Trimming the Tree
When all else fails, an unlikely tool gets the job done
Just after Christmas a couple of years ago, I moved into a condo in a 110-year-old factory that used to make soap products. I had been looking forward to the next holiday season ever since. Unlike most of the other minuscule places I’ve been able to afford to live in, this condo has huge posts and beams, beat-up maple floors, brick walls, large arch-top windows, and 10-ft.-tall ceilings. What’s that? Ten-ft.-tall ceilings would accommodate a pretty tall tree? You are correct, sir.
One night, I headed out with my girlfriend to pick out a Christmas tree. In an admittedly nontraditional and sellout fashion, we decided to skip the cut-your-own farms and grab a tree from the garden department at the local Home Depot. After my girlfriend endured a few snide comments about how the trees were much better organized at The Home Depot that I used to work for (that’s a whole different story), we got down to the task at hand. I hate to be anticlimactic, but the task at hand really only took about two minutes. We saw a nice 8 1/2-footer that looked reasonably straight and that had a nice peak for my light-up star, so we said, “Good enough.”
After tossing the tree into the back of my pickup truck and pausing to reflect on the beauty of not needing any plastic twine to fasten it to the roof, we were on the way home. Back at the condo complex, I snaked my way through the stairwell, hallways, and doors and through my front door as my cat ran for her life and hid under the bed in terror. I marched right over to the tree stand (which, of course, I had deemed too flimsy and had already mounted to a large piece of MDF with the help of an inordinate amount of drywall screws) and aimed the business end of the tree toward the circular opening in the dinky metal stand.
The trunk didn’t fit. My mind raced frantically for a way to make this work. Jam the tree trunk harder? No dice. Remove the too-small ring? No, that wasn’t going to work either.
Wait a minute, I thought. Tree trunks are wider at the base, so I’ll just cut a little off the trunk with my Bosch cordless circular saw. I thought it was a great idea, but because it was well past dinnertime, I’m sure my neighbors wouldn’t have agreed. Nevertheless, I managed to get in a few quick cuts while encouraging my girlfriend to cough as loudly as she could to try to cover the noise. Unfortunately, I had to give up with the job incomplete. The trunk still didn’t fit, and I needed a new solution.
“I’ll handle this,” I said as my girlfriend rolled her eyes.
(Disclaimer: Anyone who considers 1/64 in. between miters too large of a gap or sleeps with their hand tools under their pillow might want to stop reading before this next part.) I headed to my dining-room hutch in search of the appropriate tool. (Doesn’t everybody keep tools in their dining-room hutch?) I passed up most of the power tools for obvious noise reasons, but the freshly sharpened bench plane seemed perfect, not to mention quiet. I grabbed it, set the iron to a healthy depth, and struck out for the tree trunk.
So there I was, sitting on top of the bound tree, shaving deep cuts off the sides of the trunk, and most likely causing every woodworker I know to suffer sudden and inexplicable chest pains.
A couple of minutes later, I stood back to admire my work. A sticky bench plane in one hand, the soles of my shoes covered in sap-laden pine shavings, and the tree upright in its stand. And you know what? I couldn’t help but notice that the pine shavings made my living room smell really nice.