Project Idea: Advent Calendar
by Forrest Bonner
Huntington Beach, CA
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In the Summer of 2013 I was looking around for a Fall project. Someone suggested an Advent Calendar for my grandchildren so I started searching the internet for ideas. I came across a Kurt Adler wooden Advent Calendar that fit the bill:
Using the given size, I created a SketchUp file to get the dimensions for my Calendar:
The finished project came very close. Colors were chosen for me by an artist living across the street. She did so to complement the colors in the canvas Nativity Scene picture that was chosen by the family that was to receive the Calendar. The archival ink on canvas is No Room for Them in the Inn by Tom duBois.
Looking at the number of pieces that were required to put this together (186 total cut pieces of 1/4 inch Baltic Birch plywood) I realized that accuracy was of high importance to maintain square across the unit.
Fortunately, I was able to hold to +/- 1/128 inch on my ShopSmith table saw by using an idea from Ben Roberts who is a member of the ShopSmith Forum that I use. It is a threaded ShopSmith Stop Collar mounted on a base that contacts my fence. A full turn of the collar is 1/16 inch so by marking ¼ turns accurately I was able to achieve that accuracy.
In order to assure that each box fit closely into its hole, I milled substitute blocks to take the place of each box as I put together the frame. Obviously, there were 24 total blocks of 2 different sizes.
To assure that the unit had a fighting chance to come out square, I made an exact frame that was to be the base against which the pieces were assembled. This turned out to be the key but required much fussiness to get it right.
The boxes were dry assembled (actually, there was no glue used, only screws) against the frame with the substitute blocks installed. It required different access for the 104 #2 x ½ inch screws that held the unit together. The outer surface was done first with everything on the frame.
To get access to those pieces that were against the frame, a partial (careful!) dis-assembly was needed.
Now there was a completed frame ready to receive the 24 boxes. Since I intended to use stick-on numerals and add a knob, the front panel had to be added last. Since the boxes comprised 120 of the 186 pieces of plywood, more time was devoted to boxes.
In order to be able to assemble the boxes, the pilot holes for the 552 #2 screws needed to be drilled accurately and be consistent across each box. A jig that used spacers for the different hole locations allowed that. It certainly did tie up the drill press for a time since the pilot holes on each piece also needed a countersink. Subsequent to this project I had the duh! Moment and bought countersinks with tapered drills for #2, #3, and #4 screws to complement my set. The #3 came in real handy for other projects.
To pre-drill and assemble each box fixtures using the substitute blocks were made.
Once assembled, each box was put into a labeled position to assure that the correct color would be used. Two different color milk paints were used as a safety measure for children's use.
Knobs were cut off of longer craft dowels using a fixture to assure each was of the same length, and painted the third color with milk paint.
When all was said and done, the Advent Calendar was finished with lots of time to UPS it to South Carolina. My wife and I went all over the place to gather up little goodies to put in each box. We left the chocolate and candy to be added by their parents.
It's November. Better start this Project now or you will miss the start of Advent!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at