DIY Advent Calendars: Sharing the Love

I’ve been a busy girl the past few weeks and as you can imagine: Pinterest has got me into trouble … again! ;)

Last month I was perusing Pinterest (as I do WAY too often) and came upon a beautiful wooden advent calendar. I realized that with my skills and tools, I could easily build one for myself. In fact, I realized I could easily build quite a few! I put some more thought into it and realized that I knew quite a few women who would also enjoy having such an item to share with their families. How fun would it be to build a bunch of these calendars and have friends come over to decorate them with me!

So … I did what I always do: research!

After looking at dozen of styles of calendars I finally found one that I could easily build and would still be AMAZING. Then, just to test the waters and see if anyone would actually be interested, I created a Facebook event and proposed my idea. The response I got was timid at first, but people seemed genuinely interested, just unsure. To remedy anyones uncertainty, I drew up some plans, aquired some materials and built a prototype.

Prototype Calendar

It didn’t come out too bad! This first one I made with 1/4″ thick red oak hobby board I found at Home Depot. However, this wood is 2.5″ wide/deep (as opposed to the 2″ plans I had drawn up. Additionally, this one is not perfect (is the prototype ever perfect?) I had a “design error” and that piece at the top of open space in the middle is set up too high. It should be level with the pieces on either side. Not too shabby for a first try though!

After I posted that photo on the event page, I started to get a lot more interest. In fact, I got more than I thought I would! Pretty awesome, but now I actually had to make it work and in quantity!

The Materials

As nice as this oak hobby board is … it wasn’t really suitable for making the quantity I needed:

1. Home Depot (in my town and several surrounding ones) doesn’t carry this particular material in large amounts. I did the math and found that if I hit all 3 stores in a 20 miles radius, I could only build 4 calendars…

2. The cost wasn’t bad (about $1.50 a ft and it takes 9ft to build one of these), but I could do better and wanted to keep the cost as low as possible because, I was offering to give these to friends at cost or even free if needed because I wanted to make sure everyone got one. This wasn’t about the money. It was about the FUN!

3. The dimensions were just wrong! That extra half inch just made them that much bigger and (I later learned: it is A LOT harder to make rectangular boxes than it is square ones!) if I wanted square boxes I’d have to increase the size of the calendar AND the amount of materials it took to build them, which would then increase the price for each one.

All this combined and convinced me that I needed a different material. So … I did what we girls often do best: I went shopping! (for wood, but shopping is shopping, right?)

Shopping Criteria:

1. Must be no more than 1/4″ thick

2. Must be as close to 2″ wide as I could possibly get.

3. Must be harder wood (not balsa or poplar, or basswood. Most “hobby wood” that comes in my desired dimension is made of one of those softer woods, but I wanted something stronger so my friends could keep these calendars for a lifetime, even refinish them down the road if they wanted to.)

4. Must have the quantity I needed. At roughly 9ft per calendar, I’d need 90ft of board just to make 10 (and I ended up making more than 10)

5. Must be a reasonable price. I had a baseline set by the red oak at $1.50 a ft. That would make each calendar 13.50 just for the materials (not including glue or sandpaper or anything else I might need). I wanted to keep the  TOTAL cost below $15. If I found materials for less than $1.50 a ft, I’d be doing good.

Insert hours and hours of more research looking for places that sell wood/lumber/hobby and crafty crap. I finally settled on a local lumber/hardware store which, from their website, appeared to carry a vast variety of wood moulding. I figured this was my best bet to find what I was looking for and I was right! After walking up and down aisle after aisle of wood moulding I finally found some beautiful Hemlock boards that were 1/4 inch thick and 2.25 inches wide, they had them in the quantity I needed (Though, I did end up buying them out…) and at $1.15 a ft I was sold!

My beautiful new materials in hand, I went home, redrew my design and set to work!

The Build

Cut pieces

All cut and ready to go! Each piece marked with its length and the # of calendar it was. These are marked with a 7 because it was the 7th calendar I’d made.

gluing the bottom

Starting at the bottom: gluing and clamping the vertical pieces to the bottom-most board. I used a drafting square to make sure they were set squarely

Clamping inside supports

Using a corner clamp to make sure these tall pieces in the middle got clamped squarely and securely. This was nearly impossible using a bar clamp… felt like a genius when I figured out this little trick! This was nearly the hardest part (the backing was actually the worst…)

Setting up to glue gluing and clamping while I wait Close up of clamping

While I was giving those long center pieces as much time as I possible could to cure up, I glued and clamped up all the steps that would be connected to them.

attaching steps 1

Once I was sure those center supports were good and cured; I started  gluing on the side pieces or steps. I used a block of wood, cut to exactly the same height, to support the inside edge while the glue dried and to help ensure they went on level and square. (the white container is full of little used hardware. I used it as a counter weight against the weight of the clamp to keep the calendar from tipping over while I worked on it.)

attaching steps 2

More glue and clamps

attaching steps 3

Still more glue and clamps

attaching top center

Once I had all the steps glued on, I glued in the top center piece. This one was also tricky, but waiting until all the steps were in place helped me ensure it would be level with the two outside pieces (unlike the error I made with my prototype)

building the top

While waiting for the center to cure up I glued together the bits for the top.

More of the top

Then glued on its bottom.

All together

Once I was sure everything in the middle had cured up really good, I attached the bottom (first thing I glued at the beginning) and the top piece

calendar frames

Voila! Advent Calendar frames! Now they just need some backing!

Calendar backing

For the backing I cut either a piece of 1/4″ sanded plywood or a piece of 1/8″ thick fiberboard to fit the back. I experimented with both and found that while the fiberboard is cheapy (the opposite of what I wanted these calendars to be…) it is LIGHTER and the thinness of it made it less obvious. Also, once all the boxes were in and it was set on a shelf or mantel, no one was going to see the backing anyway.

Cutting the backing for these calendars was easily the HARDEST part. This is probably because I didn’t have quite the right tool for the job… I have 4 different kinds of saw/tools to cut things with and they were all either 1. too small for this job, or 2. had round saw blades that are not good for making exact cuts that only go part way into the wood. What I really needed was a scroll saw or something similar, but I made due. Some calendars just got a bit of putty along with their backing.

completed calendars

7 calendars, complete with backing, ready for a final sanding and some finish!

One with finish, one without

Calendar with polish (upper) Calendar without finish (lower)

After the first few calendars, I realized, even with a good sanding job, I didn’t like the look of the wood. It was just too “dry” and unfinished looking. I’m a big fan of polyurethane, polycrylic and all their cousins. I use them all the time. In fact, I use them enough, that I knew it would be … impractical to try and apply one of them to these calendars. I’d have to sand between each coat of finish and these calendars have A LOT of corners and tight spaces and are actually quite large (19.5″ wide x 14″ high). It would take a week just for the finishing process… I didn’t have that kind of time or ENERGY.

What I found instead was an orange oil and wax based wood polish and finish. It only keeps for a few months (more or less depending on use), but these calendars are only going to be out 1 month of the year and probably spend the rest of their time in storage. Not to mention they aren’t going to take a lot of wear and tear. Needless to say the polish/finish worked out great! It was easy to apply, gave the look I wanted and was inexpensive. Win one for the Goddess!

Little Boxes (on the hillside. Little boxes made of ticky tacky…)

little boxes

The next thing these calendars needed was 25 little boxes (each) to put in the frames. After several attempts I finally created a pattern using my Publisher software that fit the frames perfectly. Each box ended up being roughly 2x2x2, but in actuality about a 1/10″ smaller to make sure they could move freely in and out of the 2″space.

To date (I still have more to make) I have built 11 of these calendars and each one needed 25 little boxes…. that means I have printed (on cardstock), cut, folded, and glued 275 of these little suckers! I did have a couple volunteers help with a bit of the cutting, but I ended up doing most of them. WHEW!

Total Cost

This doesn’t actually matter to me, as this was just supposed to be a fun thing to do with my friends, but I figured it would be good to add up and know for future projects and because I’ve been thinking I may make a few extra and sell them. The actual cost will be a good starting point to determining their value.

Wood: 9ft x $1.15 per foot = $10.35 per calendar

Wood glue: I have yet to even use up a half bottle of wood glue. This makes it hard to determine the cost for each calendar. I suppose I will just say $0.25 for wood glue.

Sandpaper: it took approximately a half sheet for each calendar. Each sheet is roughly $1.00. $0.50 for sandpaper.

Polish/finish: A bottle could do roughly 20 calendars. $10 a bottle/ 20 =$0.50 for polish/finish

Cardstock for boxes: $9.50 for 250 sheets of cardstock = $0.038 per sheet.

25 sheets per calendar x $0.038 per sheet = $0.95 worth of cardstock for each calendar.

I won’t include printer ink, electricity, etc. The scale of this was just too small. However, I did print them using very light grey ink. My hope was that this would use the least amount of black ink possible and make the lines less noticeable once the boxes were folded and glued. 

 Glue for boxes: It took approximately 1 stick to glue 25 boxes together. 3 glue sticks = $1.19.

$0.40 of glue for each calendar. 

Clamps: For this project I also acquired some additional bar clamps to make the work go faster, but as I get to keep those for future use: I am not going to count them.

Decorating stuff: I also spent roughly $40 on scrapbook paper, number stickers, additional glue and other incidentals for the decorating events. I am not going to count these either as many people did bring their own decor to decorate the calendars with and I didn’t HAVE to purchase these items. I wanted to :)

I am also not including gas to pick up materials, or other minor expenses.


Each frame took approximately 5 hours of cutting, gluing, and clamping.

I have no idea how long each box took(cutting, folding and gluing), but probably close to 3 mins? I just did them in sets of 10-20 in an assembly line fashion while I watched TV with Hubby in the evening. 3 mins x 25 boxes = 1 hour 15 minutes per calendar for the boxes. 

These times also do not include: Research, drawing up the design or shopping.

Grand totals:

$12.95 for materials for each calendar

6 hours 15 minutes of work

The Outcome

DIY advent calendar

All that time, money, and an absurd amount of energy and all I can say is: this project has been the most fun I’ve had in a LONG time! I love building things! I love my friends and family and I love doing nice things for them! Also, most of my friends were nice enough to reimburse me for, at least, the cost of the materials, if not a more. So, it all worked out in the end!

When all was said and done I got to spend a few evenings just sitting back, eating good food, and enjoying the company of some wonderful ladies while they decorated their calendars. They are all so creative and amazing. I love every single one of their calendars!

It has been a wonderful few weeks and I simply could not imagine a better outcome or more fun!

Group #1

Group #2

Thanks for such a good time! I love my ladies!

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