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How to Make a Wooden Tote for Christmas

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Wooden Christmas Tote

If you love making Christmas decor, join me as I show you how to make a wooden tote for Christmas. I’ll also show you how I make the stencils on the project look old and faded. When you’re done, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind keepsake to proudly display each Christmas. I’ve also included a free pattern, including measurements, to make things easier.

Hi, and welcome! I’m Lisa from The Old Tree Cottage. For years I’ve been making rustic decor. Over time, trays and boxes became my specialties. After all these years, I still love what I do and want to share my tips and designs. It’s also my way to pay it forward for my inspiration from others.

Supplies

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase through a link.

Tools

Wood

  • 2- 1x6s 11″ long for end pieces
  • 1- 1×6 21″ long for the bottom
  • 2- 1x4s 19 1/2″ long for sides
  • 2- 1x4s 4″ long for the inside grid (optional)
  • 2- 1x4s 3″ long for the inside grid (optional)
  • 4- 1x4s 7″ long for feet (optional)
  • 1- 1″ diameter wooden dowel or an old spindle 19 1/2″ long

Paint & Additional Supplies

Download and print the end piece pattern.

1. Cut the wood

You’ll need a chop saw and a jigsaw.

  1. Ends: Download and print the pattern. If you don’t have an 11×14 printer paper, tape two regular-sized computer papers together end to end so you can print it. Cut out the pattern and trace it onto a 1×6 board, then cut it out with a jig saw.
  2. Bottom: Cut 1×6 board 21″ long
  3. Sides: Cut 1×4 19 1/2″ long
  4. (optional) Inside grid: Using a 1×4, cut 2- 4″ & 2- 3″. Omit this part if you’d prefer one large opening.
  5. Handle: Cut spindle or 1″ dowel 19 1/2″ long

2. Assemble the bottom board onto the two ends

Making a wooden tote

Tip: A slight glue oozing when the boards attach is good. Too much glue causes the boards to slip around when you’re trying to hold them in place to nail them. Always wipe off any excess glue.

  1. Add a bead of glue along the bottom edge of the first end piece.
  2. Using 1 1/4″ brad nails, attach the bottom board to the end piece.
  3. Repeat for the opposite end.

3. Add the side pieces to the wooden caddy

  1. Take the first side piece and add glue on both ends and the bottom. 
  2. Place it between the ends, ensuring it sits flat on the box’s base.
  3. Use the 1 1/4″ brad nail to attach the sides to the end piece.
  4. If you add the optional inside grid, mark the center line on the outside end pieces.

If the wooden tote doesn’t sit flat, try this tip; while the glue is still wet, gently pry up the bottom board on the corner that isn’t sitting flat. The idea is to pull the bottom board from the end piece just enough until it sits flat. Fill in the gap with wood filler and sand once it’s dry.

4. Add the (optional) dividers to the tote

Skip this step if you don’t want dividers.

  1. The 4″ long 1×4 (that you cut at the start) will be the top of the T shape for the grid.
  2. Mark 2″ (center) of the 4″ board to easily attach the brad nails accurately. See the photo above on the left.
  3. Flip the board to the other side and mark it at 1 5/8″ from the end. Make a second mark at 1 5/8″ further down, then draw a line connecting the marks.
  4. Add glue on the edge of the 3″ long 1×4.
  5. Place glued end along the line making sure you have 1 5/8″ left on the side. For clarification, check out the photo above on the right.
  6. Carefully hold the board, then add two 1 1/4″ brad nails to secure.
  7. Repeat for the second grid.

5. Add the Handle

  1. Before gluing the ends of the handle, position it where you’d like it to sit. I have mine sitting 1/4″ from the top in the photo above.
  2. Remove the handle, add glue to both ends, and then place them back on the marks you made.
  3. Hold the handle in place and tack one 1 1/4″ brad nail off to the side but still hitting the handle allowing room to drill a pilot hole for the nail.
  4. On the outside of the end piece, mark where the centre of the handle is to drill a pilot hole for the nail.
  5. Using a 1/8″ drill bit, drill a pilot hole, making sure it goes a little way into the handle because it helps to ensure the handle doesn’t crack.
  6. Hammer in the roofing nail. I like to use a roofing nail for this part because it gives it a more vintage feel with its large nail head.
  7. Now is a good time to fill all the nail holes with wood filler.

6. Add the (optional) Feet to the wooden tote

Skip this step if you don’t want to add feet to the tote.

I love adding feet to a tray because it gives it something extra and is easy to do. Not only that but adding feet is a great way to use a few scraps!

  1. For the feet, cut 4- 7″ lengths of 1×2, but wait! There’s a twist! One end will be cut at a 45-degree angle.
  2. On your chop saw, set the angle to 45 degrees.
  3. Place the 1×2 (tall side up) on the 7″ mark.
  4. Cut your board. Repeat for the other three feet.
  5. Before adding glue to the foot, check that the foot is lying correctly; otherwise, you may be putting glue on the wrong side. See the photo above on the right for clarity.
  6. How you position the feet is up to you; flush, slightly under or sticking out a little. If you check out the top right photo, you can see I opted for 1/8″ sticking out.
  7. Add an even covering of glue. Too much glue will make the foot slide around, making it hard to hold it in place while you attach it.
  8. Using 1″ brad nails, attach feet and stay close to the outside edges only, or the nails will poke through the bottom of the tray. See the photo below for attaching the foot with brad nails.
The photo shown is painted, but the feet get attached before painting.

6. Sand before painting

I prefer 100 – 150 grit sandpaper on my orbital sander when sanding. We want this piece to look like it has had some wear, so sand off the corners and make it look like it has some wear.

7. Painting and Distressing the wooden tote

Paint Supplies

  • Your choice of white paint or your preferred colour
  • Spray can of a clear stain blocker like Zinsser Lacquer
  • Second colour for the inside of the wooden caddy (optional)
  • 100 – 150 grit sandpaper for hand sanding
  • Protection for your work surface
  • Small old container for black water
  • 2 tsp black craft paint
  • Paintbrush
This old wood stain also looks good on its own. You can always add more paint to the mixture for a darker stain.

Before I paint, I always begin by aging the wood with a homemade old wood stain on the bare wood. It’s my go-to because it always works and dries quickly, especially if I help it with a heat gun. I always eyeball this part, but that’s not helpful, is it? Below are the measurements I came up with for the old wood stain.

Old wood stain recipe: add 2 tsp of black craft paint to 1 c water in an old container and mix well. When dry, the wood will look a soft gray/brown.

8. Apply the old wood stain as the base coat to the wooden tote

This part can be messy, at least when I’m doing it! Even so, it’s always a good idea to have an old towel underneath to protect your work area. Occasionally, there will be an area where the stain won’t take because of dried glue on the wood. Since this will be painted, it’s not anything to worry about.

  1. Apply the stain all over, including the bottom of the wooden tote.
  2. Let it dry completely. If I’m in a hurry, translation: impatient! I’ve been known to speed-dry my project in the oven on the lowest setting.

9. Apply stain blocker to prevent bleed-through

This step is important if you’re using white or light-coloured paint because of the chance of the wood bleeding through. Nothing is worse than finishing a project only to find the wood is bleeding through down the road. Apply two coats of stain blocker in a well-ventilated room or outside. I prefer a clear oil-based one like Zinsser Odorless Spray Primer, which isn’t odourless. It’s just less offensive. At least to me, anyway!

10. Painting the wooden tote

I’ll show you how to do the finish in the photo, but you may prefer a different style of painting the tote. It’s your project, so you do you!

Vintage Christmas Tote
This tote is unapologetically full-on vintage Christmas!
  1. Rather than adding multiple layers of paint, in this case, you want to add one solid layer. For this project, I chose white for the outside and added green to contrast the inside.
  2. For best results when adding texture to paint with a heat gun, move it from side to side until the paint bubbles. Once you have bubbles, move to the next area. Occasionally you may find the paint won’t bubble. If this happens, add more paint.

11. Time to distress the paint

I prefer coarse sandpaper to fine grit because I like a scratchy worn look. I always try to follow the wood grain when hand sanding.

  1. Although I say to use 100 to 150 grit when sanding, you can certainly use what you have on hand if you don’t have that grit! If you accidentally sand to bare wood, and the wood looks too new, touch it up with the old wood stain and/or whitewash it.
  2. To give the wooden tote a more worn look, sand the outside edges as well as the top of the corners.

12. Clearcoat

When making something look vintage, it’s important to make the clearcoat look worn. If you add stencils, then the clear coat goes on after the stencils. Truthfully, sometimes I don’t even use a clear coat. It depends on how much active use the piece will get.

  1. I usually finish off with a matte or satin clearcoat in a spray to protect the paint.
  2. Use a heat gun to dry it, coming in close to give it little bubbles here and there.
  3. Lightly sand the clearcoat with 150-grit sandpaper to give the finish an aged look.

13. Protecting whatever surface the wooden tote sits on

When in doubt, add some felt or silicone bumpers to the bottom of the wooden caddy to prevent scratching whatever surface it sits on.

14. Adding Christmas Stencils to the wooden tote

The stencil I used came from Amazon. and I only used parts of it. But use whatever you like, get creative and make it your own!

  1. Using a stencil brush, I added green with a bit of black right after the green to give the base colour some depth. I did the trees right after the lettering, so I had the same colour on my brush.
  2. Dry the paint using a heat gun or hairdryer.
  3. Using 100 to 150 grit sandpaper, lightly sand in the direction of the wood until the wording and trees look faded.
  4. Put the stencil back over the words and randomly add red paint.
  5. Dry the paint.
  6. Lightly sand again.
  7. I opted to dab a few red dots on the trees to make them look more festive.

Now that you’re done, will you keep it or is it for a gift? I don’t know about you, but I’m no sooner done, and the next thing I know, I’m on to the next project.

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