Introduction: The Undercover Advent Calender

About: A lowly geologist who likes to build stuff.

Has your best friend infiltrated a Middle-Eastern dictatorship for the CIA?
Did your brother convert to another religion in the name of love?

There are so many reasons why you would have to dissimulate your Christmas chocolate dispensing ornaments. Well this project is the answer to your prayers. We were initially planning to covertly hide the Advent Calender in a Book in an unsuspecting family's house in November, and then have them discover it through an elaborate ruse on the first of December. We ran out of time.

This Instructable will show you how to turn an old tome into a exciting advent calender for the holiday season. There are several useful instructables published elaborating the creation of book-safes (tbo0013, Re-design, and Mmarrington to name a few). The approach in this case was slightly different because 25 separate openings were necessary and the previously described methods appeared to be rather time consuming. There were many lessons learned through the process of developing the methodology for this creation. The mechanics are also slightly different because glue cannot be used to keep the pages together; the reason for this will become clear as you plan the sequence of openings.

Step 1: STEP 1: ITEMS

There may be more efficient ways to accomplish this project. I used what was available and was very happy with the result.

1. A BIG book
   → The bigger the better; in all dimensions
   → Thicker pages produces a cleaner cut, but tend to swell more around the cut (≈ 15%)
   → A Christmas, Victorian or winter theme is definitely a plus
   → Dictionaries are readily available, and rapidly becoming obsolete (no offense Webster).
2.  A drill (a drill press would be best)
3. "Grit-Style" holes saws (drill bits). I didn't try classic hole saws, but I assume these would tend to tear the paper.
4.  Angle Pick (a bent fork or clothes hanger could also do the job)
5. 2 or more C-clamps
6. Safety Glasses
7. Dust Mask
8. Fire extinguisher
9. Old Christmas Cards
10. Individually wrapped chocolates

Step 2: STEP 2: Elaborate a Plan in 3D

Even with a truly massive volume you will need some planning to get all 25 days within the same book.

We were using a dictionary and decided to use pages containing holiday words on them. This created somewhat of a daily word search for the kid whose turn it was to open the next section of the book. This proved very difficult to execute; for one, you would want most of the words to be in the first half of the dictionary (think of the wafer thin treat you would need fit on the "Yuletide" page). The other factor is that I inevitably drilled through some of the words were planned, forcing me to cram in some second rate Christmas terminology (e.g. teamwork). One idea that was implemented on the fly was to reveal a portion of an image, day by day. In the example above this was accomplished by having five successive drill holes started just a few pages apart, but all ending on the same page. We then tried several images to see what would work well given the hole sizes and positions.

We ended up having to use 2 books to get the 25 days. This permitted us to include a major prize for Christmas day.


A drill has enough torque to do some serious damage, use with care. The safety equipment is no joke. It will get extremely dusty and paper will fly; everywhere. Ventilation is always a good idea. You have all the ingredients for fire for this project: fuel, heat and air; keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case. I did not detect any smoke or even singeing, but the smell alone should be enough to motivate you to take precautions.

You should plan for four to ten hours of drilling, set yourself up properly and get comfortable.
  1. Double check that you are on the right page.
  2. Set up the hole saw so that the arbor (the center pilot hole bit) is recessed. The ripping risk seemed to outweigh any benefit.
  3. Fold the book back so that you are only drilling the pages you need. This will ensure that you don't go past where you were planning to.
  4. Secure the entire page sequence you are drilling through onto a piece of wood or the drill press platform. Use any clamps you have, and try to create a flat surface on the first page.
  5. Bring the hole saw blade down slowly. Paper rips, you want to make a clean cut.
  6. What's that smell? You will get a distinct smell of burning paper. If you forgot to bring the fire extinguisher near you, you will remember at this stage.
  7. Pull back often (≈25 pages) to clear the paper discs from the hole saw. I used a pick with right angle to drag along the base of the paper caught in the hole saw. This is very effective at cleaning the hole saw, but rather hazardous and messy. The paper is going to fly out and your pick is going to want follow; so hold tight. If you had forgotten your glasses at this stage, you will remember now.
  8. You may have trouble getting clear through the last few pages, due to the imperfect angle of your setup. You can cut out the last few discs with a utility knife.
  9. If you ruined your cover page; all is not lost. You can carefully rip them out completely to reveal another interesting page of your choice.
  10. Repeat, repeat repeat.

Step 4: STEP 4: Decorate and Fill

Pull out your scrap-booking supplies and pick some festive paper, stickers, stencils and stamps to add some flare. Last year's Christmas cards work very nicely as backing to the holes you've made. As for the chocolate, I found that small round, individually wrapped chocolates were best. In particular holiday themed Hershey's kisses provided great space efficiency and a neat way to get them out. Once you see the dust storm, you will understand why unwrapped chocolates are not a good idea. For the final prize we used "Kinder Surprise" a chocolate egg containing a toy with some assembly required. These are banned from the US due to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (you cannot put an object inside food!). This is a real shame, they are awesome.

I hope that this project inspired you to up-cycle some books you have lying around. You should remind the recipient that the calender is reusable.

Happy Holidays.

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