This all started when my youngest Grandson asked how long is it until Christmas?

I started thinking of some way for a three year old to understand what how long means?

Like the relationship between Days, Hours, Minutes and Seconds.

He knew what "Today" was as well as Tomorrow,, but beyond that,,,

Knowing that a regular Clock and a Calender, at this moment, was beyond his ability to read and understand,

I thought that a numeric count down might be a little easier.

And, so it began,


As with most projects,, what started out as simple, kept getting more stuff added to it!

The LCD Screen will display either the "Count Down To Christmas"


Today's Current time and date

Then the Music was added.

The kids seem to be drawn to it by being able to push a button and hear their favorite song!

I then decided some movement was necessary so the 'Christmas Tree" turning on top was added!!

Also, this doesn't have to be just for Christmas!!

You could substitute anything for the "Tree" and change songs for what ever holiday you celebrate!!

To change the countdown to a different day only takes a few changes to the Picaxe Code.

Anyway,, hope you enjoy my first


AND!! Please Click the Little Vote Button at the top and VOTE for The Magical Musical Countdown To Christmas Machine!!!!!

Step 1: What You Will Need!

For this project, you will need some basic electronics skills and basic woodworking skills as well.

Necessary Tools:

Soldering Iron


Table Saw



Forstner Drill Bits

Drill Bits


Wire Strippers/cutter

File Downloads:

There are several files that I make reference to in the instructions.

In order to easily keep them updated and or modified, they are available for download at:

And Below, although I suggest you check the web page in-case there are any updates

The files needed are: the Schematic, PCB file, Picaxe Code, Case drawings, Assembly Instructions

Please note that all files and code are totally free,,

The 1/8 inch thick Birch Plywood referenced is available at most hobby shops.

Step 2: The PCB Assembly


First, download all the files from:

The ones we need right now are:

The Schematic, PCB (printed circuit board), BOM (Bill of Materials) and of course these instructions.

1. Gather everything shown on the BOM,

2. Build the PCB first, no use making the box if you can’t get the electronics to work!!

First install all the resistors.

Refer to the BOM for part number like R1, R2 etc.

They have no polarity so you can solder them in either direction.

Just make sure the values match the BOM and placement on the PCB!

Like: R0 thru R7 are 1K, (FYI, that’s 1000 ohms)

Step 3: The PCB Assembly

3. Install the Two Diodes,

These are D1 and D2,


They are polarity specific!!

On one end there is a ring or black mark.

Match this to the silkscreen on the PCB, or something won’t work right!

Step 4: The PCB Assembly

4. Install the 20 pin Chip Adapter,

It has two rows of 10 pins; the adapter allows you to change a chip without having

to do any unsoldering.

Be sure you get all 20 pins soldered in and no solder bridges between pins!!!

Step 5: The PCB Assembly

5. Install the Disk Capacitors

They are: C2, C3, C5, C6 and C7.

They are all the same value, and are not polarity specific, so you can insert them in either direction and it makes no difference!!

Step 6: The PCB Assembly

6. Install the Headers

These are used to make connections to the modules and items off the PCB such as the switches and LCD Screen.

There are Male and Female Headers.

H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H8 are male headers, (they have pins sticking out of both sides)

H6, H7, H8, H9 and H910 are Female Headers, (the only have pins sticking out of one side)

Step 7: The PCB Assembly

7. Install the Radial Capacitors:

There are two of them, C1and C4.


On the side of the Capacitor there is a minus or plus sign (different manufacturers may mark them differently)

Be sure they are soldered in matching the PCB

There is a small + sign on the PCB silkscreen to denote the direction!

Step 8: The PCB Assembly

8. Install the Voltage Regulator.

On one side of the regulator there is a flange with a hole in it that sticks up above the plastic body.

Align it as shown on the PCB Silkscreen.

Be sure it aligned properly, if its backwards, it won’t work!!

And, remember when you power it up,

Backwards May = Smoke,,,, Smoke is BAD!!!!

Step 9: The PCB Assembly

10. Install the Transistor.

This is what makes the motor that turns the Tree run!

It too is specific as to its orientation on the PCB Board.

It too has a metal flange with a hole in it that sticks up

above the plastic body.

Be sure it is aligned as shown on the Silkscreen!

If its backwards,, it won’t work!!

Again! Backwards May = Smoke,,,Smoke is BAD!! :)

Step 10: The PCB Assembly

11. Install the Power Terminal

Be sure the slots for wire insertion are pointed to the outside edge of the PCB!

Step 11:

You may now put the Picaxe 20x2 Chip in the Adapter.

Be sure to align it as shown on the PCB!!

Backwards may = Smoke,,,, Smoke is BAD!!!

Most times when first inserting a chip into the adapter, you will find that the pins are

a little sprung out.

I normally insert one row of the chip pins against one side of the adapter and give them a little push to bend them inwards slightly.

Then reverse the chip and do the same to the other side.

Then push it in the adapter.

Sometimes you need to do this more than once to get them in the correct alignment.

Be careful not to break or over bend them!!

Your PCB should now be completely populated!




That’s the setting where when you put the two leads together a buzzer sounds.

Once you are sure you have a good connection on everything move onto the next step!

Step 12: Connecting Items Off the PCB, Modules and Programming Your Picaxe

The LCD!

The project uses the Picaxe AX133Y Serial LCD.

They are available at: unassembled.

The AX133Y connects to the PCB via a double male radio control servo extension.

Also available on

There is a three pin male header on the rear of the LCD.

Run one of the double male servo extension between it and the male header on the PCB marked H8.

If it doesn’t light up when power is applied, just turn one end of the extension around.

It wont short out, the power pin is in the center so you can’t reverse the polarity!!!

Cool Huh?

The Amplifier!

The Mp3 module has a very low amplitude, it’s more of a line out, so to drive your speakers you will need some type of amplifier.

I have used two types, one a small module available on EBay that will plug directly into the female header marked H6.

You will however have to move the male header that comes attached to it to the bottom side for the polarity to be correct and to have access to the small 10k pot on it that you use to adjust the volume.

The other option is to purchase a set of cheap computer speakers.

Be sure they are powered by 12v dc. at less than 1 amp.

I found them for $8.00 at BIG LOTS.

Open them up and scarf out the Speakers and the small Amplifier.

You can then tap into the power input to your PCB and use the speakers for the project!

Later on when you power up the project, you will need to adjust the amplifier

I will refer to that later.

The Motor!

The project is designed to use a small gear motor to drive the disk that the tree mounts to.

They are available on EBay or see the BOM for specifications.

To wire up your motor, again using a double male servo extension, cut one of the ends

from the extension and solder the black wire to one of the solder terminals on the

motor and the red wire to the other one.

Plug the remaining extension lead onto the male header marked H2 on the PCB.

If you want your tree to turn a specific direction clockwise or counter clockwise, you may need to switch the wires where they connect at the motor.

The MP3 Module!

You will need to load your songs onto the SD card.

The Module is capable of managing 199 Mp3 files in each folder.

The Module is capable of managing 15 folders.

Folder #1 is directly on the SD card,

You may then add folders and put up to 199 files in each folder starting with folder #002.

I suggest you only load a couple of CD's worth though.

Load a few directly onto the SD Card, no folder for right now.

Then insert the SD card into the MP3 player.

Mounting the Mp3 Player on the PCB!

Looking at the base of the Mp3 player near the pins at one end, you will see pin 1 is marked with a number 1.

Insert the Mp3 player male header pins into the female header marked H10 with Pin1 at the end marked 1 on the PCB silkscreen.

As a precaution:

Do not remove or insert the Mp3 player while power is applied to the PCB!!!

Do not remove or insert the SD card while the Mp3 Module is powered up!!!

The Mp3 Switches!

You will need 6 push button switches for the Mp3 control

They are momentary tactile type thru board type with button caps

Refer to the BOM for specifications.

I mounted mine to pieces of Perf. board ( Perf. Board is available at Radio Shack!) spaced to match the openings on the front panel of the case.

One side of each switch is connected to the appropriate pin on the PCB male header H1, while the other goes to the Ground Terminal on the PCB Power Connection Terminal.

See the Switch Mounting picture above.

The RTC Clock Module!

The Clock Module. RTC = Real Time Clock

You will need to solder male header pins onto the bottom side

of your module. (Backup battery is on top). Insert the battery into the module and

then insert the module into the female headers H7 and H9.

The Clock Module is available on EBay or refer to the BOM for more information.

You will need to program it.

Visit and go to the Forum, there you can search for the procedure to program

the clock module.

The Clock Module needs to have power all the time once it is programmed.

The backup battery should keep it going for about three years.

If you need to replace it and don’t want to reprogram it.

Apply power to the PCB, remove the backup disk battery from the RTC, and then replace the battery before removing the power from the PCB.

(Thus keeping power to the clock at all times!! :)

Programming the Picaxe 20x2.

The regular way to program a Picaxe chip is through a Stereo Socket.

These take up quite a bit of space on a PC Board and according to where you purchase them, they can be quite expensive.

On nearly all my Picaxe projects, I opt to use a three pin male header in its place.

I have made an adapter (shown in the pictures above) that allows you to still use the AXE027 programming cable and my 3 pin header.

Plug your AXE027 Cable into one of the USB ports on your computer.

Have the Picaxe Programming Editor (available for download at find the cable com port.

Then plug the Phone Jack end of the cable into my "Adapter".

Plug the other end of the "Adapter", (the three pin servo type connector) onto the 3 pin header on the PCB marked H3.

Apply Power to your PC Board. (the Picaxe chip must be powered to program)

Load the Picaxe Code into the editor and click the "Program" button.

Your Picaxe Chip should program.

If you get an error saying something like "Cannot find Picaxe Chip" try reversing the connection at the 3 pin header and then Click the "Program" button again.

For more information on programming your Picaxe, visit:

The Change Switch.

This switch is a frame mount toggle switch.

These are also available at Radio Shack!

It only need to have 2 pins although one with more contacts can be used, if you use a switch with more contacts, just be sure it is wired as one position on the other off. just two wires!

Connect one wire to the pin marked "Change" on the silkscreen on header H10.

The other wire needs to connect to the Ground Terminal of the PCB Power Terminal.

Flip the switch one way and the LCD displays the current time and date, flip it the other way and the LCD will display the Countdown To Christmas!!

Step 13: The Case and Tree!

The Case!

1. Download the PDF ZIP or the DXF Zip of the CAD Drawing files if you haven’t already.

The material for the Top and Bottom Panels is Birch Aircraft Plywood 1/8 in thick.

It is available in several different sheet sizes at most Hobby Shops

or online.

I will leave it to you to find your supplier.

When making the purchase be sure to get enough to make the Top, Bottom, Front, Back and Both sides.

It most often comes in 12 inch wide sheets, you will need a piece at least 1/8 x 12 x 36

As they are all the same thickness material.

Cut the two squares, the Top and Bottom, they are 10 3/8 inch square.

The Top Panel has several holes and a curved slot.

The slot is to allow the motor to move to and away from the Tree Mount Disk.

I cut mine using my CNC router, but most of you wont have access to one of these, so you can mark out the curve for the slot and using a drill bit, drill successive holes inside the curve then using a Dermel Tool, grind or sand the edges smooth.

You may have to do some adjusting to it after you install the motor and its pivot mount to get it to mover back and forth freely.

Step 14: The Case Frame

2. The Case Fame.

The material for this part is 1 x 1-1/2 inch stock, readily available

at your local home improvement store. You will need 8 pieces 15 inch long.

With each piece, you will need to cut a slot in one edge 1/8 wide X 1/4 inch

deep. these are for the top to slide into when you assemble the frame.

Next you will need to cut a slot on one side, 1/8 wide X 1/4 deep, these are for the sides of the box to slip into.

Once the slots are cut. You will need to cut the 45 degree angles on the ends.

When cutting the angles I suggest you use a cutoff saw `accurately set to 45 degrees.

Be sure to cut them so that the slot in the edge is facing the inside of the frame.

And be sure that all 8 pieces are exactly the same size! (if not your square box will end up a trapezoid!! :)

I choose to round the outside edge of my frame using a 1/4 inch round over bit in my router table, but you can do as you please.

Now glue up/assemble your frame around the Top and Bottom plywood parts fitted into the edge slot.

Be careful to keep excess glue off all exposed wood as it tends to mess up any staining you might plan to do later!

Also be sure both frames are FLAT as if they are not your box will sit like an old rocking chair!

Step 15: The Case Sides

3. The Sides.

From the drawings, cut each side to length and width, they all must be the same size!

Pick one to be the Front and make the cut out for the LCD and Switches

Pick one for the Back make the holes for the Power Connector and "Change" Switch.

For the sides, again I used my CNC Router, but you can make the slots for the speakers using the same process you used on the top for the Motor Slot.

Step 16: Adding the Bottom Case Section

Lower Section Assembly.

Put your Bottom Frame on your building surface with the slots facing up.

Insert the Front, Back and Sides into the slots.

Don’t worry if the corners don’t mate up perfectly.

Take the Top with the slots facing down, and insert the Front, Back and Sides into the slots on its width.

This will align all four sides.

Next, Tack glue all four sides to the Bottom ONLY!!

When the glue is set, remove the Top

Then, securely Glue all four sides to the bottom from the inside.

Now, inside at each corner, insert the vertical 1/2 X 1/2 X 2 inch screw mounts.

These are to accept the 4 screws that go in through the top for its attachment.

Step 17: The Tree Rotation Bearing

The Tree Rotation Bearing.

On the drawing, you will see 4 disks with holes in the center, these make up the bearing mounts for the tree to rotate on.

I suggest you use slow setting glue for this as alignment may take a few minutes to accomplish.

Locate the Two 1/4 in. ID Bronze Bushings.

Before any gluing, be sure they fit snugly into the holes thru the center of the disks.

Now, apply glue to all 4 disks so they can be stacked together, as shown in the drawing.

Once stacked press one of the bronze bushings into the top side and one into the bottom side of the stack.

This should align all the disks with each other.

At this point it is a good idea to insert a 1/4 dia. bolt thru the bushings to be sure they are aligned to each other and that your shaft will rotate freely later on!

Make any adjustments now to get the bolt to rotate freely as after the glue has set you will not be able to change anything!

When the glue has set, remove one of the bushings from the stack.

Insert the removed bushing thru the top side of the Top Panel center hole.

Then apply glue to the side of the bearing stack that you just removed the bearing

from and press it onto the protruding part of the bushing that comes thru

the top and against the bottom of the Top Panel as shown above.

Step 18: The Tree Rotation Shaft

The Tree Rotation Shaft.

You will need:

1 piece of 1/4 inch OD Brass shaft material, Two 1/4 in ID Shaft Collars,

One 1/4 in Fender Washer and 1- 1/4 x 1 inch bolt and nut.

Remove the setscrew from one of the shaft collars and sand or grind the outside of the

collar until it has any/all coating removed.

Slide the Fender Washer on the bolt until it is against the bolt head.

Slide the shaft collar on the bolt until it is against the fender washer.

Thread the Nut on until it is against the shaft collar and tighten.

You must now either Braze or Solder the shaft collar to the fender washer.

When cool, remove the nut and slide the collar/washer assembly off the bolt.

Drill 4 holes through the fender washer for screws to be inserted through and into the tree mount disk.

Reinsert the setscrew into the shaft collar that you removed earlier.

Insert the shaft into the collar/washer assembly.

Let the shaft protrude above the collar about ¼ inch above the washer.

Insert the longer part of the shaft from the top side of the Top Plate, through both bushings.

Verify that the collar/washer assembly will rotate freely in the bushings.

Sand or polish the shaft if necessary to have it rotate freely!

Step 19: The Motor

The Motor and its Mount.

From 1/4 inch thick plywood, make the 4 pieces that are the motor mount.

The dimensions shown for the rectangular holes in the motor mount are for the motor I used.

Yours may differ,so you may need to adjust the hole size, assemble as shown in the drawing and then press in the motor assembly.

You may want to CA or epoxy the motor in place as it could work its way out of the motor mount when running against the tree disk.

Be careful not to get glue in the gear section of the motor as it will lock it up!!!

Press a piece of rubber windshield washer hose on the output shaft of the motor.

You only need a piece about 1/2 in long.

This should be available from the local auto parts store.

This through friction is what turns the tree mount disk.

Install the motor mount to the lower side of the Top with a 6-32 machine screw, flat washer

and a self-locking nut.

Install the Spring from the Motor Mount to the bolt/screw hole as shown in the CAD drawing.

This holds the motor at tension against the tree mount, causing it to turn with the motor rotation.

Be sure the motor with the rubber hose on its shaft moves freely through the curve of the slot on the top.

If needed, sand the slot to make it so.

Step 20: Trees and Tree Mount Disk

The Tree Mount Disk:

Cut a disk 6 inches in diameter from 3/4 inch thick pine.

Using a Forstner Bit nearest the size of your shaft fender washer drill from the bottom to approximately 3/8 inch deep.

Using a 1/4 inch drill bit drill through the disk at the center point left by the Forstner bit.

On the top side, I made slots for the tree base to slip into on my CNC Router, if you don't have access to one, you can simply glue the tree to the top and forget the slots.

Cut your Trees from 1/4 inch thick plywood. Paint them as you like!

Slip them together via the slots.

Set them to the top of the disk and glue in place

Step 21: Final Assembly

Final Assembly.

It’s time to fill up the case,

The photo shows how I mounted the switches,, the small blocks have to be sized just right to allow the switches

to make contact, their dimensions will depend on the switches you use.

Refer to the drawing to install the interior parts.

install the top, Tree mount and tree!

Plug in the power and its ready to go!

For more information and detail, please visit

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    2 Discussions

    I love the concept behind this project, and I bet it really does help little ones to understand time passage. Thanks for sharing!

    Giant RC Guy
    Giant RC Guy

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction


    Thank you for your comment!

    The Grandkids really like it! I have made 5 of them actually last winter for friends and family!

    thanks again