave. To use the draw knife, you are going to want to clamp the trunk firmly to your work surface. This can be a workbench with a vise, or a piece of wood you sit on (shave horses are actually pretty cool and the way these things were done historically: Shavehorse Instructable). Take a look at the video in the spokeshave step to get an idea of how I clamped my tree.

Now, you will want to stand or sit so that the top of the tree is pointed toward your chest.

Place the draw knife perpendicularly across the tree so you can grab each handle.

Now as the name implies, you're going to draw the knife toward you. Keep the blade angled so it digs into the bark, and pushing down firmly. If you find the blade is getting stuck, try making the angle shallower or easing up on the pressure slightly. When possible, you should try and take full length strokes of the tree so that you do not take too much material from any one place.

The knots where the branches were are going to be the hardest part. You will likely need to use more force on those and it will take several passes on them specifically to bring them smooth with the rest of the tree.

Continue until all the heavy bark is off, and the knots are flush with the surface like in the photo above.

Step 3: Season the Wood

Now the base of mine was still pretty sappy, So I took a slice off the top that had dried and used it to make a smaller jewelry tree while the lower part dried out more. This will vary based on locale and time of year, but cleaning pine sap off drill bits and cutting edges is not a fun a time, so you will want to be patient.

Step 4: Cut to Length

As I mentioned in the previous step, I cut my tree so that I could work with the dry upper portion, while the lower portion finished drying out. The smaller tree ended up being 12" after cutting off the small and flexible top branch. The bigger tree is in the neighborhood of 24". These dimensions will change depending on the size and shape of your tree (ours was 4.5 feet tall) and the layout of the branches (prioritize not cutting through knots over getting a precise length). You can see the two lengths in the photo above (I left the bark on the bottom of the bigger piece to save my draw knife, and went back to it once it had dried).

Step 5: Shape the Tree

This part is quite similar to the draw knife step. The main difference is that the spokeshave is a bit of a gentler instrument. You don't need to push as hard, and can take much smaller strokes. The goal here is to smooth the surface and remove any imperfections. You can also use the spokeshave to remove material strategically if you want to shape the tree a bit.

Step 6: Add the Base

For this step, we will clamp our tree upside down so that we are looking directly at the bottom. Now is the time to flatten the bottom and make sure the tree will stand upright when you are done. You can saw off a small amount or use a rasp/file or sandpaper to flatten the base to your liking.

OPTIONAL: if you want to hide the base, you can take a Forstner bit that is slightly wider than the outer diameter of the threaded part of your flange (The little bit that sticks up in the middle of the flange) and drill into the base of the tree so that the flange fits inside. It is important to keep yourself square to the base here, or all your work flattening will come to naught (I made this mistake the first time around and had to put a small spring in the base to level it). You can use any type of bit that will make a large enough hole. I chose the forstner bit because it meant there was no snail or other point extending beyond the the end of the hole, but a spade bit or auger bit would work just as well, and potentially be easier to manage in a bit brace.

Once that is done, drill a pilot hole for our wood screw, taking care to keep this hole straight as well. The recommended pilot hole for a #8 screw in softwood is 7/64", but if you can get something in the neighborhood of 1/8" that should be more than sufficient. You can pick up a bit brace for fairly cheap if you don't have one, or just use an electric drill. A decent used brace can be had for 10 dollars or less if you check local listings like craigslist. I recommend drilling a pilot hole instead of using self-tapping screws as you don't want to risk splitting the tree at this stage.

OPTIONAL: Take the washer and use the countersink bit to countersink the hole in the center of the washer so the screw head sits flush with the edge of the washer.

Finally, we can place the flange on the base of the tree, pass the screw through the washer, and tighten the base to the tree.

Step 7: Add the Branches

The next step is to add the branches. Now if you were smart and saved the branches you can take them and use a pocket knife to whittle them into shape. Take care to not remove too much material, or else the drill bit we have will be too big. If you were like me, you first have to take a piece of pallet wood and resaw it and then rip the board so that you have sufficiently thin branches. The board branches should be ~ 1/4" square so that we can shave material off without making them too small for our 7/32" bit.

Next you will want to lay out where your branches will sit. I did this by finding a position for the first branch that looked good to me, and then drilling that hole. To drill the hole, put the tree sideways in the vise as we did when trimming and shaping. Next we will take our 7/32" bit and drill perpendicularly into the tree a few turns to roughly ~1/4". Once you have a small crater for the bit to sit in, you will want to angle the drill so that it enters the tree at the angle you want for your branch. Keep drilling until the hole is ~1/2" to ~3/4" deep. Next you should do a test fit to make sure the branch fits. You will likely need to shave more off the end of the branch and give it a bit of a taper on the bottom so that it fits. Once the branch fits properly, I took a piece of 200 grit sandpaper and sanded the branches to a smooth finish. Make note of which branch corresponds to which hole as they will likely not be interchangeable.

Continue working your way down the tree. Take care to place branches so that items hanging on the tree can actually fit in the space between the branches. I removed each branch after drilling so that they were not in danger during the drilling process and clamping the tree down remained simple.

This is also a good time to sand down the main body of the tree. The spokeshave should have left a smooth surface, so a few passes with 200 grit sand paper should be sufficient to clean up any rough patches, or marks from clamping or drilling.

Once all the branches have been drilled and fit, place a drop of wood glue in the holes and press all the branches into position. Wipe off any excess glue with a clean rag. Let the glue dry for the time recommended on the bottle.

Step 8: Apply Finish

I really liked the natural wood tone of the tree, but I wanted to seal the wood to protect it. For the little tree, I used some food safe furniture wax which applies by rubbing it over the surface with a clean rag. Unfortunately I did not have enough to do the larger tree, so I used boiled linseed oil in that case. Boiled linseed oil can also be applied using a clean rag. BE SURE TO FOLLOW THE SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS FOR ANY FINISH YOU USE. Boiled linseed oil dries in an exothermic reaction and can produce sufficient heat to spontaneously ignite on the rags. Take care to soak them in water and lay them out flat outside away from flammables to dry completely.

Step 9: Enjoy

Now that the finish has dried, you can take full advantage of your new jewelry or mask tree.



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