A Handmade Christmas


It’s that time of year again — when the world gives-in to unbridled commerce and irrational overspending.  Yep, that’s our modern holiday season!

While many people enjoy the ease and convenience of buying Christmas gifts for friends and family, I’ve actually come to dislike the practice.  The act of gift-giving has now become a game of “Who Can Spend The Most For The HolidaysTM” and “Who Can Give The Most Popular Electronic GadgetTM“.

Like previous years, I’m eschewing the convention of buying holiday gifts.  Instead of spending too much on holiday gifts, I’ve once again decided to make most of the holiday gifts I’m giving to friends and family this year.

If you think about it, the act of making holiday gifts is perfect for 2020 — If we’re stuck at home anyway, why not spend the extra time making a few nice gifts?

 

DIY Christmas Gifts Take Time

Like all things handmade, it takes a ton of time to craft a quality gift.  I try to plan ahead and get an early start — I started on this holiday’s gifts back in the middle of October, when I spied a nice piece of wood on my parent’s firewood pile.

Yep, no fancy store bought wood here!  I just grab these straight off the wood pile before they get split into smaller pieces.  This year it was a nice chunk of big-leaf maple.

firewood
Not the actual piece I used, but it did look very similar to this! (I neglected to take a photo of the original wood chunk.)

Yep, those pesky wood elves paid our house a visit in 2020!

After that, I had to turn this chunk of raw wood into a useable lumber.  This is a ton of work — There’s lots of planing, sanding, and cutting needed.  A ridiculous amount of sawdust was made.  Here’s the results from one such session:

sawdust
I was coated in wood shavings after all this!

What a mess!  Eventually the wood elves and I whittled things down to some beautiful lumber…

useful lumber

Then began the task of designing and planning my holiday gift.  This year I decided to make “fancy snack bowls” for holding holiday treats.  I always create the design in CAD before the cutting starts.  This helps me visualize the final product, and plan the machining steps.

I was feeling a little hexagonal in 2020.

hex bowl CAD

I wanted a design that was a little bit unconventional and nerdy, and I think this hexagon design fits the bill nicely.

Just like in previous years, I still don’t have fancy expensive tools.  I simply make due with what I have.  Most of my tools are hand-me-downs, bought at garage sales, or given as gifts.

Even with the most basic tools, wonderful things can be created if you have some patience and a little ingenuity.  This years “snack bowls” were mostly made with a <$100 router.

router
My DIY router table got a workout on this project.

That, and lots of sanding.  A ridiculous amount of sanding!  Some nights I was up well past midnight just sanding!

A typical sanding session took about 3 hours per bowl, using a mix of hand sanding and the palm sander.  Lots of hand sanding was necessary to get into all the small crevices the powered sander couldn’t get.

sanding

With seven bowls in total, this means I spent around 21 hours sanding.  Honestly, it feels like a more than that.  My hands ached after all that sanding!

lots of sanding
There were actually seven in total. I’m not sure where the seventh snuck off to in this photo.

The best part of the project is when the protective finish finally goes on.  That’s when you finally get to see the wood grain, and the project finally comes to a close.

finished bowls
The final product! I think they turned out rather nice!

Are these bowls models of computer-machined perfection like you might find in a big-box store?  Absolutely not!  There’s plenty of mistakes!  In the end I think all my small mistakes and tool marks just add to the charm.  Friends and family can maybe (just maybe) see all the effort I put into the gift too.

 

Why Do I Do This?

OK, at this point most readers are probably thinking “That’s absolutely crazy” , and they might be right.  When you can simply pop online and buy a wooden bowl for $20, why would someone in their right mind even bother?

Here’s the absolute truth:  I’m not doing this because I save money or time (even though it cost me $0).  I do it because I enjoy making things for people.

In a world where everyone gifts mass-produced consumer items, handmade items are a little bit on the odd side… but you should know by now that I love being a bit odd.  It’s my happy place.

Not only is it way more meaningful when I put this much effort into a gift, but I believe people truly appreciate handmade gifts more.  It’s a chance to give something completely unique to your loved ones… something they won’t find in a store sold by the millions.

That in itself is something special. After-all, isn’t making friends and loved ones feel special what gift giving is all about?

Happy Holidays everyone!  See you in 2021!

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22 thoughts on “A Handmade Christmas

  • December 20, 2020 at 5:15 AM
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    Chairs next year? Those are wonderful, happy holidays.

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    • December 22, 2020 at 1:53 AM
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      Thank you Gofi! Chairs would be a big challenge!

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  • December 20, 2020 at 5:16 AM
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    Wow those are beautiful, you’ve got skills dude! Great job, I like how if you put them all together it makes a honeycomb pattern.

    As you said, yes you could probably buy one for even less than $20, but making tings is fun, and learning new skills is even more fun. When you learn stuff like that you expand your mind and ability to learn more, it’s how successful people keep having success. Happy Holidays to you and the family!

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    • December 22, 2020 at 1:54 AM
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      Thanks Dave! Happy Holidays to your and yours as well!

      Reply
  • December 20, 2020 at 5:24 AM
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    Love the final look of these snack bowls!! We currently live in an apartment, so not a lot of space for woodwork, my husband did managed to make a small computer monitor stand for me recently. When we move to a bigger house, will definitely make space for a woodwork area 🙂

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 1:55 AM
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      It definitely does take some space, but I’ve heard of people turning a room in a apartment into a small “shop” before. It’s about what you’re passionate about!

      Reply
  • December 20, 2020 at 12:43 PM
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    I always make soap for my work colleagues for Christmas.
    As you said, you have to plan ahead – the soap takes 6 weeks to cure before it can be used.
    This year a lot of people said that they were sad that it was the last cake of soap they’ll be getting – I retired on Friday!

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    • December 21, 2020 at 11:57 AM
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      Congrats, Frogdancer!!

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    • December 22, 2020 at 1:55 AM
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      Congrats! Handmade soap, that’s really cool!

      Reply
  • December 20, 2020 at 1:18 PM
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    Those look great!

    You’re 100% right, too – the cost to buy something like that versus the time and heartache spent don’t normally add up. You have to enjoy doing it, which you can tell you do – and they came out great!

    Have a great Christmas, Mr. Tako!!

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    • December 22, 2020 at 1:56 AM
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      Thanks Jim! Hope your family has a great Christmas too!

      Reply
  • December 20, 2020 at 7:17 PM
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    Great job Tako! It’s easy to get lost in the “but I could buy this $5!” argument for nearly anything you might DIY. Jenni spent hours crafting handmade holiday cards for a dozen family members. They look great, but she could have run by the store and bought them for a few bucks a piece. And had ours of her life back.

    But that ISN’T the point! It’s not always what’s most economically efficient—if that were the case, I guess I should work 16 hours per day, sleep for 8 hours, and have the world take care of every other chore, errand, or task I might do outside of work. That’d be the most economically efficient!

    The point of her making cards is the process of making them—as an activity unto itself. Your day has to be filled with something, and for her, and for you as you created these snack bowls, it gave you pleasure and satisfaction.

    And that’s awesome. The fact that it also *reduced* your spending is just icing on the cake.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • December 20, 2020 at 7:34 PM
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      PS: I feel like you’ve been enjoying a little bit of “hexagon is the bestagon” 😉
      Great video if you haven’t caught it!

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    • December 22, 2020 at 1:57 AM
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      Yep, I truly enjoy it! A little bit of money savings as is just a happy accident!

      Reply
  • December 21, 2020 at 7:13 AM
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    That’s awesome! Mrs. RB40 wants some hexagon shelves for our bathroom. I’ll work on it next summer. It should be much easier because we don’t need the bottom.
    The finish looks great.

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    • December 22, 2020 at 1:58 AM
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      Thanks Joe! Doing a good job on the finish is tough. I’m getting better as I learn technique, but I just do what I can with what I have on hand.

      Reply
  • December 21, 2020 at 8:29 AM
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    Great job. I love the grain pattern of maple. That’s such a hardwood, you must have gone through a bunch of router bits. I know when I work with oak, which I think is a bit similar, I’m amazed by how my blades/bits burn out so quickly. Did you stain it or is that just a clear coat? Again, nice skills, Mr. Tako.

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 2:02 AM
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      Yep, it’s pretty hard. One of my router bits was getting pretty dull and chattering by the end.

      It’s just a round of mineral oil (brings out the grain) followed by a clear coat of polyurethane (protects the wood). No staining.

      The darker color of the maple is actually because I’m using the heartwood. In person, it looks almost like walnut.

      Reply
  • December 21, 2020 at 12:58 PM
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    Happy holidays Mr. Tako and family, my Uncle Harold made similar snack bowls, recipe boxes and a small side table with a drawer and not one nail He passed about 5 years ago, age 95, truly missed. I cherish his gifts, and use the spurtle quite often! Best wishes to you and your family, thanks for the inspiration

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    • December 22, 2020 at 2:02 AM
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      Thanks Tigermom! It sounds like your Uncle Harold was one amazing guy!

      Reply
  • December 23, 2020 at 10:45 AM
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    Hello Mr Tako,
    I think what you did is amazing. You are learning new skills and the results are great! Those passion projects are a big part of why you want to become FI in the first place.

    Reply
  • December 28, 2020 at 3:22 PM
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    Buying gifts is one thing but gifting a handmade craft is worth a lot. Why? You’ve invested something much more valuable than money. Your time. Great that you have the crafty hands to hand make something for your loved ones. See you in 2021!

    Reply

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