Introduction: Merry Rx-mas: Pill Bottle Advent Calendar

About: I'm a Renaissance woman. I love to create things with a fantasy, medieval, or geeky edge. I'm also a math/science nerd. I have a passion for all things Halloween. I like to build props, create costume elements…

I was inspired to make this pill bottle advent calendar as a gag gift for my mother-in-law after our family had a very busy year, medically-speaking. I've seen advent calendars with various types of containers arranged into the shape of a tree and seeing so many pill bottles lined up made me think of this. My mother-in-law loved it.

However, I want to caution against using pill bottles to create an advent calendar for a child. Children should not associate prescription pill bottles with holding any kind of treat.

Step 1: Supplies

  • 25 - NEW 13 dram pill bottles (approx 1.25" diameter) with snap caps (caps that pull off, rather than standard child resistant caps) - I bought mine for 25 cents each from a pharmacy. Get a few extra caps if you can.*
  • 1/2" thick paint grade plywood cut to 13.5" x 14"
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • drill/dremel with 3/32 bit
  • 25 - 1/2" 3/32 wood screws
  • screwdriver
  • masking tape
  • craft paint - green, brown, and background color (I used antique white)
  • paint brush
  • permanent or paint markers in red, black, brown, and yellow

* I tried a regular cap on these and they are simply too difficult to remove (for me, at least). If you want to use child-proof caps, I suggest you make your tree on bigger board with larger gaps between the bottles.

Step 2: Getting Started

To mark out the shape of the tree, you'll need to draw a grid in pencil on your board. Begin by finding the center of the board and use a ruler and pencil to lightly draw perpendicular lines that cross at this point. Your board should be oriented so it is taller than it is wide.

Mark out a vertical line 7/8" on either side of the center point. Mark out more pairs of lines 7/8" inches away on either side of these new lines until you have 11 vertical, evenly-spaced lines.

Draw horizontal lines above and below your initial horizontal line, 1 3/4" away, above and below. Make more pairs of lines 1 3/4" above and below these lines until you have 7 horizontal lines. Mark off the location of the holes according to the diagram.

Please note that, in the example pictured, my tree was arranged too high on the board. However, I have adjusted the measurements so you will have a centered tree.

Drill holes in all of the 25 marked locations, then carefully erase any pencil marks.

Step 3: Paint the Tree


Next, paint the board in the background color you have selected. Paint two layers (or more, depending on how many it takes to achieve an even color). Once the board is completely dry, Tape off a triangle for the tree, as shown, making sure the ignore the bottom row of holes which are for the trunk. Be sure to place the inside edge of the tape along the outside most hole positions.

To get even lines, paint your base coat again, over the inside lines of the tape. This seals the edge and prevents the green paint that you will be adding from bleeding underneath. For further details on this technique, see my published Instructable, How to Paint Clean Lines.

Once this "bleed" layer is dry, paint the inside of the triangle green. It may take two or more coats of paint. When you are done painting, pull the tape away.


Next, use tape to mark out the right and left edges of the rectangular trunk, using the furthest most holes on the bottom to show the furthest edges, right and left. Then, tape the bottom edge, about 1" below the holes. Leave the top unmarked; you'll be painting up along it instead. Again, carefully paint the base coat along the inside of the tape lines. Once the "bleed" layer is dry, paint the rectangle brown, carefully. This may take two or more layers. When you are done painting, pull the tape away.

Step 4: Attaching the Bottles

Prepare your pill bottles by drilling a hole in the bottom center of each using the same 3/32 drill bit you've been using.

Once you've drilled all of your holes, use the screws to secure each bottle down to the board.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Using a yellow or gold permanent marker, draw a small star on one cap. This will be for the top of the tree. Then use permanent marker (or paint pens) to draw small red circles in the center of 20 caps.

Top each bottle with a cap, as shown, with a star on top and blank caps on the very bottom row of 4 (the trunk). Turn the caps the way you'd like them. I arranged mine with all of the tabs down. Once you are satisfied, use a black marker to number the centers of the first 21 caps. Then use a brown marker to number the bottom four caps.

Add embellishment to your board if you'd like. I simply wrote Merry Rx-mas on the top.

Wood Contest

Participated in the
Wood Contest

Homemade Gifts Contest

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest