This project actually originated a couple years ago when I ended up with a simple one-by-eight board that had been cut at an angle and looked like a Christmas tree. I can’t quite remember if I cut it on purpose to look like a Christmas tree, or if it was a happy accident, but the shape of the wood was really quite entrancing. It was so simple but so appealing, and I knew I needed to do something with it.
I’ve always been a big fan of transforming your house for the holiday season; that being said, I prefer a more minimalistic style over the classic store-bought look. For example, I love the charm and whimsy of a Christmas village, but it’s just not quite my style. Enter the DIY Christmas Village. By taking the concept of the classic Christmas village and simplifying it, I ended up with something that fits my personal aesthetic so much better!
I think the crowning glory on this project comes from the magnets. After designing the houses and the trees, I realized the precariousness of putting all of these trees up on a shelf and likelihood of knocking one over. The chances seemed high of creating a domino effect. And yet, I knew permanently attaching the trees and houses to a board would make storage a total pain. Adding magnets was the simple solution! They keep the trees and houses from being knocked over easily, but they still allow for disassembly and easy storage. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, is always a consideration for me in making Christmas projects. Now let’s get to it!
Step 1: Cut out trees
Use the angle finder on a speed square to draw a tree-shaped triangle across the width of a one-by-eight board. I found that 12° is the sweet spot that captures that tree look. Draw out the shape with a pencil and then clamp your board down onto your work surface to make your cuts. Clamp the speed square along the line as a guide for your saw. For a 36” wide shelf, I cut seven, but you can cut out as many trees as you want.
Step 2: Cut out houses
To make the houses, use the angle finder on the speed square to draw out two sides of a 50° peaked roof. Mark the middle of the board to make sure that the two sides intersect exactly in the middle. Clamp the board down and clamp the speed square along the line, just like you did with the trees. Use a handsaw to cut out the roof shape of the house.
Once the roof is cut, measure 8 ¼” down from the peak and mark. Use the speed square to draw a straight line across the board to form the base of the house, and cut out in the same manner as before. Cut out as many houses as you like. For a 36” wide shelf I cut out three.
Step 3: Cut board for base
This base is where your trees and houses will attach using the magnets. Choose a board that fits the depth of your shelf or mantel and then cut to the appropriate length. Then cut out any notches (if necessary) with a jig saw or by hand with a coping saw.
We used a 36” x 8” shelf, so it was just a matter of cutting the rest of the one-by-eight board to 36”.
Step 4: Sand pieces
Grab a fine/medium sanding sponge or a piece of 150-grit sandpaper and sand all of the pieces smooth.
Step 5: Paint trees
To paint the trees, I used a technique I came across on a blog years ago—watering down acrylic paint to create a watercolor type wash. I love this effect on wood because you get the color of the paint without losing the quality of the wood grain.
For the colors, I chose from the Dunn DIY color palette. I love having a color palette to work with because it’s so easy to pick colors that harmonize. If you want different colors from the ones we’ve picked, I highly recommend coming up with your own color palette. If you don’t have an eye for it yourself, do some Google searches for color palettes using different keywords like “green,” “Christmas,” “Christmas tree,” etc.
If you like the colors we’ve picked, then take a look at the graphic we made. You can use this to see the colors before they’re watered down, which will make matching your paints easier. As you can see from the picture of all the different paint colors I used (except for one green that I was able to perfectly match), I achieved the colors by mixing different paints until I got the perfect shade—so don’t let the selection at the craft store limit your options!
Once the paint colors are mixed, dip your brush in water and begin to water down the paint. This might take some practice to get the right consistency so keep some scrap wood nearby. Play around with paint and water until you get the perfect blend. Paint each tree—front, back, and sides—and rest them on the base to dry.
Step 6: Paint houses
For the houses, I swapped out my paint and brushes for an acrylic paint pen. I love these because they give me the effect of paint with the control of a pen.
You can download our template to create the features and details for each house. Lay the template on top of the house cut-out. Trace over the windows and door firmly with a pencil. This will create an indent in the wood that you can follow with an acrylic paint pen. If the indent is too subtle to see, you can rub some bright colored chalk on the back of the template and then trace with a pencil to make the chalk rub off onto the wood.
Once you’ve traced the outline of the features, grab your acrylic paint pen and fill them in. Then, add icicles to the rooftop and falling snowflakes. Drawing on a surface that is raised an inch-and-a-half off the table can be difficult, so grab another house or a piece of scrap lumber to support your hand as you draw.
I went with a simple white outline for my houses, but this is where you can get creative and add in your own elements. Paint the doors of the houses different colors, or paint the whole house!
Step 7: Arrange Christmas village
Once your trees and houses have dried, you can arrange them on your board. When you like the layout, mark where each piece sits and use a speed square to determine where the center point of each piece is on the board. I like to take a picture at this point so I don’t forget how everything looked and how the colors were arranged.
Step 8: Secure trees and houses to board
Now measure out the center point on the bottom of each tree and house and mark. Drill a shallow hole through all of these markings with a 5/16” drill bit. Drill through all of the holes in the board, too, and run a sanding sponge over everything to smooth out any splinters.
Next it’s time to glue all of the magnets onto the board and the bottoms of the pieces. To ensure that your board works seamlessly, we need to make sure all of the magnets in the board and all of the magnets in the pieces are facing the same way (so that they’re all attracting each other, and not repelling each other). If you can pull off doing this for everything, then you’ll be able to seamlessly rearrange your board as you want.
The key to all the magnets facing the same way is to start with the board. Stack your magnets together and carefully take each magnet off the stack facing the same direction. Add a dab of all-purpose glue to the hole and slide in the magnet. Double check that it goes in the right way by laying your finger on top and placing the bottom of the magnet stack on top of your finger (so that you can check if they’re attracting without pulling them out of their holes). If the stack attracts the magnet, you’re all set. Use a block of wood and a hammer to fully secure the magnets in place (the hammer on its own will just pull the magnet back out).
Do this with the entire board before moving on. With the trees and houses, you’ll just want to make sure that the magnets are attracted to the magnets in the board. Again, putting your finger between the magnets is a great way to test them without pulling them out of the holes.
Once you’re done, wait for the glue to dry before assembling your Christmas village.
Looking for more fun Christmas projects to keep you busy this holiday season? Be sure to check out our (extremely miniature, extremely cute) wooden advent calendar, DIY wooden block nativity set, and our tutorial on how to turn coasters into a holiday banner.