Flat-Pack Christmas Tree

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This article is from Issue 74 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A woodworker’s solution to sap and needles on the living room floor

Dimensions: 36" dia. × 651⁄2" tall

In many homes, the Holiday Season includes an evergreen tree that serves as a well-decorated centerpiece for several weeks of festivities. Families who don’t like to deal with watering a real tree or cleaning sap and pine needles off the floor often replace the real thing with a plastic version. But if you’re a woodworker, there’s a much nicer option. This well-proportioned wooden tree is designed to  display all the decorations in your Christmas collection. When the party’s over, the tree’s four boughs detach easily (without tools) from a slender trunk, and store in “flat-pack” fashion until next year.

Baltic birch or Appleply plywood (available from hardwood plywood dealers) is a good choice for the panels: Its 5-ply construction is strong yet lightweight, the core is void-free, and the material paints beautifully. The panels mount on screws in the post through keyhole slots, letting you assemble or disassemble the tree without tools in minutes. Small holes on the tips of the boughs let you hang ornaments at the edge of the tree, and four sizes of circular cutouts allow variously sized ornaments to hang in the middle. Notches along the edges accommodate strung lights to brighten the holiday cheer!

Fast setup, flat storage!

This faux fir consists of 4 shaped plywood panels (boughs) that attach to a center post via screws extending through keyhole slots. A rotating block atop the post locks the panels down on their screws. A finial in the lock block provides a crowning touch.

When the holidays are over, a simple twist of the lock block allows quick removal of the panels from the post. All the parts can then be stacked flat ’til the next holiday season.

Construction steps

  • Saw out the panels
  • Dimension the post and lock block
  • Mount the keyhole screws
  • Cap it with a finial
  • Paint time!

Small blade, small curves. With all four sheets pinned together, drill a 1⁄2" starter hole inside each circle, and then use a narrow scrolling blade to cut the curve to your layout line.

Stack-cut all 4 panels at once

Sturdy, lightweight, and void-free, Baltic birch or Appleply plywood makes great tree panels and accepts paint readily. Start by cutting the sheet into four sections, as shown opposite. Then secure the sections to each other with pin nails shot through 1⁄2" hardwood blocks (making for easy pin removal later). Next, lay out and drill the 1⁄4- and 5⁄8"-dia. holes on the drill press. Then use a jigsaw with a narrow scrolling blade to saw the profile, the ornament holes, and the V-notches for the light wires. Finally, lay out, drill, and saw the keyhole slots.

Saw out the profile. Prop the assembly onto tall blocks, saw out the ornament openings (shown here), and then the shapes of the boughs. Smooth any rough edges with 150-grit sandpaper wrapped around a block.

Connect the keyholes. Drill the bigger hole slightly larger than the diameter of the screw’s head, and the second smaller hole equal to the screw’s shank. Then saw between the holes to form the keyhole slot.

Not too tight. Install the post screws, and adjust the screw projection until the panel slides smoothly but snugly against the post.

Make the post, turn block and finial

Choose a straight-grained softwood or hardwood for the post, and saw it and the lock block to dimension. Lay out and drill the post screw holes on the drill press, install the screws, and check the fit of the panels on the screws. Drill the stopped hole in the lock block on the drill press, and secure it to the top of the post with a screw and washer. You can turn the finial on the lathe, or buy one from a home-improvement store. Either way, glue a 1⁄2"-dia. dowel into the bottom of the finial to fit the hole in the lock block.

Locate the post screws. Lay out the pilot holes by extending lines squarely around the post. Then mark at center, and drill the holes on the drill press using a 1⁄8" twist bit.
Drill for the dowel. With a handscrew holding the work, use a 1⁄2" Forstner bit in the drill press to drill a 7⁄8"-deep hole at the center of the block. Follow up by drilling through the center of the hole with a 3⁄16" bit for the screw and washer.

Twist to lock, and top it off. Turn the block 45° to the faces of the post to lock the panels in place. Then cap it with the finial.

Decorate with paint!

It’s time to have fun with paint. You can choose any colors you like, or follow my lead and use a can of medium green paint along with smaller cans of white and black. Mixing the hues gives you three shades of green. Apply the first and darkest coat with a brush, and let dry. Then dry-brush the second medium-green coat over the first, keeping your bristles lightly coated with paint while dragging the brush in sweeping motions. Finally, stipple the third and lightest-colored coat using wadded up newspaper, dabbing the surface for texture and depth.

First coat dark; second coat medium. Paint the faces and edges of the leaves with dark green, and let dry. Then use a ‘dry’ brush to layer streaks of medium green over the previous coat. 

Splatter matters. Finish the organic effect by padding light green over the previous dried paint coats with a towel or wadded up newspaper. Have fun, and let your inner Rembrandt rule!

Three colors from one. Using medium green as a base, mix in a little black to get a first-coat of dark green. For the topcoat, combine a little white with the green.

Color choices

One quart of medium green paint plus some white and black will let you mimic the colors of nature. Here’s the dark/light mix: Dark green = 2 cups medium green with 8 tbs. black; light green = 1⁄2 cup medium green with 4 tbs. white.


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