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We’ve all heard the stories about people who put up their tree only to have it tip over during the night. I’m ashamed to say it’s even happened to me once in my younger days, but over the years I’ve honed my methods and now can put up a tree the kids could climb — I wouldn’t put it past my boy, either.


The Stand

First, get yourself a real tree stand. It should be heavy — mine’s 12 lbs. — to move the center of gravity down towards the floor. Get one that’s welded together from steel, not cheap stamped metal. It should also have 4 bolts and not 3. There’s nothing more annoying then trying to adjust a tree with three bolts. Your brain wants left and right and front and back, not directions based on 120 degrees.

Then, throw out those eye bolts. I replaced mine with standard hex head bolts so I could chuck a 3/8″ square drive adapter into my cordless drill. The last thing you want to do while you’re under the tree is to twist eye bolts in and out. I had trouble finding bolts long enough that were threaded all the way along the shaft, so I ran them through a die to fix that problem.

Getting the Tree

When picking out a tree, pay close attention to the trunk. Make sure it is straight. Many trees have bent trunks, which make it much more difficult to get the tree up straight. If you absolutely have to get the tree with the bent trunk, at least be aware of it beforehand so you can compensate when mounting the tree. Not realizing the tree trunk is bent until after you’ve mounted it might mean having to take the tree out of the stand and doing it over.

If the guy at the tree place offers to cut the bottom of the tree for you, decline. What kind of Toolmonger doesn’t have a bow saw, or better yet a chain saw, waiting to be used at home? Before lopping off a few inches of the bottom, check your tree stand; if it has prongs that raise the tree above the bottom, cut it flat. If it doesn’t, you might consider cutting it at a slight angle. If the bottom of the tree sits flat on the stand the tree will have a harder time drinking.

Setting Up The Tree

Some people swear by putting the stand on the tree while it’s on its side, then raising the tree. You’re never going to get the tree on straight, so just suck it up and drop the tree into the stand when it’s on the ground. You’re going to want some help at this point, someone to hold the tree in position while you’re getting under the tree and to tell you which way you should move the tree to straighten it out.

Before you go under, make sure you have your drill with the right-sized socket and a hand pruner. The hand pruner allows you to cut any branches that interfere with getting the tree centered in the base.

Once you’re under the tree, make sure the tree is centered in the base, and snug the bolts up to the tree trunk. Now when your helper calls out left, right, front, or back, if you’ve aligned the base right, all you need to do is loosen the bolt in the direction you want to go and tighten the opposite bolt. Once your helper is satisfied the tree is straight, get up and take a look yourself. Once you’re satisfied, go back underneath and tighten the bolts about a 1/4″ into the tree, past the bark and into the wood.

When you’ve finally got the tree up, fill the base with water, then check it after 4 hours. Once the tree warms up, it sucks water like a sponge. Wait a bit for the branches to drop — we like to get our tree in the morning and decorate it at night — then decorate to your liking knowing the tree isn’t going anywhere.

Christmas Tree Stand [Google Products]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]

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28 Responses to Putting Up Your Tree Right The First Time

  1. Deckmaster says:

    Nice tips but there are better tree stands out there that are even easier to install and stand up. Find a Davis Tree Stand. There is only one screw to put in and then you just bend the stand to make the tree straight. Not only is it easy but they work with trees that are less than straight.

    Their sit is down so look at this one:
    http://www.alpinefarms.com/who_sta.html
    http://www.davistreestand.com

    And a setup video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giGlCM6R244

  2. Ben says:

    i actually thought about replacing the bolts on my stand this year to the same thing you have. haha nice, great minds think a like. my stand has 8 bolts, and its a pain to tighten and move them. its not metal but plastic and its very wide, still super strong.

  3. Steve says:

    Nice article, but you failed to recommend a good solvent for removing pitch from your hands. I use an artificial tree. :)

  4. @Steve:

    Good point, about pitch. When I do get it on my hands, I use a scouring powder like comet, takes the pitch, and some skin, right off. That’s what callouses are for.

    I forgot to mention it, but I always handle the tree with an old pair of gloves.

  5. Chris says:

    The Swivel Straight one minute Christmas tree stand is the best stand ever made, however it seems the company that made them went out of business. You can still find them on ebay though, they work amazingly well. You attach a cone base to the tree and then it drops into the base/reservoir and you step on a pedal and straighten the tree. Once its straight you let go of the pedal and it locks to that position and the pedal pushes into the stand.

  6. Jerry says:

    I ended up with a large, very heavy all steel stand when I decided I needed to have a 12′ tall tree.
    Now that I have celebrated the size of that room, and come to my senses, I still use the stand but for smaller trees these days. I suspect it will be here on the planet long after I am gone.
    Pitch? Well, I also choose gloves for the task but somehow I end up with a little on me. Hand sanitizer melts the stuff off pretty well with a couple paper towels. I think it’s the alcohol. Got a bottle of rubbing alcohol around. I bet it will work.

  7. Jerry says:

    @Chris or anyone that wants one – a little late maybe – but Amazon has those Swivel Straight stands. It looks like they are sold by a lot of people so a search might reveal a local source. I have to say, it looks simple.
    Here’s the Amazonian link:
    http://www.amazon.com/Swivel-Straight-1-Minute-Christmas-Stand/dp/B0046CJFP4

  8. Keith says:

    @Steve & Ben,

    Try turpentine (real turpentine made from trees, not paint thinner or mineral spirits) for getting the pitch off without taking the skin off; it’s worked for me.

  9. browndog77 says:

    One hint for the bolt problem- The “Y” shaped adapters for use on eye-bolts are easy to find these days, & they are a good thing for a toolmonger to have, plus the eye-bolts make for an easy way to hang up the stand for storage!

  10. Bill says:

    A tiny amount of Crisco shortening will remove pitch trom hands and tools.

  11. Mike47 says:

    Some stands have a pin or bolt or a small spiked device in the center of the pan to poke into the base of the tree trunk for stability. Mine is about 5/8″ diameter with 2 pointy spikes. I take a Forstner bit and drill out a place in the trunk base for the centering spike so I don’t have to drive it into the trunk with a hammer. The remaining eyebolts provide plenty of stability.

  12. Brau says:

    I like the stand I have. It’s more like a bigger version of one of those water filled patio umbrella stands. The bottom is molded to be self centering (conically shaped) so all you have to do is tighten the top three, and it holds so much water that it will never run dry or let the tree tip over.

  13. Brau says:

    PS. GoJo or any lanolin based hand cleaner will remove pitch easily. Citrus cleaners will too, in a pinch, but are hard on skin.

  14. Cameron says:

    Too little too late. :( I woke up this morning to a tree sprawled across the couch. That is the first time in 25 years the tree has ever tipped on its own. (My kids pulled it down one year.)

  15. mickeyrat says:

    I always cheat,I cut a tree the same height of ny beamed living room,put the tree in a bucket of water and suspend it from one of the beams with some fine stainless wire and a screw,always works and you cant see a thing,even the cat can go to the top without tipping it over.Works for me plus I hate christmas Ho Ho Ho

  16. Marco says:

    Synthetic tree for me. Sturdy, light and doesn’t kill a living thing.

  17. aaron says:

    or get something like this: http://www.omnifarm.com/stands.htm

    i found one for a buck once at a discount store… didn’t know its retail price was so high.

  18. woodrow says:

    This is the one I use. Got it at Canadian Tire. It’s rugged as hell.

    http://www.holidaydecorationsdirect.com/Santas-Solution-ts9405-SSN1000.html

  19. TB says:

    I still use the eye bolts, but I’ve found that a 30mm 12 point socket fits them nicely. A 1/2″ to 3/8″ socket adapter and the impact driver does the trick.

  20. One thing I try to remember, and this goes for real and artificial trees, is to wear long sleeves while you’re working on the tree, tinkering with lights, garland, etc. My skin gets dry in the winter anyway and having a thousand little pine needle scratches doesn’t cheer me up any!

    So…put on the long sleeves (and gloves if you want), crank up the music, and get decorating, scratch-free.

  21. TK says:

    I looked up that stand in the picture. What is that? The $400 one or the $700 one? Even Christmas trees are not safe from the excesses of the holidays. I’d rather have my tree tip over every year than be the guy that paid that much for a tree stand.

  22. TK says:

    My bad. Wrong stand. $70 might be an investment people could make. My outrage came from christmastreestand dot com. check out the crazy prices.

  23. @TK:

    I think I paid $40 about 5 years ago at Fleet Farm (A hardware and feed type store mostly located in Minnesota and Wisconsin)

  24. Kris says:

    I’ve found that whatever stand you use, it’s better to screw it to a plywood or particle board round. Gives it a lot more stability so the cat cannot take down the tree. Another hint is to use builder’s shims to straighten the tree after you have the bolts driven and the tree is “almost” straight – especially when LOML decides that it’s really not straight after all……..

  25. TK says:

    Thanks Benjamin. I now have found them for around 50 and I plan to keep looking. If the price keeps coming down as I look, I think that I very well may end up with this stand. Those ones I was getting bent about turn out to be for enormous trees. This jack-post welded one seems perfect. Shouldn’t have doubted ye old toolmonger.

  26. Robert C says:

    You have to go back to nature and buy a live tree in a 300 lb ball. And if you forget to dig the hole (last month) just keep it on a dolly and wheel it outside everyday until March.. Seriously, live trees are a great idea.

  27. browndog77 says:

    My late father-in-law always went with a live tree (a 5 ft. pine needs about 100lbs of ball) & his old homestead is bordered by a beautiful line of memories!

  28. TL says:

    Growing up we had double front doors that opened directly into a two story vauted ceiling. Couple that with living in an area where the trees were grown for much of the reest of the country, and there was not a tree stand made which would hold the monsters Dad would pick out. His eventual solution was a custom comercial stand picked up at auction combined with a wall mounted bracket which was covered by a picture the rest of the year.

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