Don’t get me wrong. I love a real Christmas tree moment, even when they start popping up the day after Halloween. So much, that I have spent the last several years prioritizing having a real tree, even though I was hopping from apartment to apartment and had minimal disposable income. This resulted in trees that closely resembled Charlie Brown’s, or worse! (Btw, Charlie Brown Christmas can be a vibe) Granted, I didn’t put much thought into an alternative at the time, but I have an alternative tree for you now! Say goodbye to sneaking your dry ass Christmas tree out to the dumpster on December 26th! Or maybe you have the space for another small, accent tree? Regardless of your holiday decor situation, this dowel tree could be the addition you’re looking for – attractive and minimalist, a dowel tree is affordable, sustainable, and easy to store + build. Plus, it’s impressive to tell your friends n’ fam, “Ya, I made that!”
This DIY will result in dowel tree that’s a little over 2 feet tall. If you want something larger, you can still follow these instructions – just make sure that all the dowels get proportionately larger, as you increase the height. A taller dowel tree should have a bigger base, a thicker ‘trunk,’ and larger branches!
- Power Drill
- Drill Bits (¼”, ½”, ¾”)
- Sand-paper (varied grit sizes)
- Hand Saw
- Jigsaw (if you plan to make the circle base)
- Pencil and Ruler
- 2 Clamps (for keeping the dowel steady when drilling)
- (1) 48” long – ¼” Dowel
- (2) 48” long – ½” Dowel
- (1) 48” long – ¾” Dowel
- (1) sheet ¾” Plywood (Baltic Birch is best)
1 The Base
Okay, I get it. Not everyone has a jigsaw, but the circle base is easier to make than you think – if you don’t have a jigsaw, try to get a small pre-cut square piece of ply or scrap together your own Charlie Brown base creation. I believe in you!
If you want the circle base, use an 8” mixing bowl to trace a circle and mark the center using a ruler and pencil on the ply board. You could also use a compass or a string tied to a pencil to achieve your circle guideline. Before you cut out the disk, drill a ¾” hole at the center mark.
Pencil will sand away easily – this is a good thing! For the love of god, don’t use a pen when working with wood!
Now cut your circle by following along the circular guideline. Smooth is the goal! Starts and stops, as well as adjustments, are the enemies of a smooth, circular edge. But if you run into some hiccups, all can be remedied with a bit of sand-paper! Sand any rough edges, starting with your roughest sand-paper and ending with the finest for a nice finish. Then sand the faces of the ply board, until it feels nice to run your hands across.
2 Cutting the Dowels
Remove barcode stickers from the dowels and start sanding these, as well. The easiest way to do so, is to wrap a sheet of medium grit sandpaper around the dowel and sand back and forth, as your hand applies pressure. Once all your dowels are prepped, use your handsaw to cut them into the following lengths:
- (1) 24” length of ¾” dowel
- (4) 9” lengths of ½” dowel
- (4) 7” lengths of ½” dowel
- (6) 5” lengths of ½” dowel
- (15) 3” lengths of ¼” dowel
When cutting the dowels with your handsaw, be sure to rotate the dowel as you cut so you cut around the entire outer-edge before cutting through the middle. This will get you a cleaner cut by preventing splitting and breaking of the wood.
After sawing these cuts, lay a sheet of medium grit sandpaper on your work surface and sand the rough, newly cut ends of the dowels until smooth.
If you want that extra level of finish, hold your dowel at a 45 to the sand-paper and twirl your hand around several times, sanding around the entire edge of the dowel. This gives the edge a cute lil’ 45 degree bevel.
3 Pre-Drilling Steps
Before drilling, you’ll need to mark the dowels to prepare for drilling. A simple line will do. Take the four 7” dowels you have already cut/sanded and mark 3” in from the end you want facing out. Then, with the four 9” dowels, mark 3” and 6” in – also from the end you want displayed. Ultimately, you’re marking where the small branches will fit.
The last dowel to mark is the big 24” length ¾” dowel. Measure from the top 3” and mark the dowel. Measure from the bottom 5” and mark again. Then mark every inch between these two marks. This totals to 17 marks on the big dowel.
Be choosy with what end of the dowel will be facing out vs. fitting in the dowel holes. If you did make a messier cut on one side, mark that end of the dowel with an X. This is your chance to hide those small imperfections!
Continue these marks all the way around the dowels’ circumferences. It will make locating the exact drilling locations easier, in future steps.
4 Drilling the Dowels
This is arguably the most difficult part of the DIY, since you’ll have to drill holes into dowels at 45 degree angles. But clamping the dowel to your work surface on both ends will make this process go smoothly because you’ll have both hands to work the drill. You got this!
On the 7” and 9” dowels, use your ¼” drill bit to make holes at the marked locations. Keep in mind that you’re creating a tree – Make sure your drill angle is facing up and out, like branches. For the 9” dowel, drill the second hole on the opposite side of the first to create the look of spreading branches.
For best drilling results, first drill at a perpendicular angle to the dowel; stop, once you make the smallest complete drill shape into the dowel. This will make it easier to then angle your drill at 45 degrees and make the final hole. Drill as far into the dowel as possible without poking through the other end.
The straighter you can drill the holes, the more snug the dowels will fit. Practice with some leftover pieces first to make sure the dowels are fitting nicely.
The big 24’’ long dowel (aka the trunk) is last to complete. Starting from the bottom of the dowel at the 5” mark, you will drill fourteen ½” holes at 1” intervals up the dowel. Again, all of these holes need to be at 45 degrees pointing upwards – but most importantly, they need to look like they are naturally spreading out around the dowel like branches on a tree. To ensure one side of the dowel tree wouldn’t end up crowded with branches, I drilled the holes in sets of two with the holes being on opposite sides of one another. Then I drilled the next set of two holes at a different angle.
A few times, as I made my way up the tree, I stuck in ‘branches’ and looked down at the tree from an aerial view. This is the best way to identify ‘dead spots’ where a hole was needed – you can take this one step further and start to imagine where ornaments will hang, make sure not to stack branches right on top of one another. The last three holes to drill are the ¼” holes, at the top. These should complete the 17 marked locations up the ‘trunk.’
Grab your medium grit sandpaper for one last round of sanding. Focus on the newly drilled locations to smooth any new, rough spots.
Now it’s time to build the tree! It’s a bit like a puzzle. Start by inserting the ¼” dowels into all of the 1⁄4” holes. Then, insert the ¾” ‘trunk’ into the base. Finally, insert the ½” dowel branches into the main trunk. Start with the longer branches, making your way up to the top.
If you find one of your branches is having a loose fit within the dowel hole, fold up a tiny wedge of paper to place in the bottom edge of the hole and try again.
Now you’re ready to decorate! Small but mighty, you’re going to love your new dowel tree! Plus, taking the tree down has never been better. If you decide to share your creations with the Instagram world, be certain to tag us @foolsgoldmag. Also, be sure to check out this volume’s other DIY, where Fools’ Gold whips up some hand printed cocktail-napkins. Another thought … stamp your own mini tree-skirt!