Introduction: Upcycled Christmas Tree 2018

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Backstory: I moved into my house just a few days before Christmas years ago. I didn't have any furniture, let alone a tree for Christmas. So I wrapped all our moving boxes and stacked them up in a pyramid... and that was our tree that year. That sorta started a tradition. Each year since I've built our tree out of recycled or upcycled materials that I either salvage or already have on hand. I love the idea of giving stuff destined for the landfill some new life before sending them on their way.

2018's tree is made from scrap plywood and melamine left over from our stairway remodel. I had already cut much of the sheet goods into 7" strips for stair risers. So it was just a matter of ripping the rest of the sheets to strips, cutting them to length, and pinning them together as open boxes. From there I just stacked them on one another and hung a red LED on the inside.

I ran out of usable wood towards the cap of the tree and had to start cobbling together tiny scraps to finish before I lost my daylight outside. I'm not terribly fond of the last course - but whatever.

Here's some links to previous trees:

  1. 2017's cottonball tree
  2. 2016's magazine tree
  3. 2015's cardboard cutout tree
  4. 2014 and earlier trees in a gallery post (no instructions)

Step 1: Materials

I really just used approximately two 4'x8'x.75" sheets of melamine and half a sheet of 4'x8'x.68" plywood.

Some of it I had already ripped and trimmed to length to be used as stair risers when remodeling my hall stairs. It was the perfect material to reuse for something like this rather than let it gather dust in the garage - or end up in the landfill.

Other materials were some Titebond wood glue and some 15g 2" nails for my nail gun.

Step 2: Setup to Rip Sheets Into Strips

I just set a piece of OSB on a card table in the driveway. Clamped it down. Then screwed two 8'x2"x4" with an overhang to be used as sacrificial cutting surfaces.

To make the repetitive cuts quickly, I used my Kregg circular saw jig.

Step 3: Rip, Repeat

I basically just milled up the sheets into strips. Made lots and lots and lots of sawdust.

Step 4: Jig It Up!

To assist with the box assembly, I made a corner clamping jig out of some scrap. I just butt jointed it and then tapped it together with the nail gun.

I set it in place, used Kregg clamps to hold the work pieces, and shot 3-4 nails into a butt joint. I did this 4 times on each box. No need to glue because I want this to come apart fairly easily after the Holidays end.

Eventually I learned I could use the jig on the first corner, then just use that corner to make the next corner.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Step 5: Pythagoras, You Clever Rascal

Every two courses of boxes is smaller than the former. This is to create a pyramid or tree shape. Additionally every course is set at a 45° angle to the previous about the center axis. So to figure out what lengths to use, I subtracted 3" from the distance from one corner of the most recent course to the side of the next course.

Then I dids my maths on an envelope with the Pythagorean theorem to get a length for the next course.

Then the ol' miter saw did the rest.

Step 6: Assemble the Boxes

Every course is 7" tall when laid flat. So every "star" pattern is 14" high. Here you can see the first course being set up to butt joint with the nail gun.

I just kept doing this, stacking them, reducing the length of the next course, over and over until I ran out of usable lengths.

Step 7: Lay the Courses

I'd lay one course, then lay the next course, which is identical at a 45° angle. This makes an effect of an 8-Pointed star when viewed from above.

From an oblique angle, it really fills out and suggests a tree.

I added just a dollop of wood glue at each intersection of each course. This won't really hold the thing up, but it does keep the courses from sliding around on one another. Important since I have kids. I waited to glue until I had another course ready. I applied the glue and then set the next course on top of it dry to let the weight of that course apply the pressure needed for the glue.

Step 8: Make a Cap. Meh.

I just plain ran out of usable lengths of wood. I also ran out of daylight. I wasn't about to go buy fresh wood for this, so I just started tacking together the cut-offs and other scraps into a very rough cap with the same footprint as the top-most course. I left gaps in the scraps so that a light could shine through.

I just tacked a small cross bar in place so that I could hang and clamp a shop lamp with a red led bulb.

Step 9: Voila! Red-lit, Upcycled, Repurposed, Plywood Christmas Tree

Cheers and happy holidays!

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