As we discovered, this DIY Christmas tree project was not only fun, but it was relatively easy and the finished product turned out great. Creating unique Christmas scenes for front porches, walkways, or yards is popular but the decor has to withstand the weather and look great all season long. Very few stores sell products like this, which makes them unique and while we thought this project was
going to be challenging, all it takes is a few items and a little good old fashioned DIY ingenuity. We certainly learned some things along the way so take a look and you'll see for yourself how neat DIY wooden Christmas trees with marquee lighting can be for you.
Basic tools needed
Let's get started!
How to Make DIY Pallet Christmas Trees
Step 1: Get Some Pallets
Your local hardware stores, grocery stores, or plant nurseries are great places to get free pallets.. try to pick out pallets with the most usable wood and the least amount of nails. This can be tricky because pallets tend to come either really well put together or made with cheap wood that splits easily. Use your best judgement based on the selection that's available. Grab some extra pallets if available to use as backup material and then once you get them home give them a good brushing to remove extra dirt and debris.
Step 2: Think Before You Break It Down, We Didn't?!
After we broke down the first pallet and started cutting slats to build a tree, it dawned on us that it would be far easier to cut our tree shape while the pallet was still intact. We also realized that the natural bottom slats of the palette form a rectangular box, which makes a strong base for the larger trees. No need to disassemble that either if you're making a larger tree. To make your cuts draw a triangle shape of the tree you want to make from the center top point to the two end points on the bottom edge of the pallet. Use a circular saw and cut along your triangle shape lines. Exercise caution when cutting through knots and we recommend avoiding cutting through nails.
Step 3: Pry Bars and Spines...Scared Yet?
Use a pry bar or the claw portion of a hammer to remove all the nails and the slats. The only exception would be keeping the slats intact on your base box if you know you're making a large tree. Keep the middle column of your pallet intact as well because it will be the spine of your new tree.
Tip: If you are having difficulty prying the boards off use the pry bar to work the board up a bit then hammer it back down exposing the nail head. Then you will be able to pull the nail out more easily.
Step 4: Layout Your Boards and Paint
Lay out your boards row by row to form the tree shape you want. You may still need to cut some boards to fill out the tree shape you intended and that's where the boards from the back of your pallet may come in handy. The spacing between the slats that will form your new tree shape is up to you, but we recommend keeping them about 1" to 2" apart. Next, clean up your boards a little bit with some 60-80 grit sandpaper to remove any unwanted bits and pieces, but be careful not to remove too much texture. Now it's time to paint. If you plan to use multiple colors go ahead and decide the color pattern. Knowing the color of every board will save you time by sorting by color groups and painting all of the same color boards at one time. Test out the paint colors on scrap pieces of wood first. If the color is to your liking then you're good to go.
Big Tip: Most hardware stores offer small paint samples that are perfect for this project because only a minimal amount is needed. Outdoor rated paint is preferred but not a necessity. Also, check the returned paints/mistake paints area. You can find great deals on paint that others didn't want and a great discounted price.
Step 5: Now, it's all about that base!
If you're making a big tree your base can be the existing rectangular box shape formed by the bottom of your pallet that your spine (tree trunk) is attached to. However, if you're making smaller trees that original base size will be too big and you'll need to cut it down to size based on your preference. Using the other scrap 2"x4" side boards that formed the edges of the original pallet, cut out four pieces 14-16" long. Next, create an offset plus sign shape with the trunk 2"x4" as the center using 2" screws.
Step 6: Attach Your Slat Branches
Attach the painted boards to the spine in the layout you want and then use basic wood screws or deck screws to secure them. 1 1/4 " to 1 1/2 " screws should be fine.
Step 7: Make Way for the Holes!
Your light bulb layout can vary widely depending on the pattern you want and the number of lights you intend to use. This is also dependent on the type of light stringers you need and the sockets available on them. We recommend keeping your light pattern and light count simple and then plan around common stringer sockets quantities like 10, 15, 20 or 25 count light socket stringers. See details on what we used below. Measure out and mark the bulb pattern. Keep in mind, the examples above are for reference only and would need to be adjusted by tree size. If you want to place light bulbs up the middle of your tree the spine will be in the way. In order to do this you'd have to create an off center spine or go with a two-spine assembly that gives you the flexibility to achieve the pattern you want. This is a little more complex though.
**The tallest and middle size tree both require the same 25' C7 commercial light stringer, SPT1 green wire with 12" spacing. The tallest tree requires 25 holes drilled while only 23 are needed for the middle size tree. The smallest tree has 15 holes drilled and requires a 15' C7 commercial light stringer, SPT1 green wire with 12" spacing.
Start drilling holes where you need. The light stringers for this project are E12 base sockets, so a 13/16" drill bit is a perfect fit for the socket size. This is not the most common size but a 7/8" bit is, which also can be used. Drill holes in a piece of scrap wood to test the fit for the stringer first as some stringers may vary in size
Step 8: Light it Up!
You can use any E12 base bulb (candelabra base) you want, but we recommend going with G30 clear globe bulbs because they look just like bulbs used in vintage marquee signs. Place your sockets through the backside of the holes. The first socket goes on the bottom and closest to the trunk so it can be plugged in the easiest. Weave the stringer up the tree on one side of the trunk, then back down the other side with the end of the string finishing back at the bottom. Now, add the bulbs to the front. You can use a staple gun to keep your stringer more organized on the back but keep in mind that staple guns can damage your wiring. If possible, use coated staples or cable clips to keep your wires tidy and hidden.
Safety Warning: If you have open sockets still on your stringer you don't want to leave them exposed to the elements. You can wrap electrical tape around open sockets and position them face down to minimize water getting in. Or, you can cut the end of your stringer and place an electrical end cap on it, also wrapped with electrical tape. Please note that cutting stringers often voids their warranty but it also gives you the cleanest implementation on the back of your tree.
Now, plug it in, step back and enjoy your work. Make as many trees as you want to create the coolest vintage marquee lit wood Christmas trees on the street!
Now You've Made Your Own DIY Christmas Trees with Marquee Lights...Enjoy!