I first want to start off with a disclaimer: this was my first woodworking project. As a result, it might be a great first woodworking project for you too! All we're doing is cutting the tree shape out of the wood and then doing some basic finishing. Again though, as stated on the previous page, if you really don't want to use wood you can use basically any other material (3D printing, cardboard, foam, etc.) to create your tree shape. The sky is the limit.

However, if you're going to journey into the fine maker art of woodworking, here are the steps that I followed.

Cutting the Shape

First, you'll want to trace your tree pattern onto a piece of paper that will then be taped to your piece of wood. This way, if anything happens to the paper while you're cutting the wood you'll still have your original.

Then, take your pattern and tape it to the top of your piece of wood. You'll want to tape your pattern in the corner of your wood piece to make cutting easier.

A 2'x4' piece of plywood is a good budget option and will ensure that you have enough space to fit your design. It also means you can make a mistake and cut out another one, which for a first woodworking project is definitely a possibly.

The tool I used to cut out my shape is a jigsaw, which is a handheld tool shaped similarly to an iron. You guide the blade, that travels up and down to make a cut. Following the cuts is similar to following lines when you're sewing with a sewing machine, if you've ever done that. Some other tool options could be a router, scroll saw or CNC. If you're more comfortable with any of those tools, feel free to try them out. As a beginner, I was very comfortable using a jigsaw.

This tree shape is made out of straight lines so we can use each line as a single cut to keep things simple. Always use at least two clamps to secure your piece of wood to your work surface. If you find that your wood is bouncing when you try to cut it that means it isn't supported enough. Stop sawing and move the wood further onto your work surface and re-clamp.

Before you know it you'll have a lovely wooden tree, which is a little ironic if you think about it.

NeoPixel Layout

The NeoPixels are going to be mounted inside some clear plastic ornament baubles. You find these around various craft and discount stores during the holiday season. They come in a variety of sizes so once you've chosen your baubles, I recommend placing them on your tree to get an idea of the layout that you're going for.

Once you like how things are spaced out, use a pencil and trace around your baubles to mark where your holes will be drilled on your tree.

Drilling, Sanding and Shellac

The baubles that I'm using have a 1 inch outer diameter, so I drilled a 1 inch hole. Your diameter may vary, so be sure to measure. For the actual drilling, I use a handheld power drill. You could also use a drill press if you have access to one. I used a general 1 inch (2.5 cm) drill bit, but if I had to do it again I would use a 1 inch hole saw. I just didn't have that size hole saw available. Hole saws tend to make cleaner cuts and you have a little more control when using a handheld drill.

Another important note is to clamp a piece of scrap wood under your project and clamp both down together. This allows you to drill through to the scrap piece and avoid tear-out in the back of your project piece. I did not do this when I drilled my holes and did suffer from some tear out in the back.

All is not lost though if you do get tear out. I used a rasp, which is basically a wood file, to file down the more jagged pieces in the holes. I used some wood glue to glue down the larger pieces that were still attached and then applied wood filler to the places that had the most damage. After everything was dry and setup, I sanded the back with 120 and then 220 grit sandpaper with a palm sander. You could also do it by hand too or with a sanding block. This really smoothed everything out.

The front

The back, pre-wood filler and post-wood filler

Even if you don't have tear out, you'll want to sand the back of your piece starting with 120 grit and then 220 grit sandpaper. Then you can move to the front, again beginning with 120 grit and then 220 grit. For our purposes that should be smooth enough.

This brings us to the finishing phase. There are countless options for finishing wood but a great, simple option is shellac. It's easy to apply and dries quickly. You'll want to follow the directions on your can's packaging, but in general you should clean your project by vacuuming it and wiping it down with a dry lint-free cloth to make sure that there isn't any dust or dirt. Then, apply the shellac with a foam brush in smooth strokes going the entire length of your piece. By doing this, the finish will remain even and dry quickly. Once it's dry, sand it again with 220 grit sandpaper and apply a second coat. You can repeat this process as many times as you want. For mine, I did two coats which achieved the color I was looking for in the wood.

This guide was first published on Dec 25, 2019. It was last updated on Nov 27, 2023.

This page (Woodworking) was last updated on Dec 23, 2019.

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