tutorial: cheap and easy DIY rustic tealight centerpiece

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got wood? well, you will after reading this post. because it's that awesome.

this is another tutorial born from a friend's pin that i thought would link to a project but really just spit me out adrift and free-floating in the cytoplasm of the internet (tastes like LOLZ!). 

after searching thoroughly, i couldnt find the post anywhere and decided to just wing it and jump in by myself, making it up as i went. it turned out well, so i took some pics of the process. and here we are, you and me.

i'm not a big fancy lady. well, i am a big lady, but fancy? not s'much. martha stewart might as well be a comedy writer based on some of the shenanigans she recommends DIY'ing for her endless inane parties. ("make a unique st. patrick's day wreath using wool spun from the hair of actual leprechauns! what's that?  you cant afford to buy the hair in diagon alley? tee-hee looks like you gotta catch 'em all!" or "hollow out the cloven hoof of a silver unicorn; wrap in burlap and serve over $57 prosciutto slices. you're guests will stroke out with adoration!"  note frome martha: good luck ever pulling off ANY of these make-believe projects pictured here, you middle-class knaves!)

in my lifestyle magazine the word "tablescape" will only be used sarcastically (though "manscaping" will be dead serious). so i dont focus a lot on presentation. but at the ONE party we host every year, out thanksgiving potluck, i do usually marshal all of my inner-contessa for and put forth one centerpiece. 

for the past 6 years it was easy and wonderful: a bag of fresh cranberries in our pretty tiffany crystal bowl (a wowzas wedding gift) with floating tealights mingled in. easy, festive, crowd-pleasing. 

then, a few months back jesse, that ham-fisted neanderthal, BROKE our bowl. i was all, sackcloth and ashes! the nicest, classiest thing in our house was gone. it's like it couldnt bear the shame of its tiffany-ness living in our dukey squalor any longer and just jumped--shattering its crystal heart into a google of shards all over our kitchen.  the bad news for it is that we never washed it, so it's unbaptized and is destined to spend eternity in house-object hell (along with wire hangers, jumanji, and everything from the oriental trading catalogs...so many grosses). 

so i needed something to put on the table this year.  here's where we ended up:

i think if an alien species made its first contact with the human race via pinterest, they would assume that we had trees brimming with free wood pallets and seas abounding with vinegar.  these two things are ALL OVER pinterest. the vinegar apparently should be used on every surface you encounter in life, ever and always!  VIIIIIIIIIIINEGAR, people!!!

but the pallets perplexed me. all of these projects made it seem like i should be tripping over these unwatned, free pallets at every turn. but i never seemed to find any! it's like the universe was disqualifying me from pinterest by not dropping scads of unwanted pallets in my lap.

the one day this summed, we joined the ranks of the chosen. we saw a bunch of pallets stacked up beside the water treatment plant near our house and pulled in to ask about them (no one was asking me if i wanted any, so maybe i had to ASK them...i dont know! there's no pin on FINDING pallets!). we scored 4 of these beauties and have been roosting on them awaiting inspiration.

this project is the first time we have used one (and we really could have used any wood).

what you'll need:

-power drill 
-tea lights 
-1.5" flat bore drill bit
-measuring tape
-a piece of pallet wood*
-20 minutes (knock this baby out while you're waiting for your orgasmo to firm up!)

* or similarly sized plywood, branch, or plank. ours was about 40" x 5" x3 /4"

 here's the bit i got for a few bucks in the hardware section of home depot. 

 some pallets seem to be made of really processed plywood, but luckily, one of the ones we got had these awesome, untreated pieces with the bark still on the edge. score one for rusticity! we went at it with a crowbar and mallet and it surrendered up this gem.

 lay out your tealights atop the piece of wood getting the spacing arrangement and layout you like (the original pin had these not in a line but in a zig zag...go for it!). 

i spaced mine by placing one at the linear center lengthwise and then spacing the centers 5" apart in either direction. 

use a pencil or score a little mark with your drill bit where you will want the centers of your tealights to be.

 attach that drill bit. feel like a scary badass with your new weapon.

line up the pointy tip of your bit with one of the marks you made. stand on either side of the drill on the wood for stability...this can get rowdy.

 starting SLOWLY, get the drill spinning. the pointy tip of the bit drills a pilot hole ahead to keep everything centered, and then as it gets deeper, the boring edges come up against the wood.

 think of the bit as a scraper and less as a drill. pushing down really hard to speed things up doesnt help with this guy. you want to apply a little bit of downward pressure to keep the hole being dug, but not too much. they key is to stay centered. if you started pushing down too hard off-centered, the thing will go crazy and start to try to buck you off as it gouges a wonky, un-level hole. slow and steady and centered is the path to righteousness here, folks.

since my wood was only 3/4" thick and my tealights were 1/2" (and i wanted them to sit all the way down in the wood), i knew i would have to let the center tip of the bit actually drill THROUGH the wood before the scraper/borer part would reach the desired depth. to keep the tip from drilling up against my garage floor, i needed to elevate my wood.

lacking 2 identical blocks, i went with the next best thing:

two copies of the red tent

you know how there's that weird fact about assassins all being found with copies of "catcher in the rye" on them? well, this book is my version. i LOVE the red tent and have read it maybe 10 times. i have given this book as a gift to at least 5 friends and so now whenever i find a copy at goodwill that is in nice condition, i snag it up for  my stockpile.

fear not, world leaders, the only thing i plan to assassinate is many plates of cheese fries.

so if you get a copy of this book from me and find wood shavings in the pages or footprints on the cover, this is why.

 elevated by literature. it should be so with us all.

 when i get close to my desired depth, i check the side view. once that tip emerges, you need to be careful because you can bore clear through the piece of wood if you keep going much farther. (which wouldnt be tragic because you could still put tealights in the holes, but when you picked up the wood, they would be left behind). the pointy tip is the harbinger of the scrapers. heed it.

you have now created a nice circle hole and a quite pleasing pile of pencil shavings.

 blow off the chaff and you're left with a lovely little inverse tinker toy seat for your candles to relax in

i removed the little metal casings from my tealights to make the look more rustic (because in the days of yore, you best believe the chandlers didnt case their tealights...just ask johhny tremain.). its a perfect little fit!

repeat the process for the rest of your marked locations.  dont stress too much about perfect spacing or depth. you can get away with almost anything that is branded as "rustic!"

 light that bad boy up and feel awesome that no leprechauns lost their locks in the service of this little holiday gem.

and hey, maybe keep an eye on this thing at all times when it's lit...because uh-doy, wood + fire, yall. 

go forth and conquer! feel like martha, but without that pesky house-arrest monitoring device tan-line and the billions of dollars!

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  1. I loved the book Johnny Tremain!!!


  3. Oh Keight you do make me laugh, no matter what you write about!!! Awesome pallet find by the way. ;-)

    Just one tiny weeny little thing. If you've drilled right through the wood and taken the metal thingy off the candle, isn't the wax going to pour through the hole and mess up your table?!?! I hope not!!!

    1. oh yeah! good call. plug those bad boys up. you could just trim the tops off of the little metal parts rather than removing them completely that way they would show (rusticity!) but they would still be little cups to catch the wax (functionality!). or you could plug up the hole pretty easily. good catch, gemma!