Make your own wooden Christmas ornaments!

*This post was originally published in 2011 on Pretty Handy Girl and I’ve been saving it to share with you this year!*

Every year, I make some percentage of my gifts rather than buy them. At first I started out with grand ambitions and would pick one or two recipients to get a labor-intensive gift like a crocheted afghan. In the last few years, I’ve scaled my efforts back and now make small gifts for multiple recipients. I typically will make a handful of one style of gift to boost my holiday time efficiency.

This year I started thinking about what type of ornament I could make from materials I had lying around. I settled on ornaments made from branches we cut off our trees a few years back. Basically, I cut thin slices of the branches, added a painted Christmas design and a ribbon for hanging and they are ready to go!

So you’re probably wondering how you can do this too… Well, you’re in luck because I’m ready to share!

Step 1: Cut your wood slices

Find a branch with a diameter of 2 – 3 inches (or large enough to fit your design) and cut thin slices. I used a reciprocating saw with a 9” wood blade on it to cut slices about an inch thick.  I just have a photo of the saw, but remember to securely clamp your branch before starting to saw it and to wear safety glasses while operating the saw.

Step 2: Sand your wood slices

The reciprocating saw left a rough finish so I used sanding blocks to create a smooth surface. I first used a very coarse grain sandpaper to get the surface level and then a fine grain sandpaper to create a nice finish. The sanding blocks were very handy – I held the block still while moving the wood slice to sand the surface.

Step 3: Drill holes for small eyelets

This is as easy as it sounds. Use a small drill bit to drill a hole in the top of your wood sliced and then screw in a small eyelet. This will allow your gift recipients to hang your ornaments. You can pick up small eyelets at any home improvement store.

Step 4: Create your designs

I like to create my own linocuts (a print-making method) so I decided to create reproducible designs by basically making holiday stamps for my wood slices. You could also simply buy stamps or paint a design if cutting your own stamps isn’t your thing.

I started by drawing my designs on paper – a snowflake, a Christmas light bulb, and a Christmas tree. I traced the outline of my wood slices so that I would be sure to create designs that fit on the slices.

After that, I transferred the design onto my carving blocks.

And then I used my speedball cutter to carve out my designs.

Step 5: Get that design onto your wood slice!

Whether you make your own stamp, buy a stamp, or paint your design free hand, it’s now time to get the design on to your wood slice. Because two of my designs were meant to have two colors, I used a paintbrush to apply my paint to the stamp before stamping the wood slice. Of course, before doing any stamping I first tested my carved stamps to make sure they looked how I expected and also tested the amount of paint that need to be applied. The snowflake design only used a single color so I used a small brayer instead of a paintbrush to apply the paint.

I found that it worked best to lay the stamp on the table, place the wood slice on top of it, and press down with firm (but not hard) pressure. This helped transfer the paint to the wood even if some small ridges remained after the sanding step.

The trick is getting the right amount of paint on the stamp so I recommend practicing on paper for a while before moving on to the wood slices. If I painted the paint on too thick, I would first light place the stamp on paper to absorb some of the extra paint. Of course if you are just painting directly on the slices you can just jump to that step! I made one freehanded design of a snowman for a particular snowman lover in my life.

Step 6: Embellish your designs

Because I felt that my Christmas bulbs and trees turned out a bit plain, I broke out some leftover red glitter glue to embellish them. For the red bulbs, I painted on the red glitter glue. For the trees, I added little dots to signify tree decorations.

Step 7: Seal your ornaments

I wanted to add some sort of sealant coat to my ornaments for protection. I settled on Mod Podge because I had some at home. Experimentation taught me that I couldn’t use a sponge applicator to brush on the Mod Podge or it would smear the paint even though it was dry. Instead, it seemed that using a paint bush to dab the Mod Podge on top of the paint worked the best.  When first applied, it looks somewhat white but it does dry clear.

Before drying:

After drying:

Step 8: Add a way to hang those ornaments

I used ribbon to create a small bow at the top of the ornaments and also to create a loop so that the ornaments can be hung. Hooray! They are complete and ready to be gifted!

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Making ourselves feel at home

When we moved, we quickly missed the beer and wine glass storage we had added to our kitchen at the old house. Throughout our time there, we slowly installed shelves on the wall, corner shelves, and shelves above the sink. We used those shelves to store the fancy glassware we collected. Even with the additional cabinet space at the new house, we didn’t have enough room for all of the fancy glassware. Since beer and wine drinking are hobbies of ours, this was something we wanted to remedy right away.

Enter Craigslist, again. After a week or so of browsing the site, I found the perfect piece of furniture: unfinished, $60, fits in the convertible, and had glass doors. Luckily, the Minwax gel stain I used on the bathroom cabinets in the old house was the perfect color to match the wine rack we already owned.

Preparing the cabinet:

  • The cabinet had wax spilled on the top of it at some point so I did my best to remove it by first scraping it off with a razor blade and then using an iron and paper towels to try to absorb what was left.
  • There was a small hole in the top that I filled with wood filler.
  • I removed all hardware from the cabinet – glass, hinges, knobs, etc.
  • I sanded the entire cabinet with 100 grit sandpaper followed by 180 grit sandpaper and cleaned off the sanding dust with a tack cloth.

After that, it was on to the staining. I did one coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane. The wax spot on the top didn’t quite stain completely, but it’s not too noticeable. You can see it in the center of the photo below.

After assembling the cabinet again, it was time to move it inside. I also stained two pieces of pine to create wall shelves above the cabinet. I used brackets from Ikea that we had in the previous house.

After that it was just time to decorate! It was such a great feeling to finally finish unpacking the dining room.

The whole view of the dining room, taken from the sitting room.

Can’t wait to paint this room and replace that light fixture…. someday.

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Making furniture to hide those litter boxes

During the recent move to our new house, we struggled with where to put our cats’ litter boxes. At the old house we had three litter boxes for the three cats. We decided to try going down to two litter boxes in the new place. However, we weren’t excited about any potential litter box locations.

A few Google searches later and I knew there were a variety of furniture options I could purchase to hide litter boxes. I also knew that they were pricey, leading me to decide make my own. A few days of watching Craigslist and a trip to the Salvation Army later, I scored two solid wood furniture pieces that worked in our house and were big enough to conceal a litter box for about $90 total. I couldn’t even purchase an already made piece of furniture for twice that cost.  Once the furniture was home, we put in the litter boxes for a few weeks and left one of the cabinet doors open so that the cats would get used to the new digs. Probably only needed to do it for a few days, but we were still busy unpacking.

Furniture piece one: a cabinet that fit nicely by the front door and stairs.

After measuring where to put the cat sized hole –  few inches above the inside platform, centered, about 7 inches wide – I drew the lines for the hole, using a bucket to get the arch correct. I then covered the lines with masking tape and drew them again so that the wood would not splinter when we cut it.

My husband then took care of using the drill to start the hole and then the jigsaw to cut out the opening:

After finishing the whole, we removed the tape and sanded the edges.

As our cats don’t always hit their litter box target (weird, right?) We decided to line the inside of the furniture with heavy duty plastic drop cloth so that it can be cleaned / replaced as needed. I used a staple gun to hold the pieces in place. Update, 7/26/14: we’ve recently added pet pee pad lining behind the boxes in addition to the plastic for those times when the one cat misses the litter boxes. They do a pretty good job of absorbing liquid and locking in the odor.

As soon as we carried the cabinet inside and installed the clean litter box, our cat Carston make a beeline for the litter box. I couldn’t even get a photo first! It was good to know he wasn’t reluctant about trying it out. Here’s his exit:

The litter box inside, along with a litter mat to try to trap litter before the cats make it out the hole.

Now unsuspecting guests will never know what this piece of furniture is hiding by our front door. As a bonus, it’s an excellent place to store mail! Now I just need to repaint it once I settle on the colors for that part of the house and hang some art work above. Someday.

Furniture piece #2 is a rock solid low cabinet. It was obviously made by hand. It smelled strongly of patchouli when I got it home.

Following the same process, we cut a hole in the slide a few inches above the inner platform, lined it with plastic and swapped out the gold knobs for brushed nickel knobs left over from our bathroom renovation at the old house.

Here it is inside. It’s so roomy we could probably put two boxes inside.

It’s positioned just below the window that looks on to our back porch, a perfect kitty sitting spot. The exit faces our fireplace so it’s concealed from the rest of the living room. I plan to either strip and re-stain this cabinet darker or paint it to match our living room. I would like to get cushions to put on top so that it acts as a people sitting bench in addition to a kitty sitting bench. Again, someday.

Mojo and Carston say it’s perfect for gazing out the window:

The cats have been using their new litter box cabinets with the holes in the side for more than a week now. We’ve happily noticed a that these cabinets do a decent job of containing unpleasant odors and the cats are more than happy to use them. Hooray!

What kind of furniture finds have you repurposed for your pets?

Making a wine bottle chandelier

Ok, so I just made a small wine bottle hanging light fixture… not really a chandelier. It’s been a project in the making for quite some time and a great way to break, I mean upcycle, some wine bottles.

A preview of the finished product

 

First, I had to figure out how to cut the bottom off of wine bottles. The internet was ripe with methods that didn’t work. First I tried a crazy idea where you dip string in acetone, tie it around a bottle and catch it on fire.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

Next, I found a YouTube video that demonstrated how to use a makeshift jig to score bottles with a cheap glass scorer and then use the temperature difference between hot and cold water to crack the bottle. I was never able to get my jig to create a straight enough score so when the bottle did break, it just created a mess.

Oops

After multiple rounds of trying to improve my jig, I settled on purchasing this Generation Green Bottle Cutter. After setting it up I got to practicing. And practicing. Getting the bottles to actually crack was the hardest part. I found that heating the bottle in the oven to 225 and then dipping it in ice water just ended in spider cracks everywhere. However, dipping the water in hot and then cold water took many dips for the most part and the hot water cooled down very quickly. It was important to keep the hot water very hot which I ended up doing by microwaving the bowl of hot water every few minutes. Pouring boiling water from a teapot onto the score slowly for a few seconds sometimes worked as well.

Dipping the bottle in hot and cold water

When the score cracked, I could hear it and see the fact that the bottle was beginning to crack. It often took a number of additional temperature changes before the bottle would separate altogether. The Generation Green Bottle Cutter came with a tapping tool that could be used to separate the bottle along the score if it wouldn’t crack. I tried this a few times but never created a straight cut. Even when just using the water a straight cut was rare. I think I created a perfectly straight cut 2 or 3 times and unfortunately only once with the color of bottle I wanted to use. I finally got 3 bottles cut close to straight so that I could use them in my chandelier.

Once I had the cut bottles, it was time to create the light fixture. I picked up the following:

  • A swag kit that included a chain, hooks, wired plug and switch
  • 3 Candelabra sockets
  • Candelabra bulbs
  • Heat shrink tubes
  • Electrical crimp connectors
  • A piece of pine lumber

I then got my handy helper to cut the lumber into two 1 foot sections. One of the sections was split down the middle. We attached two hooks on either end of the wider piece, drilled 3 holes for wires and installed metal staples to use to fasten the wires. We then glued the two smaller pieces to the wider one in a U shape and I stained the wood.

The board before gluing on the sides

After the U was constructed and stained, It was time to insert the candelabra sockets in the bottles and start wiring them up to the plug. I used the crimp connectors to wire the three sockets in a parallel circuit.

Wiring the sockets through the wood holder

After the wiring was complete, I covered the connections with heat shrink wrap and electrical tape.  It was then time to hang the mini chandelier! After hanging it above a dresser, I found the best place to insert the switch that came with the swag kit.

No flash, shows the color of the bottles

Above the dresser

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Wine bottle lights – a gift for you, a gift for them

Wine bottle lights are a gift that can be given any time of year really. Especially if you want to give yourself the gift of drinking a few bottles of wine so that you have some nice looking bottles to start with.

I saw this idea in a number of places and can’t even really point to a source.

Supplies:

  • Empty wine bottle (colored ones are nicer than clear)
  • Indoor/outdoor christmas lights. I used a clear strand with 20 bulbs and a plug only on one end
  • Corded drill (cordless will run out of batteries)
  • 1/2″ Glass drill bit (like this one at home depot)
  • Wire and beads if you want to make a “necklace” for the bottle

Instructions:

  • Wear safety glasses and gloves while drilling through the bottles. None of mine broke during drilling, but make sure to be safe.
  • I used a piece of styrofoam to cradle the bottle while drilling it
  • Use the label to start the hole. If the bottle doesn’t have a label, put a piece of masking tape on the bottle.
  • Start drilling. The whole process takes 20 – 30 minutes. I would start and stop quite often because my hand got tired.
  • Drill until the drill bit fits through the hole
  • Soak the bottle in hot water with a bit of oxyclean until the label is easy to get off. A razor blade will help. I also used a brillo pad to take off the glue. After that was done, I used a bottle brush to clean out the glass dust left in the bottle.
  • Feed the lights one by one through the hole
  • Using some wire and vintage beads from Etsy I made a necklace for the bottle

I’d like to think I’ll make a whole army of these to decorate my yard, perhaps under the bottle tree but we’ll see how that goes. For now though, the bottles have been a hit with the recipients!

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Beer cap ornaments

I have a HUGE collection of beer caps because not only do we drink a lot of beer in our house, our friends also save their caps and give them to me. Because we have a beer theme going on in our house, I got the idea to make Christmas ornaments with beer caps. Here’s how I did it – make some of your own!

Supplies:

  • Ornament hooks (I found some fancy ones at World Market last year)
  • Beer caps (preferably holiday themed or colored)
  • A drill
  • Some easy to bend wire
  • Scissors
  • Small pliers (I have some jewelry pliers)

Process:

First, I sorted my caps. I made each ornament from 3 matching caps. Here you can see my supplies:

Next, I drilled holes in the caps. For each set of three caps, I drilled two holes in two caps and one hole in the third cap. The third cap is the bottom cap so it only needs one hole.

Then I used the wire to attach the caps together. I just twisted the wire together on the back side of the caps and cut off any excess. I made sure to point the wire ends toward the cap so it wouldn’t scratch anyone. For the top cap, I used a longer piece of wire so that I could make a few twists before attaching the ornament hook. That way, the directions that the caps faced could also be adjusted relative to the hook direction.

The finished product!

 

Recycling bike inner tubes into a phone case

Okay, so I only used a small part of a bicycle inner tube to make a phone case.

Next week I start training for a half marathon that takes place in November. I also decided to start using a fitness tracking application called Endomondo. To use Endomondo, I need to carry my phone with me on my runs which I’ve never done before because it’s big and I’ve not a found a good case for carrying it. At the Urban Assault Ride put on by New Belgium brewery, one of the schwag items we came home with was a little pouch made out of a bike inner tube which gave me this idea. The inner tube will help the phone stay dry while I sweat like crazy in the Texas heat.

This weekend I decided it was time to make the phone case with the start of training on the horizon.  I grabbed an old mountain bike inner tube and cut off a piece of it. After my first attempt at making the case ended up just a tad too small, I succeeded on the second try.

One of the trickiest parts of this case was the zipper. I had to deconstruct a zipper so that it would be on continuous piece by folding it in half and putting each end into the zipper pull. You’ll see what I mean in the pictures at the end.

First I cut the tube down the middle and washed it. Next, I sewed on the zipper to one side:

Next, I folded the zipper over and top-stitched it:

Then, I added the piece needed to put a strap through (normally I wear a dog leash around my waist, which is the best place to attach a phone).  Then, I folded it in half and sewed the bottom together.  I then had to turn it to the right side and try to attach the zipper pull, which turned out to be quite tricky the second time. After enlisting the help of pliers and my husband, I got the zipper pull attached and turned the case back inside out and sewed the smaller end together.

After that, I trimmed the edges near the seam and turned it right side out. Complete!

Some useful tips: rubber isn’t that hard to sew, but it’s tricky to get it to feed correctly through the sewing machine. I had to play with both thread tension and the foot tension to get it to work correctly.  Sewing through more than two layers  gets more difficult.