Friday, December 19, 2014

Rod & Ring: A DIY Alternative Christmas Tree

Growing up my family had a fake Christmas tree, but it was all I knew so I've never missed the experience of picking out or cutting down a real one. Plus, though I don't have any true moral issues with real trees, I just don't really like the idea of cutting one down just to have it in my house for a month (I'm similarly not a fan of cut flowers). Yet having a fake tree, which (1) requires storage somewhere for 11 months of the year and (2) is made of plastic and is part of the big commercialism of the holiday, isn't ideal to me either.

Once I was living on my own, I decided to have a real real tree - that is, an actual living tree in a pot (to be set outside during the majority of the year). However, I ended up killing at least two such trees, so it turned out to not be such an environmentally-friendly option for me. Abe would be able to keep it alive now, but he just wasn't excited about the idea.

But I still wanted something! I found a few ideas - this book tree is intriguing, but we don't have enough books to make it work. I also like this spiral tree, but wasn't sure what materials would be readily available and easy to work with (tagboard?) yet also sturdy enough (metal of some sort?). Then I came across this pole tree - it's actually a product for sale, but I was pretty sure I could make a smaller version of it myself.

Once I figured out the best assembly method, this was quite easy to put together, and will be just as easy to collapse and store in minimal space until next year. It's also quite cheap: the core items are 6 dowels at $0.99 each and an embroidery ring for $1.99 - under $8 for the main supplies. I also bought two bottles of paint at $1.39 each (but this could also be done with a natural wood look instead of painting) and two 22' light strands ($2.99 each at Target), and used a paintbrush and low-temp glue gun already owned. 

Supplies needed:
  • 6 wooden dowels, 36" long and 7/16" in diameter
  • 1 embroidery ring, 12" wide (just the inner portion)
  • Paint and paintbrush for the dowels and ring, if desired - I used a white base plus silver glitter paint
  • 7 twist-ties (I used ones that came on the Christmas lights bought for this project)
  • Low-temp glue gun and glue sticks
  • Christmas lights
  • Measuring tape and pencil

1. Unless leaving the dowels and ring with natural wood finishes, paint all pieces before assembling. My tip for painting these awkwardly shaped items: do half at a time; while the painted portions are drying, stick the dowels in a vase or pitcher, and hold up the ring with a clip on a chair rung. I did two coats of white paint to fully cover, followed by one coat of the semi-transparent silver glitter paint.

2. Measure the circumference of the ring (if 12" diameter, that'll be 38") and divide by 6 (6 1/3"); then make 6 equally spaced (every 6 1/3") marks on the top of the ring.  On the dowels, make marks 12" up from the bottom (the ones I bought had black marks on one end - each size of dowels was coded in a different color - so I used that end as the bottom, and painted the other end to be the top). 

3. Matching up the measured-out marks on the ring and dowels, use a twist-tie to connect the dowels to the ring. These should be tight enough so the dowels won't just slip out, but loose enough to be able to slightly maneuver and angle the dowel.

4. Stand it upright (with the end with the ring closer to the ground), and pull in the dowels at the top, creating a sort of "teepee" overlapping. Use the final twist-tie to hold these in place.

5. Your tree is now put together! To provide some additional stability, I put a small drop of hot glue on each dowel where it's connected to the ring, and where each dowel is pulled together with the twist-tie at the top. 

6. Cover with lights! It would also be lovely with tinsel or garland (per the original inspiration). If you're using the same dimensions as mine, two strands with 22' of lights (24' total length) will do the trick; if you adjust the size of the tree or want more or less density of lights, here's the formula for figuring out how to properly space the wrapped lights to have enough, courtesy of my engineering-student-husband:

Take the average diameter (diameter at top = 0, diameter at bottom = 19, rounded to 20; average = 10"). Take the total lights available in inches (2 x 22' x 12" = 528"), divided by the diameter times pi (10 x pi = 31.4), which equals the number of rows you have enough lights for. 36" length of the dowels divided by 17 rows means they should spaced just over 2" apart.

7. Admire your handiwork, and add ornaments! (And prevent your cats from eating the lights or knocking over the tree.) I'm (1) lazy and (2) busy at work with year-end tax planning stuff so I haven't gotten around to it, but I'm planning to add some ornaments by hanging them from the light strands, and probably come up with something as a topper that will nestle in the little nook where the dowels all come together.

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