Intro: Turn an Old Artificial Christmas Tree Into a Giant Wreath
Artificial Christmas trees last many holiday seasons beyond their living counterparts, however they too have lifespans. An average living Christmas tree takes approximately 10 years of growing before it is ready to be cut and sold. In this growing period, thousands of gallons of water, chemicals, and labor are employed to maintain it. Obviously an artificial Christmas tree is the eco-friendly choice, right? Well, not really. The average family uses an artificial tree for 5 or 6 years before tossing it and getting another. The trees themselves are generally made from metals such as steel and aluminum and polyvinyl chloride, which is interwoven into the steel limbs. This makes them exceedingly difficult to recycle, and as a result hundreds of thousands of faux trees each year are hauled to the curb and sent to landfill, where they don't degrade. What if there were a way to recycle those trees, if even for just a few more years, and to have one of the best holiday decorations in the neighborhood that can't be purchased at any store?
This instructable will show you a very quick and easy way to make an awesome, GIANT wreath for your yard, the side of your house, or even your shipping container (if you've got one of those). There aren't many extra materials needed, the tools are relatively straightforward and easy to come by, and almost anybody can make one of these. The best part is that if you set aside an entire day to do this, you'll have more than enough time afterward to marvel at your handiwork. I started this project in the afternoon and had the wreath completed and hung by that evening.
Step 1: DISCLAIMER
This instructable involves basic welding, the use of an angle grinder with cutoff wheels, and ladders. All of these things are dangerous if you don't pay attention to what you are doing. ALWAYS wear protection. Eyeballs don't grow back, burns don't feel great, and falling off a ladder can cause serious bodily harm and even death. Do this with supervision, even if one of your friends is just watching you do your thing. Have them hold the ladder, if nothing else. When welding AWLAYS wear eye protection, always wear something that fully covers your arms and legs, closed toed shoes, and leather gloves. When using a grinder, use a face shield. They throw sparks and minuscule pieces of cut off wheel and metal- right at your face and eyes. Lastly, if you are unsure of how to operate something, ask somebody who does. It never hurts to ask, and you can never learn too much.
Step 2: Materials and Tools
The materials list for this project is very short and very easy to obtain. It doesn't cost much and if you search around your garage, shop, or basement you may find everything you need to make this for free.
The most important item in this project is an old, used artificial tree. They're a lot easier to come by than you think. Search craigslist around the holidays, especially just after. Ask your friends and their families, your family members. Chances are if you tell them what you plan to do, they may be more willing to part with that old tree and get a new one, or start buying fresh cut trees. If you plan to do this for the following year, keep an eye out on curbs just after the beginning of January when most people take their holiday decorations down. Our tree came from my mother-in-law; it was missing a couple branches and starting to look a little scraggly.
One thing to note- keep a small magnet with you. Chances are the limbs will be made of inexpensive steel twisted around the PVC green needles. Ferrous metal (a magnet will attract to it) is very simple to weld strongly. Not that you can't weld other metals, but mild steel is by far the easiest. Essentially, an artificial tree is a large post full of glorified pipe cleaners, and it's the pipe cleaner branches that get welded to a frame.
BILL OF MATERIALS:
Artificial tree. See above notes on this if you skipped straight to the list
Rebar. You'll need two 6' or 5' sections, depending on how large or dense you want the wreath. These are the most expensive materials you will need for this project, and they can be readily found in the concrete and cement section of any hardware store. You may also need a 1' section, cut in half (You only need this if you are welding support brackets to something made of metal, like a shipping container)
A very large "S" hook. Make sure you don't get stainless, otherwise welding it to the rebar will be a problem. Stainless is also more expensive. Simple galvanized will do- you will be grinding the zinc coating away later anyway.
Believe it or not, that's all you need in materials. The tools required for this project are just as simple and straightforward.
Welder. You can use any welder. Most hobbyists have/are comfortable with/use a wire feed MIG welder. I prefer to use an inexpensive "lunchbox" inverter stick welder from harbor freight- and I love it, especially for the ease of use, nearly nonexistent maintenance, cheap operating costs and portability. If you don't have a welder, ask around. Chances are that somebody you know will have one and be happy to help out or lend it to you.
Angle grinder and metal cut off wheels. Again, I have an inexpensive HF grinder. It cost less than $20 over 2 years ago, and has been through the wringer. Run over in the dark with a truck, left outside in a flash rainstorm, and dropped off a shipping container a few times and still runs like its new. I buy the cut off discs there too by the 5 and 10 pack. I consider them consumables. You'll probably need a few of them for this project.
Welding and safety equipment. I set this aside from the welder because there's enough to list on it's own. You will need a box or two of electrodes. 5lb should be plenty. I like 6011, 6013, and 7018 electrodes. 6011 are very forgiving and can be found most anywhere. You will also need a face shield, the half-helmet with a nearly black lens in it or an auto darkening helmet if you're lucky enough to have access to one. Thick leather long cuff gloves, overalls and long sleeve shirts are always helpful. Also a clear plastic face shield for grinding should be used.
Step 3: Bend the Rebar Frame
This step is just as awkward as it looks. I'm sure a jig could be built, or a simple clamp-and-pole, but this worked just fine, too. Rebar is pretty easy to bend, especially in longer lengths like this. Wearing gloves is a good idea in this step, the rebar isn't terribly comfortable on bare hands. Make two half-circles, one from each piece of rebar- that way when you put the two together you have one giant circle. you want the ends to overlap slightly by a few inches on either side. Don't worry if the circle isn't perfectly round, you can adjust the circle further when its welded in a circle and it will all be covered anyway.
Step 4: Weld the Circle Together
This is where a lot of people feel this project is beyond their skill level. In reality, this is an excellent project to start out welding on. There aren't any major structural welds needed and it requires a lot of quick, short welds rather than long continuous beads. This will help you get a feel for striking an arc and stopping without sticking. With a simple welder like the one I use, getting a feel for proper arc length comes very fast. Not to mention that the welds are all covered by overlapping the branches by the end, and won't be visible whether they're pretty or ugly.
On a flat, nonflammable surface, set your two pieces of rebar down and adjust them so that they form the best circle while still overlapping slightly. I have a large level gravel space at the end of our drive, next to the house. It's outside and far from things that could catch fire. If you have a garage, turn on a fan directing air away from yourself to help carry fumes away and know where the fire extinguisher is, just in case. If the garage belongs to your parents, your friends, your spouse or somebody you want to let you use it again, I suggest not doing this directly on the garage floor. Put a piece of aluminum under the spot you are working on. Old or cheap cookie sheets work well in keeping burn marks off the concrete.
Make sure the metal is clean and free of any paint or greases where you will be welding. Lay the circle out and tack each side in place with a couple spot welds. Then, starting with one side, run a bead across the length of touching overlap. Once cool, do the other side. You will now have a large solid rebar hoop and possibly some confused neighbors.
Step 5: Wreath Layout
Now is the time to lay out the individual branches of your wreath. If your tree has branches that are separate from the metal "trunk" this is as easy as laying the metal end of the branches so that they rest on the rebar hoop. If not, you will need to cut the branches off their hinges one by one with an angle grinder. doing so isn't difficult, but it is a little time consuming.
A good way to lay out the wreath is to start with half, or even a third of the branches and space them evenly along the diameter of the hoop, then go back and fill in the gaps with the remainder. keep in mind that once welded into place, the branches can be splayed out some to make it seem more full. Once everything is laid out nicely, go inside for 5 minutes and get a drink, do some jumping jacks, stare at the ceiling, or whatever clears your mind. Then, go back outside and look at the layout with fresh eyes and see if you still like the way everything is set up. If not, now is the time to adjust it before moving to the next step.
Step 6: Like Hot Gluing, But for Metal.
This is the (most) fun part. Sitting inside the circle with everything laid out nicely, you're going to tack weld every branch onto the rebar. My limbs were bent 90 degrees at the very end where they slid into the tree and I laid them down so that the short length as well as the branch side were touching the rebar, to provide a stronger mount. When you finally come back around to the branch you started on, lift your visor and check to make sure you haven't tangled or wound yourself up in any wires. Take another break, because the rest of the welding is going to take a little while. It will be the longest part of this entire project. Starting from the same point, begin to fully weld each branch to the rebar frame. I like to make the welds as quickly as possible to prevent the plastic/PVC of the "tree" from igniting or generating fumes. It needs more than a tack weld, but you don't have to go overboard with the beads, either. You only need to support the weight of a single branch on each weld, and the branches don't weigh very much individually. Each branch is going to be bent and shaped in the following step to cover the point where the weld is, so if you are very new to welding, or are in a hurry, don't worry how the welds look. After the welds are all done, go back and tap each one with a chisel or slag hammer. A "crust" will fall away and your weld will be underneath.
Step 7: Hanging Loops
I decided to mount this wreath to our shipping container, and wanted to go as inexpensively as possible. I thought about buying a couple eye bolts and welding them to the frame, but found a large "S" hook in our tool room. I used an angle grinder to cut the hook in half, giving me two ear shaped half circles.
Using a file or the angle grinder, grind the outer layer of zinc off the exposed ends where it will be welded to the frame. This ensures that you are welding two similar metals to one another and creates a solid bond. Weld the ears to the inside of the hoop on either side, about 2/3 of the way up to keep it bottom heavy and prevent it from toppling forward.
Step 8: Welding the Hanging Mounts
This step may not be necessary if you do not have a steel structure you want to hang this from. If you are hanging this on your house, two hooks drilled into the studs should be sufficient to hold this. It weighs about what a kayak does.
I measured from the center of each lobe that was welded to the frame of the wreath, then marked that distance on the top of the shipping container. Then, I ground down the through the paint all around that area to the bare metal. I re-measured and marked again exactly where the center of the "S" hook lobes are. I did not have any magnets with me, so I used a speed square to line up the pieces of rebar, hanging over the edge by about 4 or 5 inches and tack welded the pieces in place. Once tacked down, I ran a solid bead down either side of the rebar posts and when cooled chipped the slag away. The posts are mounted on top of the container so I wasn't worried with the way they looked since you cannot see the welds, and used a can of spray paint I had lying around to coat the welds and exposed metal to inhibit rust.
Step 9: Hang and Decorate!
This step can be done alone but it is much easier to have two people- one on either side of the wreath. It isn't very heavy and can be carried by one person, but it is large and awkwardly shaped. Slide the loops welded to the inside of the frame over the pegs protruding over the edge of the container, or over mounting hooks on your home. We were at Home Depot and found a large container of giant ornaments marked down just before Christmas. They came with hooks, but we used floral wire to attach them to the wreath more securely so they don't get blown off. If you make this with a tree leftover from the holidays, chances are that ornaments and baubles will be even cheaper on steep post-holiday discount. A couple strands of exterior rated lights and some additional floral wire can also be added, and left on permanently. The overall height of the wreath is around 8 foot tall, so it just manages to fit inside our shipping container at the end of the season. It's best to make the frame sized correctly to fit wherever you want to store it, whether that's in your garage or in a basement.
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