Easy Projects to Transform Reclaimed Scrap Wood into Rustic DIY Christmas Gifts

Easy Projects to Transform Reclaimed Scrap Wood into Rustic DIY Christmas Gifts

barnwood christmas
Christmas stables | Image courtesy flick’r user Thomas James Caldwell

Fall is my favorite time of year—the leaves change colors, the weather starts to cool, and there’s always a lovely autumn breeze. But every once in awhile, in my little Texas town surrounded by nothing but wide open plains, that lovely autumn breeze turns into a gust of destruction.  

About two weeks ago, we were bombarded with winds that were just too much for our old weather-beaten fence to stand up to. A section broke free from the support posts and began flailing about, hanging on only by a few nails near the ground. Bundled up against the cold, my husband and I went out and removed all of the fence boards and posts that seemed like they were on their last days. Now, with a heap of scrap wood at hand, the fun begins.

I love working with reclaimed scrap wood because the possibilities are endless. And with the holidays coming up, my loved ones are going to get some whimsically woodsy homemade gifts! Depending on where the wood came from—old pallets, a broken tree branch, a new construction project in the neighborhood—I like to let the character of the wood speak to what I can transform it into. And our recent fence troubles told me I was going to get to make some new Christmas home décor items for my family and friends.

Prepping the Wood for a Transformation

old, broken fence
Lord bless ‘The Menders of Fences’ | Image courtesy flick’r user Bobby McKay

The first step of any reclaimed wood project is to make it safe for the indoors. When wood is left outside for a long while, it can become a home for insects and bacteria that your gift recipients probably don’t want in their houses.

The easiest way I’ve found to prep wood is to bake it in the oven at 250 degrees for an hour. I usually use this option when the scraps I have to work with are small, or I’ve already cut the pieces to size for my project. When the pieces are long, I soak the wood in a bleach solution of one part bleach to 30 parts water. Sometimes I even bake and bleach the wood.

Then, with the rustic boards prepped and ready to become something new, I’m ready to dive into a world of possibilities.

Christmas Tea Light Candle Holders

I decided to make tea light holders for my aunt who loves the cozy atmosphere candles create. This was also the easiest project on my to-do list, so I tackled it first.

wood tea light holders
Reclaimed wood candle holder | Image courtesy Etsy seller GFTWoodcraft

The Materials:

  • A 15-inch piece of 4’x4’ fence post
  • A miter, circular, or hand saw
  • A 1.5-inch diameter self-feed bit or spade bit
  • Sandpaper, 80 grit
  • Wood stain
  • A 1 to 3-inch paintbrush
  • 3 tea lights

The How-To:

  1. Using a saw, cut the fence post into three unequal lengths. I prefer to decorate in sets of 3 or 5, so I cut my 15-inch piece of post into 4-inch, 5-inch, and 6-inch pieces.
  2. Using a 1.5-inch bit, drill into the top of each piece about 1/4 to 3/8-inch deep. Most tea lights are about 3/8-inch tall so, for safety, don’t drill more than 3/8-inch into the wood or the tea light will sit too low and could catch fire.
  3. Sand each piece to remove any rough patches and splinters. Sanding also exposes the inner layers of the wood and makes the grain pop. This is a great opportunity to bang up the pieces a bit. I like to take a chisel to the corners and give any flat faces some personality by hitting them with a ball-peen hammer. Make sure to blow on each piece to remove any dust and debris before the next step.
  4. With your paintbrush, apply the stain to each piece. Don’t forget to stain the depression (where the tea light will sit), as well as the bottom. It’s best to do this step outside or in a well-ventilated garage because the stain gives off fumes.
  5. Let the stain soak into each piece for about 5 minutes—a little longer for a darker color, shorter for a lighter one. Then, wipe each piece with an old rag or paper towel to remove the excess stain and let the pieces sit outside or in a well-ventilated area for several hours to dry.
  6. Once the pieces are dry, place one tea light in each piece, wrap thoughtfully and beautifully, and place under the tree.

To make these really festive, I decided to tie fabric ribbon around each one and used a hot glue gun to add fake berries and a small twig from a pine tree. Now my aunt can arrange these on her coffee table, mantle, or dining table as a lovely winter decoration.  

Wall Sconces to Warm up the Winter

With so many planks of scrap wood from the broken fence, I was tempted to make sconces for every member of my family, but I started with a pair for my best friend, Jodie, who just moved into a new home and is looking for some rustic wall décor.

rustic wood wall sconces
Rustic wall sconce | Image courtesy Etsy seller KrohnDesigns

The Materials:

  • 2 fence boards
  • A miter, circular, or hand saw
  • A drill and drill bit
  • 1.5-inch drywall or wood screws
  • Wood glue
  • Sandpaper, 80 grit
  • A level
  • Clamps

The How-To:

  1. Choose two of the straightest fence boards available—these need to be able to lie flat against a wall.
  2. From your fence boards, cut two 16-inch wall pieces, two 5-inch platform pieces, and two 2-inch support pieces.
  3. Cut off each end of the support pieces at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Sand each of your pieces, making sure there are no sharp edges or splinters.
  5. Add a string of wood glue to one of the 45-degree edges of one support piece. Affix the support piece 2-inches from the base of the wall piece, making sure it is centered and vertically level. Use a clamp to hold the piece in place while the glue dries.
  6. While the glue is drying, drill one pilot hole through the wall piece and into the support piece. Your drill bit should be slightly smaller than the width of the screws you’re using. Then insert the screw into the pilot hole.
  7. Add a string of wood glue to the upward-facing edge of the support piece and to the back edge of a platform piece. Then affix the platform piece to the wall and support pieces and clamp it in place.
  8. While the glue is drying, drill three pilot holes through the wall piece and into the platform piece and insert screws into the pilot holes.
  9. Keep the platform piece clamped to the support piece until the glue dries completely.
  10. Repeat steps 5 through 11 for the second sconce.
  11. Finally, drill two holes in the wall piece of each sconce, one centered at the top and one centered at the bottom. These will be used to mount the sconces.

These sconces are fast and easy to make, and will add charm and personality to my friend’s home. I used black drywall screws to make mine since they have more threads to give your sconce a stronger construction. Plus, the black adds a rustic touch. I also put two extra drywall screws and two drywall anchors in a plastic bag so Jodie has all that she needs to hang these as soon as she opens my present!

A Versatile, Year Round Centerpiece Box

Centerpiece boxes let you change out your decorations again and again while still having that country barn appeal. My mother-in-law loves to host dinner parties for her friends, so I thought this would make a nice gift for her so she can display her creativity at each party.

reclaimed wood centerpiece box
Reclaimed wood crate box | Image courtesy Etsy seller Love4PawsCafe

The Materials:

  • 2 fence boards
  • A miter, circular, or hand saw
  • Drill and drill bit
  • 1.5-inch drywall or wood screws
  • Wood glue
  • Sandpaper, 80 grit
  • Level or carpenter’s square
  • Clamps

The How-To:

  1. Choose two of the straighter fence boards you have and cut three 18-inch pieces for the bottom and long sides, as well as two 5-inch pieces for the short sides.
  2. Sand each piece until there are no sharp edges or splinters.
  3. Add a strand of wood glue to the edge of one of the short sides. Using a level or carpenter’s square, affix the short side to the long side, making sure the pieces meet at a 90-degree angle. Use a clamp to hold the side in place.
  4. While the glue is drying, drill two pilot holes through the long side and into the short side edge.
  5. Insert two screws into the pilot holes.
  6. Repeat steps 4 through 6 to attach the second short side to the same long side.
  7. To attach the second long side, add a strand of wood glue to the free edges of both short sides. Again, make sure the pieces meet at 90-degree angles and use a clamp to hold the sides in place.
  8. Drill two pilot holes for each short side, going through the long side and into the short side edge, then insert screws into the pilot holes.
  9. To attach the bottom, flip the box upside down. Add a strand of wood glue to the edges of the two short sides. Use a clamp to hold the base in place.
  10. Drill two pilot holes for each short side, going through the base piece and into the short side edge, then insert screws into the pilot holes.
  11. Let the glue dry before filling your centerpiece box with decorations or gifting to someone extra special, and creative.

Depending on the look of the wood, I might stain the boxes after sanding. But sometimes the raw, unstained piece is perfect—my mother-in-law can stain it herself to match the other wooden furniture in her home.

When the weather kicks up and makes a mess of my yard, it’s tempting to just toss all the debris and be done with it. But I’m glad we took the time to repurpose our old fence wood. Not only did I have a blast getting creative and making some new items, but I now have several gifts that I can check off my list this holiday season.

With a more people to tend to on my Christmas gift list, I’m sure I’ll be returning to the pile of scrap wood a few more times. Making gifts by hand makes this joyous time of year even more meaningful, and I know my gifts will be memorable. When the shreds of wrapping paper are all cleaned up, and everyone has had their fill of Christmas goodies, what’s really important is letting your loved ones know you care. And what better way than by gifting them something made by your own two hands?

Too often we get stressed out about gift giving, especially around the holidays. During this special time of year, giving gifts should be a source of joy—not stress. If you’re running short on ideas, let the elves help you make magic this season. Browse Elfster’s Gift Guides for everyone on your list, or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster

Rai C.

Rai C.

Rai C. is known as the gift-giving guru in her family since she always seems to think of the perfect, unexpected gift—from time-saving tools to handcrafted mementos from the heart. Rai lives with her husband in Texas, where there's no shortage of scrap wood to turn into homemade gifts. Hit her up for DIY ways to make beautiful presents and party favors you'll be proud to give.
Rai C.
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