Thrifty Bucket Tree Stump




Introduction: Thrifty Bucket Tree Stump

About: Half crazy, half can decide. I enjoy experimenting with new materials and new mediums whenever I can, constantly striving to be a jack of all trades.

On my ongoing quest to turn my bedroom into a foresty wonderland I decided I needed a whimsical stump to add to the decor. I decided the stump would work out to be a perfect night stand to hold my books, glasses, and phone as it charges. It also works great as a nice sitting stump if you find yourself entertaining company with too few seating options!

You could also make one for a theater play production, a fun stool for a kid, a home for your garden gnome. The possibilities are endless! Stumps for everyone!

In my never ending quest to be thrifty with my projects I managed to make my stump for only around $10 (it helps that I work right next to Jimmy Johns and can get free pickle buckets but buckets are pretty easy to find. Free Bonus: my stump smells like delicious pickles.)

Materials include:

Bucket- most important ingredient

Cardboard- best friend of a thrifty, upcycling, crafter

Expanding foam- So much fun to sculpt with! I have a new favorite medium.

Paint- what really makes everything comes together.


Hot glue- my right hand man whenever I work with cardboard

Utility knife- for artistic trimming

Rasp- for the finer finishing details

A fun project that can be done in a single weekend with little out of pocket cost, common tools, and imagination! (unfortunately the expanding foam needs 18hours to cure so that slows things down a bit)

Step 1: Prep Your Bucket

I wanted a little cubby hole to store books and things. We'll start by cutting out a sizable door; large enough to fit a good selection of reading materials. I used a dremel with a heavy duty cutting wheel and it worked like a charm. It cut through that plastic like butter. Fair warning though, it makes a mess and you'll be covered in plastic snow for the rest of the project. Also, safety glasses are reccommended here as bucket bits tend to go flying towards your face.

Originally I was going to have an adorable door that could open and close but I planned it so it opened inwards. I found out that compromises any space for storage. My foam that I added around the edge of the hidey hole in a later step prevented me from opening it outwards.So plan ahead better than I did if you want a little door to hide things.

Step 2: Add Bark!

Of course our tree stump must have a rough, barky exterior. What better way to cheaply and quickly do that than our friend cardboard!

I simply tore the cardboard chunks by hand out of a large sheet I had gathered. I liked leaving the bark bits rough and organic. Since its a tree stump we can get away with a lot of things working organically for us.

Team up our cardboard with hot glue and start puzzling together some bark and arranging it how you see fit. You'll notice I had to troubleshoot the bottom of the stump as it has multiple rims I had to work around. I simply tore one long strip of cardboard to cover that section and hugged it around the stump. (I literally stood there hugging it until the glue held it into place)

Finally, I added some extra bark texture by drawing on the cardboard bits with the hot glue. This leaves a nice raised portion that we can make stand out with dry brushing in the painting step.

Step 3: Playing With Expanding Foam!

I'll be honest, I was a little terrified at first experimenting with expanding foam because I expected it to grow 10x larger and make a mess everywhere. It ended up being really easy to handle, predict, and sculpt with.

Once again, keeping things organic here helps a lot. Don't try to get things perfect, just let it form as its going to.

Be sure to read the instructions on the can. This is stuff you do not want to get on skin, clothes, or eye etc. Have gloves at the very least!

First I glued the bucket to a sizable piece of carboard. This cardboard will become part of your stump so it helps if its a nice piece. This helps contain the mess and creates a bottom for the bucket at the same time!

I made a lip around the cubby hole to make it look like a tree forced to heal the damage done to its bark. I also built up layers of foam to create the roots. I simply drew out the roots with the foam and let nature take its course after that. You'd be surprised how managable the foam is. Some of my roots expanded and got chubbier than I expected, but its nature right? If anything does go awry remember that we can happily carve it away after it has cured.

My foam took 18 hours to cure (I used Great Stuff) but be sure to check back to your can for cure times.

Step 4: Carving and Sculpting

First I did a rough cut of the cardboard around the roots to make the foam of the roots more accessable.

Now for the rough cut shaping. With my utiliy knife I went to town hacking, slicing and tearing. My best technique was to cut where I wanted it removed and them tear it out by hand. I tried to leave as much of the roots alone as possible to leave it natural looking but the perfectionist in me took over and I ended up fiddling with almost every root.

After cutting extra fat and stray bits off of your roots you can clean it up with a rasp or a file. Round out your edges and add extra definition to your root blobs.

Something to consider: the raw foam is much harder to paint than the glossy uncarved surface. It absorbs the paint and has a rougher look. You could probably seal it with bondo or wood glue etc. but I worked with what I had instead. So if you want it all to look glossy and clean, try to not cut as much material away.

After getting the roots shaped like I wanted I went around and did a detailed cut out of the cardoard, tracing the roots as I worked around the bottom.

Step 5: Painting

We'll create a wide range of depth using a dramatic range of colors working from black for the shadows, a base brown for the main color, and then light brown paint to create highlights.

I spray painted the base coat with a flat black to cover everything and insure that all cracks would be able to show a bit through the next layer.

For the main coat I haphazardly painted on a basic brown color. Try to not go too heavy handed and cover all of the black, but we also only want the black to highlight the cracks and edges.

Finally, the light brown was applied using a dry brushing technique. Barely get any paint on your brush, give it a few dabs until it seems it won't paint anything at all. Then lightly brush it over the bark. The bark should only pick up the paint on the highest spots allowing the texture to really pop.

I jumped in at the last minute with a little green and added the look of some moss. Really adds some nice color.

Step 6: Finished!

Congratulations! You are now a proud owner of a bucket stump. I entrust you'll use it wisely and cherish it forever. Now you have a stump to add a little forest charm where ever you need. Feel free to get creative with mushroom shelves, a hobbit door, fairies. Who knows!?

My stump happens to also be a home for a badger so I made him his own little "beware" sign.

Good luck and happy building!

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    4 Discussions


    4 years ago

    If you put a bolt through one side of the cubby hole, as low as possible, and a catch bolt on the opposite side, you can make a pocket door. kind of how the peep hole blind works on a front door, except sideways. it shouldn't rotate all the way around by virtue of the catch bolt so gravity should keep it open when needed and closed when not. this way you shouldn't lose any more space than the thickness of the bucket. I would experiment on an empty bucket until i had the right template for the holes.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    That turned out remarkably well. Excellent idea.


    5 years ago

    This is a very clever design and use of materials. I wish I would have come across this instructable a few years ago when I was enlisted to create a tree stump card basket for a country camo themed wedding.