We always had advent calendars growing up. For the most part, they were those large cardboard boxes with doors you’d punch in only to find a tiny little piece of molded chocolate that tastes like wax. (Sorry, mom and dad—it’s true.) I mean, I still ate the chocolate because sugar, but those advent calendars never did much for me—until one year, when my mom bought us a Playmobil advent calendar. The idea was the same, but instead of a terrible piece of chocolate, each door held a piece to be set up in a perfectly magical Christmas scene: Santa, baking cookies with a Christmas angel. There was so much more anticipation and excitement associated with that advent calendar because it built on itself.
When I was looking for advent calendar ideas (remember this one?), I wanted to find one that built up the anticipation of Christmas. Aside from carving a Playmobil scene myself, this was the wooden advent calendar idea I liked best, and I love how it turned out.
My favorite part about it? You can actually see how many days are left until Christmas—and how soon Santa will appear from the fireplace. DIY wooden advent calendar, here we come!
Step 1: Cut Wooden Advent Calendar Pieces
Ours is an advent calendar made of wood, and as such, there are a number of cuts we need to make. You can make all of these cuts with a handsaw and a miter box—just be sure to clamp it down to a work surface.
For ease, I’m breaking up the cuts by three categories: the chimney structure, the pegs, and the architectural details.
For the chimney structure, we’re using spruce and white wood. Cut:
- (2) pieces of one-by-two to 20 5/8" for the sides of the chimney
- (1) piece of one-by-six to 20 5/8" for the back of the chimney
- (1) piece of one-by-six to 8" for the heart
- (2) pieces of one-by-two to 5 1/2" for the sides of the peg storage box
- (1) piece of one-by-six to 5 1/2" for the back of the storage box
For the pegs, cut:
- Birch dowels into (24) 5 5/8" pieces
For the architectural decoration, cut:
- (2) pieces of lattice to 19 3/8" for the chimney facade
- (1) piece of hemlock moulding with opposing 45° angles that spans the width of the one-by-six chimney (approximately 5 1/2")
- (1) piece of hemlock moulding for the right side of the chimney (2 1/4", with the right end being a straight cut and the left side being a 45° angle cut)
- (1) piece of hemlock moulding for the left side of the chimney (2 1/4", with the left end being a straight cut and the right side being a 45° angle cut)
- (1) piece of hemlock moulding with straight cuts to 6 1/8" for the mantle
Step 2: Drill Dowel Peg Holes
Next, we’re drilling holes in the sides of the chimney for dowel pegs to fit through.
Mark and draw a line down the middle length of one of the one-by-two chimney side pieces. Mark 4 1/2" from the bottom, then every 5/8" up the length until you have 24 marks (you can download the diagram below to make this step super easy). Clamp both one-by-two chimney sides together on a scrap piece of wood (with the marked one-by-two on top), then drill through every mark with a 1/2" spade bit.
We used a spade bit over a regular 1/2" bit because it gives a cleaner start with the bit. Having wood clamped against the back side helps prevent splintering on that side too. The 1/2" bit does give a fairly tight fit, and we intentionally picked dowels that were on the smaller side so that they fit snugly but easily. You can also move up to a larger 5/8" spade bit, but be aware that this gives your dowels lots of wiggle room.
Because you’ll be inserting a dowel peg through both holes, it’s important that the holes are perfectly straight. When you’re working with a drill (instead of a drill press), it’s very hard to do. If you’re using a normal drill bit, you can nail together some blocks of wood to use as a guide for the bit. If you’re using a spade bit like me, that’s not an option. I’ve found that having a speed square on-hand as a guide for what is perpendicular worked best—I lined up my drill with it before drilling each hole.
Step 3: Sand Cut Pieces for Advent Calendar
This step is self-explanatory—sand your cut and drilled pieces.
Step 4: Paint Chimney and Moulding
We’re painting the inside of the chimney to look like red brick. To start, we’re taping off the mortar with 1/16”-wide tape. First, mark every 1/2" along the length of the board, then tape across using a straightedge. You can also use a scrap piece of one-by-six cut to 1/2" long (like me)—just clamp it down, lay down your tape, then move the piece down the board. Once this is done, tape down the vertical pieces—this step takes a lot longer. I recommend getting a combination square or a straightedge and measuring out the width of each brick (ours are 3/4"), marking it all the way down the chimney, then cutting and applying your little pieces of tape.
To save some time and energy, don’t worry about taping off your bricks all the way to the edge—the one-by-two sides will be glued to this piece. You should be safe leaving 3/4" on either side un-taped. Don’t forget to tape off the sides—they’ll show in the final advent calendar and we don’t want them to be red.
Finally, it’s time to paint! We used an acrylic paint for its fast dry time. Use the color brick red to paint the front of the taped chimney piece and one side of both of the one-by-two chimney sides. Paint the three moulding pieces white. Once dry, remove the tape.
Step 5: Stain Chimney, Mantle, and Storage Box
Next, we’re staining everything that isn’t painted, except for the chimney mortar and the peg dowels. We’re using Varathane wood stain in “Early American”—it looks nice with the brick color, and works consistently on our various materials. Let the stain dry fully before you do anything else—if you don’t, the glue won’t hold and you’ll wind up with a chimney in shambles. (I’m speaking from experience here.)
Step 6: Assemble Wooden Advent Calendar
Now it’s time to assemble! The brick should be on the inside of the chimney, and the stain should be on the outside.
Once the stain has dried fully, glue the one-by-two sides (with the peg dowel holes) on-edge to both sides of the one-by-six chimney back—they should be attached to the painted brick side. Next, glue the chimney facade lattice strips on top of the one-by-twos—they should overhang 5/16" on the outside and 3/16" on the inside. Be sure to glue them flush to the base of the chimney. The purpose of these lattice strips is to hide the dowels on the sides. When it comes to adhesive, you can use wood glue, a fast-drying all-purpose glue, or, my favorite, hot glue sticks for laying down hardwood floors. They’re so much stronger than regular hot glue sticks, and there’s practically no wait time.
Next we’re adding the white moulding pieces at the top of the chimney—they should fit perfectly above the chimney facade lattice strips. Glue the long piece across the front, and the shorter pieces on either side. Then, add the mantle 4" up from the base of the chimney.
The point of the storage box is to hold all of the peg dowels when they get removed from the advent calendar—it perfectly fits all 24. Glue the one-by-two storage sides to the one-by-six back, then glue the storage box to the back of the chimney structure so it’s flush with the bottom.
Finally, add the base. The bottom of the chimney structure should be glued and centered side-to-side, and the storage box should be flush with the back. Once it’s all together, it will look just like a hearth!
Step 7: Add Peg Dowels and Numbers
Next, slot in all the peg dowels—it helps to use them as a visual guide for all the numbers without having to do any measuring. Then, use stencils to paint numbers on the chimney facades with acrylic paint, alternating between the left and right side. Remember, we’re counting up, not down, so number according to the days in December. Dec. 1 should be at the very top.
Step 8: Make Wooden Santa
My Santa is a Scandinavian-inspired one, of course (my mom's family is Norwegian). Use our guide to cut out a triangle from plywood; reduce splintering by covering the plywood with tape before this step. Then, cut out a rectangle—it should fit perfectly in the shape of the chimney so Santa can slide down easily without getting stuck. Sand the edges of both pieces smooth.
Then, use the diagram to draw the outline of Santa with a pencil. Fill in the outline with the acrylic paint of your choosing, and use a fine-tipped permanent marker to outline the sides of his face and draw in his eyes. You can add fun details with paint or your marker, like buttons or fur—have fun with it!
Once it’s dry, glue the triangle Santa to the center of the rectangular base.
Step 9: Make Felt Stockings for Advent Calendar
With scissors, cut out stockings from the felt using the diagram in Step 8. Poke a hole in the upper corner of each stocking with a 1/2” nail and attach them to the fireplace mantel. Because the nails are so short, it’s challenging to hammer them in—pressing with the head of the hammer is a great way to get started.
Step 10: Make Wooden Presents
Decorate the hearth with presents. I used painted small pieces of scrap wood for mine, then glued them around the fireplace.
I had so much fun with this project. There’s something about working with miniatures that brings me so much joy. Once I got the concept of this wooden Christmas advent calendar down, going the extra mile was easy—the mortar, the moulding, and all the little details make it look like a real chimney. It’s cute, looks like a pro did it, and will add a lovely, traditional touch to my home this holiday season. And for many years to come!