Yes- this post is ALL about those tree trunk/tree branch candle holders you’ve seen at places like Terrain or on Pinterest or Etsy. It’s really easy to make them yourself, at home, if you have some basic tools.
The Yule Log started out, we believe, as part of Norse Winter Solstice celebrations. Back then, the longhouse would have a huge fireplace, and the flooring would be either stone or packed earth. Tradition says that the Yule Log began as a huge log, big enough to burn for the entire twelve-day festival. One end would be pushed into the fireplace, and as it burned away, you’d push it in some more until it was entirely consumed.
With fireplaces being less and less common these days, the practical Pagan has adapted. Some choose a small log, some twelve or sixteen inches in length, flatten it along one side to make a base, and drill from one to three holes into the top, suitable for the insertion of candles. The candles are generally (but not always) “fire” colors, with red being the most common. The log is decorated with greenery, sometimes real, sometimes artificial – pine, spruce, fir or other evergreen boughs, holly and mistletoe are a few possibilities – and the candles are lighted at sunset on the Winter Solstice. Tradition says they should burn through the night; but given safety considerations, most only allow it to burn so long as someone is around to keep an eye on it.
Pagan-style refers to how it’s a log with holes for candles, instead of a large log you burn in a fireplace. It’s also a more modern version. My dad made one when he was a kid out of a log with three holes on top. It isn’t just Pagan’s that use that style- lots of Christians have Yule logs in that way- but if I’m not mistaken, they started it.
So I had some wood in the garage that had been cut from branches that were hanging too low on trees in the backyard over the summer. I was saving it for our fire pit, but then the summer ended and the weather got too cold & they were shoved into the garage & forgotten. Then my mother mentioned she wanted a Yule log, and I realized I had the perfect pieces of wood for it. And then I decided I wanted one, but with tea lights instead of taper candles. I realized they’d look great with my winter tree!
My mom has done a winter tree as long as I can remember. It really helps to fight the doldrums of winter; a little sparkly white tree with some wintery themed ornaments goes a long way during a cold, dark, dreary winter. Hers is much bigger & has more involved than mine, but mine is adorable! It’s a little 2 foot faux pine tree with a burlap base I got in Michael’s for $5.99 – originally $21.99!– the day before Christmas Eve. I put it on a cake stand, used a set of 35 white lights on it & (of course) put my DIY mason jar snow globes underneath. I have little cardboard Putz-style houses & a bunch of wintery deer & antler ornaments around as well. My mom always did a very sparkly, snowflake & icicle-style decorations for winter, but I went with a more rustic theme.
But this isn’t about trees! It’s about wooden candle holders! Why did you let me get off track? Anyway…. so I had this Yule log idea. And when Jay started to do it, he looked up some ideas on the internet. He found these little upright tea light holders made of tree stumps, & the rest was history.
My “Yule log” is a more contemporary one, because I wanted to use tea light candles not tapers, and I wanted to use it year-round. You can use whatever kind of candles you like, though. You can also dress it up with holly/pine for Christmas.
Because my wood had a lot of time to dry & it was pretty cold in the garage (well below freezing), I wasn’t really worried about bugs or mold, but I sealed them anyway. You don’t really HAVE to seal them- many people don’t- but I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. You can also bake small pieces in the oven at 180° F for 60 minutes (keeping an eye on it of course) to kill anything that might be in there. A thick coating of sealant is enough for me.
What you will need:
- A saw to cut your branches down, unless they’ve fallen already
- A larger saw to make even cuts (Jay used a DeWalt circular saw)
- a drill
- spade bits in different sizes (or just one in the size of your candle/tea light/votive holder) OR a drill press with Forstner bits in the size(s) you need
- A Sharpie
- Sandpaper in different grades (optional)
- wood filler (optional)
- A ruler or measuring tape
- a sealer like Rust-Oleum spray sealer
All you have to do is cut the wood into the size you want it with an electric saw. A hand saw won’t make as clean of a cut, but you can use that as well. If you want holes in the top, then measure across the top and find the middle. If it’s a really big piece of wood, like a trunk, you can fit a few holes in it. Draw where they’ll be with a Sharpie. Then, using the spade bit that’s the right size, start to drill your holes. If you’re going to use glass votive holders, they’ll be larger. Tea lights will be a bit smaller, and tapers will be even smaller. Have your candles that you plan on using near you to measure.
Tea light holes will be very shallow, too, so be careful.
Once the holes are started & you’re sure the size is right, finish them (*If you have a drill press, use Forstner bits instead of spade bits). Keep stopping & cleaning it out, checking to see if the candle fits. When they’re done, you can lightly sand them if you need to, but you probably won’t. There will be a little hole in the bottom from the tip of the spade bit- you can fill it with wood putty or wood filler before sealing if you want.
You don’t need the sandpaper unless you want to sand your bark. If your wood has very thick, very nubby bark you won’t be able to do this by hand. You’ll need a sander. But if it has thinner bark, like the wood I had, then a few different sheets of varying grits will work just fine. Jay did mine by hand in no time.
The sanded one came out very different from the ones not sanded:
Its all about what kind of look you prefer, and what kind of wood you have available to you. Birch bark is so pretty, you won’t want to sand it. Canadian Maple bark is a bit rough to sand, and thick, so you’re better off leaving it (unless you have a sander or a Dremel with a sanding attachment). I think my wood came from a Crabapple tree. It’s either from that or a Holly tree… which would be even more appropriate for this time of year! Birch is always a good choice, as the bark is beautiful, but any wood will look beautiful with a little sanding. Even some that’s a bit ugly before hand.
Jay signed them & dated them on the bottom with a wood burning tool before I sealed them. You could use a Sharpie or ballpoint pen. We made a set for my dad for Christmas and I painted the bottoms black with acrylic paint & then used a gold Sharpie to sign them.
Once you sign them & they’re ready to go, seal them. This is for a few reasons: one, it protects the wood. Two, it kills/suffocates/traps anything that MIGHT be living in the wood. And three, it gives the wood a nice sheen, even if you use the matte sealer like I did.
Now, I’m not suggesting you go around cutting branches off trees that don’t belong to you. But if you have none of your own, keep an eye out after a heavy rain or snow storm. There are sure to be people tossing out branches, and you can take them. If you have a backyard with a lot of trees, you’ve got it made. Just cut off any dead branches or ones that hang too low.
Don’t use any branches that have what look like little holes drilled in them. Those are bugs that you DON’T want anywhere near your house.
It’s pretty easy.
And it looks beautiful.
If you can’t make some of these candle holders, I suggest you get yourself a little tree with some lights & brighten up your winter.