Star Stacker

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This article is from Issue 7 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Take a simple shape, resize it several times in steadily increasing increments, stack it up and add some festive colors – that’s all there is to making this eye-catching “star tree” centerpiece for the holiday table. 

Tools: Bandsaw, belt sander, drill press, 3/8" drill bit, 1" spade bit, random orbit sander. A 1" bench-top belt sander would be a great help.  

TIME: A few hours
Materials: 3/4" stock, 3/8" dowel, spray paint, glue

Back when my wife was doing craft shows, she came up with some ideas for decorative Christmas items. Her job was to sell them at her booth. My job was translating the ideas into solid form (and then making the items by the dozens, of course).

One of those items was this star tree centerpiece, made of a series of wooden stars of increasing sizes stacked to form a traditional Christmas tree shape. The original trees I made, although similar, were a bit cruder than this one. The size increments were larger and there were fewer stars in the stack, which produced a rather squat-looking tree. For this version, I increased the number of stars in the stack to an even dozen – a 13th star tops the tree – and reduced the increments; the changes resulted in a slender, tapered shape I like a lot better.

My original star trees were done in plain 3/4" pine. It was easy to work with and took paint well, but the stars tended to be fragile on tips that ended up on the cross grain. Unfortunately, because of the five-pointed shape, it’s unavoidable that some of the tips will be cross-grain when cut out. With that in mind, you’ll want to use hardwood; poplar and maple are good choices. 

For the tree shown here, I used a piece of 3/4" poplar measuring 12" x 30". If you’re confined to narrower stock, you’ll need a longer piece to get all the stars on. The only other material needed is a 3/8" hardwood dowel. 

Start by printing out all 12 stars to use as patterns. I started with the largest star, which measures 9" from tip-to-tip across the “arms,” then reduced the size of each subsequent star by 5/8". This gives stars in the following sizes: 9", 83/8", 73/4", 71/8", 61/2", 57/8", 51/4", 45/8", 4", 33/8", 23/4", and 21/8".

Transfer the patterns to the stock. Rather than trace each paper pattern, you’ll find it’s easier to use the patterns to simply mark the five tips and five interior angles of each star, and then use a straightedge to connect the dots. If you’ll be cutting these out on a bandsaw, don’t try to save wood by cramming them too close together – you might find it difficult to get the blade into some of the angles. 

1. With the patterns transferred to the stock, find the stars’ centers.
2. It’s important to leave some maneuvering room between star patterns to allow them to be cut out more easily on the bandsaw. 

Since the stars will be stacked on a dowel, you’ll need to locate the center of each star. This is easily done by laying a straightedge from a tip to the opposite interior angle and drawing a line. Move the straightedge to another tip/interior angle combination, and draw a second line; they’ll intersect at the exact center as in Fig. 1.

The topper star is the exact same size as the smallest star in the stack, so transfer this pattern to the stock a second time. No need to find the center of this one.

Finally, draw a 4" circle for the base of the tree.

Cut out the base and all the stars on the bandsaw (Fig. 2) or a scroll saw, then drill a 3/8" hole through the center of each star except the topper (Fig. 3). Also drill a 3/8" hole about 1/2" deep into the center of the base.

The topper star will slip onto the tip of the dowel, so it must be drilled vertically. This is a little tricky, so it’s best to make a simple jig as a holder. Clamp a piece of scrap to your drill press table – I used a short length of 2x4 – and use a 1" spade bit to drill a 1" deep hole. Replace the spade bit with the 3/8"  bit, and place the topper star upside down in the hole. Not only will this help center the star securely beneath the bit, but it will also orient the star perfectly vertical as in Fig. 4. Drill a hole about 1/2" deep.

3.  Drill a 3/8" hole through the center of each star. 
4. Use a holder jig to drill the hole in the bottom of the topper star.

Sand the base and each of the stars thoroughly. A 1" bench-top belt sander does the job quickly, but a random orbit sander (or piece of sandpaper and some elbow grease) will work fine. Sand up to 150-grit. When sanding, round over all sharp edges a bit – especially the star tips. 

Put the dowel into the base, but don’t glue it yet. Now, start stacking stars, beginning with the largest. Put a bit of glue on the bottom of each star before sliding it into place over the dowel (Fig. 5). Keep going till all 12 stars are in place, paying careful attention to keep them in the correct sequence. It’s easy to get them in the wrong order (don’t ask me how I know this). Allow the glued stack to dry.

5. When gluing, arrange each star so the arms are alternated around the circumference.
6. A piece of scrap with a 3/8" hole drilled through the end makes a perfect holder when spray painting your tree. 

For painting your tree, you’ll find that spray paint is the only way to go. Make a holding jig by drilling a 3/8" hole into a piece of scrap. Cover the upper tip of the dowel where the topper star will be glued with a bit of masking tape, then slip the tree into the holder and spray it in a well-ventilated location (Fig. 6). You’ll find that it’s better to spray all the interior angles and upper surfaces first, allow the paint to dry, then flip it over in your holding jig to spray the underside surfaces. Again, mask the bottom portion of the dowel with tape.

Paint the base and the topper star; when dry, glue them in place on the dowel tips to complete your tree.

This project lends itself well to any number of modifications. Rather than the red/green/gold color scheme used here, “snowy” white trees might be very attractive. 

For a larger tree, simply make more stars to fit beneath the 9" base star, increasing each one by 5/8". Or, you could make shorter trees by using one of the smaller stars – say, the 61/2" one – as the base star.

You can even make a child’s toy version. Instead of poplar, use a mix of hardwoods for the stars – oak, walnut, maple, etc. – and simply leave all the parts unglued. Small kids can have a lot of fun stacking the stars to make their own tree.   

—A.J. Hamler, editor-in-chief of Woodcraft Magazine, has “seen stars” more than once in his life. He lives in Williamstown, W.Va.


Download a pattern for this project at and print at whatever size suits your needs. 


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