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This article pays tribute to the Popular Mechanics writers, editors, and craftspersons who set the standard for do-it-yourself outdoor Christmas displays in the early 1960s. There was no such thing as "don't try this at home," either, even for kids, to whom a good number of the projects were targeted. But the overall "message" of that era was that anyone who was willing to try new things could build a better life for his or her family with a few weekend projects.
More to our purposes, those archives give modern audiences access to a series of Christmas projects that changed the winter landscape American front yards for decades.
In today's climate of paranoia about Christmas paraphernalia getting into the wrong places, it may seem a little surprising to find so many Christmas projects in the '60's Popular Mechanics. 1960 - Humble Beginnings - The Popular Mechanics outdoor Christmas projects started modestly enough. The same issue also provided a simple outdoor decoration, a traditional Santa for your front yard.
The December, 1961 issue had only one indoor decoration, a "sugarplum house." But the best was yet to come .
1962 - a Project-a-Plan Outdoor Christmas project - In 1962, David Swartout, the magazine's premier wood project creator (along with an uncredited artist) provided a much more contemporary, whimsical project that could be produced by "anybody" with a hand-held jig-saw.
If you were living in the stone age, you could use the grid the old fashioned way - dividing up the plywood into sections and drawing in the outline of the project one section at a time. The same article included a Santa in a Mercury capsule descending by parachute, and a garage-door reindeer-and-sleigh display that seems to be by a different artist, also unattributed. By the way, this wasn't the first time that people had used painted plywood cutouts as outdoor Christmas decorations. On a Personal Note - my dad was so impressed by this project that he bought the magazine, and all of the later magazines mentioned in this article, but for some reason he never actually got around to doing any of these projects. 1963 - "Make Your Yard a Christmas Card" - That was the theme of a series of projects credited to Swartout in the December, 1963 magazine. Beyond the projects themselves, these articles inspired a wave of plywood Christmas "yard art" whose ripples still have effects today. Note that even PM's most ambitious decorating projects were almost always in their December articles, rather than earlier. 1964 - Doorway Decorations - Swartout brought readers an article about eye-popping projects for your front door. Other projects in this article included a pair of young carolers in choir robes and a Santa with a blinking nose who was suspended by a very long hat. 1965 - Santa Enters the Space Age In 1965, the contemporary santa from 1962 returned with a vengeance in three separate Project-A-Plan projects, all of which incorporated motion. The most ambitious of this collection was the Mercury Capsule Santa, who, properly attached to a wall or gable, could seem to take flight as he left his reindeer choking in the rocket exhaust. The cover article featured the whimsical Santa and reindeer in a situation that resembled their 1962 appearance, with the addition of a pulley that would raise and lower Santa toward the roof. The cover painting gives us the only clue to the artist who created these great characters - the initials CEM under Santa's bag. Perhaps significantly, this article also included the whimsical Santa's last ride, a display you could cut from a single piece of cardboard.
In addition to the new projects, PM also advertised that you could order "project-a-plan" slides for previous years' projects.
1966 - One more project - This year's article had only one outdoor project, but it was a "doozie" - A very large mobile decorated with Disney characters authorized by the Disney studios. 1967's December issue has a nice article about outdoor Christmas lighting that emphasizes safety, followed by a repurposed silhouette project from an earlier issue, but nothing so ambitious as the earlier projects. The Gifts Go On - It's hard to say how many of these displays were actually built, but there's no question that these articles inspired thousands of similar displays in front yards around America. Please let us know if this article inspires you to dig into the Popular Mechanic's archives or elsewhere, to come up with your own plywood Christmas yard art this year.
The largest display of painted plywood decorations I've ever seen in one place belongs to a railroad museum in Finlay, Ohio. We still have many things to say about outdoor decorations, historical and contemporary, and much to sort out. Ron Snow, of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, writes:In the early 70's my dad came across the plans for the Santa and Reindeer that were on the 1962 Popular Mechanics magazine, although the were in a set of books of plans from Popular Mechanics.
My parents made one of the standing Santas (with the pack over his back) when I was a child. Thanks for having the picture on your site and for bringing back some fun Christmas memories for me! Folk Art Outside Santa Displays - Home-made creations, all unique in some way, that celebrate the big fellow's appearance. America's First Christmas Store - See how the hobby of Pharmacist Leonard Brynolf Johnson started two unique Christmas businesses, one of which decorated many front yards in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Visit any of the links below to see quality collectible Christmas gifts and decorations that have been popular with our readers.
My sons and I decided to recycle discarded pallets by converting them into outdoor patio furniture. When sourcing pallets, ensure that you get them from your local retailers such as Spar, Pick n Pay or your local green grocer. Using the pick axe or crow bar, remove the inner planks (as per image 3 and 4) of six of the pallets so that you have frames for the table and the two chairs. For me, heating with firewood is more about feeling self-sufficient than it is about lowering my utility bills. To assemble the walls, place the cross supports on a flat surface, bore pilot holes, and attach the cross supports to the posts. Then place the slats in position, apply a glob of construction adhesive, and screw the slats to the supports.

It's important to accurately place the footings, or piers—it makes the build quicker and easier by preventing constant remeasuring and adjustment. Measure the distance between the walls, then crosscut the long joists and bolt them to the posts. Mark the position of the rafters along the beams at 16-inch centers and carefully nail them in place. This is the Garden Miscellaneous category of information.This Do-it-yourself projects list features a collection of DIY free woodworking plans to build various gardening structures and furniture from woodworker related web sites. Outdoor Serving StationThis outdoor serving station is simply mounted to the exterior of your home and folds up when not in use. 3-D Frame FREE Downloadable Scrollsaw Pattern PDF  This Quick+Easy project for the garden or outside walls will give flair to your home and garden. Address Numbers Post Planter  Add instant curb appeal to your home by building this address numbers post planter. Bamboo Water Feature  This simple weekend project does not involve much skill or time. Breakfast Bar  This table folds away when not in use but when you put it up you have a great place to have your morning coffee. Build a Roofed Outdoor Space  There is nothing quite like kicking back on your own Patio—until the sun starts cooking you or the rain begins to fall.
Candle Lanterns  Combine the glow of a candle with a classy wooden housing and you have a lantern that looks great, day and night.
Clock Cover  I decided that a small porch type construction with some shapely brackets to support it would be appropriate for a garden clock cover. Cooler PDF  At the link you will find free downloadable plans to build this outdoor patio cooler as well as a video of the build.
Cord Reel, Lawnmower  This reel is designed to gather and store an electric lawn mowers power cord. Deck Storage Box Video  This deck storage chest can easily be built in a weekend, features dual lids that double as seats, and goes a long way toward cleaning up the bric-a-brac on your outdoor living area. Deck Top Pond  This deck-top pond is perfect for small back yards or if you love a great water feature. Drink Dispenser Stand  Build this outdoor drink dispenser stand using these free woodworking plans.
Garden Hose Hanger PDF  Build this garden hose hanger using exterior grade wood for a long lasting hanger.
Garden Hose Holder  Here is a quick and easy build that will make a big difference if you are used to having your garden hose on the ground.
Garden Landscape Projects  Landscaping a new or existing area can be a real challenge.
Garden Multi Tool  A quick and easy guide on how to build your own multi-use gardening tool. Garden Plant Name Stake  Since it is time to start planting, it is a good time to identify those plants for later.
Garden Planter Tree, Strawberry  It seems like space is always a problem when planting a garden. Garden Pond  How to construct a simple garden rock pond using polythene sheet and concrete.
Garden Pond and Deck  Plans for a rectangular reflecting pond with ground-level boardwalk. Garden Tool Organizer  If your garden tools are anything like ours then you will spend some time digging them out from behind other tools. We are very pleased to announce that Popular Mechanics magazine has featured the Pathfinder Wooden Swing Set kit in their May 2012 issue as their DIY Home project. They began their project by explaining the benefits of a do-it-yourself swing set kit, like the Pathfinder, over hiring someone to build your swing set or starting from scratch. Using the Pathfinder three swing hardware package and wave slide with wood they they purchased locally, Popular Mechanics completed an entire swing set including swings, trapeze bar, sandbox, slide, and ladder in less than 3 days. To get access to all the great projects that Popular Mechanics has features, you can Subscribe to Popular Mechanics or pick up the latest issue on newsstands today. You were supposed to draw a grid on a sheet of plywood and transfer the pattern a square at a time.
As an example, Smethport, Pennsylvania pharmacist "Doc Johnson" had been selling hand-painted wooden outdoor decorations out of his pharmacy-turned-Christmas store since the 1930s. Of course, the December issue usually reached homes in mid-to-late November, and back in 1963, people didn't usually start setting out Christmas decorations until the second or third week of December. The title project involves layering several plywood cutouts to provide a very three-dimensional display that is just a few inches deep. In 2008, I saw a static painted-plywood display along the same lines in someone's front yard, but I have mislaid the photo - sorry about that. If you get the motors hooked up correctly, one reindeer bobbles his head as Santa thumbs for a ride. They have a small steam-powered train on which you can get rides most of the year, but at Christmas they decorate the right-of-way with dozens of plywood decorations and thousands of lights. Please check back every so often for more memories and ideas, and please let us know if you have any ideas you'd like to share with our readers.
Most of these retailers are more than willing to part with them as long as you can carry them away yourself. You will need to two pallets for the base of the table and two more for each of the chairs. Remove all the nails and pieces of plank that could not be taken off with the pick axe or crow bar. Apply glue to the bottom frame, then glue the two frames together, top to bottom (see image 5).

Add one full pallet on top for the seat area (don’t forget to apply glue before placing the full pallet on top of the base), then secure with screws (see image 6). The backrest is made with left over bits and bobs: using glue and screws, attach three upright planks to the back of the seat, then attach three planks sideways across the vertical planks (see image 7). To make an armrest, position two planks perpendicularly at one end of the chair, then glue and screw them together, as well as to the base and backrest (see image 8). I made the table in exactly the same way as the chairs, except that I used left over planks to make a solid slab for the top of the table.
We used some old sponge mattresses to make the cushions (cut to fit), which we covered in old curtain material.
We set the four corner piers in rough position and brought them into alignment with a string line. Next, we placed the plastic end caps on the bottom of the posts and raised each wall on its piers.
Do the same with the beams.Measure the height from the center piers to their respective beams to determine the position of the shoulder cut on the center posts. Mark the angled plumb cuts at the top and bottom of the rafter and the position of the bird's-mouth cuts (the notch where the rafter meets the beams). We even went so far as to set each nailhead to firmly pinch the rafter down against the beam. Quick+Easy to make and cost effective, this frame is specially designed for beginners and people without much spare time. We got a weather vane for Christmas and have been trying to figure out where and how to mount it.
We hope our landscape project gives you a few pointers to help make the job a little easier.
It is always frustrating when showing someone your garden and not being able to tell them what the plants are. We are very greatful and excited that they have given such a great review and strong endorsement of our wooden swing set kits.
They were very impressed with the "detailed construction plans" and featured a step-by-step guide, complete with pictures, for completing the project. Of course, projects like this one could be used elsewhere in the front yard, and many of them were.
My dad passed away about 14 years ago but about 2 years ago I found the display in his shed and touched up the paint and now the are front and center of my families Christmas display. It shows Santa reaching through the ladder to try to reach the toy bag which I think helps add to the calamity going on in the display. Stay away from chemical suppliers, as there could be toxins in the wood from the chemicals. Repeat this step to make the armrest for the other side of the chair, and for the armrests on the other chair. It's good exercise and the source of my wife's wry nickname for me, the Saturday Lumberjack.But storing and keeping the wood dry is a hassle. Then we used a tape measure to check the diagonals of this rectangle and to position the fifth and sixth piers relative to the perimeter. Notch the two center posts, set them on their piers, plumb them, and bolt them into position.Crosscut the remaining joists and fasten them, as noted in the diagram, with joist hangers, joist hanger nails, 16d common nails, or 3?-inch deck screws. Clamp the rafter on top of the beams, check that the lines drawn are accurate, and adjust the lines as needed. Please contact individual web sites if you have questions about those woodworking projects. The size of the frame and the decorations you display inside of it; the figurines, flowerpots, vases or whatever we like to do – only the sky is the limit.
The article also featured a detailed materials list and a shopping list for lumber, which you can also find on our page for Pathfinder Wood List.
Using a circular saw, make a shoulder cut and a series of cuts parallel to the shoulder, then remove the scored wood with a wide chisel.
The rustic look of our frame fits into most gardens and the material we use guaranties a long and maintenance free enjoyment of our creation.
This project requires a compound miter saw because of some of the compound angles you will have to cut.
The second is risky: Do you know what constitutes hardware that's strong enough to support a swinging child?
Though, to my knowledge, this was never part of a PM "project-a-plan," the influence is obvious.
And stacking the wood inside is a poor choice, unless you enjoy the company of insects and mice.The solution is a simple shed. Make yourself a small jig from scrap lumber to speed accurate spacing between each piece of flooring. Make the vertical cut with a circular saw, use a chisel to notch the horizontal cut where the rafter rests on the beam, then turn the rafter back upright and finish the shallow horizontal notch with a chisel.Test-fit the pattern rafter and adjust its notches. The sizes in our plan are only meant as examples as in every country the sizes for fence palings are different.
After researching many sites on the web we did not find any free plans for one so we had to make our own.
I designed the one you see above, which involves basic post-and-beam carpentry, to create an attractive storage unit for more than a cord.
It keeps the wood from getting soggy and leaves the critters out in the cold, just where the Saturday Lumberjack likes them to be.

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