The Elves of Open Hands Gallery

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Making Christmas decorations is a great way to get into the holiday spirit, but it’s also a very effective way to make use out of small or awkward sized scrap wood that’s cluttering up the shop or just being thrown away.   Even old, worn out and broken decorations that have been cast aside can be given new life by adding them as accents to these projects.  

At Open Hand Gallery, we are in “Elf Mode” working on a few new Christmas items for our gallery and we want to share them with you as well as a quick lesson on how to make a couple of them for your own home.  It doesn’t feel like it’s already been a full year since our first Christmas as a retail store.  We had to work on Christmas decor non-stop to be able to fill our space with holiday items to sell, but it was definitely worth the effort.  Our products received a warm welcome from the community and at craft shows as well as our own open house event in December of 2013.

These are some of the most loved projects we created for that event.

The rustic tree on the left features a star on top cut from scrap wood using a jig saw or scroll saw.    If this is not an option, I would suggest replacing it with something else, like a star made from sticks found in your yard, popsicle sticks or even an old decoration that’s become too shabby to put out anymore.  Hot glue is the perfect adhesive for most of these but if you’d prefer something more durable, Woodcraft's Titebond or Nexabond have proven to be extremely  reliable.  The rest of the tree is just some old pieces of wood, old trim works well, pallet wood, or even fresh lumber.  There are no specific directions for this besides making sure the horizontal pieces are screwed to the vertical board in the back with two screws side by side so the “branches” don’t end up swiveling.  At the base, any heavier piece of wood in a square or rectangular shape will make an effective base so the tree can stand upright.  To finish up the tree, paint it or glue your desired decorations on it any way you want, there are no restrictions except your imagination!  


These blockhead snowmen are just that; blocks of wood!  We had some old beams from a fence, barn, or even a pallet would be a likely source for a weathered block of wood.  The weathering is important if you enjoy the aesthetics here in the photo where the crevices create a textured look when painted.   Smooth wood is also perfectly acceptable for a newer, more modern effect.  For those who don’t feel comfortable drawing a smiley face, the eyes can be created with buttons, googly eyes or perhaps washers or bolts, and the nose can be made with a carrot shaped piece of wood or craft foam, even cardboard painted orange.  Old scrap fabric from old clothes and blankets can easily be used for the hats leaving plenty of room for a personalized look.  The paint on these snowmen are just a generic spray paint, but any kind of paint will work just fine.  In fact, General Finishes Antique White or Snow White Milk Paints are the perfect colors for these guys.  


Almost every person I know has a spare headboard lying around in their basement or garage.  I had one in my painting studio for months, along with several ideas on what to use it for; too many ideas, I think.  So, finally, I decided to take the plunge and get it out of there by making a Christmas stocking hanger!  You may surprise yourself in using many items just sitting around your garage, basement or shed that you can easily turn into something useful or creative.  I chose to use festive colors, but not add any other holiday features so it could still be used year round, yet look great for Christmas as well.  Lights could easily be added to enhance its yuletide feel.

The reason I chose this project is because many people don’t have a  warm, cozy fireplace to hang their stockings on and I believe that deep down, everyone who loves Christmas wants to get as much of that ideal heartwarming holiday magic as possible, but without the fireplace, it is difficult to achieve “stocking satisfaction”.

I chose to paint the headboard a deep, warm, brick-red color with a rich, chocolaty brown peeking through to create a vibe similar to red  bricks around a low burning Christmas eve fire.  The knobs are oil  rubbed bronze, adding a distinct yet subtle impression of fireplace coals or even  Santa’s coat buttons to complete the hearth like effect.


 To start this project all you need is a headboard of your choosing, a power sander (recommended although, hand sanding or a coat of shellac will do just fine to prime the surface before you begin to paint), General Finishes dark chocolate-brown milk paint and General Finishes brick-red milk paint, a power drill for installing the knobs (again, recommended to save labor but if you’re willing to put some elbow grease in, a regular screw driver will suffice)  and since we are using the milk paint which has a very matte finish, I used a coat of Crystal Clear Wax to seal the paint as well as bring an added richness to the colors.  It comes in a paste like form and may look white in the can however, it goes on and dries clear and protects the surface paint from scuffs and other damage while deepening the richness and contrast of the two layers of paint.  If wax is new for you, the link above for Crystal Clear has a helpful video.

Now, to get started.  If your headboard has a highly glossy, slick finish it will need to be sanded with a power sander (or by hand if you’re willing to take the time) and if neither option is available to you, shellac will work fine as a primer.  Just apply an even coat according to the directions and let dry.

Next, get out your base coat.  The base coat is the color you want peeking through the topcoat on the finished product.  In mine, I used General Finishes Chocolate Brown Since we will be sanding later to achieve the aged, two-tone effect, apply at least 3 layers of paint so the original wood doesn’t show through too much when sanding later on.

Make sure the under coats have plenty of texture as shown left, when you sand the final coat.  Now that you have your 3 layers of base color, it’s time to start your top coat.  In this case, I used Brick Red from General Finishes.  Apply the coats thick and relatively even.  Once it’s dry, you can begin sanding lightly to achieve the two-toned look.

To “age” or give a naturally worn look, all that’s needed is super fine grit sand paper.  I used Abranet and a power sander for the flat portions on top and bottom only.  Lightly run the sander over the flat pieces of your headboard just until the ratio of each color is where you like it.  The places where the base coat was textured earlier will be the first to show through and it will happen very quickly, so be careful not to sand one spot for too long and let the bare wood show through unless that’s how you want it to look. 


For the spindles, I used Norton’s all-purpose fine 200-220 grit sandpaper. You do not want to use lower grits, as it will leave heavy, obvious scratches.  What you want is a more even, softer effect.  The power sander is too harsh for the spindles and will remove too much paint no matter how fine your sandpaper is.  For the spindles, take your sheet of sandpaper and place it over the spindle with one side of the paper hanging down each side.  Grab each end of the paper and simply “shimmy” it back and forth over the spindle until the brown shows through with the desired effect. 

Before I move on to the final step, I want to point out not to worry about sanding too much, too little or making a mistake.  You can easily paint over it and start again.  All you need to do is the top layer, so just be careful, take your time and make it fun!  In the photo left, you can see the detail after the sanding is complete.  For the most natural distressed look, make sure any corners and places that protrude more than others get the most thorough sanding.  Once that is done, it’s all about bringing the base color and texture out as much or as little as desired by just lightly eroding that top layer until it shows the aesthetics you are desiring.


Next, apply clear finishing wax available at Woodcraft with a rag or brush evenly all over the piece and rub it in until it’s completely invisible, then remove all the excess.  Let it dry so it doesn’t pick up dust or get scratched.  The dry time will depend on the type of wax you’re using so make sure to read the instructions on the can.  You’ll notice a much deeper color and sharper contrast in the colors when the wax is applied.  The wax gives it more of a finished look at this point.

Installing the knobs is our next step.  Not everyone’s headboard will be the same as this one.  I chose to attach each knob directly centered below each spindle.  Where they go and how many is completely up to you.  There are many hardware products to choose from, so have some fun with your design.  All you should need is a power drill and a drill bit the same diameter or even slightly larger than the bolts for your knobs.  Decide where you want the knobs to go.  Mark the placement spots with a sharpie, no one will see it when you’re done.  Drill all the way through the dot marking the spot where you want the bolt to go through.  Next, one by one, insert your bolt into the hole from the back of the headboard and screw the knob on top of it until its secure.

Now it’s time for the very last but most important, yet enjoyable part.  Step back a couple of feet and admire your work!  Take it all in and appreciate your new creation.  Then, go make yourself a nice, hot cup of cocoa, dig your stockings out of storage and get those babies hung up and ready for Old Saint Nick!


The Open Hands Seed Project of REM Community Options provides employment as artists to people who may have a disability. Our mission is to build the good in everyone.

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