These DIY wood shim trees are filled with crystal clear epoxy encasing sparkling glitter and twinkling string lights for a brilliant Christmas decoration!
I know what you think of me. I really do.
No, no, no – don’t try to deny it. I can hear your thoughts, you know.
But it’s okay.
I don’t mind that you think that I’m the buck-toothed donkey whose sole job is to pull the rickety apple cart while braying like…well…braying like an ass, I suppose.
And it’s okay that you think that Handan is the shrewd apple farmer riding atop the rickety apple cart and guiding the donkey from point A to point B with equal measures of carrot and stick.
Look, I get it. She’s the brains behind this operation.
My job is to build stuff and look pretty.
(I’m moderately adept at one of those. The other? Not so much.)
Anyway, I don’t mind you thinking that because you’re right!
Handan is the wellspring of project ideas (plus she’s the one who keeps this blog running on the back end and behind the scenes).
I just build ’em, photograph ’em and write about ’em.
But every once in a while…
Every once in a blue supermoon, I have an idea of my own.
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DIY Epoxy Wood Shim Trees
This project was born last year in the small days of early December. Handan had been eyeballing those packs of cedar wood shims sold in Home Depot. An idea was forming, gnawing within her and trying to get out. Every time we walked past the bin full of wood shims, she’d stop and pick a few up and turn them this way and that.
Finally, the idea broke free.
Instead of simply looking at the shims, she started hunting for suitable packs. She rifled through dozens of shim packs looking for just the right ones. This is the woman who, when buying a shrub or a flower or anything there’s more than one of, will take all of them off the shelf and carefully study each one in an attempt to find the very best one.
Contrast this to my shopping method of reaching out, grabbing the first thing I see and then high-tailing it to the register.
Anyway, her shim rifling produced several adequate specimens which she thrust in my direction for me to hold.
Satisfied she had enough, she said, “My babes, do you know what we’ll be doing with these?”
I examined the cedar shim packages. “Making weather-resistant chopsticks?”
“No, you silly! We’ll be making wood shim trees!” She said.
But wait! Earlier, he said that he had an idea. Oh my gawd! It was Handan’s idea all along!
Madam, I can hear you thinking, and this time you’re wrong!
Now please just tell your brain to clam it, so I can get on with my explanation.
So anyway, Handan wanted to make some wood shim trees.
I shrugged. Seemed like a reasonable plan to make small trees from the repurposed splinters of large ones.
When we got home, Handan set herself to the task. She crafted one big wood shim tree and two smaller ones.
I set the wood shim trees on the dining room buffet and tossed some garlands around them to make things look Christmasy.
Then I proceeded to take the most uninspired photographs of my blogging career.
Don’t believe me?
Here, have a gander:
I stood there staring at the wood shim trees jutting out of that tangle of faux greenery and started thinking.
(Here’s where you’ll have to imagine an old-timey engine cranking to life amid sputters and pops and a plume of sooty black smoke.)
The trees are good, but the setting is a little boring. Some fairy lights would spice things up a bit. Hmmm…but where to put them? Inside the trees? But how?
I ran down to the basement and found two jugs of epoxy that I had bought a couple of years ago for no apparent reason whatsoever. I peered at the instructions. Hmmm…the stuff needed to be 75 degrees or something around there.
The basement was about 60.
Okay, upstairs then.
I carried the bottles into the master bath and set them next to the small electric baseboard heater that keeps us from freezing to death in the winter, as the hot air from the furnace just can’t make it to this far corner of the house.
While the epoxy heated, I readied a work area on the bathroom floor…
And so these DIY epoxy wood shim trees were born.
But the road was not a smooth one.
There was a learning curve.
Mistakes were made.
There were bad batches of epoxy.
And then, just when we thought we had nailed it last year, I stood our trees upright the night after the last epoxy pour that morning.
Oh, they looked glorious!
We went to bed with plans to stage and photograph them the next day.
But when I saw them the next morning….
I walked back into the bedroom, ashen-faced. “My babes.” I said. “The trees are ruined.”
Apparently 12 hours isn’t enough time for epoxy to fully harden, even though it seemed hard the night before!
The epoxy had sloughed down the trees and had started to run over the bottom edge where it then fully cured!
We were defeated.
At least for last year.
But we gathered more supplies and set our sights on this year with new energy, new ideas and lessons learned.
So enough of my blathering. Let’s get on with it, already!
- Wood shims – several packs
- Some sort of saw to cut the shims in half
- Hot glue gun
- 150 grit sandpaper or belt sander
- Spray shellac
- Battery-operated fairy lights
- Red and Green glitter
- Epoxy resin for casting
- Mini clamps
- Glass or other smooth surface
- Cling film
- Nitrile gloves
- Disposable plastic cups for mixing epoxy
- Propane torch
DIY Epoxy Wood Shim Trees Tutorial
Step 1 – Assemble the wood shim trees
The cedar shims we got at Home Depot come in roughly 3 different thicknesses, and it’s anyone’s guess what mix you’ll get in each pack. The shims are mostly the same length, but you’ll need to keep an eye out for any outliers. They’re also mostly the same width, but a few are thinner, and you’ll want to pass those over.
For the plain shim trees I showed earlier in the post, we made the big one with full shims and the small ones with half shims. For these epoxy shim trees, we’ll be making the small ones with half shims.
We found the best shims were the middle thickness ones – they’re not too thick and not too thin. You can choose whatever looks best to your eyes though.
You’ll want to open several packs and pick out the best shims in the middle-thickness range. Make sure they’re all the same width – that is very important. Different heights can be trimmed, but equal widths is crucial.
Then cut them all in half. I used a table saw, but you can cut them with any small hand saw or jigsaw.
As you can see in the picture above, each side of the tree is made from 5 shim pieces. Arrange them so the thicker ones are at the bottom and the thinner ones at top.
I had already made the sides for two trees last year, as shown above. The overlap of each shim is about 2/3.
Once you glue one side together, you can use it as a template for the rest.
Add a little squiggly of hot glue.
And then press the next shim in place.
There’s nothing hard about this at all, madam! Glue and press! Glue and press!
After each new shim, I recommend pressing the side of the shims into the table to make sure they’re are lined up straight. This is important, madam! Nobody likes an epoxy-leaking tree!
For the bottoms, find two pieces of equal thickness and glue them together, thin end to thick end.
Oh, man! That Stanley glue gun gets the glue so hot it boils as you squirt it. Word to the wise – try not to touch the boiling glue. 😯
Squeeeeeze that bottom!
Now you’re ready to join the two sides to the bottom. Look at that pudgy pink hand below – it just can’t wait!
Put a line of hot glue across the inner bottom of the two side pieces.
Then press the two sides against the bottom. Be sure to press the sides inward so they join at the top end.
Turn the tree over and squeeze a line of glue inside the top of the tree.
Use one of the scrap thin pieces to even out the glue and then squeeze the top together until the hot glue sets.
Ta-da! You’ve done it, madam. Kudos!
There will likely be a gap underneath where the two sides meet the bottom. Fill that gap with hot glue and use a scrap of shim to wipe it smooth.
Now, you can stop here if you’d like. You’ve just made a brilliant minimalist cedar wood shim tree.
Or you can take that tree to the next level.
Are you with me, madam?
Good! Let’s do it!
Step 2 – Sand the backside
Since you’ll be pouring epoxy into these trees, you’ll need the backside to be as flat as possible so the epoxy doesn’t leak out (too much).
Rub the trees back and forth on a sheet of 150 grit sandpaper and test the trees on a glass surface to see if you’ve flattened them.
You may find that after sanding, the trees are flat against the glass when you press down on both ends, but when you let go, the trees warp a bit. This is fine, and it is the reason you’ll be using clamps when you pour the epoxy. The goal here is to get it as flat as you can.
I didn’t sand the top face or the sides, as we liked the rustic look of the shaggy cedar.
Step 3 – Shellac the wood shim trees
Before the epoxy, take your trees outside and give them 3 coats of spray shellac.
This not only seals the wood, so you’ll get fewer bubbles with the epoxy, but it darkens the wood a bit. We didn’t shellac the trees we made last year, but we did do it this year, and they look much better.
Step 4 – Cut a notch for the light cord
Since your trees will have lights encased in epoxy, you’ll need to cut a notch for the fairy light cord. You can do this with a small saw or a chisel. Put the tree on a flat surface with the back side facing up and cut a small notch the size of the coated part of the fairy light cord into the area shown in the picture below.
Push the plastic part of the cord into the groove. You may need a screwdriver to get it all the way in and flush.
You can either use superglue or hot glue to seal off the notch. Be sure that the area is flush with the rest of the back. You don’t want to leave any place for the epoxy to leak through.
Step 5 – Epoxy prep
[Update: See Jay’s comment after the post for a much better idea to keep the epoxy from leaking!]
Okay, you’re going to be filling these trees with epoxy, lights and glitter over the course of several days. To ensure a good, clean pour, you need to prep a smooth work surface. A piece of glass would be the best option, but anything smooth will work. Whatever you choose, you’ll then want to cover it with cling film. This will ensure that your tree doesn’t get permanently epoxied to the work surface. Cling film will peel right off the hardened epoxy.
Once you have your work surface covered with cling film, hang it about halfway off a table or counter and clamp the work surface to the table. Next, clamp the base and the tip of the tree to the work surface.
Note in the picture below that the fairy lights are up and over the side and out of the way. This is how they’ll be for the first pour.
In the pic below, the cling film is pulled perfectly taught and wrinkle-free on the top of the glass. All those creases and folds are underneath the glass.
Step 6 – First epoxy pour
Woo hoo! You’re ready to pour some epoxy! Are you nervous, madam? I sure as hell was on my first couple of pours! But fear not! I made mistakes so you don’t have to!
First things first. Everyone online goes nuts about this product:
So I jumped on the bandwagon and bought it last winter. It spent the year in the basement, untouched, and we used it for the first pour this year. I don’t know if it was the year in the basement, but this resin cured cloudy. We did 3 pours – 2 with glitter and one clear. The one that should have been clear turned out hazy, and one of the glitter pours was affected as well. The other glitter pour had enough glitter to mask the haze.
Long story short: until I know why it happened, I can’t recommend Art ‘N Glow epoxy.
I can, however, recommend either Famowood Glaze Coat (used for this project) or Parks Super Glaze (used for some DIY log slice coasters I made a while back), as I’ve used them both with flawless results:
If you’ve never worked with epoxy before, the concept is simple. Pour out equal parts of resin and hardener, pour into a clean cup, and then stir them until your hand cramps into a gnarled claw. After pouring, wave a torch briefly over the resin to pop any air bubbles that rise up to the surface. Simple!
But here’s the thing – you can’t fill these trees in one pour. Most brands recommend pouring no more than 1/8 inch, but I’ve gotten away with 1/4 inch without incident. But you don’t want to pour more than that, or it could lead to problems as the epoxy cures. And for the first pour with these trees, I think the thinner, the better, just in case you get a little leaking under your edges.
So let’s get to it – pour that resin and hardener!
Then pour them into a new and bigger cup. Be sure to scrape the sides of the cups with a stir stick.
Then slowly stir for 5 minutes. Yep, 5 minutes. Make sure you scrape your stir stick along the sides and bottom. And don’t stir fast! You want to minimize the introduction of air into the mix.
Our plan with one of the trees was to have green lights and clear resin. That was this pour. I should have known from the these pictures that it wouldn’t turn out well.
But all’s well that ends well, because the hazy first pour prompted us to add some glitter in the second pour, as you’ll see in a minute.
Burning off the bubbles…
Okay, you saw that first pour, but we recommend adding glitter to your first pours and only to your first pours. Last year, we added glitter to all of the pours, so after the lights were put in, there was glitter behind and in front of the lights. The glitter behind the lights was great, but the stuff in front didn’t glitter at all because it was in front of the light source.
It really was a blessing that I ruined the trees last year, because the ones we made this year are so much better!
So. Glitter in the first pour only.
Here’s how we did ours. One tree has green glitter and red lights, one has red glitter and green lights, and one has a mix of red and green glitter with normal white lights.
Once you’ve mixed the epoxy for 5 minutes, divide it into as many portions as you have wood shim trees. Add glitter to each portion and stir to combine.
Check out this green glitter we used. We must have gotten it from my mom. This stuff is ancient!
Look at that price! A. Kamins was a store in town that went out of business sometime in the 80s. This glitter has been waiting decades for the right project!
Pour a lot of glitter into your epoxy. You want the back to be entirely opaque with glitter.
Stir it up!
And pour it in. Be careful not to spill any on the top face.
You can see the haze. I was able to get most of it with the torch, but some stayed. It was way more noticeable with the green glitter because it sank to the bottom of the epoxy. The red and green mix, on the other hand, was made with a different green and red glitter – they were smaller and longer flakes and they floated on the epoxy, as you’ll see in a minute.
Again, be generous with the glitter!
Mix it, madam!
Now here’s the thing about glitter: it’s the herpes of crafting. Once you get it on you, it ain’t coming off. Worse, it’ll spread to everything you touch (or even walk by). Three times we had to fish red glitter out of the clear pour, and twice we found red lurking in the green pour! Fortunately, epoxy has a 45 minute work time, so we were able to pluck the intruders with a pair of tweezers before they ruined the project entirely.
Hey, look who’s back in pajamas!
Hey, look who else is wearing pajamas! This was taken last year while working on one of the very first batches with some total crap epoxy that stayed as white as it looks in the photo below. In the end, we actually like it, because it looks like a snow-covered tree. As Bob Ross would say, it was a happy little accident! 🙂
Step 7 – Add the lights
24 hours later and the moment of truth! Here’s where it all comes together!
For our first attempts, we just sorta jammed the lights in as best we could (which wasn’t very good). But then my babes figured out a better way. she cut a triangle just slightly smaller than the interior of the wood shim tree, and then she wrapped the lights around the tree – once up and then down again with the opposite slope.
Depending on how long your string is, you may have to go up, down and up again. No matter! The important thing here is to make sure the lights get spaced out evenly and randomly. When she first tried wrapping just once from bottom to top with tighter coils, all the lights kept falling in the same spot, and it didn’t look good.
So keep the wraps farther apart and criss-cross them on the way up and back.
Insert the triangle into the tree and pull out the cardboard.
Work the lights into place and bend them here and there so they lay as flat as possible (as long as they don’t jut above the top, you’re okay).
Step 8 – Second epoxy pour
After adding lights to all your wood shim trees, mix up another batch of epoxy and pour it over. Remember, no more than 1/4 inch!
Get rid of the air bubbles with a torch.
It was during this pour that we discovered the haze and bubbles of the first clear pour.
This tree was ruined at this point.
To save the day, we decided to pour another thin layer with a lot of red glitter. This was the tree that was supposed to be clear with green lights but ended up being red with green lights, and it turned out so much better! Happy little accidents.
After the first pour hardens, you can remove the trees from the glass.
Step 9 & 10 – Third and fourth pour
Wait 24 hours between each pour, and stop about 1/16 inch from the top, to ensure no epoxy spills over onto the face of your wood shim trees.
Step 11 – Let cure for at least 3 days
Just to be safe, I recommend leaving them alone for 3 days. It was heartbreaking to see all that work ruined last year because I stood the tree up too soon!
Step 12 – Trim and sand if needed
It’s likely that some epoxy will have leaked out during the first pour and hardened on the sides.
Now’s the time to trim it off as best you can with a razor blade. You can also use a detail sander – just be careful not to sand too much of the wood, or you’ll see a contrast between the sanded wood and the wood that has been shellacked.
Wow, look at what you’ve created! Wooooooweeeeee, madam! Can you believe how awesome it looks?
You’ve earned an eggnog with double whiskey! 🙂
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